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Opening Day

Neil Walker

Today in Port St Lucie, I had the chance to talk with the new Met Second Basemen Neil Walker who I am sure Met fans are going to gravitate to immediately. This guy is a very good player who has the knack of hitting in the clutch. I watched him play the Mets while he was a Pittsburgh Pirate and he has a great run producing bat coupled with an outstanding knowledge of the game. Defensively, he will be an upgrade for the Mets and he is already fitting in well with this team.

 

 

In our conversation, we talked about:

  • How Clint Hurdle and Terry Collins are such similar managers.
  • He is so glad he no longer has to face Met Pitchers
  • He believes preparation is the key to success
  • Knows this Met clubhouse is a special group
  • Andrew McCutchen  and what he learned from him

Here is that conversation:

30816 Coutinho With Walker

 


A Conversation With The New Met Second Basemen

Neil WalkerToday in Port St Lucie, I had the chance to talk with the new Met Second Basemen Neil Walker who I am sure Met fans are going to gravitate to immediately. This guy is a very good player who has the knack of hitting in the clutch. I watched him play the Mets while he was a Pittsburgh Pirate and he has a great run producing bat coupled with an outstanding knowledge of the game. Defensively, he will be an upgrade for the Mets and he is already fitting in well with this team.

In our conversation, we talked about:

 

  • How Clint Hurdle and Terry Collins are such similar managers.
  • He is so glad he no longer has to face Met Pitchers
  • He believes preparation is the key to success
  • Knows this Met clubhouse is a special group
  • Andrew McCutchen  and what he learned from him

 

Here is that interview:

30816 Coutinho With Walker

 

 


The Real Story Behind The Met Lineup

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When I arrived in DC I expected to talk about Mejia's injury or maybe Matt Harvey returning in the finale of this series on Thursday afternoon but instead I was caught in the middle of this insane story about whom constructed the Mets Opening Day lineup. Was it Terry Collins or Sandy Alderson?

Well I decided instead of pontificating about the merits of the insanity I heard on the airwaves I was going to have some conversations with both Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson. Now there's a novel concept--actually talk to the people involved before going on a rant.

Terry generally meets with the media 3 hours before the game and I decided I would talk to him after it rather than in a group setting. My 30+ years as a reporter has given me access to many things and one of them is that good managers get feedback from all sources inside their organization and hearing these stories I found it hard to believe that Collins and Alderson had a "Moneyball" type of conversation we saw in the aforementioned movie.

During the pre-game presser as a joke, Sandy Alderson came in and gave Terry a lineup card which further proved to me the story was a bunch of nonsense. But Terry and I spoke privately and he told me the following, "Rich I had the first conversation about the lineup with Bob Geren back in February while we were bowling together in Port St Lucie and again while we were in Texas finishing up our pre-season schedule. At no point was I EVER ordered to run a certain lineup and that notion is totally untrue."

Speaking to Sandy, I got the same response and please understand this--General Managers constantly talk to managers about lineups and that feedback is important but the final decision rests with the manager. I can tell you this because I was one of few reporters who got along with BOTH Bobby Valentine AND Steve Phillips and Bobby was NEVER ordered to run a certain lineup. And that was two men who lets just say were not best buddies.

What really annoyed me about this was this story got in the Twitter universe and the 2 people involved were never quoted until today. But it speaks to a grander problem in our industry--the game is not enough. To me the Met story today was who will be the closer tonight? Will Jacob deGrom have a great second season?  How excited is the team about Matt Harvey's return? That's baseball and the other stuff is all nonsense. Does this guy like this guy? Do they get along?

When did we all become gossip columnists or National Enquirer editors? Who cares who chose the lineup--it was a group effort and the baseball people (including Terry Collins) thought it was the best way to win. And guess what? The Mets won the game so what is the big deal?

I am sure Joe Torre in all his years with the Yankees asked for other opinions on lineup construction  from Willie Randolph or Don Zimmer for instance and it was never a story. A good baseball manager asks for input because he wants to corner all facets of a certain lineup decision in order to put a winning lineup on the field.

The other thing here is people thought they had the answers to LineupGate when they are never around the team and more importantly never have to face the people they have cast dispersions on in reporting about this.

Enough of LineupGate. The next 2 days are about a Met team that is trying to send a message to themselves they can beat a Nat team that leveled them last year. Granted it is a Nat team that is missing some key players but nonetheless it could be an important start to the 2015 season for the Mets.

That's baseball talk folks and I love talking about a sport I love. I will leave the gossip talk to the people who produce those shows. It honestly does not interest me one bit not when I am about to see last year's Rookie Of The Year battle Jordan Zimmerman and then see Matt Harvey take on Steven Strasberg on successive days.

 


Tom Seaver: Greatest Starting Pitcher In NY Baseball History: You Better Believe It

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Was Tom Seaver the best starting pitcher in NY baseball history? Well, The Hall Of Fame voters certainly think so as he received the highest percentage of Hall Of Fame votes ever. Tom is a very special man and I want young Met fans to understand that so I am posting an old one on one interview I did with The Franchise back in 2008 on the last day Shea Stadium was open to the public. It was a tough day for all Met fans but share the greatness of Tom Seaver with every young Met fan you can.

 

Coutinho Wth Seaver

 


Court Documents To Be Unsealed: Litigation Ahead For Mets?

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So, the next step in the Madoff scandal has begun to come into focus: Both sides have dug in and settlement talks are, at the least for the moment, done.  The defendants in the case have agreed to drop their motion to keep lawsuit documents sealed and so they may be unsealed as early as Friday morning. 

What does it all mean?  In the short term, not much as most of this stuff has likely been revealed with the apparent leaking of information to members of the media.  Rightfully so, the Wilpons felt what's the point since most of what is inside the documents have already been unveiled for the world to see? But now the real chess match begins as the sides seem destined to be embroiled in a long court case that could take years to litigate. 

My sources indicate that the Wilpons have cooperated fully with the Madoff investigation from jump and have provided hundreds of pages of documents to aid in the inquiry.  What you must remember here is the documents that will be unsealed are merely contentions of the plaintiff and should not be construed as evidence until they are presented in court just as the defendants refuting the claims are contentions as well.

Ok enough legal babble--what does this mean for the Met fans? Well, a couple of things.  First and foremost, this issue will not go away any time soon as a court case of this magnitude could drag on for 2 years or more.  Secondly, it makes the prospect of a minority owner a remote possibility because they will not need the money until this case is settled (unless of course they re-enter settlement talks) and more importantly, any minority owner will want this resolved before he jumps in. 

The biggest thing though is this will hang over the Mets like a dark cloud every single time they don't make a trade or not sign free agents or shy away from a top draft pick because he is represented by say, Scott Boras for instance.  The litmus test might very well be if the Mets are in contention by the All Star break are they buyers, sellers, or neither?  Whatever words are said, their actions will speak volumes as to where their finances are at that crucial point in the season.

Sandy Alderson's track record is to do more with less so he may desire to take that route anyway but the public perception will be that he may be hamstring by the organization's cash flow or lack of it.  The ironic thing is if the Mets are out of contention by July 31, the proper course would be to become sellers which will send flares up that the Mets are dropping salary to curb costs.

The moment these documents are unsealed, it will set into motion a series of events that could have this case linger in the minds of Met fans for years to come and that is why I think the Wilpons wanted to settle.  And the plaintiff in this case might have missed a window of opportunity because you get the feeling the Wilpons just wanted this to go away but with the contents of the lawsuit leaked, the repuation of Fred Wilpon is at stake making him more apt to take this to the finish line in court.

My question remains this: If the Mets made $ off the Madoff scandal, why would they hold salary this off-season and why would they be seeking a minority owner to bail them out?  Secondly, how could the Wilpons be held accountable to have known the true story behind the Ponzi scheme if the SEC, who is trained to spot these issues, missed it?  And the fact that the Mets fully cooperated with the authorities by providing over 700 pages of evidence would refute the statements that they knew what was going on? All good questions that will now be answered in court in the next 30 months or so. That is unless a settlement alternative can still be reached.


Are The Wilpons Getting A Fair Shake From The Media?

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I know all about the media in this town as I have both been a New Yorker all my life and have covered the Mets for over 20 years but it must be said the hatchet job being done on the Wilpons is both unfair and misguided.  I can not say I am surprised but enough is enough already.

Is it so hard to understand that a lawyer in a lawsuit brought against the Wilpons would try to exert pressure by leaking details of the lawsuit in order to either extract a settlement or a much richer one?  Yet, until this morning no one in the media even entertained that notion.  I know very little about the legalties of this case but it would be hard for me to believe that the Wilpons would get a fair shake in court if those sealed documents were released on February 9.  They are high profile public figures and as such, it would be hard to try this case in court after it has been litigated in the "court of public opinion."

So, the question remains why would Wilpons offer to settle here?  Simply put, these stories are damaging their ability to do business because of all the negative publicity.  It stands to reason this has hurt their ability to pursue players, sell tickets, and even generate revenue for advertising both inside the stadium and on SNY.  I am sure they want this resolved for those reasons and a variety of others including the care and concern for families affected by this.

The offer to pursue minority ownership is to defray the cost settling these cases might have on the Mets ability to conduct business in the way a New York franchise should.  While we are on that topic, lets be clear that the Met payroll is still one of the highest in baseball and while you may quibble on how they spent it, make no mistake their payroll levels are more than enough to win.  This notion that the Wilpons do not invest in their team is pure nonsense fabricated by people who never let facts get in the way of a good story or have an ax to grind with either the Wilpons or the past general manager who was treated very unfairly in many corners of the media as well.

My sense is the Mets tactic of letting a new general manager advocating a wait and see approach once he can truly evaluate his players is a sound strategy.  And more to the point, it is a strategy that would have been employed whether the Madoff case wreaked its ugly head or not.  But if you hear the media tell it, the case has been tried and completed before we even have all of the facts.

I wrote in this blog just a few days ago that we should all take a wait and see approach whichever side of the fence we sit on and let the evidence guide you once it comes out.  You can not do that when info about the case is leaked to the media by a lawyer who has a hidden agenda and because of that, so much is being assumed before we know all the facts.

And that is just flat out wrong.

 


2011 Mets Might Be Better Than You Think

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When you bring up the topic of the 2011 Mets,most baseball experts say they are a .500 team at best and were even picked to finish last in the NL East in some circles.  I say stop the insanity--they were pretty much a .500 team last year without some of their core parts and with a new manager, you have at least give Terry Collins a chance to put his stamp on this team.  Sandy Alderson has assembled a very impressive roster in the front office whose baseball acumen might very real re-define the "mission statement" of the team.

The team does have question marks and will reside in a division that houses some of the best pitching in the sport.  The strategy to stay put, evaluate what you have, and wait until you have more economic flexibility is a sound one which should not be surprising knowing what a solid baseball man the new GM is.  And my sense is there is serious talent on this roster--I mean All-Star caliber talent like Wright, Reyes, Bay, Beltran and K-Rod and budding stars like Angel Pagan and Ike Davis.  This team will hit plenty even in spacious CitiField and so the 2 big questions will be: Is there be enough starting pitching and who is the bridge to K-Rod?

One scout told me, "If Young does for them what Dickey did last year, they will be OK especially if Pelfrey duplicates 2010 and Santana returns for the second half.  They will hit and they are pretty solid defensively."  The 8th inning question is a tough one but not an uncommon issue around the league--that is why the Yankees paid so much for Rafael Soriano.  So, the rotation is the rub here and more specficially, how they perform on the road where the Mets lost in walk-off fashion too numerous times to mention a year ago. 

Many experts pinned that on the bullpen but you could make the argument that an anemic offense put the team in those positions due to the loss of injured players.  And then there is the question of in-game managing.  It is no secret that I was very critical of Jerry Manuel and the way he handled this team but let me be very clear--I personally liked him alot and always said that I'd want him to manage my son in high school or college but at this level, I think he misstepped quite a bit.

 Terry Collins will do a better job of communicating roles to the players and will do less tinkering with the lineup.  This is a group that needs that and needs to play with passion.  My sense is that Jerry sometimes tried to think too much "out of the box" when a simple approach would have served the team better.  Trying to bat Jose Reyes not once but twice indicated to me his stubborness clouded his judgement and in the 2009 season his opposite field hitting drill proved counter productive especially with his big power hitters.

When I look at this team its pretty simple, Reyes is the catalyst, Wright is your fulcrum, Beltran when healthy is your best all around player and Jason Bay, aside from last year has been an RBI machine.  Pagan and Davis are great complimentary pieces and so what will decide the Mets fate is health and starting pitching.

Which makes them very similar to a handful of NL teams aside from the Giants and Phils.  Lets remember the Mets were 10 games over .500 midway through the season last year before that fateful West Coast trip after the break which for all intents and purposes, ended their season.  With a little luck, (which they are overdue to receive) they just might surprise the naysayers.


Can The Mets Contend?

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Opening Day is always a day for baseball fans to dream, which is especially true for Met supporters who hope to wash away the bad taste of 2009 in their second season at Citi Field. Truth be told, there is talent on this roster and a resolve in the locker room to prove the critics wrong. And if we have learned anything about sports this season, with teams like Butler and the New Orleans Saints making bold statements, talented players with a lot to prove can be mighty dangerous.

But does this roster have enough talent to contend in an NL East that seems to get tougher every year? When you break this team down and see they have an ace in Santana, a lock-down closer in Francisco Rodriguez and a solid corps of hitters, you get the feeling that the talent is there and all they need is health and a little luck. But they also need complimentary players like Luis Castillo and Jeff Francoeur to perform -- and then there is the $64,000 question: Do they have enough starting pitching?

Still, most teams in the National League have the same issues: questionable starting pitching depth and the bridge to their closer in the bullpen. Some contenders like the Giants and Phils even have serious questions with their closer. The D-Backs need a healthy Brandon Webb, the Dodgers need to see if Chad Billingsley can pitch a full season, the Phils need to see who the real Cole Hamels is, the Brewers need to see if Randy Wolf is really worth $10 million a year, and the Braves need to be sure Billy Wagner can close all year coming off Tommy John surgery.

The Mets have a rock-solid lineup (once Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran return), an ace and a shut-down closer. If I were a general manager and were given that to start, I’d take it. Remember this is virtually the same team that won 89 games in 2008 with Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur replacing Carlos Delgado and Ryan Church and with K-Rod replacing, well, Luis Ayala.

Injuries have been blamed for the Mets' disastrous 2009 season, but that's no convenient excuse. It is a disservice to the caliber of players the Mets lost to think Delgado, Reyes, and Beltran could be easily replaced. We are talking about All-Star players here, not journeymen.

Pick any team in the National League -- for argument sake, the Braves. Take Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Nate McClouth away for the final four months of the season. What do you think would happen? How about Utley, Howard, and Ibanez from the Phillies? Do you think Rollins and Werth could carry their lunch?

When you really get down to it, 2009 was all about injuries and the rest of it is just conversation. Do the Mets have issues? Sure they do, especially in the starting rotation, but that makes them no different than most teams in the senior circuit. It also makes them very capable of earning a playoff spot if two of their three question marks in the rotation come through. Can they? I wouldn't bet against it.