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What Can Mets Expect From Jason Bay?

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For Jason Bay, 2010 was a year he'd like to forget.  In fact after crashing into the wall at Dodger Stadium and suffering post-concussion syndrome, he might have been forced to forget alot of it.  It was not supposed to be that way for Bay who signed a multi-year contract with the Mets amid speculation he really did not want to sign here.  That was a notion Bay later refuted but the sense was there the Mets were not his first choice.  And talking to Bay in spring training last year, he really felt there was talent on the Mets and thought the team could surprise.

And the team did surprise in the season's first half topping out at 11 games over .500 at one point before the second half meltdown after the All Star break.  But Bay never seemed to get untracked offensively while ironically proving to be a much better defensive player than advertised.  You also got the sense Bay got a little spooked by the dimensions of CitiField as his power numbers were not up to snuff.  He was starting to feel better at the plate by mid-season but then that fateful day in Los Angeles ended his season prematurely.

Bay spoke to me at the end of last season and expressed regret that he got to play so little alongside Carlos Beltran.  "We were like ships passing in the night this year-just when he got back I got hurt and so I do not think we ever got a chance to get things going.  I still feel in 2011 with myself, Beltran, and Pagan we have a real good trio of outfielders."

If the truth be told, there may not be a better trio in the league if they are all healthy and producing.  The back of Bay's baseball card indicates the Mets can expect big things from him in Year 2.  In fact, a middle of the lineup featuring Beltran, Wright, Bay and youngster Ike Davis could be pretty productive even in the spacious alleys of CitiField.

My thought is Bay will return to his 90-100 RBI efforts of seasons past and 2010 will just be a speed bump for him.  If that is the case, the Met offense could have a much different look than it did in 2010.

 

Tomorrow: Beltran and Reyes in Contract Years--Good Or Bad For The Mets?


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.


Rex Ryan Blazing A Trail To Super Bowl Glory

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When the playoffs began just a few short weeks ago, many experts felt the road to the Super Bowl was filled with land mines for the New York Jets.  After all, they were a #6 seed and beyond that, their road to the first Sunday in February went through Indy, New England, and likely Pittsburgh which meant Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger.  It could be argued no team in recent memory had to go through that tough a journey--all on the road.  The fact that the Jets had became a hated team that talked far too much made the detractors of the team relish the chance to see them go up in flames.

But that very thing brought this team together and Rex Ryan used it as a motivating factor to "build the impossible dream."  Don't get me wrong--Ryan did not only use words--he devised unique game plans that quite frankly, parked his "blitz first" mentality at the door knowing his defense needed a different strategy against both the Colts and the hated Patriots.  It's the mark of a great coach to be flexible enough to change philosophies in order to win.  Pat Riley did it with the Knicks as his philosophy changed dramatically from his "Showtime" Laker teams when he came to The Big Apple.  His Knicks were "lunch pail players" that were physical and mostly about defense and rebounding, aside from Patrick Ewing's offensive prowess.  But he did it because it was the shortest road to winning and that is the biggest strength of Rex Ryan.

I know he's cocky and brash and will mix it up with anyone but make no mistake--he is a tireless worker and an innovative game planner.  And the adjustments he makes at halftime round out his resume as a complete coach.  But the real value in Rex is he has an impeccable sense of what his team needs.  Last week, he needed to be brash because of the history with the Patriots but this week, he's been humble and my sense is that's because this game will be more about bulk than syle.  So, expect the Jets to build a more aggressive defensive game plan with complex blitz packages designed to confuse a Steeler offensive line that is hurting.

The Jets are breathing hard on their first Super Bowl appearance since 1969 and moments before kickoff I am sure Jet fans will think about the tarp that was missing in Miami in 1982, the second half meltdown in Denver, or last year succumbing to the arm and brain of Peyton Manning.  But I suspect those thoughts will be long gone later in the night as Rex Ryan may finally deliver to Jet fans what so many coaches failed to do--a trip to the greatest of all sport spectacles--a Super Bowl.

And that will make Rex Ryan's name reasonate in this town much in the same way the names Davey Johnson, Mike Keenan, and Bill Parcells did when they satisfied long-suffering fans of their teams.  It would be rarified air for a coach who would deserve every inch of praise that he would receive.

 


Knicks Get The Point With Felton

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There has been a real resurgence at Madison Square Garden this year as the Knicks matter again and are headed in the right direction.  While Amare Stoudemire has gotten most of the credit, Raymond Felton has provided the Knicks with their best point guard in play in over a decade.  It is hard to believe you can fly under the radar in New York City but the classy Knick floor leader has done just that.  Recently, I spent some time with Felton and you get the sense he's a throwback--a player that leads by example.

Click Here To Listen To My Interview with Raymond Felton:

 

 

 

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Remembering Jackie Robinson

It was 63 years ago that the single biggest moment in baseball took place on a little patch of green grass in Brooklyn known as Ebbets Field, a moment that transcended the sporting world and continues to have an impact on society. Of course, it was the day Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier and with it, lifted the curtain on the era of civil rights in the United States.

I think sometimes we take for granted the enormity of that day and at the same time, forget how far we have come since. One man who does not forget is Mets manager Jerry Manuel, who reflected on that special day saying, “It was not just about baseball but it affected every piece of society in that it made us aware of changes that had to be made. And let’s face facts I would not be here today if he did not arrive on that day.”

What I have thought was always the most impressive part about No. 42 was the restraint he exhibited because he knew what was at stake. That restraint was not always easy according to his wife, Rachel Robinson. “We knew it would be hard and when he went to places like St. Louis it was awful for him because in many ways, Jackie represented their worst nightmare. However, he let it all roll off his back because if he failed, Major League Baseball might have abandoned integration.”

Gary Matthews Jr., whose dad also played in the major leagues, thinks that the memory of Jackie Robinson should be a constant reminder that more work still needs to be done. “We all need to be aware that reaching the inner city children in this country is of utmost importance," says the Mets center fielder, “and I do not just mean African-American kids because Hispanic and white youngsters need to hear the message as well.” And that message of diversity is a necessary ingredient for a successful and prosperous society.

The best way to defeat racism is to have the courage to change no matter what the cost. For Jackie Robinson, it likely shortened his life -- but it greatly enhanced our lives in ways that are impossible to measure.

Reyes Test Confirms Overactive Thyroid

 

Port St.Lucie, Florida -- Tests conducted on Jose Reyes in New York have confirmed what the earlier tests had indicated--the Met shortstop has an overactive thyroid gland. So what are the next steps for Jose Reyes?

He will remain in New York City to conduct more blood tests that will further determine his treatment. Those test results will not be ready before Thursday.


What Will The Mets Get Out Of Oliver Perez in 2010?

Omar Minaya signed him to a 3 year $36 million contract in 2009 that many felt was a huge leap of faith. And after a disastrous 2009 season, many of those experts said, "You see I told you so." But Oliver Perez is hell bent on proving the experts wrong so the question remains can the Mets enigmatic southpaw do just that?

If the New York Mets are to rebound in 2010, they will need bounce back seasons from Jose Reyes and David Wright as well as a Carlos Beltran speedy recovery. It would also help if both Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur provide the corner outfield production the Mets are expecting from both of them. But even if all those things come to pass, the team needs a reliable #2 starter to sit behind Johan Santana. Simply put, Oliver Perez needs to start earning his $12 million per year contract.

Ollie's 2009 season was a disaster from the moment he went to the WBC and returned from it in such poor physical condition an accelerated rehab caused him to hurt his knee seriously enough that he was forced to undergo season-ending surgery. But as we all know, his physical conditioning is the least of his worries as focus has always been an issue. On the other hand, stuff has never been the issue--that is until last year. His 92 MPH fast ball suddenly became a 88 MPH flat straight heater and that decrease in velocity also made his slider easier to detect even to left handed hitters.

The winter of 2009 was unlike any other off-season for Perez who did a lot of rehab and should have done a lot of soul searching as well. I remember the first time I saw Oliver Perez pitch and I was intoxicated by his stuff but in baseball talent is only 80% of the equation and the other 20% is usually the issue in question for him. That is until last year when his stuff was not as good. And I think he recognized that because his routine changed this off-season. And many feel he can rebound because he FINALLY has learned that talent is not enough. But do not just take my word for it.

Met ace Johan Santana said recently, " I see a different Ollie--he is hungry and I expect a lot from him. He stills needs to be his fun-loving self but I see him more positive than last year. Remember he was hurt last year and there were times his knee hurt so bad he wasn't even able to walk on it." And just to give you a little perspective, Santana is a player who means what he says and says what he means. He is honest--to a fault. Remember his early season criticism of Daniel Murphy's shoddy left field defense in the season's first week last year.

I will also say this--I have spoken to Ollie a few times this off-season and I have to admit he handles media questions better than he did a year ago. Now, that will not help him on the mound but may speak to his focus and taking all of his responsibilities seriously. In many ways, Perez may be the most important Met because if he returns to his 2007 form, the rotation gets a serious jump start. Knowing how crucial he is to the success of 2010 is a responsibility that should motivate Perez every single day. How he embraces that responsibility will define his season and ultimately how successful his team is in 2010.


Has the Mets Off-Season Been a Bust?

Flushing, New York--When the New York Mets entered the off-season it was painfully obvious their needs were a frontline starting pitcher(s), a big power bat, a catcher, and a set-up option for K-Rod in that order. So where did the Mets go wrong this off-season? 1050 ESPN's Met Beat Reporter Rich Coutinho breaks it down...

The first order of business should have been getting a reliable #2 starter to sit behind Johan Santana and I would be the first to admit that task was far from easy but their approach to solving the issue was misguided. Roy Halladay was quite honestly never an option because the Mets did not have a trade fit for the Jays while the talented pitcher had a short list of teams he would go to which did not include the tenants of CitiField. Once that became a painful reality, they should have immediately turned to John Lackey who wanted to decide more sooner than later this off-season.

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The Mets did reach out to the Lackey camp but did not do it in the aggressive fashion they employed with pursuing other free agents in the past like Pedro and Beltran. Why? Lackey was the best option for the team's #1 need and the Mets dragged their feet. My sense is they wanted to stay away from a 5 year deal with a pitcher whom they thought might have physical issues down the road.

But my sense of Lackey is he is a bulldog--a tough minded hurler who gets to the goal line. I think he may not have the stuff Santana has but he has that same inner toughness and he is as prepared to pitch in big games as any pitcher in either league. That's the scouting report I get from ex-teammates like Frankie Rodriquez and people like Jason Bay and Mark Teixiera who have battled him in big games.

OK so the Mets dropped the ball there but decided they could not skate away this off-season without getting one of the Big Three free agents (Lackey, Holliday, and Bay) and so they acted quickly pursuing Bay and finally got him. He will help the Mets and the fans will love his approach to the game as well as his ability to be a reliable run producer. And they still had the chance to get the catcher they so desperately needed.

But something happened in the pursuit of Bengie Molina that is very hard to pinpoint. I talked to many of the Met pitchers in the off-season and to a man they wanted Molina because they felt in those tough moments late in the game they wanted a more reliable backstop. The veteran catcher felt to uproot his family he needed a little love from the Mets and I mean a little--in the form of either a 2 year deal or a 1 year deal with an easily attainable platform that would all but guarantee two years. Instead of giving him a little love, they dug in like a separated husband in search of a more favorable alimony payment and so they lost him.

I also think the botching of the Carlos Beltran surgery news contributed to Molina's decision as well although if they offered him a 2 year deal I think he'd be a Met today. And that brings me to next chapter of the off-season--why take on Beltran? He obviously needed the surgery, 2 doctors agreed on the diagnosis, yet the Mets wanted a third opinion when a renowned specialist made the recommendation. Knowing Beltran as I do, I think he feels hurt but quite honestly he will rehab like an animal and be ready as soon as possible--probably by May 15th.

The rest of the off-season, player after player seemed to turn their back on the Mets in wake of these events. But these players-Joel Pinhiero, Jason Marquis, and Randy Wolf were not difference makers and in Wolf's case, he got an obscene 3 year $30 million contract which is insane. So, the Mets operated under the assumption that counting on a rebound season from Pelfrey, Perez, or Maine was just as likely as a good season from this "B" level talent and in Pelfrey's case for instance, at far less of a financial commitment. I do think a rebound season for either one is not a reach but to expect it from all of them is a leap of faith that I am sure Met fans are not anxious to take.

So, when the team convenes in Port St Lucie they will be a better offensive team than last year replacing Ryan Church with Jeff Francoeur and replacing Carlos Delgado with Jason Bay. They are also expecting a healthy return for Jose Reyes, a bounce back year from David Wright, and eventually a healthy Carlos Beltran. I think, aside from Beltran, all of those will happen and I only make Beltran a question mark because of the severity of his surgery.

But the starting pitching is a huge question mark and one that has to be the biggest story of the spring with all eyes pointing to every move Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez make. In Perez's case, his focus will be on display and it will be interesting to see if has made any changes in both his preparation routine as well as his ability to handle in-game adversity--the latter being very hard to discern in no-pressure spring training tilts.

If for some reason these 2 pitchers, do not bounce back a lot of people, including the decision makers inside the organization, will hold Omar Minaya responsible for the course of action he took this off-season. Despite all the talk about Reyes and Wright, it might very well be that the 2 players that hold the Met season in their hands are Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez. And with it the future of both Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya.