Archive for January, 2009

Martinez Goes Back to Where It All Began

January 30, 2009

As the sports world anxiously waits for this Sunday’s Super Bowl, the most-watched sporting event in North America, veteran pitcher Pedro Martinez is somewhere in his native Dominican Republic tending to his garden or shaking his hips to the Latin beats of the bachata.

In between, the right hander has found time to sit down with Mets GM Omar Minaya and discuss a possible return to the Mets’ pitching staff.

According to the team’s website, Minaya and the Mets are still interested in Martinez even though they have previously stated otherwise. During his four years with the Mets, Martinez went 32-23 but 15 of those wins came in 2005, the first year of his free-agent contract. Since then, he has struggled with injuries along with the death of his father.

“I think right now Pedro feels the best he’s felt probably since the first year he signed with the Mets,” Pedro’s agent, Fernando Cuza, told the New York Post. “He feels strong. There’s absolutely no aches and pains.”

Mets fans have heard this sentiment before. At the start of last season, Martinez professed that for him the most important thing was that he was healthy. Unfortunately, his first start of the 2008 season ended with a pulled hamstring and a stint on the disabled list. In all honesty, there’s probably no better pitcher in the major leagues who can rely on his past performances to weather a number of storms. For his career, Martinez has a 214-99 record to go along with a 2.91 ERA. Adding in his 3,117 career strikeouts, he could be a strong consideration for the Hall of Fame.

At age 37, Martinez reportedly has yet to receive an offer from any club. Cuza has said that if his client isn’t signed by the time Spring Training opens, he’ll report to the Dominican team for the World Baseball Classic.

“He wanted to use the opportunity of the Classic,” Cuza told the New York Post, “not only as an opportunity to play for the Dominican Republic, which he didn’t do last time, but also as an opportunity to showcase himself, to demonstrate to teams what kind of condition he’s in right now.”

The hurdle for Martinez may be cracking the Dominican’s starting rotation. With the likes of younger, more reliable arms such as Angels 16-game winner Ervin Santana, Reds 17-game winner Edinson Volquez, Twins lefty Francisco Liriano and Cleveland sinkerballer Fausto Carmona, he would probably be fighting for the fifth spot.

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Ladies and Gentleman, Your 2009 New York Mets

January 30, 2009

In fourteen days, major league baseball will be opening up their training camps to pitchers and catchers. If the Mets decide to close up shop and no longer pursue any of the free agents that are still out there, this is most likely how the twenty-four man roster will look like at the start of the regular season.

Infielders
Carlos Delgado
Luis Castillo
Alex Cora
Jose Reyes
David Wright

Outfielders
Fernando Tatis
Daniel Murphy
Carlos Beltran
Ryan Church
Nick Evans
Marlon Anderson

Catchers
Brain Schneider
Roman Castro

The Starters
Johan Santana
Mike Pelfrey
John Maine
Tim Redding
Jonathon Niese

The Bullpen
Francisco Rodriguez
J.J. Putz
Sean Green
Duaner Sanchez
Pedro Feliciano
Brian Stokes

Chicago, Heilman’s Kind of Town

January 29, 2009

“Starting has always been my first love,” former Mets reliever Aaron Heilman said.

Prior to being shipped off to the Emerald City in exchange for Seattle closer, J.J. Putz, Heilman gave the Mets an ultimatum. He simply said, “Start me or trade me.” The Mets did the latter and traded the Notre Dame alum to the Mariners. During his junior year as a starter for the Fighting Irish, Heilman went 15-0. Unfortunately, at the age of thirty, those days are long gone. During his tenure with the Mets, Heilman was used primarily as a cross-over relief pitcher coming out of the bullpen.

“It definitely makes you learn how to have a thick skin,” said Heilman of pitching in New York. “A lot of people there are brutally honest, and sometimes that’s a very good thing. Sometimes everybody needs to hear some things that they don’t want to hear.

“I’m looking forward to a little change of pace, a change of scenery.”

Upon signing for $1.625 million to pitch for the Mariners this season, Heilman felt he had been given a second chance. According to Seattle’s front office, they had intentions of making him their fifth starter. However, Heilman had to earn that role as he was one of several potential candidates.

“All you can ever ask for is a chance to compete and show what you’ve got and try to win a job,” Heilman said. “I know we’ve got a lot of starting pitching here, so it’s not going to be an easy task.”

Fortunately, for Heilman, his situation may have gotten a little easier. Most recently, the Mariners have dealt him to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for infielder Ronny Cedeno and reliever Garrett Olson. With Jason Marquis traded to the Rockies, Heilman may have a better chance in cracking the starting rotation as a member of the Cubbies than he did with Seattle. If Heilman does land a starting job, he may be slotted to pitch against his former club, the Mets. Both teams are scheduled to meet six times during the regular season.

Manuel Likes Manny

January 28, 2009

“I don’t get involved with the salaries, or what a guy makes, what he’s gonna make, or how many years he’s gonna make,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel professed during a recent episode of SNY’s Daily News Live. When confronted with the possibility of the Mets signing free agent Manny Ramirez, Manuel said, “Once that player becomes a Met, I deal with it from there.”

At the top of the interview which seemed more like an inquisition, Manuel fielded questions on how he would handle a player like Manny Ramirez. The Mets manager was thoroughly impressed by the veteran right hander’s abilities. “I don’t have a problem with people who produce in the fashion that he does,” Manuel said.

Throughout the interview, Manuel was relaxed. He brushed off DNL co-host Jonas Schwartz’s soft jibe about how much better the skipper might feel walking out to the mound this season.

“I feel pretty comfortable with the team, you always like to add different pieces here and there,” Manuel said. “I would love to have another right-handed batter to balance out the line-up.”

Although that last comment made everyone laugh, Manuel seemed frustrated in having to compete with the World Baseball Classic. The WBC is being held during this year’s Spring Training, the first for Manuel as the Mets manager. “I wish we wouldn’t have the Classic as my first year as manager because, I feel, the core players are the players that I need to manage at that time more than anybody else.”

“When those guys can understand what you want,” he went on to say, “then they can manage the rest of the guys.”

Manuel provided confident responses for the most part, except when he was asked to address concerns surrounding second baseman Luis Castillo. He couldn’t say “one way or the other” about how Castillo will fare this season. “Our job as a staff is to get him back to the player he was and for him to be embraced by the team he plays for,” he said.

When speaking about what happened to the Mets during the last two seasons, Manuel re-iterated that “regardless of who you are, J.J. Putz, anybody, you have to make sure that you identify with what has gone on in the past.”

“It is always out in the open,” he added, “we will never get rid of it until we make the playoffs.”

Should There Be a Cap on Salary Arbitration?

January 27, 2009

The need for arbitration goes as far back as 1886 when the Baseball Arbitration Committee oversaw a case in which Thomas Burns, a third baseman, was seeking re-instatement with hopes of continuing his professional baseball career. Burns was “black- listed” for signing with two different ball clubs, New York and Baltimore. The clubs’ owners felt it was in their best interest to see where they stood in regards to their representation and protection of the controversial player. For some, the idea of an arbitrator settling a player’s contractual terms may seem unnecessary. However, we have seen our share over the years just how essential a third party can be.

On August 12, 1994, major league baseball shut its doors and decided to no longer provide the country with its national pastime. To help solve their disagreements, they called on the U.S government.

“The American people are the real losers,” former President Bill Clinton had said.

At that time, the pending reality for baseball’s return was that both parties, the owners and the players, had to accept binding arbitration.

“The players and owners still remain far apart on their differences,” Mr. Clinton added. “Clearly they are not capable of resolving this strike without an umpire.”

Ball clubs have long hated arbitration because of the uncertainty of arbitrators’ decisions. In 1998, former Arizona Diamondbacks owner, Jerry Colangelo, rejected salary arbitration as “ludicrous” adding: “the sooner it can go the better. What it does is divide, management-ownership, and player-agent.” Players, on the other hand, were neither here nor there with regard to salary arbitration but wanted to make sure that if it was eliminated they would get something in return.

During the strike that canceled the 1994 post-season, a player representative went as far as suggesting that “arbitration was a problem and that it should be eliminated or altered significantly to make it more predictable and dilute the escalation in salaries it had produced.” Other player representatives echoed a different sentiment arguing that “salary arbitration was what kept the system honest and that its effects preserved the salary structure.”

ESPN Baseball Today’s co-host Peter Pasquarelli, on his podcast recently commented on the subject of arbitration by saying that “it triggered the salary boom and that there was no real economic influence on it or real control over it.” He then went on to say that arbitration, “made players very rich, very early in their careers.” “You end up over-paying for key guys that you have to keep in your system,” he said.

Further on in the podcast, Pasquarelli continued to insist that major league baseball take a harder look at salary arbitration. “The league is going to have to start equating the declining free agent salaries to arbitration hearings,” the co-host stated.

Whether it’s 1886 or 2009, the need for an arbitrator has been as much a part of the game as peanuts, popcorn or a game of pepper.

Fighting Baseball Withdrawal In Mexico

January 24, 2009

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Waiting for the ferryboat that would take me to the island of Cozumel, I sat on a ledge overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Suddenly, my ears perked up as I overheard a conversation by some local passengers speaking in their native tongue. Unmistakably, one of the gentlemen stopped in mid-sentence and blurted out the name, “Reyes.”

I continued to eavesdrop in hopes that the dialogue would keep its focus on other names connected to anyone who might play for the New York Mets. As it became obvious that the conversation had zero to do with baseball, my Mets withdrawal became apparent.

Up until now, my only tangible experience other than periodically checking up on the team’s current news and notes had been an unsuspected sighting of a Mets fan wearing a baseball cap inside the pedestrian walkway (Avedia de Cinco) of Playa del Carmen. Perhaps I was asking for too much. I was, currently, far from the Big Apple. Most people wouldn’t need instant Mets gratification when the weather up North is below freezing and so warm south of the border. I guess the easiest thing for me to do was to just give up and enjoy my vacation. But, for someone like me, who makes an effort to stay abreast of every little detail that pertains to the game of baseball, I just couldn’t accept that solution so easily.

To some, my situation seemed dire but I refused to give up. I decided to consider all possible leads regarding the sport of baseball. With the motivation brought on by a newly-found culture and the fact that I only had a short stint left inside an unfamiliar land, I experienced a new burst of energy. I examined a downtown map of San Miguel, the epicenter of Cozumel, and set out to discover a section of the “El Centro” neighborhood labeled simply, “Stadium Beisbol.”

The location was a mere seven blocks from where I was staying. Somewhere between the intersection of Pedro Joaquin Coldwell and Aldolfo Rosoda Salas, balls and strikes were being called. I turned to my wife with jubilation and told her, “I would like to check out this place before we leave.”

Of course, her first reaction was that I was totally nuts. With that said, it took several days for me to actually experience this part of my trip. Many mornings passed by in which I was awaken by a nearby rooster’s crow and still, I couldn’t find any additional information concerning the local baseball stadium. I scoured the Internet for any info but nothing, nada, as they say here. The most I learned was that a semi-pro ball club played their home games at some point.

For now, I was left to wonder when this pro team played and against who. Perhaps, I would be lucky enough to see the next Oliver Perez. Maybe one of their beloved sluggers would manage to hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. That would be something, traveling a quarter of the way this side of the globe to witness one of the greatest games of my life. No matter where you were or when you saw it, you’ll never forget it. That is the beauty of baseball, a team game made up of a roster of individuals who demanded nothing less than perfection from themselves. Why would these Mexican ball players expect anything less?

After being dragged around shopping for a bunch of tacky souvenirs, I reached a compromise with my wife: 5 stores and then we go check out the stadium. Success! Alas, the stadium was empty. I realized that I wasn’t going to be regaled with any tailor-made double plays or diving catches. I wouldn’t even be able to break for a moment from all the action and sit through a pitching change. I just had to accept it, there wasn’t going to be any baseball being played today.

Fortunately, I was able to explore the confines by way of an unlocked gate. I traversed from right field to left field, sat right behind home plate, and stared down from the pitcher’s mound. I may not have witnessed a single inning but I had good faith that many will be taking my place when the umpire eventually yells, “Jugar Beisbol.”

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For me, I will be back inside New York soon enough counting down the days until Spring Training.

Lowe Settles for the Southeast

January 15, 2009

In mid-February, the Mets will be making the necessary arrangements in preparation for this year`s pitchers and catchers. GM Omar Minaya has stated that all those who attend with the exception of Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, and John Maine have an outside chance of solidifying the back-end of the starting rotation. Reason being, those three pitchers have already earned their respective spots.

Since the start of the New Year, the Mets` front office has made it a top priority to sign durable and playoff-ready starting pitching with the hope that they will go deeper into ball games reducing the possibility of an over-worked bullpen. Veteran right-hander Derek Lowe is someone who could fill that void. However, that option is now null and void for the Atlanta Braves have succeeded in snagging the right-hander by simply offering a contract worth $60 million over four years.

“When you get a horse like Lowe in the rotation, that takes so much pressure off the rest of the rotation,” Atlanta reliever Blaine Boyer said. “This is good for the bullpen, the starters and all of the position players. This does so much good for the psyche of the players and the fans.”

With the recent departure of long-time Braves` pitcher John Smoltz, and the uncertainties regarding starters, Tom Glavine and Tim Hudson, Lowe`s services now seem much more vital than before. In the past, Lowe has stressed the importance of finishing out the end of his professional career with a ball club that will be able to provide an instant chance of reaching the post-season. On the other hand, the Atlanta Braves have struggled the past three seasons siting rebuilding as the reasons for their lack of competitiveness in an ultra-competitive NL East.

In my opinion, this was a good move for the Mets. They have had past experience with signing veteran pitchers who are in the twilight of their careers. Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine both with exceptional pedigrees were brought in to help a Mets ball club get back to the World Series and we all now how that turned out. If the Mets organization does not fulfill the need for another starter via free agency, they most definitely will choose from within.

“I feel good about my situation,” lefty prospect, Jonathon Niese said this week from his home in Defiance, Ohio. “I’m going into camp fighting for a job, and that’s basically all I’m worried about.”

CONTENT NOTE

January 10, 2009

The author of this site will be traveling abroad for the next two weeks. In the meantime, check back just in case I find an Internet cafe to cozy up in. Lets Go Mets.

The Mets Are Seeing Red

January 10, 2009

The word on the street is that the New York Mets are very close to signing a right-handed starting pitcher. Could it be, Derek Lowe? We all knew Omar would get his man sooner or later. It just goes to show you that if you stick to your guns and refuse to give in, your hard work will pay off.

“Isn’t Omar the greatest GM in all of baseball?”

First, he brings in the most exciting closer since Dennis Eckersley. Then, he successfully orchestrates a three-team trade replacing key players who made up the majority of last year’s disastrous bullpen.

“Wait a minute….one year, $2.25 million for Derek Lowe?”

“Oh my, this doesn’t seem right.”

After managing to pick myself up after falling off my chair, the Mets announced that they have reached an agreement with free-agent pitcher, Tim Redding. Redding, who turns 31 next month, accomplished something no other Washington Nationals’ pitcher accomplished: he won ten games.

It’s no secret the economy is flailing amidst reports that the Mets organization is requesting City Hall to send more public bonds to help defray some of the new stadium’s costs. Perhaps, the Wilpons, the Mets principal owners, have miscalculated the losses they incurred with their involuntary participation in the latest Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.

Come to think of it, it all makes perfect sense: the Mets are broke. Compounded with the low offers for front-line starting pitching and the reluctance to budge, we may have to live with Redding and young left-hander, Jonathon Niese as our fourth and fifth starters.

What is Scott Boras Talking About?

January 9, 2009

“What you hear and what is reality,” Scott Boras, speaking with WFAN’s Mike Francesa on his mid-day radio show, Mike’d Up, earlier in the week, “or what are printed as offers, in fact, what we consider as offers, may be very different that what you see or hear that is written.”

When most people think of the word, free agent, the first name that comes to mind is Scott Boras. If one was to sit down and list the names of players who share in his representation, it would probably take some time. With access to so many baseball players, general managers, and chief operating officers, you may think of granting Boras a pass when he’s disputing contract information that pops up on someone’s Twitter notes. But when sports writers who work for the New York Times send out detailed reports regarding free agents, you can’t help but take it seriously.

With the current state of the economy not so good, Boras must be extra cautious in projecting the right image to help his players. But for someone on a daily basis who is involved in deals that entail millions if not, hundreds of millions of dollars, that careful planning may be irrelevant.

“The state of the game is still healthy,” Boras said.

Boras knows that in his business, it’s better to stay positive. With respect to one of several lingering free agents, Oliver Perez, who the Mets have professed interest in, the strongest selling point according to Boras is that the young left-hander last season went on to produce quality starts in 13 of his last 17 games.

“There’s a solid market for him,” Boras said, alluding to Perez.

“In free agency, teams come to you, they express interest, and they get back to you. “You then examine where does this pitcher sign, it’s the musical chairs of free agency.”

“The timing of these things is something I cannot predict,” he added.

Boras’ demeanor seems better suited for that of an insurance salesman than a guy who specializes in negotiating multi-million dollar contracts for up-scale athletes. He lets his money-hungry players generate the headlines. For example, he was asked to comment in regards to one his most popular clients, Manny Ramirez.

Prior to last year’s pennant races, Ramirez wanted out of Boston so badly that he publicly demanded a trade. He even went so far as to hold up a homemade sign while sitting in the dugout for the entire baseball world to see that read, “Trade Me.” Most commentators coughed it up as “Manny being Manny.” However, Francesa bluntly replied, “That was pretty ugly”, referring to the Manny Ramirez situation.

On Boras’ end, it instantly went silent. “I don’t know if you want to comment on that,” added Mike. Boras gained his composure and confidently began to speak of how Joe Torre, the manager of the Dodgers, boasted of Ramirez’ leadership qualities and added that he is a “player who can generate self-revenue and take a team on his back.”

Boras relayed that a top priority regarding which franchise is best for his client would come down to a team possessing a good vision of “winning currently.” This was the key breaking point in completing the blockbuster deal for the New York Yankees new first baseman, Mark Teixeira.

As reports continue to re-surface with details of on-going discussions between the New York Mets and veteran right hander Derek Lowe, who is another of Boras’ clients, we will have to trust our instincts as to what is factual and what is circumspect.