Sunday, January 31, 2016

Terry Collins Expects to Win World Series

Terry Collins is no Rex Ryan. He has built a reputation as one not to speak his mind too often in public, and certainly would never try to write blank checks his team can't sign. However earlier this week, Collins was not afraid to speak his mind declaring that now is the time for his New York Mets to finish what they started in 2015, and win the World Series.

“We can do this. We talked last spring about the postseason and we did win. Now what are we going to do to get the ultimate win, to finish this thing off?
"You create your own expectations. How are we going to go about doing that? I’ll tell you exactly how: We’re not changing it up much, but we’ve got to run the bases this much better, we have to strike out this much less, play a little more defense in the World Series.
"You got to have those expectations. If you are afraid of it, you are in the wrong sport. You talk about goals in baseball, there is no bigger goal, and until you get to the World Series, you don’t really understand how much fun it is.’’

There are two ways to look at these comments. For the cynic, this could be interpreted as a blank check that the Mets now have to fill. On the other hand this is a terrific motivational speech that Collins has shared with the rest of us.

Here is the fact, the Mets should expect to be a World Series team. They were just there last year, during a year many thought they would be lucky to win 80 games. They defied the odds, and with the help of Yoenis Cespedes, Daniel Murphy and superb young pitching, the Mets made it to the ultimate series.

The Mets and Collins aren't stupid either. They know that the entire National League is gunning for them in 2016, so why not go right out and welcome the challenge as defending National League Champions and set the bar high that just being good enough to be in the World Series is not enough.

Granted, we all know the NL is going to be tough this year. The Nationals surely won't choke they way they did down the stretch for the second straight year, they are too talented. The Giants and Diamondbacks have playoff expectations out west, and the NL Central's three headed monster of the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates will be formidable yet again. So the Mets know their work is cut out for them.

But, you know what? They are ready for this challenge. I love the the confidence Collins has in his team. He has earned that right considering the number of years of bad baseball he had to endure as manager prior to 2015. Bring on the new season.

Mets Will Retire Piazza's 31 on July 30

The Mets are on a roll. Not only did the franchise do the right thing and come to terms on a contract with Yoenis Cespedes, but they finally decided to retire Mike Piazza's 31.

Piazza who was elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this month will become only the second Mets player to have his number retired by the franchise, the other being Tom Seaver. The Mets will officially do the honors on the night of July 30 before a game between the Mets and Colorado Rockies; some four weeks after his official enshrinement.

Having Piazza's number retired is long overdue. While the Mets inducted Piazza into their own Hall of Fame three years ago, at the end of the 2013 season, they never retired his number at the same time. It was a matter of time before the Mets finally pulled the trigger and electing to do so on the heals of Piazza's HOF induction makes perfect sense.

Keep in mind the Mets have taken a lot of public backlashing when it comes to honoring its past. Too many times it has come across that the team ignores too much of its own history. The Mets have one three retired numbers, Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges and Seaver. Stengel and Hodges, were only managers of the Mets, and are more nods to their New York baseball history than Mets history. The Mets still haven't retired Keith Hernandez's 17, Gary Carter's 8 or Jerry Koosman's 36. Fans have clamored that the team should retire more numbers -- but the team has refused unless for a special reason.

Hopefully Piazza's number retirement ushers in a period of the Mets retiring a handful of numbers important to their history. I'm not asking for the Mets to be like the Yankees who have retired WAY TOO MANY jersey numbers, but, a little nod to the Mets past success would be a nice gesture, if not to the fans, then to the men who played in those respective eras.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

NFL Championship Sunday Preview

We are 24 hours away from Championship Sunday in the National Football League. In one corner we have the 17th battle between future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. In the other we have the first championship battle between two former Heisman Trophy winners in Carson Palmer and Cam Newton.

The Patriots, Broncos, Cardinals, and Panthers have been the four most consistent teams all season in the NFL, and in this crazy season it is fitting that all four find themselves on this stage with the Super Bowl at stake. What can we expect? Let's delve in.

Patriots @ Broncos - 3:05 p.m. ET/ 1:05 p.m. MT - TV: CBS, Jim Nantz/Phil Simms. 

This is a legacy game, pure and simple. If the Patriots win, they head to the Super Bowl for the seventh time in the Brady/Belichick era, the most by any coach/quarterback duo in history. The Patriots succeed by spreading people out with multiple looks on offense, predicated on finding either Danny Amendola or Julian Edelman open on slants. When Brady is able to connect with Edelman, it typically leaves tight end Rob Gronkowski open in one-on-one matchups. Denver missed out on both receivers in the first match-up, which made New England very predictable. Once Gronkowski left that game, the Patriots had nothing offensively and the Broncos focused in on Brady, sacking him three times.

The Broncos defense was ranked number 1 in the NFL this year in just about every category. Their match-up against Brady will be the most intriguing of this football game, and will go a long way in determining a winner.

On the flip side, Manning must have everything go his way if the Broncos are to advance. Which means a great day from C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. The duo took a lot of pressure off Manning last week against Pittsburgh in that fourth quarter, while Manning struggled to get on the same page with his receivers. It has been an very odd year for Peyton. He's dealt with numerous injuries and is a shell of his former self. Hoping that he can reclaim some of that old zip might be asking a lot, but the Broncos have enough talent to help push him forward.

Prediction: this is a tough spot for Denver. Yes, they are home, but they were lucky to get past the Steelers last week, who were handicapped by injuries to DeAngelo Williams and Antonio Brown. They will be not so lucky this time. The Patriots are healthy, and expect Belichick to have something up his sleeve for Manning in this one. PICK: Patriots 27, Broncos 20.


Cardinals @ Panthers - 6:40 p.m. ET/ 3:40 p.m. PT - TV: FOX, Joe Buck/ Troy Aikman. 

This figures to be a wild game, mainly because both teams have plenty of faults coming in. The Panthers jumped out to a 31-0 lead against Seattle, but coasted in the second half, and had to hold on for dear life. I don't love the Panthers, but they are 15-1 for a reason. Cam Newton has raised his game to another level this year, and with it, has taken his teammates to a new level as well. Nobody has gotten more out of less than Newton. Just this year, tight end Greg Olsen has had a career year, and receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Jericho Cothery have been solid at receiver all year.

What really gets the Panthers ticking offensively, however, is the rebirth of Jonathan Stewart. Stewart had his best year in five seasons, rushing for 989 yards in the regular season. He then gashed the Seahawks for 106 yards last week, the first time in 27 games the Seahawks gave up 100 yards to a single rusher. If the Cardinals struggle stopping him, they will struggle to top Carolina.

The Cardinals won their divisional playoff game taking full advantage of the Packers mistakes, with Larry Fitzgerald playing the lead roll on his 75-yard catch and run in overtime to set up the winning score. The Cardinals could pose a lot of match-up problems for Carolina. 1) the Cardinals are very good at rushing the passer, and 2) when healthy the Cardinals can be a real handful offensively.

However health is something the Cardinals don't have. Tyrann Mathieu, the heart and soul of the Cardinals defense will miss this game and the Super Bowl with a torn ACL that he suffered in the regular season. Missing him has created issues for the Cardinals both in the secondary and against the run, as they lack that hard hitter.

In addition, the Cardinals lack of a running game down the stretch has put added pressure on Carson palmer. With no real running attack to speak of, the Panthers can pin their ears back and go after the quarterback; heck this was a team that was one of the league leaders in sacks.

Prediction: Should be a lot of fun to watch, but I think the Panthers being at home for the first time in a conference championship game, combined with some great plays by Cam Newton and the Panthers pass rush will be too hot to handle for the Cardinals. If Arizona were fully healthy I would like them a lot more in this match-up. PICK: Panthers 31, Cardinals 28.

Cespedes Returns to Mets on 3-year Deal

Yoenis Cespedes will return to the Mets after all.

After reports leaked early this morning that Cespedes was weighing his options between taking a 5-year $100 million deal from the Nationals, or remain with the Mets on a three year, $75 million deal with a one-year opt out, the left-fielder decided the grass at Citi Field was much greener.

Cespedes chose New York not because the Mets front office was savvy in a contract negotiation, but rather he chose New York because he was most comfortable with his current surroundings, and with the opt out, he could be the highest paid outfielder in a weak outfield market next off-season. Of course the Mets hope he decides to opt in for 2017 and remains with the team through the 2018 season.

If Cespedes stays long term, this is a tremendous boost to the Mets chances not only in 2016 but for years to come. This was a no-brainer. With the market not budging on Cespedes' demands for a six-year deal of roughly $22 million per, the Mets had to jump in. They couldn't allow him to walk away to Washington D.C. and become a horrific reminder of a missed opportunity.

Cespedes rescued the Mets last year. When the brought him in on July 31, the Mets were only three games over .500 (53-50) and were the worst scoring offense in baseball. By the end of the season, the Mets were averaging 5.4 runs per game, the best in baseball from August 1 to the end of the regular season. The Mets were 37-22 in those 59 games with Cespedes as he led the way to a division title. While Cespedes cooled off dramatically in the playoffs, his value to the team became magnified as the off-season progressed.

Without him, the Mets were starring at a future of Juan Lagares and Alejandro De Aza platooning in center field, with an aging Curtis Granderson in right and young Michael Conforto in left. It was going to be ugly. With Cespedes back in the fold, he can take over center field all to himself, and can even play a little right field to take pressure off of Granderson's aging legs. He also lengthens the Mets lineup taking a ton of pressure off Conforto and Lucas Duda.

Cespedes for the rest of us indeed.

Cespedes is a tremendous talent. He hit 35 homers and drove in 103 last year, and owns 251 total extra base hits in his career. The Mets needed him as much as Cespedes needs the Mets, even if it is for just one year of financial leverage to a better contract.

So at the end of the day should we really be patting the backs of the Wilpon's, Sandy Alderson and Cespedes? Maybe, just a little because right now this feels good. But in the long term, it might be a just another pit stop in a career full of pit stops for Yoenis Cespedes.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Mets Sign Somebody NOT Named Yoenis Cespedes

Amid all the talk of Yeonis Cespedes, the New York Mets made a move Friday night that will do very little to quiet a desperate fanbase. The Mets signed reliever Antonio Bastardo to a two-year deal worth $12 million. 

While most fans will scuff at this deal because his name is not Cespedes, the signing of Bastardo is a significant one as it gives the Mets a reliever they so desperately needed for the later inning in front of closer Jeruys Familia. 

Bastardo, has spent time with both the Phillies and Pirates in his career, most recently with Pittsburgh where he went 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 66 games. With the Phillies, Bastardo struck out 80-plus batters twice, and had his best year in 2011 when he pitched to a 2.64 ERA. 

Last season the Mets struggled for eighth inning help, jockeying between Addison Reed and Tyler Clippard. Perhaps Bastardo gives them much needed stability. 

As solid as this move is, it didn't draw much fanfare on Twitter. 

  1. We’ve agreed to a 2-year deal with LHP Antonio Bastardo.
    Embedded image permalink
    Tweet text
  2. y'all better sign c├ęspedes
  3. that’s not Yoenis
  4. sign cespedes

Cespedes Drawing Interest from Nationals, Mets dangle 3-year deal

Here is an article I wrote for Amazin Clubhouse on Scout.com covering the Mets proposed 3-year deal with an opt out clause for Yoenis Cespedes. The Nationals have offered the Mets outfielder a five year deal worth $100 million.

My take!

Yoenis Cespedes is still a free agent and the Mets have shown no rush to sign him to a long-term deal, leading Mets fans to flood the airwaves and Twitter-verse with pure anger directed at embattled owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon. 
 As of Friday Cespedes is mulling two offers: one, a lucrative deal from the Washington Nationals that would pay the outfielder $100 million over five years. The other, a three-year deal with an opt-out clause after just one season from the Mets.
 As most know, Cespedes’ people have expressed that he would like to stay in New York, but the Mets reluctance to get a deal done and offer the outfielder a legitimate contract is not only befuddling, it gives fans an uneasy feeling that the team’s financial ills are still prevalent.
 Currently the Mets’ Big Three of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are all severely underpaid, considering their quality of work at the Major League level. Harvey will make only $4.7 million this year, and is not a free agent until 2018. deGrom, Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler are all making less than a million this season.  Add closer Jeurys Familia’s $3.3 million deal for 2016 and the Mets are paying less than $10 million for the top arms on this ballclub.
 To say that the Mets can’t afford a long-term deal with Cespedes and keep their starters at the same time is presumptuous. If the Mets matched the Nationals offer and paid Cespedes $100 million over five years, they would still have control of at least deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz through the life of that contract. Curtis Granderson, who is due $16 million this year, is a free agent after 2017. David Wright isn’t a free agent until 2020. So over time money would come off the books to pay the Mets starting staff, Cespedes and any other potential free agent.
 The Mets reluctance tells us two things: 1) they were turned off by Cespedes’ horrific postseason. Cespedes hit only .222 in the playoffs, and was an automatic out come the World Series. His two errors in the outfield during the Fall Classic helped doom the Mets as well.  While Cespedes is a prolific hitter with tremendous power, he does have a very streaky side to him. Is that worth a commitment of $20 million per season? That is a question that not only the Mets are asking, but also several other teams in the Cespedes sweepstakes.
 2) The 3,000 lb. gorilla in the room is the Mets financial situation. It is no secret that the Mets are still struggling financially. Ever since the Bernie Madoff scandal broke in 2008, the Mets have been forced to cut costs in order to pay back their creditors. According to Howard Megdal of vocativ.com the Mets “have managed to get by annually by diverting revenue from their baseball and television operation into the financing of debt.”
 The Mets payroll has dropped drastically over the years, dipping below $100 million back in 2013. The Mets payroll coming into 2016 right now is around $90 million. That’s pretty low for a team in a major market like New York. While the Mets say the Madoff days are long gone, the Cespedes situation make one wonder.
 The Mets haven’t spent a major contract on a free agent (not named David Wright) since Jason Bay’s ill fated $66 million deal in 2009. Since the Mets have been gun-shy about going after top free agent talent in order to build up their minor league system. While that strategy hasn’t been wrong, not cashing in on the success of 2015 and signing Cespedes is a huge mistake by the Mets. 
 The Mets need to invest in Cespedes. This is a team that tremendous potential to compete at the top of the National League for the next 3 – 4 years with everyone still under contract. The opportunity to win is now. Like he was in July, Cespedes is the final piece.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Championship Weekend in NFL is Ready to Rock

CARDINALS 26
PACKERS 20 - OT 

In what will easily go down as an instant classic and one of the most incredible playoff games in NFL history, the Arizona Cardinals outlasted the Green Bay Packers 26-20 in overtime, after two future Hall of Famers flexed their muscles in the final minutes of this slugfest. 

Where to begin? I have no idea. How about this, the Packers blew a 13-10 third quarter lead, while the Cardinals perpetually tired their best not to take to full control of this one. With the fourth quarter just getting underway quarterback Carson Palmer was picked-off by Damarious Randall on a first and goal at the Packers 10 with 14:18 to go in regulation. 

It looked like Green Bay would take control after the turnover, but they never did. Palmer and the Cardinals were given another chance, and yes, they almost blew that too. With 4:40 to go in the game, and the Cardinals again driving deep into Packers territory, Palmer almost had another pass intercepted, but it was dropped at the last second. 

As it would turn out, the third opportunity was the charm for Palmer, who finally connected with Michael Floyd on a nine-yard touchdown, that was only helped by the fact that the ball bounced off the arm of a Packers defender, popped up into the air and into the waiting hands of Floyd for the score. 

Fast forward to the final two minutes of the game, and it did not look for Green Bay. They were down 20-13, and had the football in the shadow of their own goal-line. On fourth and 20, Rodgers heaved up a miracle pass down the sideline only to have it caught by Jeff Janis for a 60-yard gain to the Arizona 41 yard line. There was no way this could happen right? 

Remember when Green Bay pulled out a miracle finish in Detroit seven weeks ago? No way that happens again? Well.... Rodgers did it again! With the clock ticking own to triple zeros, Rodger heaved a pass down the middle of the ballpark only to have Janis once again come down with it for the tying score. 


The score sent us into overtime tied at 20, and the fun was not over yet. First we had a mishap with the coin toss, as the coin never flipped in the air, forcing the refs to re-do the toss (shades of Belichick vs. the Jets in week 16, I guess). Then Larry Fitzgerald went off on Green Bay. On a broken play, Palmer found Fitzgerald wide open at the Arizona 35 yard line, and the future Hall of Famer did the rest, dashing 75-yards down field for a first and goal at the Green Bay five. Fitzgerald then iced it with a five yard touchdown catch on a flip play to win it for the Cardinals. 

No game came close to topping this one on the weekend. The win by Arizona has now set up a date with the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game. Both teams are vying for their second ever Super Bowl appearance. 

PANTHERS 31
SEAHAWKS 24

Speaking of Carolina, they dismantled the Seahawks 31-24, in a game that more about pure vengeance for the Panthers than anything else. Carolina jumped out to a 31-0 lead in the first half thanks to a power running game led by Jonathan Stewart, and a suffocating defense that allowed only 117 yards of total offense before halftime.

Carolina opened hot right out of the gate when Stewart gashed the Sehawks with a 59-yard run that set up the first score of the day just two and a half minutes into the game. On Seattle's ensuing possession, Russell Wilson threw an interception right into the hands of Luke Kuechly, who waltzed into the end zone for the score to push the Panthers ahead 14-0.
Before the Seahawks could even get settled the Panthers were up 24-0 with 12:37 to go in the second quarter. As for Cam Newton, he did his part in guiding the Panthers attack by throwing two touchdowns, including a 19-yard bomb to the back of the end zone that tight end Greg Olsen snared. 

However, the win for the Panthers didn't come without some concerns. The Seahawks caught fire in the second half, scoring on four of their final five possessions to pull within 31-24. The Panthers had no answer for Russell Wilson, who tore the Panthers questionable secondary apart. Wilson finished with 31 completions, 366 yards passing and three scores. Receivers Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin all had big days for the Hawks. 

Blowing a large lead is nothing new for Carolina. They have blown a number of halftime leads this year, including in victories over the Saints and Giants down the stretch. This will be something to watch. 

PATRIOTS 27
CHIEFS 20

This game was not as close as the final score indicated. The Patriots dominated the Chiefs on Saturday afternoon, jumping out to leads of 14-3 and 21-6 midway through the third quarter. The only reason this game was even remotely close had to do with the Chiefs final score of the day in garbage time. 

And speaking of garbage time, what was Andy Reid thinking allowing the Chiefs to not run a two-minute offense when they were down 27-13 with a little over six minutes to go? The Chiefs ran off 16 plays and five minutes off the clock before they scored. It was reminiscent of another Reid clock management flub against the Patriots, way back in Super Bowl XXXIX. 
Tom Brady and crew now return to the AFC title game for the 10th time in the Brady/Belichick era, and their sixth since 2003. 

BRONCOS 23
STEELERS 16

Meanwhile, the Broncos held off the Steelers 23-16 thanks to a fumble by Steelers running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. With Pittsburgh leading 13-12 with a little over nine minutes to go in regulation, Toussaint took a helmet off his forearm and fumbled the football into the hands of Broncos' defensive end DeMarcus Ware. 

Peyton Manning, in his first start since early November, engineered a 13-play 65-yard scoring drive focused heavily on the run. The Broncos ran the football ten times on the drive with Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson combining to power the Bronco attack. Denver finally scored when Anderson plunged in from one yard out to make it 18-13. Manning then connected with Demarious Thomas for the two-point conversion to make it 20-13. Manning did have a 31-yard completion to Bennie Fowler on the drive. 

Overall it was a mediocre day for Manning and the Broncos. Manning showed some obvious rust, and lacked a rhythm with his receivers. The Broncos receivers hurt themselves with seven dropped passes on the day, including five of them in the first half. 

Defensively the Broncos did the best they could against the Steelers who were clearly hamstrung by the absence of Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams. Ben Roethlisburger still threw for 339 yards, with Martavis Bryant hauling in nine passes for 154 yards, but without Brown there to give Pittsburgh a legit deep threat, the Steelers offense slowed down progressively as the game wore on. 

The Broncos, who return to the AFC title game for the second time in three years can ill afford to settle for five field goals if they expect to beat the Patriots next week. Regardless now the lead-up for the next six days will be about the 17th, and maybe final, match-up between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.