Mets’ Marcus Stroman Opts Out of 2020 Season Citing Covid 19 Concerns

By Scott Mandel

Marcus Stroman, a key member of the New York Mets starting rotation, has decided to end his season.

The right-hander becomes the second high-profile Mets player to opt out, joining Yoenis Cespedes, who opted out earlier this month.

Stroman, who was acquired by the Mets from the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline last season, has not pitched this season because of a torn calf muscle.

Stroman has accrued enough service time to qualify for free agency after this season.

New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman opts out of season due to ...
Stroman has been recovering from a pre-season calf injury

Stroman, who had been working his way back from the preseason calf injury, said he made his decision with his family and it is purely based on COVID-19, not because of his calf. Stroman, 29, is set to become a free agent at the end of the year without throwing a pitch in 2020. He said the decision was “weighing on” him daily.

“This is not something that I wanted,” Stroman said. “This was a collective decision for my family, for our best interests. Because I’m such a competitor, it was incredibly hard to finally come up with this decision.”

Let’s Get Wally Backman Back in a Big League Dugout

By Scott Mandel

From the “where did this come from” file, I recently listened to a Ron Gardenhire post-game presser. Gardy, a former Met, is a baseball lifer who is transforming the Tigers into a professional baseball team, again.

It reminds me of why guys like him, his buddy, Wally Backman, Bob Brenley, Jim Leyland and the rest of the “old” managers should always have a place in baseball, running a team. Players don’t care how old a manager is. The special ones, no matter their ages, relate to all players and are great at running the games.

Ron Gardenhire on Tigers' elite pitching prospects: 'I hope I don ...
Gardenhire is transforming Tigers from sad sacks to a young, competitive team

Today’s general managers, many in their 30s or 40s, think hiring a young guy who can “relate” better to today’s player, is an advantage. As I watch the new Mets manager, 16-year old Luis Rojas, I keep thinking about Wally Backman in that dugout, winning games instead of losing games, the way the Mets are doing, now. (Rojas is really 38).

Maybe, the new Mets owner will bring Wally back.

NY Giants Arriving for 2020 Training Camp. Masks and Everything

By Scott Mandel

It’s game on—or more accurately, training camp on, for the NFL after the league and the NFL Players Association finally resolved their remaining differences regarding operational and financial matters that had threatened to end the season before it had a chance to get off the ground. 

The Giants rookies have already reported for camp. By Sunday, they will have completed the mandatory five-day testing period in which they were to have taken a COVID-19 test on reporting day (July 23) and again on July 26.

Both tests must be negative if they are to be allowed to begin training within the sterile environment the team has set up to be based out of MetLife Stadium.

The veterans are due to report for their five-day testing period on July 28. There will be an established schedule (as laid out by SI.com’s Albert Breer), who also reports that walk-through practices will be permitted during the strength and conditioning part of the schedule.

Schedules aside, the Giants will have no shortage of storylines this summer, ranging from what new head coach Joe Judge’s practices and command of the team will look like to how the new offensive and defensive schemes will take shape.

Mets’ Cespedes Opts Out from the Baseball Season

By Scott Mandel – sportsreporters.com

Cespedes decided to end his season with the Mets after nine games in 2020

Yoenis Cespedes has decided to opt out of the 2020 MLB season. The news comes hours after the Mets released a statement they were unable to get in contact with him after he failed to show up for the Sunday afternoon game in Atlanta.

“It’s disappointing,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “This is a disappointing end at least to his four-year agreement with the Mets.”

 Van Wagenen maintained the team had no knowledge of Cespedes’ plan to opt out before sending their statement out before game time on Sunday. The Mets G.M. also did not know whether the slugger was safe and healthy before releasing an initial statement. He explained his statement was made in an effort to be transparent and keep the public informed, “in real time,” the GM said later.

“As of game time, Yoenis Céspedes has not reported to the ballpark today,” Van Wagenen’s statement read. “He did not reach out to management with any explanation for his absence. Our attempts to contact him have been unsuccessful.”

The announcement of the lineup was also delayed, but when Rojas was asked directly if the team was waiting on any players to arrive, the manager chalked it up to the quick turnaround of Saturday night’s game to Sunday afternoon’s early arrival.

”Nothing in particular,” Rojas said on the delay of the lineup announcement. “We’re just arriving from the night-day game.”

Cespedes is in the final year of his contract with the Mets, which was restructured in January following his 2019 accident with a wild boar. He rehabbed from multiple surgeries on his heels and ankle and returned to play Opening Day in his first-big league game since July 2018.

The slugger is batting .161 (5-for-31) with two home runs, four RBI, two walks, three runs scored and 15 strikeouts from the designated-hitter spot across the first nine games of the season.

One suspects there is more to this story than meets the immediate eye. Stay tuned.

Knicks Finishing Deal with Thibs to Return to MSG as Head Coach

By Scott Mandel

The New York Knickerbockers, a discombobulated, mostly losing franchise since the Pat Riley/Jeff Van Gundy era 20 years ago, are finalizing a five-year deal to make Tom Thibodeau the franchise’s next head coach, according to ESPN.

Knicks president Leon Rose and agent Spencer Breecker of CAA Sports were working Saturday to complete contractual terms and a signed agreement is expected in the near future, sources said.

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Rose and executive VP William Wesley are completing a two-month search process with the candidate, Thibodeau, long expected to emerge with the job. Together, they’ll be tasked with the daunting challenge of restoring a forlorn franchise to NBA relevance.

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New York is counting on Thibodeau’s history in player development as a head coach and assistant to put into place a program that’ll restore a competitive infrastructure with the Knicks. For now, Rose and Thibodeau inherit a roster that needs dramatic upgrades before a return to the playoffs is even a realistic aspiration.

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New York was 21-45 this season, missing the playoffs for the sixth straight season.

Thibodeau is 11th all-time in winning percentage for coaches with 500 or more games. He has a 352-246 (.589) record in eight seasons with Chicago and Minnesota.

Thibodeau, 62, comes to the Knicks after a tumultuous two-plus seasons with the Timberwolves that included the franchise’s first playoff berth in 14 years — and an unraveling centered around All-Star Jimmy Butler‘s trade demand that led to Thibodeau’s dismissal as president and coach in 2019.

Thibodeau had five playoff seasons with the Bulls, including a trip to the Eastern Conference finals and an NBA coach of the year award in 2010. A series of injuries to MVP Derrick Rose played a role in derailing the Bulls’ championships aspirations.

Thibodeau was a Knicks assistant under Jeff Van Gundy from 1996 to 2004, and has long desired to return to New York as a head coach. He’s a native of nearby New Britain, Connecticut.

Welcome to MLB Season that Starts in the Heart of the Pennant Race

By Scott Mandel

Typically, when a major league baseball season gets to game 102, leaving only 60 games remaining to the season, we have gotten through the All-Star break in the second week of July and we are bearing down on the dog days of August. For those teams still in the pennant race, the high-pressure games of down-the-stretch baseball are about to begin.

Here, in 2020, with the condensed schedule of only 60 games instead of 162, all 30 major league teams are officially in a pennant race, with every game remaining having the impact of almost three games. If a team goes on a short losing streak while division opponents are winning games, the distance they fall behind, with fewer games remaining, puts increased pressure on every game and every pitch.

Welcome to the pennant race, from beginning to end of this unique season.

Opening day started yesterday with a Yankee win as their $324 million free agent ace, Gerrit Cole, earned part of his $36 million annual salary (pro-rated to reflect the shortened season), throwing five innings and allowing one hit and one run against the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals, in D.C. as the Bronx Bombers defeated Max Scherzer and the Nats, 4-1. In front of an empty stadium, but a huge television audience, the distinguished Dr. Anthony Fauci was unable to distinguish himself as the opening day pitcher of the First Pitch. The 79-year old Fauci, who was a high school basketball star in New York City, just missed throwing a strike by about 30 feet, with his pitch landing somewhere near the first base foul line.

Today, in front of a small crowd of smiling cardboard season ticket holders at Citi Field in New York, Jacob deGrom, the Mets ace and two-time Cy Young Award winner, threw another gem against the Atlanta Braves, allowing one hit in five innings while striking out eight Braves batters. He left the game but watched Cespedes hit a solo home run in the seventh inning as the Mets shut out the Braves, 1-0.

It sure didn’t take much time for Yoenis Cespedes to swing right into a DH role in his long-awaited return.

Cespedes came back with a bang, immediately capitalizing on the new designated hitter rule in the National League by launching a home run that sent deGrom and the Mets past the Braves in their season opener Friday.

After five dominant innings from deGrom, who was popping the catcher’s mitt with 99 mph fastballs at the start, Cespedes connected in the seventh off reliever Chris Martin (0-1) for his first long ball since his previous major league game on July 20, 2018.

“I’m very excited. It was very exciting just to be able to play again,” Cespedes said though a translator. “I don’t have words for a situation like that.”

“It proved to me that I can still be the same player that I used to be,” he added.

The 34-year-old slugger missed most of the past two seasons with a string of leg injuries, requiring surgery on both heels and then a broken ankle after a bad fall at his Florida ranch in a reported run-in with a wild boar.

“I don’t care if he took a five-year hiatus, when he gets in the batter’s box, you’re worried,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s such a presence.”

Rules changes for this shortened season delayed by the coronavirus provided a DH in NL games for the first time — giving the Mets a perfect slot for Cespedes even if left field presents a problem.

“The funny thing was I joked with him before the game, I said, `Why are you hitting for me?” deGrom said. “Really happy for him.”

With no fans at Citi Field due to the pandemic, it was easy to hear teammates exclaiming in the dugout when Cespedes sent his drive soaring into the empty left-field seats.

“They erupted. They went crazy,” rookie manager Luis Rojas said. “Obviously, it’s a big moment for Ces. He’s been waiting.”

Seth Lugo (1-0) tossed two innings, pitching out of trouble in the seventh, and Justin Wilson whiffed Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner in scoring position to end the eighth.

Edwin Diaz, who lost his job as closer during a miserable 2019 season, struck out two in a hitless ninth for the save. He worked around a one-out walk, giving the 38-year-old Rojas a victory in his debut.

Afterward, he got a game ball from his players and a celebratory shower that Rojas said was beginning to make his uniform stink.

“I don’t know what they threw on me, but they threw a lot of stuff,” Rojas said.

Coming off consecutive Cy Young Awards, deGrom fanned eight and permitted only a broken-bat single and a walk. He was pulled after 72 pitches following a back-tightness scare early last week. The right-hander extended his scoreless streak to a career-best 28 innings dating to last season, the longest active streak in the majors.

Notes:

The cardboard cutout photos occupying some seats included one of former Braves star and Mets nemesis Chipper Jones.

FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR

The Mets improved to 39-20 in openers (despite losing their first eight), the best opening day winning percentage in the majors. They’ve won 12 of their last 15 — and 23 of the past 26 at home.

SENDING A MESSAGE

Both teams wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts for batting practice and joined in holding a long, black ribbon on the field during a pregame message on the video board from many Black major leaguers about eradicating racial injustice.

PREGAME CEREMONIES

The national anthem was performed virtually on the video board by essential workers, each singing their part, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said “Let’s play ball!” It appeared all players on the field stood for the anthem.

MONEY MAN

Because he didn’t begin the season on the IL with a foot injury, Cespedes’ salary rose from $2,222,222 prorated ($6 million before the schedule was shortened) to $4,074,074 ($11 million before the change).

Buccaneers’ Donovan Smith raises concerns about playing 2020 season: ‘I’m not a lab rat or a guinea pig to test theories on’

By Ryan Gaydos

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Donovan Smith will have the job of protecting new quarterback Tom Brady in 2020.

But Smith is unsure whether playing in the midst of a global pandemic is worth it.

“With the start of the 2020 season fast approaching, many thoughts and questions roam my mind as I’m sure it does for many of my co-workers across the league,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “The unfortunate events of the COVID-19 pandemic have put a halt to a lot of things. Football is not one.

“To continue discussing the many UNKNOWNS do not give me comfort. Risking my health as well as my family’s health does not seem like a risk worth taking. With my first child due in three weeks, I can’t help but think about how I will be able to go work and take proper precautions around 80+ people every day, then go home to be with my newborn daughter.”

He wondered how players are going to be able to practice safe social-distancing measures when every play requires contact.

“How can a sport that requires physical contact on every snap and transferal of all types of bodily fluid EVERY SINGLE PLAY practice safe social distancing? Yes, we can get tested every day, but if it takes 24 hours to get my results, how can I know each day that I’m not spreading the virus or contracting it. The recurring issue here is how? There are too many ‘hows’ that have yet to be answered to ease player concerns and ensure the safety of not only myself but also my family. I can’t imagine how the game will be the same during these unprecedented times.”

Smith said playing this season would, at the very least, call for a pay raise.

“I’m not a lab rat or a guinea pig to test theories on. I’m a man, a son, brother, soon to be a father, and I deserve to be safe at work.”

Some of the NFL’s health and safety guidelines were reported this week. Some of the rules include no jersey swapping or postgame congregating.

Smith is entering his sixth season with Tampa Bay. He’s played in 79 out of 80 games in his first five seasons.

Craig Carton, Former Drive-Time Partner of Boomer Esiason, Released From Prison. Could He Return to WFAN?

By Scott Mandel, NY Post

Now that Craig Carton is out of prison, he should be back on the radio, according to his former partner at WFAN, Boomer Esiason.

The 51-year-old Carton was released early from prison on Tuesday after serving just over a year of a 3 ½-year sentence for his role in a ticket scam that also cost him his job at the radio station.

“He deserves another chance, in my eyes,” Esiason said on his WFAN show on Wednesday. “Whatever issues we had after this whole thing went down, they’re gone. As far as i’m concerned, they’re gone.”

The Post’s Andrew Marchand reported that Carton may have a path back to WFAN now that Chris Oliviero, his former producer, is running Entercom’s New York stations.

Carton was replaced by Gregg Giannotti and Esiason and Giannotti are expected to stay together, but other spots could open for Carton at the station.

Esiason said he heard from Carton shortly after he was released from prison.

“I get off the radio [Tuesday], I see a number pop up on my screen,” Esiason said. “I’m thinking, ‘Is this spam? What is this? I answer the phone, I say hello [and] i hear a very familiar voice saying, ‘Hey, it’s me. I’m out.’”

Carton’s release was unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic.

“What I heard was a happy and relieved Craig Carton,” Esiason said. “He did everything he possibly could in jail to mitigate his sentence and try to get out as early as he possibly could.”

Carton will either enter home confinement or a halfway house to finish out his sentence, according to sources.

“Now the real work begins for him and that’s rebuilding his life,” Esiason said. “He paid his debt to society.”

And Esiason is looking forward to hearing Carton back on the air.

“I do believe he deserves a second chance, whether it be here at our station or another station,” Esiason said. “He’s too talented not to be on the air somewhere.”

Esiason said he and Giannotti would remain a team and he didn’t expect to work with Carton again.

“Of course, when you talk about this show and moving on and me being here, it’s probably and most likely not going to be here,” Giannotti said. “But that doesn’t mean it can’t be on the radio station years down the road somewhere else. But i’m happy that he’s out and i’m happy he’s going to get another opportunity.”

What’s with Bryson DeChambeau? PGA Golfer, Once Skinny Now Looks Like Canseco and McGwire

by Scott Mandel

 Bryson DeChambeau has gained size. He estimates that he’s put on about 40 pounds since he left college in 2015, and about 20 pounds over the PGA Tour’s recently ended three-month hiatus. Because of that gain, he’s gained distance. In PGA Tour events in 2020 before the break, he averaged 321.3 yards off the tee, 18.8 yards more than his 2019 average. Because of his size gain, he’s also gained two shirt sizes. He said after Friday’s second round of the Charles Schwab Challenge that he’s gone from a size medium shirt to an extra large. 

As he’s added, he’s lost. To his benefit. 

In an examination of DeChambeau’s 2020 and 2019 second rounds at Colonial (where the hole distances were slightly different), he lost 304 yards on the length remaining on his second shots on non-par-3s, an average of 21.7 yards per hole. Maybe an iron or two shorter. More wedges.

The average gets bigger when you take away the holes where DeChambeau did not seek distance off the tee. 

On holes 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 12, 14, 15 and 18, he lost 285 yards on the length remaining on his second shots, an average of 31.7 yards per hole. Maybe two or three irons shorter. More wedges.

This was the goal all along. DeChambeau’s not trying to win a long-drive title. He’s trying to get that next shot all the more closer. And in the Charles Schwab Challenge second-round example, closer has helped the bottom line – last year, he shot 2-over 72 and missed the cut; this year, he shot 5-under 65 and was tied for second entering the weekend.  

“There’s been a lot of holes, like for example 6, I can just drive it all the way up past those bunkers and have a nice little flip wedge in there,” he said after his Friday round. “Fifteen, fly it over the bunkers, have a nice little flip wedge in there. Fourteen, I had 100 yards in today. 

“I mean, it’s just stuff that is so beneficial when you get out here. You’ve got those bunkers and hazards in the way, and I wanted to make those obsolete.”

bryson dechambeau
Bulked-up Bryson DeChambeau is putting up ridiculous driving statsBY: DYLAN DETHIER

The numbers are plenty big off the tee, too, when looking at his 2020 and 2019 Charles Schwab Challenge second rounds. 

On the non-par-3s, he gained 288 yards off the tee, an average of 206 yards per hole. On holes 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 12, 14, 15 and 18, he gained 282 yards, an average of 31.3 yards per hole. 

Of course, if it were as simple as adding a bit of weight or swinging faster (or both), every player on Tour would try. A lot changes when you do. DeChambeau seems to have it figured out. 

“He’s looking for speed. He’s obviously trained speed,” said Justin Rose, DeChambeau’s first- and second-round playing partner. “But the other elements of his game still look in control.”