MLB

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.

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).

Baseball Is Back, But Is It Really?

By Scott Mandel

That actual baseball is about to be back on the field under the summer sun is one small step for man…and one giant leap backward for mankind.

My god. The moon landing was a piece of cake compared to this. Negotiations are negotiations, yes, and baseball has a long, ludicrous history of turning them into drawn-out battles.

But this…this was a new low even by lower-than-a-worm’s-belly standards.

As more than two million people in the United States have contracted COVID-19, the bickering between players and owners over the path back onto the field commenced.

As more than 120,000 people in this country have died from this pandemic, the bitterness turned toxic.

Then George Floyd was killed after a police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck in broad daylight on the streets of Minneapolis two months after Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police in her own apartment in Louisville. Protesters were tear-gassed by United States Park Police on the streets outside of the White House, and the country erupted into a righteous rage.

All the while, the sport former Commissioner Bud Selig regularly referred to as a “social institution with social responsibilities”, abdicated those responsibilities. Not once, but twice—twice!—owners and players appeared to reach a deal (March 26 and June 17) and then couldn’t even agree on what that deal was or that there had been a deal.

Now, upon re-entry, the sport looks smaller and smaller. Insignificant.Videos you might like

Commissioner Rob Manfred on Tuesday used his power to unilaterally implement a 60-game season after three months’ worth of “negotiations” ended in a stalemate. Those early-summer dreams about the Sport Formerly Known as America’s Pastime romantically returning in a star-spangled burst around July 4 now lay in storage along with all of the nation’s canceled fireworks.

A game fighting for its patch of real estate on an ever more crowded sports landscape could have had several weeks alone in the spotlight. Instead, it will have a few days, and then the NBA and NHL playoffs will crank up.

The half-full view, of course, is that games will begin again on July 24, or thereabouts, finally releasing us from the grainy hell of replays from the distant past and giving us, finally, nightly options beyond searching the Netflix queue for the 6,000th time.

So now come the tentative first steps back, however belatedly, and we’ll see what the fan reaction is and just how much the sport alienated even its hardcore base. Of course, with no attendance, it may take a while to gauge the true effect. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around…that sort of thing.

Or, maybe by squeezing 60 games in under the wire and dodging the virus, the game will, as ever, rise up and make a disgusted clientele remember why they loved it in the first place.

So, Play Ball!

Right?

Or is it, Play Ball…(sigh)

Unlike any other season in more than a century of Major League Baseball: a 60-game sprint, in empty ballparks, with Opening Day essentially being the start of the pennant race.

The severely reduced game calendar will be by far the shortest in the history of MLB, strike seasons included. Before now, the most abbreviated schedule ever played was in 1981 when a two-month players’ strike caused clubs to play roughly 107-110 games.

Furthermore, by playing only 37 percent of its usual 162-game schedule, this will represent the sharpest reduction of a season of any of the four major American professional sports leagues in history. No league, outside of a full cancellation, has ever played a season with less than 56 percent of its scheduled games.

As a result, the importance of each game for what amounts to the entire season will be magnified tremendously: Each game will carry the significance of nearly three in usual circumstances (2.7 to be exact). Meaning, if there are six scheduled games each week, every club’s weekly schedule will carry the weight of 16 games in a normal season. A sense of urgency will be there from the first pitch.

Because of the brevity, odds immediately increase for flukes.

Teams that get hot for a 20- or 30-game stretch will be difficult to catch. If you look at last year’s schedule on June 4—a date at which most teams had played between 58 and 60 games—the National League division winners would have been Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles. Only the Dodgers, of course, won their division in 2020. (The American League division winners would have been the same as at season’s end: the Yankees, Twins and Astros).

Under the same circumstances in 2018 (June 4 cutoff, most teams at 58-60 games), Boston, Cleveland and Seattle would have won division titles in the AL—and the Mariners are currently dragging the longest playoff drought in the majors, not having played in a postseason since 2001. NL division winners would have been Atlanta, Milwaukee and Arizona. The Mariners and Diamondbacks were the outliers as the Astros and Dodgers wound up winning the Western divisions.

The schedule will be re-configured into, essentially, geographic pods: Western teams will only face Western teams, etc. The Yankees’ schedule, for example, will consist of 40 games against AL East foes with the remaining 20 games against NL East teams. That number of in-division games and interleague games will remain equal for all teams. In a shortened season and with COVID-19 concerns, the idea is to limit travel and, thus, both health and fatigue risks.

That will afford one interesting wrinkle: If you remember back to the halcyon, pre-virus days in February and early March when the Astros’ cheating scandal dominated the baseball conversation…well, the Astros weren’t scheduled to face the Dodgers, their 2017 World Series victims, this season. Now they are. But, alas, in an empty Dodger Stadium.

Rosters will be expanded early in an effort to keep pitchers healthy. Extra innings will start with a runner on second base, largely because health experts advise against games lasting hours and partly because MLB figures this is a good opportunity to test-drive some ideas without any long-term commitments. And the trade deadline will be pushed back a month to Aug. 31.

While the designated hitter will arrive in the NL this year—sorry, purists—because Manfred is implementing as much in lieu of a negotiated agreement, there will not be a DH in the NL in 2021. At least, as of now.

Also, because the season is coming by way of decree and not agreement, forget the notion of expanded playoffs (and free substitution). For now, October, if the virus allows us to get that far, will look the same, with 10 teams in the usual format.

One positive—hello again, purists—is that there will not be advertising patches on uniforms this season (one of the players’ offers to owners included the approval to sell ad space on the unis). In a storied game in which certain uniforms—Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers, Tigers, Red Sox—are iconic, it would be like spraying graffiti on St. Peter’s Basilica.

So now the question becomes: Given that this season was called to order instead of negotiated, will it essentially be a joyless slog through three months that are simply a prelude to more ugliness when negotiations begin for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement?

There is a chance some stars will boycott in protest and decline to play this year. Unless they’re excused for legitimate health concerns, players refusing to play would not be paid, of course.

Players could display their anger and frustration in other ways. For example, in one of their proposals, they offered enhanced telecasts (essentially being mic’d up during games). Under current conditions, they have the right to decline extras like that—and many likely will.

Two things that are likely to disappear: the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. During negotiations, the players’ union was discussing ways to hold both after the postseason concludes. Now, both will likely be canceled.

Meanwhile, there is a health crisis to manage, and the genuine concerns about the risks of playing could stretch far and wide among players. For example, the wives of both Angels star Mike Trout and Yankees ace Gerrit Cole are pregnant this summer. Will both men feel comfortable playing given those circumstances, or might one or both opt out?

Sources say MLB has accepted the notion that some players will test positive but believes as long as they can manage the situation and keep the numbers relatively low, they can get through the shortened season.

One universal thing about this season: There are myriad complications around each corner.

And there look to be more on the way.

Players vs. Owners…

MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark.

MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark.Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Neither side in this months-long dispute covered itself in glory, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

For those scoring at home, the owners probably came out as the “winners” (very loose definition there) because they were able to control their losses with a 60-game season rather than paying the players full pro-rated salaries for, say, 82 games.

But it’s hard to believe anyone in the owners’ suites are toasting what they accomplished.

Part of what made things so contentious is the fact that both players and owners have (some) valid arguments.

The players, feeling like they got played in the last Basic Agreement, point to the fact that the sport has taken in record revenues in recent years ($11 billion or so last year), and yet the average player salary has decreased in consecutive years for the first time since the MLBPA started keeping such statistics more than half a century ago in 1967.

So the general feeling from them is: If you are going to squeeze free agency and reduce our share of the pie when times are good, then why should we go out of our way to help you share the losses when times are bad?

The owners are taking a shorter-term view of things, arguing that they are hemorrhaging money (“a bloodbath,” one says) this summer and want the players to share that burden. They say that playing without fans means, without ticket revenue, parking, concessions and gift shop receipts, each team is losing (depending on market size) somewhere between $640,000 and $1 million per home game.

Multiply that by 81 home dates and, even if you quibble with the exact numbers the owners are citing, it’s difficult to argue they’re not losing a ton.

The winning play by both sides would have been to give more than they wanted now and save the big fight for the looming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations that are set to begin within months. The CBA expires after the 2021 season, and each one generally lasts five years.

So in the midst of a pandemic and with the country reeling from unemployment and social justice issues, why not look big now by sacrificing some of what you want to try to get through one partial season?

That’s the question that will be lingering for years.

The cold winter ahead…

Mookie Betts' tenure as a Dodger could be a short one if he leaves the team in free agency after this season.

Mookie Betts’ tenure as a Dodger could be a short one if he leaves the team in free agency after this season.Gregory Bull/Associated Press/Associated Press

Look out.

What we know is that the financial losses this year are enormous, and nobody has promised that things will be back to normal by next year’s season opener in March.

That will likely make for one of the coldest free-agent markets in years. Mookie Betts picked a horrible time to decline Boston’s contract overtures—he reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million offer last summer. Several industry sources say he won’t come close to that as a free agent this winter. Some expect him to settle for a one-year deal and try again later.

Other top free agents this winter—catcher J.T. Realmuto, shortstop Marcus Semien, outfielder George Springer and pitchers Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman—can also expect to find a hard time generating big offers.

Furthermore, how will arbitration even look this winter? One industry source guesses that those eligible will have to be judged on their 2019 numbers because there is no way to fairly and accurately decide contracts on a 60-game season this summer.

Also, for numbers fans: There will be no revenue sharing this season because there is too little revenue to share. Luxury-tax rules will revert back to 2019; there is no “resetting” of the luxury tax for clubs in 2020.

More trouble looms in 2021…

If only we could flip a switch and everything would be back to normal by Opening Day next year. If only.

Shaded by the effort to get the game back on the field this summer is the bleak outlook for 2021. Will a vaccine be developed, proven, approved and distributed on a large enough scale by then? Will fans be comfortable entering stadiums for mass gatherings? Heck, will governors and health experts even allow it, or will social distancing still be enforced by then?

As one owner says, speaking from the perspective of the clubs: “2021 is going to be ugly, too. A sellout could be 16,000.”

In other words, he’s expecting attendance to be capped by social distancing requirements, at least in the beginning.

Meanwhile, the negotiations for the next CBA will be playing out in the background. Given that the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement this summer, there’s no reason to believe the relationship will do anything but worsen.

The owners believe they made some offers that should have been accepted in negotiations this spring and summer and maintain that the union leaders either misled the players or lied to them. Further complicating things, sources say owners have developed a strong antipathy toward the union’s new lead labor lawyer, Bruce Meyer, and believe that agent Scott Boras overstepped his bounds by meddling in—and helping to torpedo—negotiations.

The players rejected every offer by the owners since the game was suspended in March and, in the end, valued their right to file a grievance that the owners negotiated in bad faith above all else. Not all players seem on board, and Bauer’s tweet Monday night seemed to echo what some owners think, which is that the players didn’t all receive the information they should have:Trevor Bauer@BauerOutage

So we gave up shares of playoff money, eliminating the qualifying offer for 2021, paycheck advance forgiveness, Covid 19 protections, and protection for non guaranteed arb contracts for next year in order to hold on to our right to file a grievance…🤔🤔6,918Twitter Ads info and privacy1,546 people are talking about this

Many players, however, believe the owners have allowed the erosion of competitive integrity via the handful of clubs that tank each year in order to rebuild.

Maybe the best, most positive hope that the two sides will reach an agreement on the next CBA without an interruption to a season is that they are each losing so much money this summer that it’s hard to imagine either side in the industry could sustain more massive losses in 2022 and beyond.

Of course, as we learned this summer, the danger in underestimating them is that there’s no telling how low they will go. 

Astros’ Cheating Won’t be Easily Forgotten by Major Leaguers

By Scott Mandel

Baseball is burning. Opposing players are pummeling the Houston Astros as the fallout from their cheating scandal refuses to dissipate, and fans are frothing for vengeance after the players involved were spared from discipline by the league. Commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to wrap his arms around it all only for the anarchy to keep expanding. Every day is something new. Saturday, it was bad tattoos. Sunday, the commissioner will talk and try to explain how this all unfolded on his watch. Monday, if it came out that the Astros used furtive earpieces or Bluetooth buzzers or a robust artificial-intelligence operation to gain an advantage, it would surprise absolutely nobody.

There is no order. Just pure, distilled chaos.

It’s not going away any time soon. This is a reality every person involved should learn to understand sooner than later. Not because this is some media creation that thirsts for the mother’s milk of controversy and giddily gawks at the overnight transformation of Major League Baseball from the league of Charlie Chaplins into a full-flavored copy of the NBA, where no sacred cows exist. No, this is now about something much more primal: survival.

The tentacles of baseball’s cheating scandal are long and abundant. All of the Astros players, past and present. Their front-office members. Their opponents. Manfred and his associates. The MLB Players Association. Team owners. Fired general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch. Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, both of whom lost managing jobs on account of their involvement. It is a wide swath of characters with competing interests and self-preservation in mind, each with a story to tell. Already those involved are trying to game the timing, to ensure that their version does not find itself lost amid the morass of takes.

The prevailing narrative Saturday came from Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who originally declined comment through a team spokesman and then granted a wild interview to MLB Network in which he told the reigning National League MVP to “shut the f— up,” reiterated that the Astros’ 2017 World Series title was not won through ill-gotten gains and introduced the world to Jose Altuve ‘s unfortunate collarbone tattoo.

A quick backgrounder, since that last sentence sounds like a Mad Lib: Los Angeles Dodgers star Cody Bellinger unloaded on the Astros on Friday, a day after the beginning of their mea culpa tour turned disastrous, by saying Altuve “stole” the American League MVP award from New York Yankees star Aaron Judge in 2017 and that the Astros “stole the ring from us” by beating the Dodgers for the 2017 championship. Bellinger was the latest player to flout the game’s long-held omertà and unload a shotgun into the barrel in which the Astros swim these days. Dragging the Astros is the sport within a sport.

Correa decided to come clean with something that data compiled by an Astros fan named Tony Adams had seemed to show: Altuve did not like when his teammates banged on a trash can adjacent to the dugout to alert him of the coming pitch type. Adams logged more than 8,000 pitches from home games during the 2017 season and heard trash-can bangs on 13.2%. Of the 866 pitches to Altuve, there were bangs on only 24 — 2.8%.

MLB punishes Astros

“For [Bellinger] to go out there and defame Jose Altuve’s name like that — it doesn’t sit right with me,” Correa said. “‘Cause the man plays the game clean.”

Knowing the data, and having been told by another player on the 2017 Astros that Altuve did not engage regularly in the trash-can scheme, I had asked him Thursday to explain why.

“I know your question,” Altuve said. “I really appreciate your question. It’s good. But I want to take this as a team. I think we’re all at the same level right now of feeling the way we’re feeling about doing what we did. I’m not here to say you and you more than you and you. We’re a team. I’m not saying this today. I always say this is a team. And if we are something, we all are something.”

For all of the fallout from that day, particularly after owner Jim Crane’s contraction of foot-in-mouth disease, Altuve’s answer stood out as not just sincere but commendable — the sort of thing other players in baseball in different circumstances would respect and the rare instance, in this whole scandal, of someone not obviously acting in his own self-interest. Altuve could have absolved himself. He could have gone full Shaggy. He instead subjected himself to the fusillade of condemnation that would come.

Because it’s true: He didn’t stop it. No one did. And that’s a question the players lobbing grenades at the Astros ought to ask themselves, too. If they truly plumb the depths of their self-awareness, how many believe they would not simply be conscientious objectors as the data suggests Altuve was but entirely blow up a scheme being used by a team barreling toward 101 wins?

Social media vs. MLB

How the internet helped crack the Astros’ sign-stealing case.

What the Astros did was clearly cheating, clearly wrong, clearly a black mark on their championship. It is also naïve to think less hubristic versions of sign-stealing weren’t going on elsewhere and that had those been accelerated the players would have put a stop to them.

The defiance emanating from the Astros’ clubhouse, even after their apologies, is coated in this let-he-who-is-without-sin-cast-stones mentality. Correa besmirched Bellinger for suggesting Houston was cheating for the last three years, saying it occurred only in 2017. Ken Rosenthal immediately corrected him, saying Manfred’s report said the Astros had stolen signs in 2018, too. Correa danced around this, landing ultimately on a judgment of Bellinger daring to vilify Altuve and the Astros: “With me, that doesn’t sit right.”

The problem, of course, is that the moment the Astros decided to start banging on trash cans, they forfeited any sort of moral authority that allows them to differentiate between right and wrong. They might as well have KICK ME stitched across the backs of their jerseys instead of their last names, and it’s because of their collective action. So as satisfying as it feels to try and speak into existence this notion that their championship isn’t irreparably tainted, to drop F-bombs on the haters, to stand up for Altuve like Altuve stood up for him and the rest of the Astros who did think enough of the trash-can scheme to use it for months, it runs the risk of sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Correa’s defense stretched past aggrieved and into comedic during his denial that the Astros had used wearable buzzers during the 2019 season to signal the coming pitch. Bellinger and Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez had questioned why, after Altuve hit a walk-off home run to send the Astros to the World Series this year, he did not want his jersey ripped off. First, Correa said, Altuve’s wife had expressed discomfort with it when he and Kemp unclothed Altuve earlier in the season.

“The second reason that he don’t want me to talk about this, but I’m gonna say it, is because he’s got an unfinished tattoo on his collarbone, right here, that, honestly, looked terrible,” Correa said. “It was a bad tattoo. And he didn’t want nobody to see it. He didn’t want to show it at all.”

A bad tattoo. Welcome to baseball in 2020.

There’s more to come. There’s always more with this Astros story that drips out with all the efficiency of a broken faucet. The coming days, weeks, months will teem with more details, explanations, facts. Manfred’s report looks more and more like a Polaroid that needs to be shaken. The manifold characters all have their versions of the story to tell. There are reputations to be salvaged, careers to be saved, sides to be taken. This is the just the beginning.

It’s never too early to start or join a fantasy baseball league for the 2020 season.

The next step is Manfred addressing the media Sunday in North Port, Fla. As commissioner, the sport’s well-being ultimately falls on him. And while the ultimate fallout of the scandal is unclear — is it, in a perverse way, actually driving interest to baseball, or does the stench of misconduct have the opposite effect? — he must answer for his role in it reaching this point, where a new fire smolders every day.

And rest assured, potential arson abounds. What will Beltran, slimed and smeared, say when he speaks out? How will MLB, if at all, punish the Boston Red Sox, whom they’re investigating for stealing signs in 2018? What will the punishment for Cora, who is expected to be suspended, be? How can the MLBPA preach solidarity when its members attack one another on the daily? Will others join former MLB pitcher Mike Bolsinger and a daily fantasy player in filing lawsuits against the Astros and the league? Who will speak out next? What will he say?

In a week, spring-training games begin. The Astros will play the Washington Nationals, who beat them in the 2019 World Series. Across the sport, eyes will be trained on the game to see if Nationals pitchers intentionally throw at Astros hitters. Houston manager Dusty Baker tried to preempt any retaliation Saturday, asking MLB to do all it can to prevent premeditated beanings. It only served to draw the ire of those who see the inevitability of what is to come: a pitcher who dots an Astros hitter with a fastball to send a message that what they did is indefensible will receive a longer suspension than any of the Astros did for their indefensible acts.

Yes, baseball is burning, and nobody — not the Astros, not Manfred, not the rest of the players — can stop it. Only time will slow it, and until then, as baseball’s cheating scandal metastasizes, as it dirties all it touches, remember that what caused it in the first place will guide its direction going forward: the choices of individuals looking out for themselves.

Mets Introduce New Manager, Luis Rojas After Beltran Fiasco

By Scott Mandel

The New York Mets today introduced their second manager of this off-season, Luis Rojas, at an afternoon press conference at Citi Field.

Rojas, the 38-year old son of former major league great, Felipe Alou, has been a member of the Mets organization since 2006, when the Mets signed him to a players’ contract in his native country, the Dominican Republic.

After 13 years in the organization, mostly working in the minor leagues, Luis Rojas realized a dream Friday, when he became the 23rd manager in Mets history — amid unusual circumstances.

“I feel like the most lucky person in the world right now as the manager of the New York Mets,” Rojas said at Citi Field, where the team announced a managerial hiring for the second time this offseason.

Rojas received a two-year contract to replace Carlos Beltran, who departed after only 77 days on the job in the fallout from the Astros’ illegal sign-stealing scheme in 2017. Beltran, a player for that Houston team, was named in an MLB report that outlined the Astros’ use of electronic surveillance to steal catchers’ signs.

Rojas served as the Mets’ quality control coach last season and received multiple interviews for the managerial position following Mickey Callaway’s firing in October. That search yielded Beltran and also included names such as Eduardo Perez, Derek Shelton and Tim Bogar as candidates.

“I felt prepared then and I feel prepared now and I feel pretty good with what we have,” Rojas said. “We have a good team and we have a great staff. The staff is going to help me and we have already collaborated and we’re looking forward to break ground in spring training.

“I will lead this team into success.”

Rojas, whose father, Felipe Alou, managed the Expos and Giants and whose brother, Moises Alou, was an All-Star outfielder, was joined at the news conference by his wife Laura and son Louie, in addition to his mother and two of his brothers. Neither Felipe Alou nor Moises Alou was present.

In introducing the new manager, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen focused on Rojas’ consistency as a person and professional.

“Last Thursday was a tough day,” Van Wagenen said, referring to the announcement Beltran had parted ways with the Mets. “We had a number of difficult days leading into Thursday’s decision and ultimately the parting of the ways with Carlos, but this is a very good feeling today and we’re excited about that. It’s an unfortunate circumstance for baseball, but today is a good opportunity and it’s an exciting time for the Mets as we continue to charge forward.”

Though managing experience wasn’t a prerequisite when Beltran got hired, Van Wagenen pointed to Rojas’ eight seasons as manager in the minor leagues at various levels for the Mets as a positive.

“In-game decision-making is an important part of the job and when you assess people’s strengths and weaknesses, no two candidates are the same,” Van Wagenen said. “And Carlos had different traits than what Luis has, but in [Rojas’] experience and actually calling the shots and running the game and running the base running, controlling the offense and having to make decisions about which pitchers get warmed up and which pitchers come into the game, I think all of those assets will be evident for us this year.”

Rojas takes over a team expected to compete for the NL East title, led by a potentially dominant starting rotation and last season’s major league home run leader, Pete Alonso. Rojas indicated he already has spoken with Jeff McNeil, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard, among others.

“It’s according to the team that you have,” Rojas said. “You have a team that can run, you run. You have a team that plays that way, you play that way, so it’s according to what we have. We have a really good roster, we have really good starting pitching, we have a really good bullpen and we can score some runs, so I feel pretty good about it right now.”

Rojas was hired as a coach at the team’s academy in the Dominican Republic in 2006 and later managed in Rookie-ball, Low-A, High-A and Double-A for the Mets before becoming the quality control coach under Callaway last season. As quality control coach, Rojas brought analytical information to the players and field staff. Rojas said his loyalty to the Mets was born when he first started working for the organization.

“When I saw that the Mets were not only developing baseball players, but they were developing men, that right away we had an educational program, back then it was a complex with two fields and we got the job done,” Rojas said of his arrival at the Dominican academy in 2006. “We moved into a bigger complex afterwards and just the love for the organization started growing and then it just kept growing and growing as I went along.”

Mandel’s Musings: Jeter, the Distant Yankee, Should Be Unanimously Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

By Scott Mandel

I’ve never been a big fan of Derek Jeter, the former New York Yankees shortstop, on a personal level. But, today, Derek Jeter is going to be elected, deservedly so, to the the Baseball Hall of Fame, an acknowledgement of his status as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.

But, Jeter was not always an easy guy to get along with or get to know, from a media point of view. And, he knew there was no prerequisite for trying to endear himself to the media or even, to the fans. He did his job as the Yankee shortstop, and did it better than anyone in the franchise’s history.

Jeter opted, over the course of his 21-year career, to play it close to the vest with the media and with Yankeee fans, His responses during interviews were filled with sports cliches, but never really offered his deepest feelings about any subject. Jeter was a bright guy and had many opinions to offer, particularly as the Yankee captain, but he chose not to share most of those feelings with his adoring public.

He was self-aware, always, and always tuned-in to saying as little as possible, as non-controversial as possible. Yet, his ego was so enormous, he had no problem with handing out “swag bags” of Jeter memorabilia to his one-night stands as they walked out his apartment door, in the previous night’s dress and makeup.

He left the Yankees, his beloved Yankees, acrimoniously after Brian Cashman refused to make him the highest paid shortstop in the game when he was 37 years old and had lost many of his skills.

Jeter has not been back to the stadium since retiring five years ago, other than one time to honor Mariano Rivera. He also showed up in Cooperstown to watch Rivera get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Other than that, the great Yankee has been as detached from Yankee tradition and the Yankee organization as any non-Yankee player would be. There are many who feel he has intentionally slighted the Yankees from capitalizing on their relationship with him, ie, profiting from the marketing possibilities of Jeter, the Yankee.

Jeter was indeed a role model for the way he treated kids and umpires in ballparks all across the country. But, as an owner in Miami, Jeter has looked a lot more fallible without the pinstripes on. He deserves a fair shot with the Marlins and enough time to build the organization the way he wants it built. It has never been a good idea to bet against Jeter. He can still turn this second baseball career into a big success.

But the fact that he fired a number of popular Marlins employees — including Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, and a longtime scout who was in the hospital trying to recover from cancer surgery — and handled various duties (including the Giancarlo Stanton trade) with what appeared to be a less-than-gentle approach, did not shock some who have known Jeter. That includes R.D. Long, the longtime running mate ejected from the shortstop’s inner circle years ago for a reason never explained to him.

“I can’t comment about Derek Jeter today, because I don’t know that person today,” Long, who spent six years in the Yankees system and who coached at Rochester Institute of Technology, said last week by phone. “But as a player, people who doubted him just don’t get it. If some think he’s overrated, that’s ludicrous. I think he might be the most underrated player of all time.

He’s a stranger in his own stadium, the “House that Jeter Built,” where he starred.

That said, Derek Jeter was the greatest shortstop in Yankee history and today, we will find out at 6 o’clock whether his inevitable election to the Baseball Hall of Fame will be unanimous, or not. If there is a voter who does not elect Derek Jeter to the Baseball Hall of Fame on this, Jeter’s first opportunity to get into the hallowed hall, that voter should be stripped of his vote. Jeter was a great player, possibly the greatest shortstop over the past 50 years. Despite his media foibles and his soiled relationship with his Yankee heritage, he deserves to be the second player in baseball history to be voted into the Hall of Fame, unanimously. The first, of course, was Mariano Rivera, last year.

Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, Patrick Ewing and now, Marcus Morris

By Scott Mandel

The Knicks are advertising their next game with, “come see Marcus Morris and the Knicks at MSG.”
Wow.

If this is not quite a sign that the apocalypse is on its way, it may be a sign that basketball, once known as the city game (when the city referred to was New York) has become a secondary event in this city and at Madison Square Garden, which used to house the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus every year until that entity also went out of business.

Is Jim Dolan, the Knicks owner, doing the same thing to the Knicks that happened to the circus or, have the Knicks, with a record of 4-14, become the new circus in town with Dolan as the ringleader?

Image result for marcus morris
The Knicks are advertising on social media to “come out to MSG to watch Marcus Morris and the Knicks in 2019. Their record is 4-14.

Mets’ Pete Alonso Named National League Rookie of the Year

by Scott Mandel

New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso tonight was named the 2019 National League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA).

Alonso received 29 of 30 first-place votes and garnered 148 of a possible 150 voting points. He is the second Mets position player (also, Darryl Strawberry in 1983) and sixth player in club history overall to win the award. Four Mets pitchers have also been named Rookie of the Year: Tom Seaver (1967), Jon Matlack (1972), Dwight Gooden (1984) and Jacob deGrom (2014).

The 24-year-old put together one of the greatest offensive seasons ever by a rookie, setting numerous Mets and major league records. Most notably, he became the first Met and first rookie to lead the majors outright in home runs, swatting a major league rookie-record 53 blasts.

“I am so grateful to the Baseball Writers’ Association for their recognition,” Alonso said. “I’m truly blessed and humbled to be part of a group of some of the best to ever play the game. This season was the most special time I’ve ever had on a baseball field. I’m extremely thankful to the Mets for allowing me the opportunity to prove myself at the major league level this year. I can’t wait to get back to work in the spring and make a push for the postseason in 2020.”

Alonso was a three-time NL Rookie of the Month honoree, taking home the award in April, June and September. The only other players to win three NL Rookie of the Month awards are Jason Bay (2004) and Juan Soto (2018).

In addition to setting Mets club marks for home runs, extra-base hits (85) and total bases (348) in his first major league season, Alonso also established club rookie records for hits (155), RBI (120), runs scored (103), at-bats (597), plate appearances (693), games played (161), slugging percentage (.583), OBP (.358) and OPS (.941). He tied the club rookie record with 72 walks.

“Pete’s historic rookie season created great memories and thrilled Mets fans all year,” Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said. “We are very proud of how he represents our fans, teammates and the organization on and off the field with his energy, enthusiasm and passion.”

Alonso became the first rookie position player in Mets history to be named to the NL All-Star team. He was the first rookie to win the Home Run Derby outright as well, defeating fellow rookie Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the final round. In the Midsummer Classic, he went 1-2 with a two-run single and a stolen base, making him the first rookie with multiple RBI in an All-Star Game.

“Pete was a joy to watch all season long for our passionate fans as well as all of us in the organization,” Mets Executive Vice President and General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “We’re so proud to see his on-field results match his tireless work ethic.”

Alonso led the NL in extra-base hits, was second in total bases, third in RBI, sixth in slugging and seventh in OPS. He led all qualified rookies in games played, hits, home runs, RBI, OPS, extra-base hits, runs scored, walks, total bases and slugging percentage.

Alonso will receive the award during the 97th Annual New York Baseball Writers’ Dinner on January 25, 2020 at the New York Hilton Midtown Hotel.

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BREAKING NEWS: Mets Fire Mickey Callaway Despite 86-76 Record

By Scott Mandel

FLUSHING, N.Y., October 3, 2019 – The New York Mets today announced that they have relieved Manager Mickey Callaway of his duties, effective immediately.

“We want to thank Mickey for his consistent work ethic and dedication over the last two seasons and I’m certain these characteristics will serve him well in his next opportunity,” Mets Executive Vice President & General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “A decision like this is never easy, however, we believe it is in the best interest of the franchise at this time.”

Callaway posted a 163-161 (.503) record during his two seasons with the Mets. Callaway was named the Mets 21st manager in club history on October 23, 2017.

Dodgers Blow Out Mets Behind Kershaw, Syndergaard Lasts Five Innings

By Scott Mandel

This was going to be the beginning of the Mets’ stretch run towards the National League playoffs. They were two games out of the second wild card slot and facing off against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the best team in the league, and its ace, Clayton Kershaw, who has a standing invitation to enter the Hall of Fame five years after he retires. This was the moment to prove they are an elite team.

This morning, the Mets are now three games behind instead of two. It didn’t go exactly as planned.

Kershaw worked his magic against a Mets lineup that has been producing runs at a consistently high rate since the All-Star break in July. But, all night, the Mets were flailing at Kershaw’s serves of fastballs, curves, and sliders with pinpoint control. When it was over, the Mets had lost convincingly, 9-2, with Noah Syndergaard throwing to Wilson Ramos

Before the game, Mets manager, Mickey Callaway had nearly waxed poetic in his praise of Syndergaard, making one wonder if the controversy of the past few days, in which Syndergaard was reported to have complained to management about his preference not to work with Ramos behind the plate, was much worse than initially thought.

Callaway’s agenda, as peacemaker between Syndergaard and Wilson Ramos, seemed clear.

“I think that Noah is going to go compete no matter who’s catching him,” Callaway said. “If we can get the [pitch] distribution where we want it, get the pitches where we want it, it doesn’t matter who catches him. And we’ve seen that.”

Whether the four runs Syndergaard allowed in the 9-2 loss to the Dodgers were more on him, or on Ramos, is a matter of debate. It was Ramos who called for a full-count curveball to Gavin Lux with two men on base in the fourth inning. It was Syndergaard who hung it, chest-high, in a perfect spot for Lux to crush it off Citi Field’s center-field fence. The ball cleared the orange home run line for a go-ahead, three-run shot, and the Dodgers never trailed again in a game that dropped the Mets three games behind the Cubs in the National League Wild Card race.

The pairing of Syndergaard and Ramos became notable last weekend, when Syndergaard approached Callaway and Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen to request an assignment throwing to anyone else. In those meetings, Syndergaard cited the fact that he owned a 2.22 ERA pitching to backups Tomas Nido and Rene Rivera, but a 5.09 mark working with Ramos. The Mets countered with the fact that Ramos was the National League’s leading hitter since Aug. 1.

Kershaw allowed a home run to J.D. Davis and surrendered a walk in the first inning but got stingy after that. Over the next five innings, the Mets managed two hits — consecutive singles in the fourth inning. The Mets went two for 17 during the span.

The Mets then loaded the bases and chased Kershaw with one out in the seventh inning. Joe Kelly was summoned to extinguish the situation. The right-hander got Brandon Nimmo to hit a chopper to his left. Kelly corralled it and spun for an athletic throw home for the forceout. Amed Rosario lined a run-scoring single before Davis grounded out to limit the damage. Kershaw (14-5), coming off a four-inning start, was ultimately charged with two runs on four hits as he improved to 10-0 in his career against the Mets during the regular season.

The Dodgers tallied four runs in the fourth inning to snatch the lead, capped off by Gavin Lux’s tie-breaking, three-run home run. The homer, the second of Lux’s short career, came on a hanging curveball from Noah Syndergaard (10-8), who allowed four runs in five innings. It traveled 419 feet to straightaway center field. Edwin Rios, another rookie, lofted a pinch-hit, two-home run over the wall in left field in the eighth.