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NY Sports Report with Mike Lalor: Mets, Ichiro & Yanks Trade Chips

NY Sports Report with Mike Lalor: Mets, Ichiro & Yanks Trade Chips

Battling through inconsistent play and multiple injuries, the New York Mets (36-29, 2nd NL East)welcome the NL East cellar-dwelling Atlanta Braves (20-46, 5th NL East) into Citi Field this weekend for a three game series.  The Mets will face the young, struggling Braves seven times in their next nine games.  These are games the Mets absolutely must take advantage of before entering into a challenging pre-All Star Game stretch that includes11 contests against the Nationals and Cubs.

Let’s take a look at the Mets schedule over the next four weeks:

  • 17-19 June:   Atlanta
  • 21-22 June: Kansas City
  • 23-26 June: at Atlanta
  • 27-29 June: at Washington
  • 30 June-3 July: Chicago Cubs
  • 4-6 July: Miami
  • 7-10 July: Washington

…in a polarized National League of extremely good teams (Washington, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants) and very poor teams (Atlanta, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, San Diego), the Mets must win their games against the second division teams.  So, these seven games against Atlanta are significant.

Here are the matchups this weekend(all times Eastern):

Fri, 17 Jun:  RHP Matt Harvey (4-8, 4.66 ERA) vs. RHP John Gant (0-1, 5.63 ERA), 7:10 pm

Sat, 18Jun:  LHP Steven Matz (7-3, 2.71 ERA) vs. RHP Aaron Blair (0-4, 7.59 ERA), 8:15 pm

Sun, 19 Jun:  RHP Jacob deGrom (3-3, 2.82 ERA) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (2-7 2.89 ERA), 1:10 pm

Braves Notes:  Braves’ 1B Freddie Freeman has really picked it up after a poor start.  Freeman became the first Braves since 2008 (OF Mark Kotsay) to hit for the cycle in an extra-inning loss to Cincinnati.  Freeman now has 12 HRs with a .265 AVG/.355 OBP/.478 SLG PCT with very little protection in the Atlanta lineup.  He went 10-for-18 with 3 HRs and 6 RBIs in the Braves’ midweek series against Cincinnati.

The Braves drafted RHP Ian Anderson with the #3 overall pick in the 2016 MLB draft.  Anderson is an upstate NY product from Clifton Park, NY – a suburb of Albany.  Anderson, 18, pitched for Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park.  It’s great to see a Northeast-based, shorter-season high school pitcher, gain such notoriety on a national level.

The Braves’ Friday night starter, RHP John Gant, was acquired from the Mets one week before the 2015 non-waiver trade deadline.  RHP Rob Whalen also came over to the Braves in exchange for INFs Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe.  Gant made his major league debut against the Chicago Cubs last Sunday (6/12).  Gant went 4 1/3 IPs, giving up 3 runs (2 ER) with 4 hits and 4 walks and took the loss.

Braves’ INF Chase d’Arnaud, older brother of Mets C Travis d’Arnaud, had a game-winning, walk-off, bases-loaded single in the 13th inning on Wednesday night (6/15) to send Atlanta past Cincinnati in a wild, 9-8 come from behind victory.  D’Arnaud is hitting .302 for the Braves with 4 RBIs in 32 games this season.

Mets Notes:  After a trying start to the season, RHP Matt Harvey has a 0.90 ERA across his last three starts:  vs. Chicago White Sox (5/30; W, 7 IPs, 0 ER), at Miami (6/5; L, 7 IPs, 1 ER), and at Milwaukee (6/10, no-decision, 6 IPs, 1 ER).Unfortunately, the Mets have only scored 3 runs in Harvey’s last three starts, accounting for his 1-1 record.  He’ll look to build on his recent momentum in Friday night’s start vs. the Braves.

On Thursday night (6/16) against the Pittsburgh Pirates, RF Curtis Granderson led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run (his 13th in ‘16).  It was Granderson’s 17th leadoff home run in his 2 ½ years with the Mets, eclipsing the franchise’s previous benchmark of 16, held by former SS Jose Reyes (2003-2011).  It was the 41st leadoff home run in Granderson’s career.

Injury Front.  Mets’ Captain 3B David Wright underwent surgery for a herniated disk in his neck on Thursday.  Coupled with his ongoing battle with spinal stenosis, the Captain may be out for an extended period of time, placing the remainder of this season – and his career – in question.  1B Lucas Duda remains on the 15-day DL Monday with a stress fracture in his back; Duda is unlikely to return until the end of July.  C Travis d’Arnaud (shoulder) is still on the 15-day DL, but is moving forward with a rehabilitative minor league assignment this weekend with AAA Las Vegas; d’Arnaud may be ready to return to the Mets next week.  CF Juan Lagares was placed on the 15-day DL retroactive to Wednesday (6/15) with a sprained thumb; the Mets hope he will respond to treatment and avoid a potential surgery that will put him out for up to two months.  INF Ty Kelly was recalled from AAA Las Vegas to take Lagares’ spot on the roster.

INF Wilmer Flores was hit on the left hand by a pitch during Thursday night’s game against Pittsburgh; the initial X-rays were negative for any fractures and Flores, now playing 3rd base in the absence of David Wright, is day-to-day.  LF Michael Conforto (left wrist) received a recent cortisone injection and was able to return to the lineup on Thursday night against the Pirates, hitting a home run (his 10th).  2B Neil Walker (lower back) was back in the lineup on Thursday and also hit a homer (his 14th) with 3 RBIs.

Analysis — Mets at a crossroads.  Entering Friday, the Mets are 5 games behind the NL East-leading Washington Nationals and are clearly at a crossroads in this season.  Injuries have diminished an offense that has already been completely predicated upon the home run.  Recently, GM Sandy Alderson and Assistant GM John Ricco re-acquired INF Kelly Johnson from Atlanta.  Johnson certainly provides needed depth, especially with the Captain’s injuries at 3B and Duda’s back injury.  In a déjà vu type-of-moment, Johnson, along with INF Juan Uribe, were acquired from the Braves a week before last year’s 2015 trade deadline, and they provided a spark to a sputtering offense and much-needed veteran leadership in the clubhouse.  Of course though, it was the acquisition ofslugger Yoenis Cespedes from the Tigers that truly ignited the Met offense and propelled them toward a division title and the NL pennant.

Now, more will be needed in the summer of ‘16.  This year is not last year — and the Mets will need to take stock of where they are in the short term.  Will they boost their roster again and mount a serious challenge to the Nationals?  Or play it out with their current roster and look to get in the NL Playoffs as a Wild Card?  Concurrently, the Mets will need to assess where they are at in the long term.  How long will their “window” be open?  We know that Matt Harvey will be a Free Agent after the ’18 season, and the price tag on the team’s talented and high-potential rotation will come due over the course of the next two seasons.

But, now, more importantly, facing the end of the David Wright-era, who is the Mets’ “face of the franchise” in the everyday lineup?  Cespedes, while productive and entertaining, is a brief comet in the history of the franchise.  Cespedes runs hot and cold both on and off the field, and both he and the team can opt out of his contract at the end of this season, or again after the ’17 season.  Cespedes and the Mets will not be a long term relationship.  Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud seem like they will be injury-plagued during their Mets careers, providing brief spurts of promise.  2B Neil Walker and RF Curtis Granderson are good soldiers and solid players, but both have limitations and are already into their 30s; Walker is 30 and Granderson is 35.The answer to this question is likely Michael Conforto.  Conforto, 23, has the ability to serve as the #3 hole hitter right now and the potential to fill Wright’s leadership role for the decade to come.  However, he has hit under .200 over the last two months, either battling adjustments to major league hitting, his ailing wrist, or all of the above.  Conforto is most likely the future “face of the Mets” in their everyday lineup, but he needs time to develop, good health, and more importantly, some help.

To extend this window into 2018 and beyond, GM Sandy Alderson and A/GM John Ricco, may have to be creative and aggressive in order to take advantage of their young pitching and their opportunity here.  The Mets do not need much – but some help on the corners (1B/3B), behind the plate, or some depth on Manager Terry Collins’ bench could go a long way.  There are potential targets out there:  for example, C Jonathan Lucroy from Milwaukee could provide a needed bat and a healthy, more stabilizing force behind the plate; INF Aaron Hill, also from Milwaukee, may be able to provide some short term “thump” at 3rd; INFs Danny Valencia or Jed Lowrie, both with Oakland, could fill valuable roles for the Mets either at 3B or 1B; and, INF Yunel Escobar with the California Angels, has had two solid years in a row and he could buy some time and space for Wright and Duda to heal up, or for the organization to move in another direction.  Or, the Mets could opt to pursue former Cuban national team INF Yulieski Gurriel (age 32).  Gurriel comes with many unknowns, but he was declared a free agent this week by MLB, and he would not cost the Mets anything in terms of prospects.

The Mets absolutely could opt to hold what they have – and do nothing.  That is certainly a viable course of action here.  They could hope for Conforto and Walker to stay healthy and for Duda and d’Arnaud to heal.  That said, it feels like this everyday lineup, and the Met bench, needs an injection of energy and production.  Without it, the Mets could wind up watching the playoffs in October, and wasting a year of their generational pitching staff.

This weekend in Mets’ History:

  • June 17, 1962. The Legend of Marvelous Marv Throneberry comes to fruition in the first game of a doubleheader during an 8-7 loss to the Chicago Cubs at the Polo Grounds. Throneberry belts what appears to be a two-run triple, but he’s called out for failing to touch second base.  When Casey Stengel bolts from the dugout to argue the call, first-base coach Cookie Lavagetto intercepts him and says “Don’t argue, Case, he missed first base too.”
  • June 17, 1983. Newly acquired 1B Keith Hernandez goes 2-for-4 in his Mets debut at Montreal.
  • June 18, 1988. OF Kevin McReynolds ties a Major League record with his 21st consecutive stolen base vs. Philadelphia.
  • June 18, 1994. C Todd Hundley becomes the fourth Met to hit a home run from each side of the plate in an 11-3 triumph at Florida.
  • June 19, 1968. Rookie P Jerry Koosman’s 8-2 victory over the Astros is his sixth in a row, tying the club mark set earlier in the year by Dick Selma.
  • June 19, 1989. P Dwight Gooden becomes the third-youngest pitcher to ever record 100 career victories in a 5-3 triumph over Montreal.

Ichiro Suzuki and Pete Rose.

There was quite a bit of national discussion this week, surrounding Miami Marlins’ OF Ichiro Suzuki and baseball’s all-time “Hit King”, Pete Rose.  On Wednesday in San Diego, Ichiro Suzuki registered his 4, 257th professional hit (a double) against the Padres.  Ichiro now has 2,979 hits in Major League Baseball, with another 1,278 in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league (1992-2000).  While playing in a part-time OF role, Ichiro is having a tremendous start to the 2016 season, with 44 hits in 126 At-Bats for a .349 batting average.  After a disappointing 2015 that saw him hit .229 for Miami, Ichiro is quickly closing in on MLB’s 3,000 hit club, and appears likely to become its 26th all-time member later this summer.  Ichiro started his MLB career with the Seattle Mariners in 2001 at age 27, and has amazingly accumulated his 2,979 hits in less than 16 full seasons (2001-2016).

Of course, Pete Rose amassed 4,256 hits across his 24-year career (1963-1986) in MLB and has long-held the “Hit King” title.  Let’s be clear:  Ichiro’s accomplishment is tremendous, but he is not on a par with Pete Rose.  Rose collected all of his hits at the apex of professional baseball, while playing in MLB.  Including Rose’s 427 hits across three seasons in the minor leagues (1960-1962), Rose amassed a grand total of 4,683 hits in professional baseball.  With all due respect to Japan’s NPB, it does not operate on MLB’s level, and therefore Rose still clearly stands atop the all-time hit list.

Any discussion to the contrary is not accurately depicting the situation, nor taking into account the context of the leagues in which both performed.  For example, former MLB outfielder Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes who played from 1990-1995 in MLB, most notably with the Cubs, went to Japan and hit 464 HRs between 1996-2009, which overlaps with Ichiro’s time in the NPB.  Rhodes was a journeyman OF, who is best known for hitting 3 HRs against the Mets’ Dwight Gooden on Opening Day 1994.  And, now he sits 11th on the all-time NPB/Japan home run list.  It cannot be stressed enough on how important context is here.  Opening this “Pandora’s Box” includes potential discussion of NBA and ABA records (Julius Erving, “Dr. J” and total points), NFL and CFL records (Warren Moon and total yards), and NHL and WHA records (hey, Gordie Howe is still Mr. Hockey at any level).  Quite simply, there is no need to go there.

What is truly important here is that Ichiro’s career and accomplishments should be celebrated.  He is closing in on a major milestone – 3,000 hits in MLB – and still performing at a high level…batting at .349 this year, as a 42-year old.  In contrast, Pete Rose hit .219 as a 45-year old player/manager for the Reds in 1986.  The best recommendation I heard all week:  have Pete and Ichiro sit down in a televised, round-table type discussion and talk hitting.  I think we’d all be up for something like that…and that would truly celebrate two of the greatest batsmen that the game has ever known.

Yankees biggest trade chip.

As we reach mid-June, the Yankees are 32-34 entering the weekend.  They are 6 ½ games behind AL East-leading Baltimore, and 4 ½ games out of the second AL Wild Card, behind 6 other teams.  The Yankees are an alarming 10-17 this season against their intra-division AL East rivals, with a -23 run differential.  There has been, and will continue to be, a great deal of discussion about what the Yankees should do – and would be willing do – in advance of this year’s July 31st non-waiver trade deadline.

Let’s be clear.  There is no precedent for the New York Yankees to be true “sellers” at the trade deadline, and it’s not going to happen here in 2016, either.  Neither the Steinbrenner family, nor their long-time Conciliare, VP/GM Brian Cashman, have any type of “surrender” in their DNA.  They always think that they can get back in the race, and they do care very much about their fan base, and their fan base’s interest in terms of tickets sales and television/radio followers.

That said, the Yankees could leverage this unique opportunity of being on the outside of the playoff race – and looking in – to sell off a valuable commodity where they have organizational depth.  And, that is their much ballyhooed power bullpen of RHP Dellin Betances, LHP Andrew Miller, and LHP Aroldis Chapman.  Chapman is a pending Free Agent after the 2016 season, and if the Yankees feel like they could get a return for him from a contender (Chicago Cubs, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers to name just a few), they should pursue it.

However, their biggest trade chip is LHP Andrew Miller.  The Yankees signed Miller to market-friendly 4-year/$36M free agent deal in the 2014-2015 offseason.  Miller, 30, who is 3-0 with a sparking 1.26 ERA and 7 SVs in 28 appearances this season (with 53Ks!), is under team control for two more seasons.  That team control makes him very attractive to interested contenders, and the price in return could be high.

Consider:  when the Baltimore Orioles acquired Miller at the 2014 trade deadline from the Boston Red Sox, they sent young LHP Eduardo Rodriguez back to Boston in return.  Rodriguez, 23, who has battled some health and command problems at the outset of 2016, debuted at midseason in 2015 for Boston and went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA in 21 starts.  Even with his struggles in 2016, Rodriguez profiles as a future #2 or #3 starter in a rotation – from the left side.  That is a big return for a pending free agent.

It will be interesting to see if former AL East rival GMs, Cashman and the Cubs’ Theo Epstein, work a deal here.  It almost has to be discussed.  Miller could catapult the Cubs toward their first World Series since 1908 and truly solidify the team’s weakest area, arguably in the bullpen.  Meanwhile, the Yankees could improve their team for years to come and get younger in the process.  This is very important to Cashman as he methodically turns over the team’s roster.  Hypothetically bringing in a Kyle Schwarber, a Javier Baez, a Jorge Soler, or another talented Cub from within their very deep farm system might only accelerate the Yankees return to contention.  Just imagine the future field day Schwarber – whether as an OF, 1B, or DH – could have with the short right field porch at the Stadium.  Stay tuned…

Mike Lalor can be heard talking New York sports on the Spadora on Sports radio program. More information at 

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