March 24 -- Hack on the Move

12:27 PM

(6) Comments

This blog was set up as a place for me to write baseball during a time when no one was paying me to do it. This time has been blessedly short.

Starting today, you can read me twice a week on www.sny.tv. My first column for them, about the Mets' need to get serious now that they have their team back from the World Baseball Classic, is on that site now. My New York baseball columns will run there on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the baseball season.

In addition, any day now I will be starting my new job at fanhouse.com. For fanhouse, I will write football, baseball and college basketball. You should be able to find me there pretty much any day.

What will become of the NY baseball hack blog? I have no idea. Maybe it'll still exist as a place for me to put stuff my new employers don't want. But my sense is I'll be busy enough that it's not likely to be updated with any kind of regularity (which it really wasn't anyway).

Regardless, I thank those of you who followed me here, and I hope you'll continue to do so in my new landing spot(s).

March 18 -- Livan Large

9:27 PM

(0) Comments

I've only seen two days of this contest, but it didn't look like much of one to me. Jon Niese looked like a fine, capable big-league No. 5 starter with upside. Livan Hernandez looked like a smart veteran who knows how to get hitters out with middling stuff. I know who I'm taking if I'm the Mets right now, and it's the guy with the World Series MVP trophy.

After he was done today, Livan told us he felt good -- like all of his pitches felt "perfect" coming out of his hand. He said he'd been working on some mechanical adjustments designed to get his delivery back to the way it used to be -- before a knee problem forced him to change it last year. He said his knee feels fine now, and he likes the difference it's made in his effectiveness.

Jerry Manuel made sure to point out the date, indicating that much can still happen to change this. But if you were betting right now, you'd bet on Livan pitching in the majors and Niese in Buffalo this April. How it shakes out after that is harder to say, but from what they've seen of Livan this spring, the Mets could do worse.

Even Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose 1997 Braves were the victims of Livan's most memorable performance, thought the big fella looked good Wednesday. In his postgame remarks, Cox went out of his way to say he thought Livan looked good -- that he had, as he put it, a "zippy fastball."

So there's that.

The Braves' starter, by the way, was Tommy Hanson, their big-time pitching prospect. He threw his fastball in the 92-93 mph range, which was slower than we'd heard he was throwing. His curveball, however, was an absolute monster. A couple of us went over to talk to Hanson after the game, and he seems like a smart, humble kid. He said he believes his stuff is good enough to get big-league hitters out right now. ("I feel like I could go out and compete with whoever's in the box," was his exact quote.)

But Hanson can't make the Braves' rotation unless they have an injury problem (the most likely being a slow Tom Glavine recovery). Their rotation features Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, Kenshin Kawakami and, most likely, Glavine. Most likely, he'll open the season at Triple-A, and he seems open to that possibility.

"It's cool to hear my name," Hanson said, when asked what it feels like to be mentioned among baseball's top prospects. "But I know I have a long way to go to get better."

The scout I talked to who was there today said he liked Hanson's stuff but had questions about the life on his fastball. So maybe he's still a work in progress. Which is fine, since he's only 22.

I'll be chatting about this and other stuff Thursday morning at around 10:25 on "First Take" on ESPN2, if you'd like to check it out. And I'm headed to Jupiter on Thursday for Phillies-Marlins, before heading home Friday. Maybe it's warmer in NJ than when I left? Anybody?

Dan

March 18 -- Port St. Lucie

11:06 AM

(0) Comments

Watched Jon Niese pitch yesterday against the Braves at Disney, and he looked basically fine, but the fact that he walked the opposing pitcher in a spring training game clearly gnawed at his manager, who mentioned several times in his postgame that Niese's command wasn't "where it needs to be right now."

Livan Hernandez goes today against Braves mega-prospect Tommy Hanson here in the PSL. The prevailing feeling around this place is that Livan has the inside track on the fifth starter's spot, and really it makes sense when you think about it. Unless Niese just went off and had a monster spring and clearly won the spot, you'd keep the reliable (if unspectactular) veteran and send Niese to Triple-A to keep working at it. If you keep Niese on the team, you lose Hernandez -- he goes somewhere else, and you deplete your inventory. If you keep Hernandez, you get to keep Niese and stash him at Triple-A for a rainy day.

The Twins last year kept Hernandez on their team until Francisco Liriano was ready to return from injury, then they traded him. For whatever it's worth, Twins people I've talked to mention that Hernandez was a good guy to have on last year's team. He's personable and well liked, and there's some sentiment around that organization that the Twins' young pitchers benefited from having a guy like him around and watching the way he went about his business.

I've known Livan since 1996, and seeing him this morning I thought he looked good, physically, for Livan. He'll never be trim, but I've seen him a lot fatter than he is right now. And while his fastball might not be able to break glass, he certainly knows how to pitch.

One interesting note from Niese yesterday: Apparently, Sandy Koufax made his annual visit to Mets camp recently and worked with Niese. Niese said the big lesson was about "the mentality of my curveball -- just basically throwing it as hard as I can and not babying it." Koufax's message was to use the same arm speed and arm action on the off-speed pitches as you do on the fastball and trust the grip to take care of the change in speeds. Sounds simple, but with everything a pitcher has to think about on the mound, having a guy like Koufax crystallize something like that for you has to be a big help.

In other news, Daniel Murphy is a beast. Kid is hitting long line drives off the center-field wall in mid-March, hitting .400 for the spring. Having him in the lineup every day might be a good thing.

And how good did JJ Putz look last night in that WBC game against Puerto Rico? Nasty, nasty stuff. Mets fans have reason to feel optimistic. If they're so inclined. Which they are generally and justifiably not.

More later, I promise.

March 17 -- The Happiest Place on Earth

9:48 AM

(2) Comments

Boy, if anybody's still checking this site regularly, let me just say: I AM SORRY!

It's been weeks since I updated this blog, and the reasons for that are many. First, I was back home in NJ, where there's no big-league ball happening these days. Second, I've been a little obsessed with the college basketball tournaments the past couple of weeks. And third, and most importantly -- I got a job!

Starting April 1, you'll be able to read me on a different site, where I'll be doing some baseball, some basketball and a whole lot of football, believe it or not.

Meantime, though, I've been back in Florida for a few days, checking out some Grapefruit League action. I was in Fort Myers on Sunday for Orioles-Red Sox, and I did some chatting about those teams Monday on ESPN2's "First Take." I was in Tampa yesterday for Phillies-Yankees, and I (or my voice, at least) will be back on "First Take" this morning chatting about Cole Hamels and Chase Utley and their injury issues.

Today, I'm checking out the Mets and the Braves here at Disney. I'm in the press box right now while the Braves are on the field warming up, so I'm going to head down soon to see who's around to talk to. The big Mets story today seems to be Johan Santana pitching in a minor-league game back in Port St. Lucie, while Jon Niese starts here in his continuing bid for the No. 5 starter's spot.

So I'll try to get back on later with some Mets stuff for ya. Meantime, Yankees. It was weird being back there with A-Rod gone. It seems a lot more relaxed, as you might imagine. But there's a lot of stuff bubbling up around this team. They said the news was good on the Damaso Marte and Robinson Cano MRIs, and Cano plans to play Friday, but the fact that those dudes came back from the WBC with any injury issues at all is another glitch in the Yankees' grand plans to return to the playoffs. Marte is an important part of the bullpen, and Cano returning to his 2006-07 form is absolutely essential to the Yankees' efforts to score runs.

With A-Rod out, they are going to struggle to do that, no question. Mark Teixeira looked like an awesome complementary bat for Alex when they got him, but now he's going to be all alone in the middle of that lineup -- the one real power threat they have. And even when Alex does come back, it's safe to assume he's going to be limited by a hip problem that they already admit will require additional surgery at year's end.

To be clear: The Yankees' plans don't involve Alex Rodriguez toughing out the pain, getting himself into the lineup and doing the best he can regardless of injury. The Yankees built their team around the idea that Alex was the best player in baseball, and would perform as such. If he's missing for a month or two, and if he's not himself when he comes back (for reasons physical, psychological or both), then they're already at Plan B. And in this year's AL East, there's no margin for error.

Do the Red Sox have injury issues too? Sure. Mike Lowell's a question mark, and Dustin Pedroia came back hurt from the WBC. But in talking to a few of Boston's players Sunday, I got the real impression that they think so highly of their own pitching that they believe they can withstand almost any injury to a position player, especially if it's a short-term one. Boston's pitching does look to be awesome. Clay Buchholz started for them Sunday and looked great, and he's what? Their No. 7 starter? No. 8?

Tampa Bay has plenty of pitching too, in case you forgot from watching last year's playoffs. If everybody's healthy, I think the AL East has the three best teams in baseball. But a couple of things have happened this spring that make you start to think it's the Yankees who might be the most likely to have a total collapse and fall out of it. We'll see what happens, of course, but there do seem to be many more red flags in that camp than there are in Fort Myers or Port Charlotte so far.

Feb. 28 -- Three Quick Mets Thoughts

9:03 AM

(2) Comments

Back in chilly NJ, it seems a lot of the action is in Port St. Lucie.

1. They can say whatever they want about precautions, but the fact is that Johan Santana has now been scratched from two appearances because his elbow hurts. That's five-alarm info, and the alarms won't stop sounding until the man gets on a mound and feels good throwing.

2. I agree completely with the premise of this John Harper column. Regarding the idea of batting Luis Castillo first and Jose Reyes third (or anywhere else), I can see where it might be a good motivating factor for Castillo. But if there's even a one percent chance that it might have a negative effect on Reyes, it's not worth doing. He's too good the way he is, and too important to mess with.

3. I have known Livan Hernandez for 13 years, and covered his most glorious season. I have followed his career since then, and while I understand he is not the pitcher he was when he was younger, and that his numbers in recent seasons have been dreadful, I would not bet against him in a competition such as this one.

Feb. 26 -- Notes from Yankees-Rays

3:59 PM

(2) Comments

I wasn't with the Mets today, but I did see this story, and I believe the official baseball term for this is "NOT GOOD."

Over on this side of the state, we saw Phil Hughes, who was once an emerging top pitching prospect, pitch against the Rays and Wade Davis, who appears to still be. Davis hit 95 on the radar gun and struck out three batters in two scoreless innings, leaving the Yankees impressed and reinforcing the notion that the Rays aren't about to run out of pitching anytime soon. (More on that below.)

Two notes of significance from the Yankees' side of things today.

First, it appears Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi met with Alex Rodriguez to tell him it might not be a great idea to have the cousin he one week ago identified as his steroid supplier and fellow steroid user pick him up from the ballpark anymore. You'd think this would be something a person wouldn't have to be told, but with Alex, traditional logic apparently gets tossed in the hazardous waste bin with the used needles.

Cashman, Girardi and Rodriguez all were asked about the Cousin Yuri issue today. Cashman said, "It's been handled." Girardi and Rodriguez said, "It's been addressed." All three were pressed further, none commented further.

At this point, this has to be getting old for Cashman and Girardi, no? I mean, at this point, when A-Rod walks into the room for the meeting and sees those guys sitting there, do they even have to say anything anymore? If you're Cashman, don't you just wave the newspaper at the guy and go, "Really? Really, you thought this was a good idea?"

For a guy who seems so obsessed with the way he's perceived, Alex sure is tone-deaf in regard to his own actions. What's next? Dinner with Victor Conte?

The second note of interest -- most likely greater interest to Yankee fans -- has to do with Jorge Posada, who hit the ball as if he were angry with it. He homered on the first pitch he saw this spring, leading off the third inning. And in the fifth he hammered a long double to center field. A-Rod said he jokingly asked Posada if he'd been playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, his swing looked so good.

"I was a little nervous," said Posada, who missed much of the 2008 season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. "So I said, 'I'll just go up there and swing at the first pitch and see what happens."

Posada was the DH today, and Girardi said they're still hoping he'll be able to catch by March 15. He said he caught Hughes' warmup in the bullpen and was trying to "mimic" the pregame routine he'd be going through if he were catching. In the meantime, he's happy to be getting at-bats and feeling good -- he said the shoulder injury prohibited him from "loading" and deprived him of power when he tried to swing last year before going on the disabled list for good.

The Yankees need Posada to be healthy, and they need him to be healthy enough to play catcher -- as in, not DH. Because every day he's the DH, that's a day Jose Molina plays catcher and a better hitter (Xavier Nady, Nick Swisher, Hideki Matsui...somebody) rides the bench. The Yankees' lineup will function better if Posada can be in it as the catcher for at least 120 games, and the pitching staff is likely to benefit from having the same person back there every night. So Posada is worth watching as a key to the Yankees' season.

As for the Rays...interesting note I picked up today. It appears that David Price, the wonder-prospect who got the final outs of the ALCS for them last October, is NOT a lock to start the season in their rotation. The Rays say they're holding an open competition for their No. 5 starter's spot, including Price, Jason Hammell, Jeff Niemann and Carlos Hernandez, the former Astros lefty who's attempting a comeback following multiple shoulder surgeries.

Price obviously has the stuff to compete at the major-league level, as he showed in October. But Rays GM Andrew Friedman says that Price's development is the most important factor in determining where he pitches. If they feel like he'd be better off starting the season in Triple-A, they'll send him there.

There are, of course, off-field concerns directing some of this. Niemann and Hammell, for instance, are out of options, meaning the team would have to trade or release them if they don't make the big-league club. Price can be sent to the minors without such a concern. And remember last year, when the Rays started third baseman Evan Longoria in the minors so as to delay the start of his arbitration/free agency "clock." They could employ a similar strategy with Price, though I think that would be unwise.

The AL East is going to be a brutal division this year. It is very possible, I believe, that the three best teams in baseball reside in the AL East. That means none of the three contenders -- Yankees, Red Sox or Rays -- can afford to fiddle around. If the Rays believe Price makes them better, then they should probably put him on the team, rather than waiting until May to do it.

A year ago, remember, the Rays were the out-of-nowhere Cinderella team. They didn't open the season with any apparent expectations. This year, they're the defending league champions, and they're fully expected to make a run at a second straight division title. Tough to give away a month for procedural roster reasons when you're in that kind of spot.

Once again, you can catch me Friday morning on "First Take" on ESPN2 at around 10:20 am EST. After that, I'm heading back home to the frigid north. But I plan to be back in Florida at some point for more spring training. This week was too much fun!

Feb. 25 -- Lots of driving

7:08 PM

(0) Comments

I just saw that Miguel Tejada is dropping out of the World Baseball Classic because the Dominican team asked him to play first base. Curious, I went over to the WBC web site to see who's on the roster who's a better shortstop than Tejada. Holy crap. How about Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and, if they really want to get kooky, Alex Rodriguez?

I'm not much for handicapping, but you have to like their chances, no?

Course, now they need a first baseman...

Anyway, I digress. If you're here, you're at least mildly interested in the day I spent here in Florida at spring training. As promised, I did make the two-hour drive down to Fort Myers to pick up some Red Sox notes. I spoke with John Smoltz, who's recovering from shoulder surgery and has been working with fellow rehab pitcher Brad Penny in Penny's bullpen sessions -- something for which Penny is star-struck grateful.

But I didn't stay for the Red Sox exhibition game against Boston College (which I presume is still going on, with the Sox leading 214-0 in the top of the fourth inning). A freelance opportunity prompted a change in plans, and I made the two-hour drive back up to Dunedin to see what the crowd reaction was to A-Rod's first spring training game.

As I expected, he got a lot of boos and a lot of support. (Yankee road games in spring training always draw tons of Yankee fans who can't get tickets to the games at George M. Steinbrenner Field, nee Legends Field.) He walked twice and hit a home run, which indicates that the hip problem his hitting coach told me about yesterday isn't holding him back THAT much.

Afterwards, Alex spoke with us and said he'd had dinner Tuesday night with Reggie Jackson, and that Reggie had given him some advice. Alex said he was comfortable on the field, playing the game. "Everything else is confusing," he said. "Baseball is what I do best."

Talking to Reggie, we learned that it was apparently Hank Steinbrenner's idea for him to take A-Rod out and offer some advice. As for what that advice was, here's Reggie:

"I told him to hit the baseball. And hit it when it counts."

Of course, it didn't count today, but the message is simple: If you perform, the way Alex Rodriguez can, the fans (Yankee fans at least) will appreciate it and love you for it. And that'll make everything else go away, at least for the three hours every night when you're playing ball.

This makes me think it's more important than ever for Alex to start the season hot. If he struggles in April and the team is sitting around .500, Yankee fans will be all over him. Come on, Yankee fans. You know who you are. You will boo the everlasting crap out of this guy.

However, if he has an April like the otherworldly one he had in 2007, and if he carries that performance all through the season (and into October this time), then he won't have to worry about questions about the fans.

At least not at home.

Alex did have one funny line, when he said he thought the crowd went easy on him today: "I'd like to bring a couple of them with me to Fenway Park this summer," he said.

And Reggie talked a little bit about his own frustration over the idea of being passed on the home run list by so many guys from the steroid era.

"When I retired, the game was 140 years old, and I was sixth all-time (in home runs)," Jackson said. "Eighteen months later, I was 11th. I get angry sometimes. I've been reprimanded by the commissioner or the president of our team for saying some things about it, and I've pleaded with them to understand, I'm personally affected by this. I'm disappointed and I'm hurt."

He said he expected he would talk to Alex about this very topic at some point, but that right now he's part of the Yankees' organization-wide effort to make sure Alex's head is in the right place so that he (and the team) can have a successful season.

"He's my friend," Reggie said. "And he's on the Yankees, and I work for the Yankees. It's like Brian Cashman says. We don't have choices here. He's a friend and he's a significant asset for us."

I will be discussing this topic some more Thursday morning on "First Take" on ESPN2 at around 10:20 am Eastern, if you're interested. Otherwise, planning to head to the Yankees-Rays game in Tampa on Thursday and will let you know what I come up with from there. Hopefully I can pick up some Rays notes. The A-Rod stuff does tend to swallow everything else, you know?

Feb. 24 -- Old Stomping Grounds

3:27 PM

(2) Comments

Sick of the weather up there, I figured I'd head on down for a little spring training trip this week. Just because nobody's ordering me to go this year doesn't mean I can't go on my own, right? Now, the trick is to pick up enough freelance assignments while I'm down here to make the trip profitable. Or at least, keep it from being a loss.

So I went over to George M. Steinbrenner Field (nee Legends Field) today and hung around with the Yankees. Here are a couple of tidbits I got out of the day:

-You don't have to spend but 20 minutes in Yankees camp to realize that Alex Rodriguez has swallowed it. All anybody's talking about is A-Rod -- How's he look? How's he feeling? How's he going to handle a spring training road game tomorrow in Dunedin? He's supposed to meet soon (he claims to know not when) with MLB investigators about his admitted steroid use. He leaves next week to join the Dominican Republic team for the World Baseball Classic. Hitting coach Kevin Long told me A-Rod's dealing with a hip problem that's affecting his batting stance -- making it more open than it's supposed to be. Basically, the guy's got a lot of crap going on. And no matter what anybody says publicly, I can assure you there's a real concern around the Yankees about how A-Rod is going to perform given the circumstances in which he now finds himself.

-Bernie Williams is here, working out with the team in preparation for his own turn on the Puerto Rico team in the WBC. Williams was hitting long home runs in batting practice and said he feels good and hopes "to catch someone's eye" during the WBC -- meaning, impress a big-league team enough that he can make a comeback and play Major League Baseball again. "I feel great, and I got the go-ahead from the family, the wife and kids to give it a shot. So I'm going to give it a shot," he said. I wish him well, because I like Bernie, but jeez...in a market where Bobby Abreu only got $5 million and Garret Anderson just signed for $2.5 million, it's tough to envision a big-league job for a 40-year-old Bernie Williams.

-The Yankees' three new star players may have contracts totaling nearly a half a billion dollars, but it appears the team is in luck, because they couldn't have given that nearly-half-a-billion to three more down-to-earth dudes. CC Sabathia spent most of his clubhouse time today hanging out among the relievers, way across the room from his corner locker, chatting about pitching and busting chops. And he just left with Nick Swisher and Brian Bruney to go fishing. Tino Martinez, here as a spring instructor, was raving about what a pleasure it's been to work with Mark Teixeira. And more than one person made a comment to me about AJ Burnett's work ethic and seriousness of purpose. Assuming health, the Yankees' big winter bucks appear to have been well spent. The last thing they'd need right now is one of the new guys coming in all high-maintenance and demanding a bunch of attention.

-I'm an idiot. This is the 10th year I've lived in the Northeast and covered spring training in Florida. Do you think I'd remember to bring allergy medicine and sunscreen by now? Yeah, well, you'd be wrong. And here I sit, sneezing and red-necked.

But I have to say, it was a fun, pleasant, productive day. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Heading down to Red Sox camp in Fort Myers on Wednesday. Catch me on "First Take" on ESPN2 at 10:25 am. We'll be talking about some of this stuff and some other stuff, too.

Feb. 19 -- Ken Griffey Jr. returns to Seattle

12:17 PM

(0) Comments

Over/Under on the day the Mariners make the publicly painful decision to release Griffey: June 23. Yeah, you heard it here first.

Keith Law on ESPN.com did a beautiful job of breaking down this sentimental move -- a foolish one for a team that needs to be rebuilding and getting at-bats for its up-and-coming youngsters so that they can be good again once Griffey is mercifully retired. The money quote:

"What's most troubling is that this appears not to be a baseball move, but a marketing one. It's a cynical, insulting ploy to try to get fans into the park -- "Hey, they've heard of this guy! They won't know he's not half the player he used to be!" -- and worse, it's misguided. Fans who want to see Griffey play again will go … once. One past-prime player isn't going to get large numbers of fans to go to the park on a regular basis; the only thing that can do that is winning."


I also have a couple of thoughts on this insane idea that Braves fans are upset with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution because Braves GM Frank Wren said Griffey bailed on the Braves because he was upset that the paper ran a story saying he'd decided to sign with Atlanta.

1. Baloney.

2. And if it is true that this is what made Griffey's decision for him, then the Braves got a huge break.

3. Griffey is soft, a whiner and not an especially useful major-league baseball player at this point in his career. I respect what he's accomplished in the game, statistically, but personally he's a loser and he's no longer a good enough player to justify this kind of angst.

4. The Braves will be better off with Garrett Anderson.

Just sayin'

Feb. 17 -- We're supposed to believe this?

8:17 PM

(1) Comments

Alex Rodriguez says he was young and stupid.

Well...he's not young anymore.

But he's stupid as hell if he expects us to swallow what he was serving up this afternoon in Tampa.

Enough already with the half-truths and made-up stories. This thing about how he and his "cousin" dabbled with over-the-counter injectible drugs they could only get in the Dominican Republic, at a time when he was entering his athletic prime and, presumably, watching everything else he put into his body just doesn't hold water.

And even if you bought it, it still leaves open too many questions:

-Is his unnamed "cousin" a doctor? And if not, is Alex insane? He was feeling pressure to perform at the beginning of his record-breaking contract, and so he and his cousin walked into some random Dominican drugstore and picked up something that they didn't know how to administer and didn't know whether it would be effective and just started taking it twice a month for three years? If this story is true, then Alex is a stone-cold moron. If it's not true (which is where the smart money is), then it's a bad, bad lie. Because it's impossible to believe.

-Was he such an outcast in the Rangers' clubhouse that he really didn't talk to other players in there about steroid use? It seems, from everything we've learned, that pretty much every single play on those Ranger teams was doing steroids. Alex never had a conversation with a teammate in which this stuff came up? What are you taking? Do you think it's helping? That kind of stuff?

-Is he really, truly sorry for what he did? Does he really think he made a mistake? Is he really interested in telling kids his story and keeping them off the stuff? Because for a guy about whom all of that is true, he seems awfully concerned with making sure everybody still thinks of him as a Hall of Fame baseball player. All you hear is how good he was before 2001, how good he's been since 2003. How he still wants to go to the Hall of Fame. I'm not sure, if a man is feeling real remorse, that that would be such a high priority.

Alex cares deeply what other people think about him. He's a textbook case of a kid who didn't have a father and spends his life desperately seeking attention, affirmation and approval. In a lot of ways, that's the sad part of his story -- a real reason, if you're so inclined, to pity him.

But the problem is always the same with Alex. He doesn't come off as sincere. Even when he's being sincere, he doesn't seem it. And that kills him in terms of public perception.

A year ago, Andy Pettitte sat in the same spot and answered questions for 55 minutes about his appearance in the Mitchell Report. Several times during that session, Yankees media relations director Jason Zillo tried to cut it off and Pettitte told him not to. Before and after the session, Pettitte approached reporters who'd covered him for years, individually, and apologized for "putting you in a position to write bad things about me." Pettitte could have been lying through his teeth that day, but for some reason all of his actions had a genuine feel. He's a more genuine person, and a more likable person, and for him that's the biggest reason 2008 went as smoothly as it did after February.

Alex won't be so fortunate, for way too many reasons. But the biggest reason is that anybody who watched that fiasco in Tampa on Tuesday has to still be wondering what the whole truth is. And as long as we're all still wondering that, this won't be over.

Dan

Feb. 12 -- On Selig, A-Rod and a whole bunch of littler stuff

12:50 PM

(1) Comments

This thing about Bud Selig considering a suspension for A-Rod seems a little silly. There were no penalties in place during the time when Alex admits to having used steroids (though certainly, the drugs were illegal, and had someone been caught using them at that time he would have been subject to some sort of punishment), and it makes little sense to suspend him six years later. Plus, the union would have a chicken.

I wonder if this is an attempt by Selig to get A-Rod to do what he made Jason Giambi do a couple of years ago, when Giambi slipped and acknowledged his past steroid use in an interview with USA Today. Under threat of suspension, Giambi resolved the situation by going in and talking to MLB officials (and George Mitchell) about exactly what he did, when he did it and, presumably, why. Since I believe there's something to be gained by finding out as many specifics as possible about what went on during the "Steroid Era," I think it would be nice of Alex to go in and spend some time with the MLB officials in charge of investigating and prosecuting drug use in the game. His information could be valuable, and as of now there's no reason for him not to offer it -- if, as he claims, he's come clean about absolutely everything. And of course, we're all entitled to our doubts about that.

A few more notes from around the league:

*A front-office official with a major-league team that isn't the Mets told me yesterday that the Mets were one of the teams with a serious chance of signing left-handed reliever Will Ohman, and that Ohman was likely to sign somewhere before the weekend. The Phillies' obvious interest in Ohman, this person said, has led the Mets to consider paying more for Ohman than they initially intended to pay, though this person believed it unlikely that they would offer more than a one-year deal. Just passing it along.

*Rather than injuring the bargaining position of the Dodgers or Manny Ramirez, I believe the recent signings of Bobby Abreu (Angels) and Adam Dunn (Nationals) signals that the Dodgers are close to finalizing a deal with Ramirez. My theory is that the sides got close enough, in recent days, that a deal is inevitable, and that word of such got out, so Abreu and Dunn, who were on the Dodgers' list of backup plans, decided to take the offers they already had. This is an educated hunch of mine, based on experience with the way these things tend to work. I have no direct knowledge of any impending announcement of a Ramirez-Dodgers deal. I just wouldn't be surprised.

*Everybody knows pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training this week, but I wanted to offer my best wishes to the writers who are reporting for nearly two months of work with almost no time off. Spring training is the most grueling part of the baseball year for those who cover the teams, and if any of my former colleagues/competitors are reading this, know that I feel for you. And that a great, big, kinda-sad part of me wishes I were down there with you.

Feb. 10 -- Too many questions remain

8:17 AM

(1) Comments

I guess, at the most basic level, Alex Rodriguez is to be commended for admitting that for which he was caught. His admission, incomplete though it may be, puts him ahead of the Roger Clemenses, Barry Bondses and Mark McGwires of this sordid steroid world. He didn't deny what we already knew, didn't insult our intelligence, didn't hide behind the towering arrogance that convinces our biggest baseball stars that people will and should believe everything they say just because they're good at baseball.

But.

To say that Alex "came clean" in his ESPN interview with Peter Gammons is to ignore that which wasn't addressed, and that which is still being denied.

The idea that Rodriguez didn't know what he was taking -- that he was somehow using stuff that may or may not have been illegal at the time or that he could "get at GNC" is ludicrous. Anybody who's studied this issue and these drugs can tell you that primobolan is not legal in the United States, was not legal in 2003 and cannot be found in any substance GNC sells. It's an extremely sophisticated steroid that sophisticated steroid users take in conjunction with testosterone in order to build strength without excessive bulk. Bodybuilders "stack" a drug like primobolan with synthetic testosterone -- using the former when they're cycling off the latter so that they can maintain their strength and their workout regimen without swelling up to dangerous (or suspicious) sizes.

The best bet is that Rodriguez, a world-class athlete with access to trainers, nutritionists, personal chefs and whatever else he needs to keep his body functioning at the highest possible level, knew exactly what he was taking and is trying to portray himself as a naif because that's easier to forgive. But even if we give him that -- even if we assume he was naive, caught up in that "loose culture" about which we all now know and didn't know everything he was taking -- then he should certainly know where and from whom he got his drugs. Given the drugs for which he has tested positive, whoever was administering them to him (assuming he wasn't doing it himself) would have known what they were for and what they would do. And if that's the case, he should be able to honestly answer questions about where he got them and from whom.

So it's clear, from watching this interview, that Alex is still holding back some information. It's clear that he's still lying, as he did when Katie Couric asked him in December of 2007 and the rest of us asked him in February of 2008 if he'd ever taken any performance-enhancers. It's clear that he could tell us (and, more importantly, Major League Baseball) more about what went on in that "loose culture" and enable everybody to learn the kind of information that would really, truly help the game move on.

It's clear that none of this would ever have come out if he hadn't been caught. He speaks of carrying a "gorilla" on his back, referencing his steroid secret. He says he feels great to finally reveal the truth. But if it was bothering him that much, why not come clean before the SI reporter shows up at the gym? He's obviously furious with Selena Roberts for breaking this story, and there's no way he'd have been sitting there with Peter Gammons yesterday if she (or someone else) hadn't.

So once again, we have to wonder if the cheater is sorry he cheated or if he's merely sorry he got caught. As I said above, give A-Rod more credit than you give Clemens and Bonds and those who insist on insulting our intelligence by denying what we all know. Given the standard that has so far been set in all of this, he's toward the more admirable end of the spectrum. But there's no way to believe he has really, as he claims, "put everything out there and been totally honest." He's still coming up short on that. And as long as he and the others who cheated in an effort to make themselves better baseball players keep coming up short, these kinds of stories are going to keep dribbling out, one by one, for years and years to come.

Feb. 8 -- A-ssorted A-Rod thoughts

12:46 AM

(4) Comments

Sometime in the middle of 2007, as Alex Rodriguez was obviously on his way to a runaway MVP award and just as surely planning to opt out of the final three years of his contract, I wrote a column for The Star-Ledger in which I urged the Yankees to resist the temptation to bring him back after he opted out. The gist was that sure, his monster 2007 season would prove his tremendous potential value to the team, but that they should be careful not to overlook all of the headaches he'd already caused them and likely would continue to cause them if they locked him up for, say, 10 more years.

I stand by that column.

Seriously, how must the Yankees feel when, almost every time a player's picture is on ESPN in the middle of a steroid story, he's wearing their uniform? Jason Giambi was the poster boy for the steroid era before Barry Bonds raced to the front. Gary Sheffield had his turn in this ugly spotlight while he was a Yankee. A year ago, it was Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in disgrace. Even guys like Chuck Knoblauch, David Justice and Mike Stanton were mentioned in the Mitchell Report. Mike Stanton, for Christ's sake.

Now it's A-Rod, the player around whom the Yankees have chosen to build their franchise for the next nine years. One Yankee person with whom I exchanged e-mails on Saturday said, "Sure, it's embarrassing, but what can we do?" And this person is right. It isn't the Yankees' fault that so many of the high-profile guys who've been caught (and remember, the number of people who've been caught represents but a tiny fraction of the number of people who were doing this stuff) wore their uniform. I don't think you can claim that there's anything systemic about the way they do business that attracts steroid cheats. They get high-profile guys, they pay them a lot of money to be big stars, and when those kinds of guys get caught it makes big news.

But they could have got themselves out from under Alex Rodriguez a year ago and they didn't. Instead, they decided to make him the face of their franchise and TV Network. So they are stuck with the storm that hit Saturday morning -- a storm whose eye is weeks away from landfall in Tampa. They are stuck with all of the headaches it brings, all of the headaches Alex Rodriguez always seems to bring.

A few more scattered thoughts:

-The Yankees are 10-14 in postseason games since Alex Rodriguez joined their team. Not his fault that their starting pitching has been garbage since he got here, but for some reason that hangs around his neck as much as it does anybody else's.

-CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett are in for a nice welcome to the Yankees later this week, when pitchers and catchers report to Tampa. With third basemen not scheduled to report until a week later, the newcomers who figured to see much of the attention in the first week are likely to spend much of that week fielding questions about an absent goofball steroid cheat they barely even know. But hey -- they might as well find out right away what they've gotten themselves into.

-This idea that if it turns out to be true that A-Rod did test positive in 2003 then at least we know he's been clean since then because MLB tests now? Please. The whole Balco scandal was about rich athletes paying scientists to develop drugs to help them beat tests. Very strict Olympic tests, in many cases. We're to believe this doesn't still go on? That for the past five years, while baseball has been testing its players, nobody's come up with a drug that beats the tests? And that a player as wealthy and driven as Alex Rodriguez wouldn't pay for such a drug? Sorry, Scott. Your man, if guilty, deserves every shred of suspicion that comes his way, whether it's about his career before, during or after 2003.

-What should Alex do? Well, he should come clean, of course. He won't, but he should. They all should. The Giambis, Bondses, Sheffields, Clemenses...all of them. A full public admission by those players -- what they did, why they did it, when and for how long -- would do so much to help baseball move on, it would be incalculable. But as long as the players who were caught do no more than the bare minimum -- either lie/deny or admit to only that for which they were caught -- this stuff is gong to keep happening. Every few months, another name will surface, and all of the ugliness of the "Steroid Era" will rise up and swallow the game again. Plus, the American public is a sucker for contrition. If Alex said he did it and was sorry, fans would go a lot easier on him than they will if he denies and hides.

-The Hall of Fame question, or "Why it sucks to be a Hall of Fame voter from here on out." My answer is no. If I believe Alex Rodriguez used steroids, I will not vote for him for the Hall of Fame. That's my personal position, as of Feb. 8, 2009 -- if I believe a player used steroids, I won't vote for him. That goes for McGwire, Bonds, Sheffield, Clemens...the lot. Is that fair? Maybe not, but it's where I am as a voter.

Some voters have said they'll vote based on the numbers, since we can't know every name of every cheater and they don't feel comfortable punishing only a few of the guilty. This is a valid viewpoint, though I dispute it. I mean, if you get caught speeding and tell the cop, "Everybody else is speeding," does he not give you a ticket?

Some voters have said they'll vote for no one from this era, for fear that they'll vote somebody in only to find out later that they elected a cheater. And I share this fear. I fully expect that, at some point, I'll cast a vote for somebody and later find out that he cheated. And some will cry hypocrisy. And that will be unfortunate.

But the way I feel as a voter is that all we can do is our very best with each individual case. If I have steroid-related doubts about a guy, I'm holding off. If those doubts get erased somehow, I reserve the right to change my mind and vote for the guy if he's still on the ballot. If I have no steroid-related doubts, and I believe the guy to be a Hall of Famer on the numbers, I'll vote for him. Because that's all I think we can do -- examine each individual case every year, applying all of the information we have available to us, and make the best decision we can based on the totality of that information.

Which means, assuming this stuff is true (and the story really offers no good reason to doubt its veracity), A-Rod's a no for me, 800 homers or not.

Jan. 29 -- A-Rod thoughts

10:55 AM

(4) Comments

I don't have an advance copy of the Joe Torre book -- I'll pick up my copy Tuesday like the rest of you. But I have been enjoying the coverage.

One of the things that still amazes me, after all the years he's been here, is how Alex Rodriguez always takes shrapnel even when it's not his fight.

I'm sure Torre didn't set out to put A-Rod in the middle of controversy about the slugger's maddening personality. According to the reprint quotes we've seen, it appears all Torre offers about A-Rod is some objective analysis of the same things about him that frustrate us all -- his obsession with appearance, his paralyzing need for acceptance and acclaim. Rodriguez has always been a mystery -- How can a guy who has so much going for him be so insecure? And it seems as if Torre is merely articulating his own efforts to solve it.

Are we really surprised to know that A-Rod wants to be Derek Jeter? As somebody who spent significant time in that clubhouse the past five years, I'm certainly not. A-Rod has, since becoming a Yankee, worked hard to be like Jeter in his dealings with the media -- closed-off, cliche-happy and boring. The difference is that Jeter does all of that naturally, while A-Rod has to work at it.

A-Rod is actually an interesting guy to talk to about baseball. He loves the game and works so hard at it that he has a great deal to offer in terms of analysis -- of his own game and other people's. I have had many one-on-one conversations with him about baseball, and they're almost always educational. We've discussed technical aspects of playing third base and of basestealing. We've talked about the perception of him as a poor "clutch" player, what he thinks of that and how he copes with it. When you ask him a good question about the game, he can help educate you about the game. The hardest part is finding him. Or getting him to take those stupid headphones off and talk to you.

Are we really surprised to hear, from Torre, that A-Rod "needs people to make a fuss over him?" This couldn't be more obvious to anybody who watches the guy. Every movement is measured, every ounce of attention absorbed. When all the Madonna stuff was going down last year in late June and early July, I talked to a person in the Yankees' clubhouse and asked how he was handling it. The answer: "Are you kidding? He loves this stuff. He loves being a big enough star to be on the cover of US Weekly. This isn't going to bother him one bit."

Did you ever see Alex slap his hands together, ala Paul O'Neill, after a big hit? Yeah, no coincidence. He copied that right from O'Neill, and here's why. Alex is fascinated, jealously so, of the late 1990s Yankee teams. He asked a teammate, during his first year in New York, why the fans love Scott Brosius so much. Brosius was a good player, but well short of Hall of Fame caliber, Rodriguez thought. So why all the adulation?

The answer is, of course, the thing that A-Rod doesn't get. Oh he gets the superficial part of it -- the fact that Brosius, O'Neill and Tino Martinez are so beloved in New York because they won championships. Rodriguez burns to win one, if for no other reason than to cut out the most glaring bad spot on his resume.

But there's a deeper reason Brosius and those guys attained an affection that Rodriguez can't. Brosius never carried himself the way A-Rod does -- as if he needed people to notice the things he was doing, as if he couldn't really be great unless somebody told him they knew he was great. Brosius carried himself like a guy who only cared about doing his little part to help the team win that day's game. He didn't fake it. He didn't spout cliches about it. He just did it, without pretense.

Think further back. Think about Don Mattingly. Unlike Brosius, Mattingly was a great player -- borderline Hall of Fame caliber. But he never appeared to need people to know how great he was. He was just great, on his own, and if you didn't think so it wasn't going to matter to him.

Why does A-Rod always take shrapnel, even when it's not his fight? Unfortunately, it's for a reason of his own making. He attracts attention because he so obviously needs it. And when you're as great and as public and as obviously emotionally needy as he is, you're going to attract all kinds of attention -- positive and negative -- whether you deserve it or not.

Dan

Jan. 23 -- Mets Pitching Update -- Sheets, Perez, etc.

2:00 PM

(6) Comments

Over the past couple of days, I have talked with some Mets people and some people outside the organization familiar with their thinking, and here are some of the notes I've come up with:

-With the signing of Freddy Garcia, the Mets are taking their cue from the Red Sox and the way they've approached their off-season. Boston signed Brad Penny and John Smoltz to low-base, incentive-type deals because they're injury risks that could, if healthy, be spectacularly helpful. This is why the Mets haven't totally ruled out a Pedro Martinez return -- thinking that a rotation of Santana/Maine/Pelfrey plus two-of-three from the Garcia/Martinez/Redding group (depending upon who's healthy) isn't a terrible fallback if they can't get another big-name guy.

-However, they are still pursuing another big-game guy, and right now there's a lot of discussion about whether that guy should be Ben Sheets. Omar Minaya and other high-ranking officials are thought to prefer Oliver Perez, but there are people in the organization who think their money would be better spent on Sheets, since he's a real No. 1-caliber pitcher when healthy and Perez is, at best, a No. 2 or 3 (with the walk rate of a No. 5). The thinking is that, with Garcia and Redding in the fold and Jonathon Niese at Triple-A, the Mets could "baby" Sheets -- be ultra-protective of his arm, get him extra rest when possible and make sure they have him healthy for September and (hopefully) October. The pro-Sheets voices in the organization fantasize about a Santana/Sheets combo that would potentially be the best 1-2 rotation punch in the National League.

-One issue, of course, is what kind of contract Sheets wants. Back in December, the Yankees were kicking around the idea of a two-year, $26 million guarantee with two option years that would vest if he stayed healthy during the guarantee portion of the contract. Time having passed and the market having slowed to a halt, Sheets probably wouldn't require $13 million per year to sign now. But the Mets are reluctant so far to offer two years, given Sheets' injury history. Perhaps the Texas Rangers' apparent interest could spur them to offer more, though it might also spur them to up their offer to Perez, if that's the guy they decide they prefer.

-The other issue, according to one person who's been in contact with the Mets' front office, is the fear that Sheets wouldn't be the only pitcher the Mets would have to "baby." There's a feeling in the organization that John Maine's shoulder problems, coming as they did after the departure of former pitching coach Rick Peterson, were no coincidence. Peterson had a program that sought out extra days of rest for Maine when the schedule permitted (off-days, rainouts, All-Star break, etc.) because he feared Maine's delivery made him a breakdown candidate if he pitched every fifth day for months at a time. Maine did break down in the second half last year, and some wonder if they'll have to build in extra rest for him in 2009 to make sure he's healthy. There is a companion concern about Mike Pelfrey, who pitched more innings in 2008 than he ever did before, though that concern is based more on theory, since Pelfrey did not have Maine's injury issues last year.

You get the picture. If the rotation is Santana/Maine/Pelfrey/Sheets/Garcia, that's three guys with injury/health concerns that would have to get extra rest whenever possible. Perez, whatever else he is, is durable and wouldn't need to be "babied." Putting together a rotation with so many guys who have had arm problems could create a logistical and managerial nightmare.

But one thing that's come through consistently in the conversations I've had about the Mets is that they're in no rush. They love Garcia. They think Redding is going to be very useful. They think Niese is ready to help at the major-league level. Basically, they feel they have options at the back end of the rotation and that there's still enough starting pitching on the market (we haven't even mentioned Jon Garland and Randy Wolf here) that they'll be able to add one more guy to the front and/or middle. Spring training may only be three weeks away, but that timetable isn't pushing the Mets to panic into a move they don't want to make.

Jan. 22 -- Well, now I'm convinced

10:39 AM

(0) Comments

Yeah, this does it. I'd never really believed any of that huge pile of evidence, circumstantial and otherwise, that Mark McGwire did steroids. But now that his estranged, no-name, obviously-desperate-for-money brother is writing a book that says he did...wow. My eyes are open.

Sheesh.

I have two points on McGwire. I consider them unrelated, though people seem desperate to relate them. They are:

1. I do not vote for him for the Hall of Fame. I believe, on the strength of his numbers, he would qualify easily. But I also believe he cheated in an effort to attain those numbers, and my personal feeling on my role as a Hall of Fame voter is that I should not reward that. Others feel differently, which is their right. This is where I come down on McGwire. It hasn't changed so far. Could it change in the next 12 years and lead me to vote for him? Of course. But it's hard to imagine how.

2. I believe he did the game a disservice by not coming clean in front of congress, and I believe he continues to do the game a disservice with his continued silence on the issue. There would be value in an in-depth, thorough, well-informed investigation into the steroid era. (i.e., something a lot better than the scratch-the-surface Mitchell Report) Baseball could learn and grow from a hard look at the way it all went down and the reasons for it. I believe Mark McGwire, who was obviously at the center of it, could obviously help with such an investigation. And as somebody who loves the game, I wish he would.

However, this has no impact on my Hall of Fame decision regarding McGwire. Had he come clean in front of congress, or were he to apologize now, it would not change my mind. I believe he cheated in an effort to go from great player to Hall of Fame player, and I don't think it's my job to reward that. Just because a guy apologizes and admits what I already believe about him doesn't change what he did, or its impact on my decision.

I think McGwire should come clean because I think he could help the game by doing so. But the debate over whether he would/should somehow be "forgiven" or elected to Cooperstown if he came clean is, I believe, silly. And not as important as the good that could come of his (and many others') so-far-elusive honesty.

Jan. 19 -- Varitek tears a page from the A-Rod book?

11:24 AM

(1) Comments

Hmmmm....Where have we heard this before?

A Scott Boras client, failing to find the open market as open as he'd hoped he would, goes back to the team for which he played last year on his own, without Boras, pledges his undying loyalty to the team and says he'd like to do a deal after all.

It worked like a charm for Alex Rodriguez last winter, and Jason Varitek hopes it works for him this year.

At the time that A-Rod pulled the trick on the Yankees, signing for a deal that was bigger and better than the one he supposedly offended them by opting out of, it smelled fishy. The whole idea of some kind of "split" between Boras and his best client was hard to swallow. I have always believed it was Boras' idea, and a great one. ("Alex, here's how we play it. Go back to them, tell them you want to cut me out and talk to them face to face. Let me be the bad guy. I can handle it. Been doing it my whole career, and it's worked out real nice.")

Last year, it worked so beautifully because both sides had reason to go along, publicly, with the ruse. Rodriguez got to look like the returning hero, ditching the big, bad agent for the sake of his love of the pinstripes. The Yankees got to look as if they'd pulled one over on the big, bad agent, and they got the player they wanted all along.

Like him or not, Boras isn't just good at his job. He's great at his job. Right now, it looks like he made a rare miscalculation when he advised Varitek not to accept arbitration. But if he can finagle a couple of extra million bucks out of John Henry by pulling the same trick he pulled with A-Rod on the Yankees a year ago, then good for him.

He'd just better be careful. This starts happening every winter, somebody's going to catch on...

Jan. 14 -- Mets' pitching options post-Lowe

11:17 AM

(3) Comments

A couple of Mets people I talked to yesterday sounded crushed that Derek Lowe had signed with the Braves. These are people who preferred Lowe to Oliver Perez because the former is more reliable and the latter...um...a touch flaky.

Another part of the concern is that the Mets don't yet know how their new ballpark is going to play. Omar Minaya has, in recent years, sought out flyball pitchers that he thought would benefit from spacious Shea Stadium. Perez and John Maine are two examples of flyball pitchers Minaya was able to get at low cost because most teams prefer groundball pitchers.

But while studies seem to show Citi Field will be an extreme pitcher's park, perhaps even more than Shea was, the Mets aren't sure, and some in the organization felt like Lowe was a better bet than Perez because he keeps the ball on the ground.

But the Mets didn't want to give Lowe four years, and they didn't want to give him $15 million a year, so off he goes to Atlanta, and now they turn their attention to Perez.

Right now, the Mets feel like they can get Perez at their price, because they don't think anybody else is interested. But two weeks ago, nobody else was interested in Lowe, and he ended up in Atlanta. It's certainly not beyond Scott Boras to wrangle Texas or the Dodgers or somebody like that into a Perez deal, and if his price gets to $60M/4 as Lowe's did, he's not coming back to the Mets.

Which leaves them with...what? Randy Wolf? Jon Garland? Pedro Martinez? Those are the names you hear, depending on which Mets person you're talking to on a given day. But I have a couple of outside-the-box ideas that the Mets should at least consider:

1. Andy Pettitte. Why not? They know he can pitch in New York. Last year wasn't a great one for him, but he still won 14 games with a 4.54 ERA in the tougher league. A switch to the NL might benefit him, and they could probably get him for one year and $12 million. They were willing to pay Lowe $12 million a year for three years. Why not Pettitte for the same money and less of a commitment?

2. Ben Sheets. Until yesterday, Mets people had been consistently saying the same thing about Sheets all winter -- too concerned about the injury history, not interested. But there's a movement among some in the organization to take a shot on Sheets, who's as talented as any pitcher in baseball when he is healthy.

When the Yankees were talking Sheets in December, their plan was to offer him a two-year deal for about $12 million - $13 million per year, plus team options for 2011 and 2012 that would increase in value (and possibly vest) if he stayed healthy in 2009 an 2010. The price may have come down since then, and it's worth thinking about. A rotation of Santana/Sheets/Main/Pelfrey/Redding would be pretty good during the stretches when Sheets is healthy, and they could pick up another desperate veteran or two (Josh Towers? Jeff Weaver? There are a million of these guys out there.) that they could stash in the bullpen or at Triple-A in case Sheets got hurt or they needed to rest him to keep him healthy.

Just a couple of ideas in case the Ollie thing falls apart, that's all.

Jan. 13 -- My Hall of Fame Regret

What's the most disappointing thing about this year's Hall of Fame voting for me?

Not that Jim Rice got in and Bert Blyleven didn't.

Not that Lee Smith got twice as many votes as Tim Raines, who helped win so many more games.

Not that Rickey Henderson wasn't unanimous. (A truly ludicrous thing about which to be upset, I think. People can vote or not vote however they want, and the people who don't know what it's like to cast this vote have no business haranguing those who do for their decisions, no matter how crazy they may seem.)

No, the most disappointing thing for me is that David Cone didn't get enough votes to stay on the ballot.

A player must get at least five percent of votes cast to remain on the ballot the following year. Cone got just 21 votes in a year when 539 ballots were submitted -- 3.9 percent. His name won't be on next year's ballot, or any of the ballots to follow.

It wouldn't have made the difference (he needed six more votes to stay on the ballot, 384 more to get in), but I wish I'd voted for Cone. No, the numbers don't get him there. A 194-126 record, 3.46 ERA, 2,668 strikeouts in 2,898 innings. Those numbers say "really, really good pitcher." They do not say "Hall of Fame."

But there was so much more to Cone's career. He won the Cy Young Award in 1994 and finished third in 1988, fourth in 1995 and 1998 and sixth in 1999. He was a five-time World Series champion who had a 2.12 ERA in six World Series appearances (his last the one-third-of-an-inning job in 2000 when he relieved an angry Denny Neagle and popped up Mike Piazza to end the fifth inning of Game 4).

During his career, Cone played in 15 postseason series. His teams won 12 of them.

But the thing that will stand out for me, and for so many others who covered Cone, is the guy he was in the clubhouse. He was ever a leader, a spokesman, a go-to guy for media who covered the team. He was as good at this part of the game as anybody I've ever seen.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post, who's done this longer than I have and covered Cone for many more years than I did, has a regular speech he makes when talking about this aspect of Cone. He says Cone knew the difference between a beat writer and a national writer, between a national writer and a columnist -- that he knew what each person or group of people who stood before him with pen and paper needed and he made sure to deliver.

This may not seem like much to fans who care only about what happens on the field and little about whether the reporters get treated well, but it's a big part of the game. The media, like it or not, are a conduit between the fans and the players. We get to go into the clubhouses and onto the fields and ask the questions fans would like to ask if they had our passes. As a result, the fans' understanding of the game is enriched in a way it can't be in sports (like football) where the access is so much more limited.

Cone was a big part of that, and I submit that the fans' enjoyment of the teams on which he played was enriched by his perpetual willingness to help the reporters who covered those teams write better stories. That's a unique contribution to the game and its history, and I wish six more of us had cast ballots to reward it. David Cone probably wasn't a Hall of Famer, but he is the kind of guy who deserves to have his name on that ballot every year, the way guys like Don Mattingly and Dave Parker and even Harold Baines do.

I wish I'd voted for him, and I wish he'd got enough votes to stay on that ballot. It would have been a nice way to say thanks.

Dan

Jan. 12 -- Hall of Fame voting results

3:06 PM

(2) Comments

No real surprise -- Rickey Henderson gets in easily and Jim Rice barely (by eight votes!). I'm on record on Rice (see post below), and I agree with what Joe Sheehan just said on ESPN -- that this opens the door for other corner outfielders in the future to say, "I was as good as that guy; I should be in too."

Andre Dawson and Dave Parker can make that case right now, and maybe Dale Murphy. Had any of those three had a PR campaign behind them with the strength of the one Rice had for the past decade, they'd probably be in right now. But that's the way it goes, and while I disagree with the decision, it's not my business to tell anybody they shouldn't have voted the way they did.

I'm surprised Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines didn't show more improvement. Blyleven picked up two votes from last year and Raines lost 10. But overall, the whole ballot remained pretty steady. Here are the 2008 totals vs. the 2009 totals for some key guys:

Player 08 09 =/-
Rice 392 412 (+20)
Dawson 358 361 (+3)
Blyleven 336 338 (+2)
Lee Smith 235 240 (+5)
Jack Morris 233 237 (+4)
Tommy John 158 171 (+13)
Raines 132 122 (-10)
McGwire 128 118 (-10)

Rice and John both got that "boost" you hear about in their final years on the ballot. For Rice, it was enough. For John, not even close. But very little movement on those other guys. Dawson and Blyleven are currently in the percentage range of guys who will eventually get in, but they have to be wondering why they stalled out this year.

As for Raines, I really thought he'd pick up some votes this year. There's been a lot of attention on his candidacy, mainly because the stat-head sector favors him strongly. (I am with them on this, incidentally.) But maybe the voting reflects a backlash against the statistical evaluators and their expanding platform. After all, they don't like the Rice pick, and his number improved each of the past few years. And knowing a little bit about the way the BBWAA voting base and the statistics crowd do their business, I don't think the possibility of a backlash is farfetched.

Anyway, I remember two years ago, when Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn went in as no-brainer slections. As always, there was much attention paid to who didn't get in and why. (That was McGwire's first year on the ballot, for instance.) But in the end, that year's election and ceremony became about the greatness of those two players, which was nice. This one should evolve into a celebration of the quirky brilliance of Rickey Henderson, who stands as one of the greatest players ever to play the game. Neither the presence of Rice, who doesn't belong, nor the absence of Blyleven and Raines, who do, should detract from that.

Dan

Jan. 12 -- The Week Ahead: Hall of Fame and maybe a Derek Lowe decision?

8:06 AM

(5) Comments

The results of the annual BBWAA Hall of Fame voting will be announced this afternoon. Rickey Henderson's a sure thing, but the drama will revolve around Jim Rice and others on the cusp.

This is my fourth year as a Hall voter, and I voted for four players this year -- Henderson, Tim Raines, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris. I explained this ballot in my final blog post for nj.com and The Star-Ledger some weeks ago, but the basics on Rice, for me, are these:

1. The numbers aren't good enough.

2. Fenway was an extreme hitter's park (especially a right-handed power hitter's park) during Rice's career, which means the numbers (which aren't good enough) are inflated.

3. Rice's case isn't demonstrably better than those of Andre Dawson, Dave Parker and Don Mattingly (did you know Parker had five top-five MVP finishes to Rice's six?), so if I voted for him I feel I'd have to vote for them, and I don't, because as great as they all were, they weren't great enough for this particular honor. In my opinion. Which is what this is -- a collection of the opinions of the people who have at least 10 years of membership in the BBWAA.

I consider my opinion very deeply every year, and reserve my right to change my mind on players from year to year. I still could be convinced to vote for Alan Trammell next year, or David Cone if he stays on the ballot. But I thought very hard about both of them, and all the other names on the ballot, and this year they didn't make my cut.

Anyway, I do think Rice will get in this year, and maybe Dawson and hopefully Blyleven (I still don't understand the case against him). But I'll check back on this, today after they're announced and tomorrow from the press conference in New York.

As for the locals, the Yankees are probably quiet this week unless Pettitte makes up his mind. I still say the Mike Cameron trade isn't dead -- especially if Pettitte goes elsewhere (where, though?) or if they can include Nick Swisher or Kei Igawa in the deal (which has been discussed). My best guess is that Pettitte signs in the coming weeks and they deal Xavier Nady sometime in spring training, but we'll see. Lots could still develop before pitchers and catchers report.

The Mets are waiting on Derek Lowe. Some reports suggest that the Braves have moved into front-runner status here, but I'm not sure it's that clear-cut. Even those reports say the Braves aren't expected to offer more than about $40 million or $42 million for three years. I've talked to people familiar with the Braves' thinking who say they're not eager to add a fourth year. And I've talked to people familiar with the Mets' thinking who say that $40-$42 million range is not out of the realm of possibility for them. (Their first offer, after all, was $36M for three years.)

The reports suggesting the Braves are front-runners seem to presuppose that Lowe would choose Atlanta over New York if all things were equal. But why would we assume that? Lowe liked pitching in Boston, in a big market and under perennial pennant race pressure, so he wouldn't steer away from New York for reasons that other small-market-minded players might. If the offers come in equal or similar, who's to say he wouldn't pick one from the Mets?

The Mets people I speak to are under the impression that their offer will end up being similar to Atlanta's and that they stand a good chance of having Lowe pick them. They believe they probably could get him by adding a fourth year to their offer, and of course they might. But right now they don't want to, and the main reason is that they don't see any other suitors for Oliver Perez, who's their second choice for the rotation if they don't get Lowe. They are confident they'll get Lowe OR Perez for a price they like, and either will be fine with them.

Obviously, Scott Boras' hope is that they crack, add the fourth year out of fear of him going to Atlanta, and then he can go out and drum up a market for Perez. But so far this winter, the Mets have proceeded at their pace and demanded that players meet their price. I've heard nothing yet to indicate that they're about to change that.

Jan. 10 -- Is Fernando Martinez keeping Manny Ramirez out of New York?

8:23 AM

(3) Comments

Well, no, of course not. But a couple of comments on an earlier post were interesting as they pertained to F-Mart and the Mets' corner outfield situation. Here they are, in order, courtesy of "grab22":

Dan, do you think this is the year that Fernando Martinez will finally break out? I fear that if he has another "average" year (.285 7 HR, etc.), that his status as a top prospect will officially start to drop. If he does indeed break out, could he see regular playing time with the Mets?

and...

It seems as if Omar is content with standing pat in regards to the offense based on the success of last year (offensively speaking). But there should be concern about Delgado possibly regressing to his 2007 levels again. If that happens, the offense is in deep trouble. Do you think it's a mistake for Omar not to be pursuing an offensive upgrade for left field such as Adam Dunn?


I liked the second one best, because I could answer each of its parts succinctly: (1) Yes, it does. (2) Yes, there should. (3) No question. (4) Absolutely.

The Mets' plan to go with a left field platoon of Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis is a flawed on, based on a few good months from each in 2008 and ignorant of the very real questions about what they can expect from their right fielder and, yes, a first baseman they were thinking about releasing as recently as mid-June. I think they need to add a bat. I think they should be pursuing Manny Ramirez, but as we've addressed many times, they won't. So I think they should be after a guy like Dunn or Bobby Abreu.

But...

More than one Mets official I've spoken with since the end of the season has mentioned Fernando Martinez as a potential part of the 2009 puzzle. They don't expect that he'll be ready to be on the team at the start of the season, but there's a belief in the organization that he could be ready at some point in 2009. If that happens, they don't want him blocked. They think he's going to be an impact hitter at the big-league level very early in his career, and they see him as a low-cost offensive solution when he does come.

So it's not that they're holding a spot for him. More like, they're not as worried about their corner outfield offense because they think they might, if things break right and the kid stays healthy, already have the answer in the organization.

Jan. 9 Mets Update -- Tim Redding, Derek Lowe, etc.

7:20 PM

(0) Comments

The Mets today signed right-hander Tim Redding to a one-year contract that guarantees him $2.25 million. The deal won't be announced until Redding passes a physical, which should be sometime next week.

The Mets wanted to bring a veteran in to compete with Jon Niese for the No. 5 spot, according to a person familiar with their thinking, and Redding was their top choice. They also had been considering Pedro Martinez for that role, and it's unclear whether the Redding signing closes the door on Pedro. But assuming they go sign Derek Lowe or Oliver Perez (and they remain confident they will get one of them), it certainly makes it harder for Pedro to win a spot in the rotation if he does come back.

As for Lowe, the Braves are talking about $14 million per year for three years, according to a different person familiar with their thinking. They have yet to make a formal "offer," but as I'm sure you can tell that's all semantics anyway.


What do we mean by that? Well, we all know the Mets discussed a proposal with Lowe a week or so ago that was for three years and $36 million. Is that an "offer?" Depends on your perspective. The Mets may have considered it one, in that they'd have been prepared to sign that deal had Lowe and his agent said they liked it at the time. Lowe and his agent may not have considered it one, since it wasn't in writing or, more importantly, what they had in mind. "There can be suggestions about things, but whether it's accepted by us as an offer is an entirely different matter," that agent, Scott Boras, said last week at the Mark Teixeira press conference. He was speaking generally, not about the Lowe negotiations specifically, but you get the idea. Both sides have reasons to say there have or have not been "offers," but what it all means is that until a deal is done, a deal is not done.


From what I can tell from taking to Mets people today, they're sure they'll get either Lowe or Perez and they still expect they'll get Lowe. They'll probably be willing to go as high as $42 million for three years and may be willing to talk about a fourth-year vesting option. They believe the Braves want Lowe, but they don't think Atlanta will actually outbid them. This jives with what I'm hearing from people familiar with the Braves' thinking -- that the Braves hope to make an offer comparable to the Mets' offer and convince Lowe that Atlanta is the better place to play.

If that happens, the Mets people say, they'll take their chances. And if they make a good offer and he takes the same or a little less to go to Atlanta, then they'll turn their attention to Perez, who right now has no other suitors.

Of course, that's a little dangerous. After all, Perez's agent is Boras, who didn't have any other suitors for Lowe a week ago before the Braves appeared out of nowhere. Boras is the master at finding the suitors and getting the deal he wants.

As of now, though, the Mets are counting on the brutal facts of the current economic marketplace in their belief that they can get the pitcher they want for the deal they want. It worked when they needed a closer, and they believe it'll work now that they need a starter, too.

You can take the clown out of New York....

7:14 PM

(0) Comments

I mean, Carl Pavano. What a tremendous disaster of a human being.

You may have heard the former Yankee (yes, he really did pitch for them -- it's just so hard to remember, jumbled as the actual appearances are with the real injuries, the made-up injuries, the car accidents and the hopping around the country from doctor to doctor looking for somebody, anybody who'd tell him he needed surgery) signed with the Cleveland Indians earlier this week.

Well, today, the big fella talked with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and managed to take a shot or two at his former organization.

"All that stuff only makes you stronger," said Pavano. "When you're down, you expect your organization to support you and not kick you. I had a lot of setbacks in New York. A lot of trials and tribulations. It just made me stronger."


Somewhere, there is steam coming out of Brian Cashman's ears. Right? Cashman has defended this guy so much -- at the expense of pieces of his own reputation -- that it's incomprehensible for this clown to go off to Cleveland and say something like this.

Look, I'm not some big Yankee rooter here. They make mistakes, they waste money, it's not going to break me up. Somebody says something bad about them and it's justified, I'm not going to rush to defend them. But this guy? He'd be a lot better off shutting up and thinking about all the money the Yankees just paid him for four years for doing absolutely nothing.

Jan. 9 Yankees payroll analysis -- Does Pettitte still fit in?

2:55 PM

(1) Comments

I'll go ahead and spoil the ending by answering the question up front: Yes, there is still room on the Yankees' 2009 payroll for Andy Pettitte. They can still sign him (assuming he's willing to sign for their $10M price) and project a payroll slightly less than last year's.

However, as Brian Cashman said earlier this week at the Mark Teixeira press conference, it's become more complicated since Teixeira signed.

Currently, the Yankees have 14 players signed to 2009 major-league deals that project to be on their 25-man roster. Those contracts total $190.15 million. This is the breakdown:

-Alex Rodriguez, $32 million (Yeah. It starts going up now.)
-CC Sabathia, $23 million (Includes his $9M signing bonus, all of which is due by July 31).
-Mark Teixeira, $22.5 million (Includes half of his $5M signing bonus).
-Derek Jeter, $20 million (Remember him? Now the team's 4th-highest paid player).
-A.J. Burnett, $16.5 million (Yes, even if he's hurt).
-Mariano Rivera, $15 million (First guy here who seems underpaid?)
-Jorge Posada, $13.1 million (for three more years).
-Johnny Damon, $13 million (Can you believe this deal is up already?)
-Hideki Matsui, $13 million (This one too, though it may have gone on too long).
-Nick Swisher, $5.3 million (Assuming they don't trade him by Opening Day).
-Chien-Ming Wang, $5 million (President of the Underpaid Club).
-Damaso Marte, $3.75 million (There's nothing snappy to say about him).
-Robinson Cano, $6 million (Good deal if 08 was a fluke).
-Jose Molina, $2 million (Yeah, it was a two-year deal. I forgot too).

Add to that Xavier Nady, who projects to make at least $5 million or $6 million in arbitration (though is more likely than Swisher to get dealt before April), and it goes to $196.15 million for 15 players. Add to that a collection of Phil Hughes/Joba Chamberlain/Melky Cabrera types who don't make any real money yet, and you can tack on about another $5 million.

So they can pay Pettitte $10 million, if he'll take it, and get to $211.15 million, which would be right around where they'd want to stop.

Now, if Pettitte doesn't take their money (and really, he's nuts not to have taken it already in this pitiful market), there are some things they could do.

-Keep both Nady and Swisher, using the latter as a "super-utility" player who can play first base and all three OF positions. My hunch: He'd end up the regular center fielder once Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner prove they can't hack it.

-Revive the Mike Cameron trade. Contrary to some reports, neither side has fully closed the door on this. At the time of the Teixeira signing, the Yankees' message to the Brewers was that they'd have to move some other things around if they were to bring on Cameron and his $10 million salary. And the sides still never agreed on how much of that salary the Brewers should pay as part of the deal, or whether they'd take Kei Igawa and his $4 million annual salary in return. So there'd be a lot of work to be done on this, but Cameron remains a guy the Yankees can imagine in center field -- especially if they were to trade Nady, bid Pettitte good-bye and go with Hughes as the No. 5 starter.

-Jump in late on Derek Lowe. They did like him earlier in the off-season. And if he's not being offered any more than $14 million per year by the Mets or Braves, the Yankees could decide that they'd rather have him than Pettitte and deal Nady to make up the difference. This is speculation on my part. The Yankee people I talk to say they're not in on Lowe at all. But that's what they were telling me about Teixeira a week before he signed, too.

-Reduce ticket prices. HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHA. Good one.

Your questions, my answers

8:27 AM

(2) Comments

I got a whole bunch of comments on this entry from yesterday -- a first-week blogger's thrill that I believe I owe to my friend Matt Cerrone -- and I started to answer them in the comments section. But then I thought it might be a better idea to take the questions and answer them in a whole separate entry. So I hope those of you commented yesterday are still reading today, and that I can help answer your questions.

QUESTION from "bmfc1":

Dan--please correct this portion of a sentence:
"the Mets have the Yankees called"

Who called whom?

ANSWER:

Sorry. Fixed that. It should have read (and now reads) "the Mets have called the Yankees" several times about Xavier Nady. Guess I will miss those editors after all...

QUESTION from "2P093xMdle5gI05cPTCFB5bUEQ--":

Dan, which has a greater chance of happening? The Mets getting both Lowe and Perez, or Pedro coming back for a 1 year incentive based deal?

ANSWER:

I have to believe the latter. As I understand it, their hope is to get Lowe OR Perez (preferably Lowe) and then go out and get another veteran starter to compete for the #5 spot. That's where Tim Redding and guys like that come in. I guess Pedro could fit that description, if he'd do it, but the likelihood is that they'll cut ties with Pedro.

QUESTION from "2P093xMdle5gI05cPTCFB5bUEQ--":

Is the Wilpon's disinterest in Manny due to the money he'd command, or the controversy he'd stir with his antics?

ANSWER:

Catchy name, by the way. The Wilpons' lack of interest has to do with having Manny in their clubhouse. They don't want him on the team. If it was about money, they'd have traded for him in July when he was practically free (the Red Sox paid the rest of his 2008 salary, remember, when they dealt him to the Dodgers), made the playoffs with him and said good-bye before he hit the open market. They fear he'd create distraction, which is silly. Who wouldn't trade for all the success the Red Sox had the past six years with Manny on their team?

QUESTION from "grab22":

Why is Orlando Hudson still not signed (or even rumored to be close to signing)? Is he really holding out for the outside chance the Mets could deal Castillo?

ANSWER

I have heard, about Hudson, that he wants to play in New York and is waiting to see if the Yankees or Mets make a move with their second basemen before signing somewhere else. If that's the case, he's likely to have to wait a long time. The Yankees aren't likely to find a deal they like for Robinson Cano, and the Mets aren't likely to find anybody to take Castillo off their hands. I think a big part of the Hudson situation is that there just isn't much market for him yet. The big pitchers signed. The big sluggers are only now starting to sign. The market's taking its time to get to the second basemen, and Hudson has to wait.


QUESTION from "fallingissa"
:

Dan, firstly, I'm glad to see that you are up and commenting on baseball again. I imagine you must be looking for a new NY gig. Any possibilities?

I am a likely minority but kind of lean Ollie in terms of who the Mets resign. My real hope is that the Mets follow the Dodgers lead and BUY OUT LUIS CASTILLO!!!! That would open up a spot for Orlando Hudson who is rumored to want to play hear and probably save Castillo's mental health as this year, he's in for HELL!

Further, small suggestion, perhaps a date for each of your postings?

ANSWER:

Thanks, yes, and not as of yet.

You may be in the minority in terms of Ollie, but there are people in the Mets' organization who believe as you do -- that Perez would be preferable to Lowe because of the age difference and the fact that he's left-handed. But the decision has been made to prioritize Lowe, and they're doing that for now.

They have no plans to buy out Castillo, and it's a shame that he's in for hell. He's a good guy and a good player who had a rotten year, and there's no reason to think he won't come back and make SOME kind of contribution in 2009 if given the chance.

As for the dates on the posts -- that's driving me NUTS. I spent an hour trying to figure that out today, changed templates, did all kinds of things. Maybe I need my friend Matt Cerrone's help on that too.

Anyway, thanks for all the comments, and keep em coming. I'll do my best to return the favor.

Derek Lowe/Braves Update

7:06 PM

(0) Comments

I was just told by a person familiar with the talks that the Braves' offer to Derek Lowe is "not significantly different" from the offer the Mets have made. This person is under the impression that the Mets may have increased their offer to the $39 million-$40 million range (over three years), and that the Braves' offer does not exceed three years and $40 million.

If that's the case, then Lowe would basically be picking between similar offers from the Mets and the Braves, and it would come down to where he wanted to play. The Braves hope he would choose Atlanta over New York, which is why they've decided to jump back in.

A person familiar with the Braves' thinking told me today that nothing has changed their plans in the past month. Just because they lost AJ Burnett to the Yankees and John Smoltz to the Red Sox doesn't mean they're going to overspend to bring in Lowe or somebody like that. They were offering five years for Burnett because they thought he was a special case, and they don't put Lowe in his class, so they're not going to just take their planned Burnett money and shift it to Lowe.

They do like Lowe at around $13 million - $14 million per year, though, and at three years. And they hope he'd prefer Atlanta to New York, though I haven't found anybody who has any insight into what Lowe is thinking on where he'd rather live.

Incidentally, the person familiar with the Braves' thinking told me Atlanta would have "minimal" interest in Oliver Perez if they couldn't sign Lowe.

Mets Update -- Derek Lowe, Xavier Nady, Chad Cordero

10:16 AM

(9) Comments

A person involved in the negotiations confirmed this Boston Globe report that Derek Lowe and his agent are meeting with the Braves in Atlanta today. This person said they weren't sure whether the meeting was at the Braves' request or at the request of Lowe and his agent, and for me that's the heart of the matter. These are two very distinct possible scenarios:

1. If the Braves have requested a meeting with Lowe, that means they may be changing the approach they were planning to take for the rest of the off-season. When they failed in their big-money attempt to sign AJ Burnett, a Braves official told me they had no plans to bid on Lowe or any other big-money starting pitcher the rest of the winter. They'd considered Burnett a special case, a special talent worthy of busting their budget for, and they weren't going to swim in the deep financial end of the pool for any of other pitchers that were out there.

However, it appears Lowe isn't going to cost quite as much as it did when we were in Vegas last month. The Mets' have offered $36 million for three years and don't seem inclined to add much money or any years to the offer. The Braves, according to the person I spoke with, could go to four years for Lowe, though it's doubtful they'd want to meet his $16 million-per-year asking price.

Atlanta didn't really think John Smoltz would leave them, and now that Smoltz appears headed to Boston, they may have decided they need a veteran arm in the rotation, which is why it's possible they requested the meeting with Lowe.

2. The more likely scenario, in my opinion, is that Scott Boras requested this meeting (and leaked it) in order to scare the Mets. The Mets' top outfield target (Raul Ibanez) already signed with the division-rival Phillies. The thought of their top starting pitching target (Lowe) signing with Atlanta could be enough to scare them into upping their offer. It's a good strategy, and if Atlanta really does have any interest in Lowe, it's got a chance to work.

Based on the conversations I've had, Mets people don't seem worried. They're probably willing to add between $1 million and $2 million per year to their offer -- to take it up to around $40 million for three years -- but as of this morning they don't think Lowe is going to get a much bigger offer anywhere else, so they're playing it cool.

They also don't hate Oliver Perez as a fallback option, and think they can get him at their price if Lowe does find a beefier offer elsewhere.

So we'll see what happens here. Boras is going to do what he can to get the best deal for Lowe. That's what makes him a good agent. But if he's bluffing, the Mets don't look ready to call it.

In other news, a person familiar with the Mets' meeting with Boras said Manny Ramirez was not a topic of conversation. The Mets have made it clear to Boras that they're not interested in Ramirez, and Boras now seems more focused on stirring up a bidding war between the Dodgers and Giants.

The Mets are, however, on the lookout for corner outfield help and have been trying hard on a familiar name. A person connected with one of the teams told me the Mets have called the Yankees "several times" since the Mark Teixeira signing to express their interest in Xavier Nady. The Yankees have a surplus, and are likely to trade either Nady or Nick Swisher before the season starts. The Mets liked Nady when they had him in 2006 and would like to make thier lineup more right-handed if they can. So they've been aggressive in trying to see if they can get him from the Yankees. But so far, the Yankees are being patient, assuming there will be much interest between now and April in both of those players, and waiting to see how good the offers get.

Ken Davidoff repors in Newsday that the Mets will be one of the teams waching reliever Chad Cordero throw in California this week. This seems like a match that almost has to happen, right? Omar Minaya has tried about 6,000 times over the past three years to trade for Cordero. Now that the guy is a free agent, unless his arm comes flying off his shoulder during the workout, you have to believe the Mets will land him. No real risk, I'm sure -- he'll end up with a low base salary and incentives that kick in if he's healthy, and he fits the Mets' desire to colleck back-end bullpen guys who have experience as closers. So that seems like a no-brainer to me.

But that's me.

Once again, Mets -- not pitchers -- hold all the cards

7:23 AM

(1) Comments

Flash back a month, to when the Mets were negotiating with free-agent closers. By the time the winter meetings opened in Vegas, Omar Minaya knew he'd be getting one of the top guys on the market at a price he liked. He had them ranked (Francisco Rodriguez was the Mets' top choice from the group that also included Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood and Trevor Hoffman), and he hoped to get his first choice, but he'd surveyed the market and knew he'd get a closer he liked for a deal he liked.

There was nobody else looking to spend big money on a closer. (Witness: two-year deals for Fuentes and Wood, no deal yet for Hoffman, who's talking one- and two-year proposals with the Dodgers and Brewers.) The Mets knew they were in charge of the free-agent closer market, and they let it work for them. Their patience got them the guy they wanted for a three-year deal and even left them in a position to snatch JJ Putz away from the Mariners a day later to set up for him.

OK, so back to the present, where Scott Boras is meeting today with the Mets about Derek Lowe and Oliver Perez. Boras is a tough negotiator, as everyone knows, and he wants more than the three years and $36 million the Mets have so far offered for Lowe. But he's not too likely to find it today at Citi Field.

The Mets made their offer after surveying the market. They don't see another team that's willing to beat their offer for Lowe. The Braves, Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees -- all teams that had Lowe on their November and December radar -- have all moved on to other things. The Mets think their offer is the highest out there and see no reason to raise it. Maybe they talk vesting option, or some perks, or even a fourth year if they can drop the AAV, but the fundamental parameters are unlikely to change much. And if Lowe wants to go somewhere else and try to find more, the Mets have an offer ready for Perez (likely three years and closer to $10 million per year).

And if Boras doesn't like that one -- if he barks about how young Perez still is and how good he is in big games and how he's had success in New York -- and he wants to take Perez out and try to get him more somewhere else, then the Mets will move on to Randy Wolf, who they believe they could probably get for two years. And they'll play on Tim Redding and maybe even Pedro Martinez, with the idea of bringing five or six proven guys to camp to compete with Jon Niese for that last rotation spot.

Talking to Mets people in recent days, they feel really good about where they are. They believe this is the closer market repeating itself. They have Lowe ranked as their top choice, but if he won't come for the deal they want to give him, they're prepared to call his bluff. Go sign with that mystery team, Derek. Go ahead.

This is a buyer's market, folks, and so far the Mets are playing it almost perfectly.

Almost, I said. I still think they should be trying to get Manny Ramirez.

Hey, Boras has him too. You think he'll bring him up today?