I was in fifth grade on the day of September 11, 2001. Like most fifth graders, the day of school began with thinking about how recess would go, what I would have for lunch, if I’d have any homework and when I could see my friends after school. It ended totally differently.
There is no other day of school in my life I can remember this vividly. My teacher, Mrs. Mains, asked the class if any of our parents worked in New York City. I raised my hand.
From a very young age, I recognized how special and how different New York was from every other city in the world. I would go to New York regularly with my dad. About three or four times per month, we would take the train into the city and I always remember the excitement of going there. I loved it.
We went for various reasons. Sometimes we went to see the New York Mets play. Mostly, though, we went because I was born with a cleft lip and palate, and that’s where my doctor was. After each trip to the doctor’s office, we would walk to the Second Avenue Deli. Even with all the people in the city, our waiter there knew our names. Those times were special and I will always cherish them because I got to spend them with my dad.
I remember being so excited to tell the class that my dad worked in the World Trade Center. Growing up, that was what I was most proud of. In the greatest city in the world, with all of its famous sites, my dad worked in one of the Twin Towers, the most famous set of buildings. I said the words “Twin Towers” to my teacher and her face turned to horror. I never will forget that look.
I am forever grateful that my father was not working in New York that day. But there are so many others that weren’t so lucky. Living in New Jersey with friends and family all over New York, I know people who had their families ripped apart. Their lives were totally changed that day and I know if it still affects me, it must still affect them.
I think with what happened, we learned how important sports were in our country’s slow return to normalcy. There was one baseball game that seemed begin the healing process for everyone.
The Mets hosted the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium on September 21, 2001, the first game played in New York City since that dreadful day. The crowd that night wasn’t sure how to act. The emotion was still pouring out of the city’s open wound.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Atlanta led by a score of 2-1 and brought in set-up man Steve Karsay, who got the first batter, Matt Lawton, to groundout to shortstop. Karsay then walked Edgardo Alfonzo and Desi Relaford immediately entered the game to pinch-run. The next batter was Mike Piazza. Piazza took strike one before launching the next pitch over the center field wall to give the Mets a 3-2 lead. It took just one simple swing of the bat to send Shea Stadium into a frenzy. The home run was a sign telling not just Mets fans, but the city of New York, that it was okay for the country to begin healing.
Mike Piazza smashed 427 homers during his 16-year career. None were more important than that one.
On July 31, 2004, the New York Mets traded Scott Kazmir, ranked the No. 12 prospect by Baseball America before the 2004 season, to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for pitcher Victor Zambrano. At the time, the Mets were in fourth place in the National League East, eight games behind the Atlanta Braves. With a record of 49-54, the Mets were 8.5 games behind the San Diego Padres in the NL Wild Card Race.
The Mets would finish that season with a record of 71-91, finishing 21 games behind the Houston Astros in the NL Wild Card race and 25 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. However, more importantly, they mortgaged the future to try and win during a season in which their playoff chances were slim. Zambrano ended up making only three starts for New York that summer, going 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA and 1.286 WHIP in 14 innings. He lasted parts of just two more years with the Mets, finishing his tenure in Flushing by going 10-14 with a 4.42 ERA and 1.493 WHIP in 39 games, 35 of them starts. He never threw another pitch in the major leagues after the 2007 season.
Scott Kazmir made 117 starts for Tampa Bay from 2005 through 2008. He went 45-34 with a 3.51 ERA and 1.351 WHIP. Kazmir threw 689.2 innings in that span, averaging 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings and striking out 2.39 hitters for every walk. Even though he has not been the same pitcher since then, Kazmir could have been an important part of New York’s rotation during those years. The 2006 Mets were a game away from the World Series, losing in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. The ’07 and ’08 Mets blew huge divisional leads late in September to miss the playoffs in both years. With Kazmir in the rotation during those years, the Mets may have been able to win a World Series in 2006 while also at least making playoff appearances in ’07 and ’08.
The 2011 New York Mets have been an interesting story. David Wright and Ike Davis have played in only 39 and 36 games, respectively. Chris Young was 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA in four starts before going down with an injury. Ace Johan Santana has yet to throw a pitch this year, and the Mets have gotten almost no production from $16.5 million per year man Jason Bay, who is hitting just .237 with a .320 on-base percentage, .336 slugging percentage, four doubles, six home runs and 28 runs batted in in 65 games. Stories have swirled about the Mets’ financial troubles, due to owner Fred Wilpon losing millions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme. Wilpon also criticized star players Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran in a May issue of The New Yorker.
Yet, even with the things that have not gone the Mets way, New York has overachieved throughout the first half of the year. A monster year by Reyes (.354/.398/.529, 22 doubles, 15 triples, 3 homers, 32 RBIs, 30 stolen bases), who is leading the NL in hits, batting average, triples and runs, as well as a bounce-back year from Beltran (.285/.377/.503, 28 doubles, 13 home runs, 58 RBIs) has helped the Mets offense rank fifth in the NL in runs (399), third in batting average (.262) and second in on-base percentage (.333). Combined with a very good bullpen and an above-average rotation that features R.A. Dickey (18 starts, 4-7, 3.61 ERA, 1.317 WHIP, 2.23 K/BB ratio in 114.2 innings) and pleasant surprises Jonathon Niese (18 starts, 8-7, 3.88 ERA, 1.356 WHIP, 2.63 K/BB ratio in 111.1 innings) and Dillon Gee (14 starts, 8-3, 3.76 ERA, 1.195 WHIP, 1.76 K/BB ratio in 88.2 innings), the Mets are in third place in the NL East, with a record above .500, at 46-45.
The Mets are actually closer to a playoff spot right now than they were in 2004 when they traded for Zambrano. New York may be 11 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies for first place in the NL East, but they are 7.5 games behind the Braves in the NL Wild Card race. However, the Mets cannot make the same mistake they made in 2004. The Braves own the fourth-best record in baseball and it is unlikely that the Mets can chase them down, even with Wright, Davis and Santana returning from injuries in the second half of the season. The Mets must look to the future and trade away as many high-priced veterans as they can to rebuild a farm system that is widely-regarded as one of the 10 worst in baseball.
New York should do whatever possible to get minor league talent for Beltran, starting pitcher Chris Capuano (17 starts, 8-8, 4.12 ERA, 1.354 WHIP, 2.90 K/BB ratio in 102.2 innings), closer Francisco Rodriguez (42 games, 2-2, 3.16 ERA, 23 saves, 1.406 WHIP, 2.88 K/BB ratio in 44.2 innings) and relievers Jason Isringhausen (38 games, 1-0, 3.14 ERA, 1.186 WHIP, 1.62 K/BB ratio in 28.2 innings) and Tim Byrdak (39 games, 1-0, 3.91 ERA, 1.478 WHIP, 2.55 K/BB ratio in 23 innings). Beltran, Capuano, Isringhausen and Byrdak are all in the last years of their respective contracts, while Rodriguez has a $17.5 million option for next year if he finishes 55 games. Trading away those veterans would also free up money for the financially-troubled Mets to re-sign Reyes this offseason, who will most likely be seeking a contract worth over $100 million. Even though Reyes is in the final year of his deal, the Mets should look to keep him unless they get an offer that blows them away, as Reyes is the face of the franchise and his style of play is important for much-needed ticket sales during the rest of the season.
By becoming “sellers” at the trade deadline, the Mets are saying goodbye to their chances in 2011. However, trading for minor league talent will allow the Mets to establish a young supporting cast around Jose Reyes, David Wright and Ike Davis. Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson has a great opportunity to increase payroll flexibility and replenish New York’s farm system within the next three weeks. The right decision to surrender this season will make the future look that much brighter.
We are officially at, or just past (depending on the team), the midway point in the Major League Baseball season. In the sport with the fewest playoff spots, there are so many teams competing for the right to play in October. The lack of playoff spots is one of the many things that makes this sport so special. Just eight of the 30 MLB teams will make the postseason, compared to the 16 playoff teams in both the NBA and NHL and the 12 NFL teams that vie for the right to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Having such few teams make the playoffs creates a strong emphasis on succeeding in the regular season, and as long as baseball’s regular season is, we have the potential to see some very compelling races in August and September. Twenty teams either lead a division or are within seven games of a playoff spot. There is no division separated by more than a four game lead.
A number of surprise teams remain in the mix for a playoff spot. Behind Andrew McCutchen, the Pittsburgh Pirates sit at 41-39, just two games behind the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. The Arizona Diamondbacks are two games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West and three games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL Wild Card race with a record of 44-38. The New York Mets and Washington Nationals are 5.5 and 6.5 games behind Atlanta in the Wild Card race, respectively.
In the American League, few thought that the Cleveland Indians would spend 80 days during the first half of the year leading the Central. The Indians have stumbled slightly, but are 0.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers right now. Rookie sensation Michael Pineda has helped the Seattle Mariners come within 3.5 games of the defending AL Champion Texas Rangers in the West, even though the Mariners have been outscored by 13 runs this season and have a record below .500, at 39-42. After losing Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, Rafael Soriano and their entire 2010 bullpen to free agency and various trades, the Tampa Bay Rays sit just four games behind the New York Yankees in the East and 1.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox for the AL Wild Card. The Rays are 45-36 despite having star third baseman Evan Longoria play in only 53 games during the first half of the season.
The first half of the Major League Baseball season featured many storylines, but none may be more compelling than the playoff races that will determine the fate of the 20 teams who have their eyes on the postseason. There will be teams who falter down the stretch during the second half of the season. However, with so many teams fighting year in and year out for one of the precious few trips to the postseason, baseball’s emphasis on a strong regular season is unrivaled by any sport. With 20 teams in competition for just eight playoff spots, the next three months of the season will feature postseason races that come down to the wire and show just why baseball is so special.
In the most recent issue of The New Yorker, New York Mets owner and CEO Fred Wilpon was highly critical of several of his players. Wilpon in particular called out shortstop Jose Reyes, who is playing in the last year of his 5-year, $33.75 million contract.
“He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money,” Wilpon said, referring to the seven-year, $142-million contract Crawford signed with the Boston Red Sox this winer. “He’s had everything wrong with him,” Wilpon said of Reyes. “He won’t get it.”
Wilpon is right- Reyes will not get Carl Crawford money. Instead, Reyes will sign a bigger contract than Crawford did this past offseason. Despite a checkered injury history, there is no one who is more dynamic and exciting on a baseball diamond when healthy than Jose Reyes.
It’s almost as if Reyes’ game is designed to catch the audience’s eye. Few players are faster. Few shortstops have a better arm. And nobody excels at pulling off the most exciting plays in baseball with such regularity as Jose Reyes. He has led the majors in stolen bases and triples in three different seasons and currently paces all players with 6 triples and 17 stolen bases.
Speed is not the only thing that Reyes bring to the table. In 2008, he led the National League with 204 hits and is currently on pace to do the same this season. He possesses solid career numbers, hitting at .287/.336/.435 with 75 home runs, 394 RBIs, 1181 hits and 348 stolen bases in nine seasons. Those numbers are eerily similar to Crawford’s, who owns a career batting line of .293/.334/.438 with 105 home runs, 605 RBIs, 1517 hits and 415 stolen bases in 10 seasons. The discrepancies in home runs, RBIs, hits and stolen bases are due to the fact that Crawford has remained healthy for almost his entire career, playing seven seasons of more than 140 games, while Reyes has played in only four seasons of over 140 games.
There are two reasons, that despite his injury history, Jose Reyes will sign a bigger contract this winter than Carl Crawford did in the past one. One is the position each plays. Teams place a higher value on players who play up the middle, meaning that shortstop is a more valuable position than left field, where Crawford plays. The other is the greater potential that Reyes bring to the table. When he is healthy, he is a better player than Carl Crawford. In Reyes’ four full seasons, he hit a combined .287/.342/.442 while averaging 14 home runs, 66 RBIs, 64 stolen bases, 195 hits, 32 doubles and 16 triples per year. Those numbers are superior to Crawford’s 162-game average of a .293/.334/.438 batting line with 13 home runs, 77 RBIs, 53 stolen bases, 192 hits, 28 doubles and 13 triples. Crawford’s one advantage is in RBIs, a statistic that is based more upon the talent around a player in the lineup and where that player is positioned in the lineup. Batting mostly second and third in Tampa Bay, Crawford was given many more RBI opportunities than Reyes has leading off in New York.
Fred Wilpon may be severely underestimating Jose Reyes’ value to the New York Mets. Reyes’ skillset and potential as a shortstop will have teams chasing after him hard in free agency in the coming winter. While it is rumored that Reyes enjoys playing for the Mets and would give them a hometown discount, the Mets will still have to pony up a lot of money to keep Reyes away from the giant contracts he will see from other teams. When Wilpon said Reyes would not make Carl Crawford money this offseason, he was right. Teams will be willing to pay even more money to baseball’s most dynamic and exciting player.