Snapshot: MLB Opening Day

By: Shawn Davis

Justin Verlander signed a seven-year contract extension that will pay him $180 million. A vesting option activates an additional $22 million if he finishes among the top-five in 2019 Cy Young voting. To say that’s a substantial amount of cash would be a gross understatement. He deserves it – every single dime. Detractors question the concept of giving a 30 year-old ace, with a high work rate, such a long deal but I do not.

Why? While I agree that by the end of the deal he won’t be as dominant, they are signing him to such a contract based on what he’s given them already: A couple of World Series berths, five All-Star appearances, Rookie of the Year, MVP (2011), Cy Young (2011) and the AL Pitching Triple Crown winner (wins, strikeouts, and earned run average) just off the top of my head. This is a “You’ve been a horse for us and we’re going to show your how much we appreciate you!” sort of pact. He’s going to give them four more prime years, followed by three very solid ones (at least). He’s one of my favorite players in all of sports and I hate that he isn’t on my favorite team.

The faith of the Detroit Tigers to offer this kind of deal sheds light on the reality that the team I’ve rooted for ever since my father held me on his lap (and cursed me forever I have to add) as a kid while they won the 1986 World Series is the worst team in baseball, maybe in all of sport. I believe this and cannot be convinced otherwise.

Yeah, you figured it out quickly; unfortunately I’m a fan of the New York Metropolitans.

I shied away from writing about them in this space ever since I began this blog because there isn’t really anything positive flowing from Queens. They find new ways to alienate (signing JasonBay), frustrate (wasting the prime of David Wright) and bewilder those who continue to root for them (watching Jose Reyes walk). I’m one that cautiously agreed with the Mets idea to let him hit free agency but they had to know Miami was gearing up to make the bid they ultimately did. I think I’m giving them too much credit here or maybe I’m a fool. They could have matched the contract – unlikely, with ownership losing a great deal of capital investing with Bernie Madoff – and traded him for as many young arms as possible and one or two young, starting caliber position players. It would have been smarter to get his deal done when he was returning from injury so that his value wouldn’t have passed the $100 million mark. Letting him go for the wind of air that came when he exited the franchise was egregious. That’s upper-management, baby.

With Opening Day this afternoon, I did my best to stay away from any news baseball related but it was futile because the season reminds me that summer is really around the corner. SI and ESPN have the Mets as one of the worst teams in all of the majors and I cannot dispute that but when I started to read season previews and projections, my team was void of something: hope. The Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and even the Miami Marlins (THE MIAMI MARLINS) have more to look forward to than the Metropolitans.

So what was it that precipitated me opening on my laptop and hitting a few keys? The Verlander deal made me think about Johan Santana’s career possibly being over. (If he does return, I’m almost certain he’ll never suit up for New York’s junior varsity baseball squad.) There isn’t much to add that hasn’t been reported at this point: Santana tore the anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder during spring training for the second time and surgery will put him on the shelf, certainly for this season, and maybe forever.

He had to forfeit all of 2011 to a bad left shoulder and 2013 is going to be lost as well and it’s a shame. I’m not one of the many meatheads that are going to insult the guy because an injury of any kind, usually, isn’t the fault of the person injured; it’s just sad. I remember the trade on February, 2, 2008 that brought him to NY (it was a day after the Los Angeles Lakers stole Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies) and I was excited but for some reason I felt things wouldn’t work out for him in Queens.

In 2008, Santana posted a record of 16-7 – with a 2.53 ERA which is the lowest of his career – and should have won 20 games but the Mets failed to offer him run support in tight contests. Nonetheless his debut year was a success and something to keep an eye on. From there he went 13-9 and 11-9 in 2009 and 2010 respectively while dealing with injuries such as a torn meniscus in his left knee, bone chips in his left elbow and the beginning of his shoulder troubles. Last season he stamped his place in Mets lore by giving the franchise its first (and only) no-hitter against the defending champion, St. Louis Cardinals. Over the year he amassed a win-loss record of 6-9…and now he’s gone.

As kids we lack perspective because we haven’t lived long enough to develop any. As an adult I can completely understand why long-suffering fans want to jump ship and look to wear other colors…but usually stay with their lovable losers. I cannot cry too much as the Mets have two World Series titles (’69, ’86), lost to the Yankees for the championship in 2000, hold four National League Pennants (1969, 1973, 1986 and 2000), and also gave the eventual World Series Champion Cardinals all they could handle in the 2006 NLCS. (Thank you Endy Chavez for that terrific catch and the double-play that ended the inning!)

It’s those brief moments of hope, when your favorite team is competing, that compel you to stick around. They have not returned to the postseason since then and, man I tell you, I almost was done after the collapse in 2007 when they lost 12 of their final 17 games (setting a 7 game division lead on fire in the process) to lose the NL East to the Phillies by ONE game. Additionally, they were eliminated from postseason contention on the final day of the regular season in both 2007 and 2008 by the Florida Marlins. Yes, this all really happened.

I’ve been asked (and mocked viciously) by my friends about staying with them all these years. Many have wondered why I don’t pick up the pinstripes because there are times I do indeed root for the Yankees. I’m not of the many fanatics who feel you cannot root for two teams in the same area; that’s dumb. I root for the Yanks when the Mets aren’t formidable – which is often – but I am a Met fan. I like Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettite, but above all that I’m not the least ashamed to say I’m proud New York is home to THE baseball franchise. It’s about the love I have for New York, nothing more than that.

My dad is to blame for all this but it’s ok. Watching that much baseball at such a young age I was bound to love Mookie Wilson, Howard Johnson, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Sid Fernandez, Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, etc. (I can really name the whole squad when I tap into my inner-nerd.)

Verlander’s deal made me realize how much the Mets don’t matter. The Tigers are contenders who have built their team from the inside-out and looked to acquire talent when it made sense, not because the free agency period dictated they do so. Think of it like buying a car, but not because there’s a need but more over because you just want to say you have a note to pay. This is the New York Mets.

The contract acknowledged how inept the franchise is but us fans can be happy that the front office is still paying Bobby Bonilla, right?

 

 

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