The Mets continued to improve their team this weekend by signing big-time outfielder Cliff Floyd. For reasons I can't fully explain, I've never been so happy to see a player come to Shea. Perhaps it's because I feel less atagonistic towards the Mets than ever before. (Mostly, it's cause Floyd isn't a Red Sox any more. What can you chalk that up to: The Curse of Reggie Smith?) Sure, I hated the Mets when I was a kid, but feel less inclined to hate them each year. Of course it helps that the Yankees have been as good as they've been, so it's been easy to feel kind-hearted, and curious. The only thing I truly hate about the Mets these days is the fact that their owner and general manager remind me too much of how horrible it is being a Knicks fan. But as hard as it is to refrain from taking shots at Slick Willie Phillips, he has to be given credit for once again, improving his team (on paper at least).
Most of the Mets fans I spoke with over the weekend felt cautiously optimistic about the deal. As Mike Lupica noted in his Saturday column, they've been down this road before.
The Mets essentially decided to give Cliff Floyd the money they could have used to sign Edgardo Alfonzo. Does Cliff Floyd help soften the blow of losing Fonzie? You bet. Fonzie may have been the soul of the team, but Floyd is good egg too. The New York Times scouting report said that Floyd is the best left-hander hitter the Mets have had since Mex Hernandez. Floyd is impressive for sure, but what about John Olerud?
(John Harper has a terrific piece on the machinations of the Edgardo Alfonzo deal in Sunday's Daily News. It is one of the best newspaper articles I can remember reading in a long time. Illuminating and informative. With Brian Dennehy staring as Brian Sabean and Ben Affleck as Theo Epstein.)
Like most fans, I spend a reasonable amount of time dreaming about the chances of a favorite player winding up on my favorite team. Such was the case with Cliff Floyd. I'm a sucker for a tall lefty, with long arms and fat ass that's got a sweeping, golf swing. Stylistically, Floyd falls somewhere between Dave Parker and Hard Hittin Mark Whitten; he's got some Willie McCovey in him too. Floyd is a power hitter who hits a lot of doubles; he can steal bases and walk too. He's suffered a lousy injury history, and is a neglible fielder, but is an enthusiastic and amiable character, and again, one hell of a hitter.
I'm not alone in my lust over Cliff Floyd; the Yankees have coveted him for several years. If it wasn't for a burst of impatience last summer, there is no reason to believe he wouldn't be a Yankee right now. But the Yankees had visions of Godzilla in their minds, so Floyd wasn't an option. Kevin Kernan was quick to jump all over the Bronx Bombers in his Saturday column in the Post.
I also heard some general chiding on Steve Sommers radio show late Friday night, which is to be expected. But I didn't feel anything but pleasure for Mets fans when I heard the news. I didn't read it as Yankee loss, as much as I've coveted Floyd. Who knows? You could make a pretty good case that Floyd will make out better than Matsui. (For the latest on Godzilla, check out this article in Newsday.)
The funny thing is, the more I thought about it, the happier I was. For everyone---Floyd, Piazza, Mo, Art Howe, and most especialy, my friends who follow the Mets.
When the Mets traded for Robbie Alomar last winter I was excited but secretly envious. I don't have any of those feelings about the Floyd signing, and I like him even better than I like Alomar. Maybe I'm just thankful that I don't have to endure the thought of Floyd as a Red Sox any more.
It is interesting to note that Floyd echoed the sentiments of Tom Glavine and Mike Stanton when he said that he would not have considered the Mets if Bobby Valentine were still the manager. "It's safe to say that I agree with Glavine and Stanton, that if there hadn't been a manager change, the Mets wouldn't have been an option for me."
Must make Steve Phillips feel pretty good. You know what? He may end up working out an extention for himself before it's all said and done. Just goes to show you how far perception can take you. For what it's worth, Art Howe has done an admirable job in making the Mets an attractive consideration for free agents. Just by being himself. Could Lou Pinella or Dusty Baker have done better?
While the Mets announced that they had agreed with Floyd to a 4-year deal worth $26 million, they lost their bid to land Japanese free-agent third baseman Norihiro Nakamura. There was a deal in place which fell apart at the last minute. John Harper reports on the particulars. There is also a more detailed article today in Newsday. All considering, perhaps it's best that the Mets didn't take too great a gamble with Nakamura.
Mike Lupica shot from the lip: "I guess Nakamura didn't hear about Valentine being fired."
SHANE, SHANE GO AWAY
As happy as I am about Cliff Floyd, I could be even more pleased about the Yankees dropping back-up outfielder, Shane Spencer, trifling as it is. I think Spencer is an ingrate and a whiner, and I am happy he has an opportunity to get 450 at bats somewhere else. He's going to get the chance to show the Yankees just how wrong they were letting him go, and I wish him all the luck in the world. But no matter what happens to Shane, I hope he'll learn to appreciate the value of being even a minor contributor on a great team, instead of being a mediocre fish in a mediocre pond.
Shane Spencer will be best remembered for being the Icing on the Gravy of the 98 season. A seasoned minor league player, Spencer added the finishing touches to the historic Yankee campaign by hitting homers like he was the second-coming of Kevin Maas. But Spencer's barrage was an aberation, and though he was a competent enough back-up player, he never showed the ability to stay healthy, and productive.
His second greatest claim to fame was his defensive incompentence on Jeter's infamous "flip" play in the 2001 playoffs. Chicks liked him and he had his small following of supporters, but I never saw much in him. Quite frankly, it's hard to believe that Shaniac the Maniac lasted as long as he did.
Shane wasn't even the best of the nontenders who were let go on Friday: Jose Cruz Jr, Robert Fick, Brad Fullmer, Frankie Catalanotto, Brian Daubauch and Travis Lee were let go as well.
What's the liklihood that Theo Epstein snatches one of these guys on the cheap? My guess is he nabs Catalanotto.
Speaking of the Red Sox, Baseball Prospectus has a good interview with John Henry. Well worth your perusal.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
The Braves now know how the other half feels. First, they were the beneficiaries of baseball's new economic climate, landing Mike Hampton for a reasonable contract, which will be paid in part by their division rival, the Florida Marlins. On Friday, they traded Kevin Millwood to another division foe, the Philadelphia Phillies for a minor league catcher. This time they were the victims of the new economics. "We had no choice but to move payroll," conceded Atlanta GM John Schuerholz.
"This was not a baseball trade," Schueholz said, "it was an economic trade at its worst and, as such, it pretty much sums up what this game has come to . Believe me, do you think for a minute I would trade Kevin Millwood to my archrival without having called just about every other team in baseball?"
According to Bill Madden in the Sunday News, Schueholz called the Yankees (about Nick Johnson) and got nowhere fast. "It came down to this," Schueholz said, "in Byrd and Ortiz I'm paying a combined $10 million---which, compared to what Millwood will make next year, I've got two pitchers for the price of one. After I made this trade I called both (Phillies GM) Ed Wade and Steve Phillips and said: 'This is going to be a very interesting division race next year.'"
Ain't it the truth.
Rob Neyer, who has been all over the Braves this off-season, blasted Schueholz for the move. Peter Gammons addressed the issue in his weekly column---which is particularly good, as did Gordon Edes in the Boston Globe.
I went to the Strand bookstore to finish my Christmas shopping this weekend, so how could I not make it down to the baseball books in the basement? I found a couple of great gifts, and was also lucky enough to spot an old copy of Bill James Historical Abstract. Cha-ching. As you can imagine, I'm having a great time digging though it. Here is James' entry on Willie McCovey:
"McCovey is probably the only truly great player in history to have been platooned for several years at the start of his career. It was an unusual situation, when the Giants came up with Cepeda in 1958 and McCovey in 1959, and neither one of them, really, could even do a passable job in the outfield (they had also come up with Bill White in 1956). The 1962 Giants scored more runs than any other team between 1954 and 1981 anyway, even with McCovey on the bench most of the time. If the National League had had the Designated Hitter Rule in 1962 it is frightening to think how many they would have scored."
This entry reminded me of Nick Johnson's situation with the Yankees. Johnson would have to turn out to be awfully good in order to be considered in the same company with McCovey, but perhaps this explains why he has so many supporters in the Yankee organization.
The Texas Rangers signed free-agent reliever Ugie Urbina yesterday which at the very least keeps them in strong contention for most unlikable team in the majors.