If nothing else, this Astros-Phillies World Series is serving as an eye-opener for the Yankees and Mets as to just how much work they both have to do to earn themselves a berth on baseball’s grand stage.
From April until the final two weeks of the season, the Mets ruled the National League East and trailed only the Dodgers for the best overall mark in the NL. Then came the three-game sweep by the Braves in Atlanta that dropped them out of first place on Oct. 1, followed by their elimination from the postseason by the Padres in the wild card series. And with the Phillies knocking off both the Braves and Padres en route to the World Series, the case can be made the Mets are now the third-best team in their own division. At the same time, the Yankees from April-July ran roughshod over the AL East, fashioning the best record in baseball before encountering a hitting malaise in August that continued into the postseason and exposed them as a decidedly inferior team to the Astros, who swept them in the ALCS.
So as they lick their wounds watching this World Series, the respective Yankee-Met high commands must face the reality that they could be going backward if they don’t fix multiple problems.
We start with the Yankees who thought they had sufficiently addressed the issues that plagued them in 2021 — shoddy defense, one-dimensional offense — only to discover they were still there when Isiah Kiner-Falefa imploded in the postseason and their lineup was a galaxy of outs (especially from Josh Donaldson) from the fifth hole on down. In the words of one veteran scout: “In reality the Yankees have only three hitters who really scare you — [Aaron] Judge, [Giancarlo] Stanton and [Anthony] Rizzo — and in the postseason Judge was largely marked absent.”
At the same time, Bryce Harper was seemingly singlehandedly slugging the Phillies into the World Series with a combined five homers and 11 RBI in the wild card series, NLDS and NLCS, and the media has renewed their bashing of the Yankees for passing on him as a free agent back in 2019. But what has been forgotten is that everybody passed on Harper, at least at the numbers his agent, Scott Boras, was demanding, and the 13-year, $330 million offer from the Phillies was sitting out there for weeks as Boras desperately tried to get the Yankees and Dodgers into the bidding. Clearly, Harper did not want to go to the Phillies and I wrote at the time Phillies CEO John Middleton deserved to be the One Dumb Owner of the year for bidding against himself with what even he admitted was “stupid money” for a player who wanted to play elsewhere.
At the last minute, the Dodgers satisfied Boras’ demand for the highest AAV (average annual value) in history ($45 million) but it was only for five years. The reason the Yankees weren’t willing to go there was because they’d already committed that money to Stanton — and say what you will about Stanton and the number of regular season games he’s missed, he’s always stepped up in the postseason (11 homers, 24 RBI in 27 games). So a mea culpa is due here to Mr. Middleton, who turned out not to be so dumb after all — although as one former Nationals exec recently told me: “Harper was a different guy with the Nationals, who beat to his own drum, wouldn’t take instruction from the coaches, and I think our guys were actually relieved when he turned down our offer. He’s really matured. He’s got a wife and kids now and become a real leader.”
As for the Yankees now, other than deciding on Oswald Peraza as the everyday shortstop and exploring trade options for Aaron Hicks, nothing can really be done about improving this team until Judge’s contract is resolved. Contrary to various media reports that have the Giants stockpiling a record amount of money to pursue him, or the Dodgers, who need to re-sign Trea Turner or a shortstop comparable, jumping in, it’s hard to imagine any team out-bidding the Yankees for Judge. After all, Judge will be 31 next year and Harper was 26 when he signed his deal with the Phillies.
On the other hand, while the Phillies and Braves are pretty much set, save for adding some pitching pieces, the Mets are looking at a major rebuild of their pitching staff and tough decisions to be made with Jacob deGrom, Edwin Diaz, Chris Bassitt (complicated by his season-ending pratfalls against the Braves and Padres), Taijuan Walker, Carlos Carrasco, Seth Lugo, Trevor May — plus Brandon Nimmo — all free agents. They will spend what it takes to retain Diaz, who has come to thrive in New York, but the others are problematic. Ordinarily, Nimmo would be a top priority but his agent is Boras and there is concern about 2022 being the first season he didn’t miss major time with injuries. In deGrom’s case, they don’t yet know if he really wants to stay in New York. At 34 with his history of injuries, they will offer him a three-year deal with a likely $40-plus million AAV, but if a One Dumb Owner emerges to offer him four years, they might have to decline.
After all, rich as Steve Cohen may be, there is just so much money to go around, and even if the Mets were somehow able to re-sign Diaz, Nimmo, deGrom and one of the other starting pitchers, there still remains the need for a big bat in the middle of the order to keep pace with the lineups of the Braves and Phillies.
IT’S A MADD, MADD WORLD
The financially compromised Marlins in his rearview mirror, Don Mattingly is back home in Evansville, Ind., spending his days playing backyard baseball with his seven-year-old son, putting together the final details for his Mattingly Charities country music concert on Dec. 1 at the local Victory Theater, and working on a documentary on hitting. He does not know if he’ll be back in baseball in some capacity next year but he is definitely not done with baseball and, at 61, would still like one more crack at managing. “It will have to be the right situation, but, yeah, I’d still want to manage,” Mattingly said by phone last week. He didn’t say it, but after seven seasons of managing the Marlins, he’d come to realize he was never going to be able to win there, not in the NL East where the Marlins payroll was always going to be some $150 million less than the Mets, Phillies and Braves. While he’s biding his time, Mattingly is putting together a documentary on hitting — because he thinks it’s important. “It concerns me that hitting in today’s game has gone backward at the same time the pitching is getting better. We have to get back to putting the ball in play.”…
We were glad to see Adam Wainwright, one of the game’s great competitors, decide to come back for one more season with the Cardinals. After leading the NL twice in both wins and innings and finishing second twice and third twice in the Cy Young voting from 2007-2014, Wainwright, 41, has put together a second career after missing most of 2015 with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Wainwright is 195-117 with a 3.38 ERA lifetime, but as he said last week there is “unfinished business” — especially reaching 210 wins which would put him second all-time on the Cardinals behind Bob Gibson.