Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

Victor Robles

That was a clown dismissal, MadBum . . .

Grumpy Old Men Dept.—It’s tough to determine which stung Madison Bumgarner more, Victor Robles hitting one over the fence and savouring it visibly on his dollar or Robles responding with a classic troll when Bumgarner dismissed him as a clown: Perhaps if MadBum wishes not to be clowned, he might ponder the thought that surrendering 24 homers a year on average goes a long way toward denying such wishes. Earth to MadBum: that was a clown dismissal, bro.

Busted Dept.—I’d like to go on record yet again as saying and believing that a player who’s sent from promise to unfulfilled promise because of injuries incurred while he actually plays the game isn’t a bust. I’d also like to go on record in that regard as saying anyone who claims otherwise and matches such players to those who either can’t cut it after all or squander their talent (drugs, too much high life, too little conditioning and work ethic, etc.) should be dismissed as a damn fool.

Glove Story Dept.—Amidst most of the high-fiving among Yankee fans over the team acquiring left fielder Andrew Benintendi from the Royals in exchange for a pitching prospect trio, maybe 99 percent of the chatter pointed to Benintendi’s on-base machinery this year and maybe one percent pointed to his equivalent gift for preventing runs.

I get Yankee fans trying to swallow that this guy was once a rival on the Red Sox, but they should be very mindful of Benintendi’s ability to break the other guys’ backs with his legs and glove in left field. Their Yankees may yet need him to save a pennant the way he helped do for the 2018 Red Sox:

Giant Steps Dept.—That was then: the Giants not looking to deal away veterans. This may be now: the Giants may order about face! to the rear, march! on that. Various reports indicate the recent Giants fade has “other teams” keeping one eye on that possibility—including prospective free-agent veteran pitcher Carlos Rondon and outfielder Joc Pederson. But will the eyes have it?

Relief Dept.—It’s enough that Juan Soto is on the trade market, apparently. But Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, also apparently, insists that he’s also not going to use moving Soto as a tack to unload a bad or at least compromised contract—such as pitcher Patrick Corbin’s remaining $50 million. You’d love to think that even the forthright Rizzo wouldn’t really play that game. Memo to teams interested in Soto: Trust your mother but keep the spare tire inflated properly.

You’ll Be Happier with a Hoover Dept.—The Astros got beaten, swept, and cleaned this week. By the Athletics. The dead-in-the-(AL)-West Athletics. In Oakland, where the A’s were 17-30 before the first-in-the-West Astros came to town. They even beat Luis (Rock-a-Bye Samba) Garcia and Cristian Javier while they were at it. And, won each game by exactly two runs. Break up the A’s?

You Can Be Sure Dept.—From self-described king of the Mets’ Twitter underground, handling himself METSMENACE, after the Mets swept the Yankees in a two-game set with Max Scherzer punching out six including Aaron Judge thrice: “It’s a good thing [Jacob] deGrom wasn’t in the dugout when Scherzer was giving high fives from hell or he’d be out for another 9 months.” As if Max the Knife would be that blind.

Bronx Savings Bank Dept.—In one way, Andrew Benintendi didn’t lose a thing being traded to the Yankees: the Royals were scheduled to fly to New York for a weekend set with the Empire Emeritus, so he was going to the Bronx one way or the other. The only thing he has to change is his field wardrobe. This is what’s known at times as the perfect storm. But what if the Yankees use the Royals for target practise and Benintendi proves one of the best marksmen this weekend?

Portside Dept.—The Red Sox insist they have no intention of trading either of their left-side infield mainstays, Xander Bogaerts (shortstop) and Rafael Devers (third base). They insist despite recent struggling that they’d prefer to buy and sell at once for the coming trade deadline, maybe selling other veterans and buying a few long-term pieces. Says Red Sox Nation: Heavy sigh of relief. Says experience, and not just regarding Boston: Is that just the same old song? Don’t touch that dial.

A little hustle in the muscle

Dominic Smith

Dom Smith diving across first after Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos (65) was late covering on Smith’s smash up the line and well behind the base in the top of the ninth Monday. Gallegos then tried but couldn’t nail trail runner Jeff McNeil at the plate, kicking the Mets’ overthrow win into overdrive.

It looked simple enough. Mets outfielder Mark Canha down to his and the Mets’ final strike Monday night with third baseman Eduardo Escobar aboard on a one-out base hit. Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos 0-2 on Canha and ready to land the last punch(out).

The good news for the Mets is that they ended up landing the final punch with a two-run homer finishing a 5-2 overthrow into which they hustled themselves after they’d been down to their final strike. Aided and abetted unexpectedly by Gallegos a moment late and two bucks short covering first base on what could have been a game-ending dazzler.

Thus did the first showdown between the leaders of the National League East and Central grind, sprint, and launch its way to the finish in the Mets’ favour. You could almost feel the Cardinals bawling themselves out that it didn’t have to go that way the moment Mets reliever Edwin Diaz struck Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader out after a two-out walk.

It came to this because the Mets wasted a delicious pitching duel between Max Scherzer and the Cardinals’ Miles Mikolas, trading shutouts for seven innings, after Mets reliever Tyler May couldn’t put Mendoza Line-hitting Tyler O’Neill away and surrendered a two-run single for his trouble with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the eighth.

But now Canha wasnt quite so ready, fighting back to a full count, before he hit a bouncer up the third base line to Nolen Arenado, the Cardinals’ third baseman to whom a play like this, even on the short run, was something he could do upside down if necessary.

Arenado on the not-so-hard run whipped a throw across the infield to first base. The ball soared right past first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and Escobar soared home to put the Mets on the board at last, with Canha taking second on the play and Jeff McNeil checking in at the plate.

Canha came out for pinch runner Travis Jankowski. McNeil sent an RBI double deep to right. And Mets manager Buck Showalter sent Dom Smith up to pinch hit for smart catching/modest-hitting Tomas Nido. Smith shot one up the first base line that Goldschmidt stopped one way or the other, diving across the line as he speared it fair.

But when Goldschmidt hustled a throw to the pad he had no target. Gallegos bounced off the mound a moment too late for the out as Smith dove onto the pad and Jankowski and McNeil cross the plate safely, McNeil himself diving home a split second before Cardinals catching insertion Andrew Kinzner could get a tag on him off Gallegos’s throw home.

“The second he hit it, I thought it was a foul ball,” said Gallegos post game. “Then I saw the ball bounce back to first, and that’s when I broke.”

“That’s a mental mistake,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol. “Can’t excuse it. He knows it; we know it: He’s got to cover first.”

“Dom probably ran the fastest 90 (feet) of his life there,” said McNeil. “I knew it would be close at first base. I ended up scoring. It was a lot of fun.”

Smith wouldn’t exactly disagree. “You try to hustle as hard as you can to beat him,” he said. “I saw the closer didn’t get over right away. I just ran as hard as I could. I knew I had a step on him. I felt slow but I tried to run hard.” Don’t fight the feeling next time, either. It could be worth another pair of runs in another eleventh-hour effort.

It put the Mets up 3-2, brought lefthander T.J. McFarland in to relieve Gallegos for the Cardinals, and brought lefthanded-hitting Brandon Nimmo to the plate for the Mets. McFarland threw Nimmo a sinker that didn’t quite sink below the inner middle of the zone, and Nimmo sunk it on a high line inside the right field foul pole.

“It was worth the wait,” said Mets manager Buck Showalter after they banked the game. “It really was. It was fun to watch.”

“We’re a resilient team,” Smith said, “and I feel like we’re in it till the last pitch every night. Even the games that we don’t come up with a win, I feel like we make it tough on our opponents when they do beat us. I think it showed our DNA and what we’re about.”

And it almost (underline that) erased the pitching duel that kept Busch Stadium in thrall most of the night. Scherzer may have struck ten out in his seven innings but he appreciated his mound opponent just as much. Appropriately.

“Tip your hat off to Miles tonight,” he said of Mikolas, whose own seven-inning effort was five punchouts and four scattered hits. “That’s baseball. It was a great game. Sometimes you run into a buzz saw and he did his job tonight. I’m pitching on pins and needles there. I have to make every pitch. I was thinking even a solo shot might lose it.”

He didn’t have to worry as much as he thought. Monday night left Max the Knife number five on the career survey with his 106th double-digit-strikeout game, not to mention 33 punchouts and a measly eight walks in 25 innings pitched this season thus far.

If only he could pitch in Busch Stadium more often than he does. In his previous five gigs there, he’s gone seven innings or more each without a single run being pried out of him. He also has an ongoing 21-straight shutout inning streak against the Cardinals, and now that he has seven starts of ten strikeouts or more against them he’s behind only Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax in that department.

This is the pitcher the Cardinals have never tried to sign when he was on the open market despite his roots being in Missouri. Now they can look forward to this plus two more seasons of potential continuing torture at his right hand. Even if he might still need Met bats in the ninth to keep the bullpen from trashing his best efforts after he departs for the day or night.

“Everybody had a hand in that rally and that’s the cool thing,” he said of the Mets’ ninth-inning grind-out. “When you see your offense go off like that and just find a way to scratch across extra runs.” Catching one of the other guys asleep just enough when there’s first base to cover critically doesn’t exactly hurt, either.

Baseball’s death wish?

Rob Manfred

Rob Manfred announcing the cancellation of the 2022 regular season’s first two weeks. He has made clear his vision for the good of the game is making money for the owners and too little more.

I’ve quoted it often but it all but screams now. “We try every way we can think of to kill this game,” said Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson once upon a time, “but for some reason nothing nobody does never hurts it.”

That’s Anderson’s body among many now performing imitations of washing machine spin cycles in their graves, while their beings in the Elysian Fields pray today’s baseball owners haven’t pushed the game closer to its own.

“I had hoped against hope,” commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday evening, “I wouldn’t have to have this press conference where I am going to cancel some regular season games. I want to assure [baseball] fans that our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort by either party.”

It was to laugh that you might not wish to commit manslaughter.

That was the man whom we are, as one Twitter denizen tweeted, “old enough to remember [saying] cancelling regular season games over his MLB #Lockout would be a disaster.” The disaster is of Manfred’s own and his bosses’s making.

That was the man whose bosses, the owners, compelled him to impose a lockout, just after midnight 1 December, when baseball’s previous collective bargaining agreement expired, rather than allow themselves and the Major League Baseball Players Association to continue operating the game under the former agreement while negotiating a new one.

That was the man who presided over 43 days’ worth of absolute dead silence from the owners’ side to follow. Dead silence, including nothing in the way of an offer from the owners to the players. Dead silence, but not oblivion.

Eyes unclouded by either cataracts or selectivity saw this was not dismissable as mere  billionaires versus millionaires. Eyes thus unclouded saw that Manfred claiming major league baseball franchises return less on what is invested to buy and run them was a shameless and shabby lie.

Eyes at full strength see that only 31.4 percent of the players’ union’s active major league membership earns more than a million dollars in a season, that 28.2 percent of that membership are minor league players on teams’ forty-man rosters who earn no more than $40,500.

“Player pay has decreased for four consecutive years, even as industry revenues grew and franchise values soared and the would-be stewards of the game pleaded to anyone who would listen that owning a baseball team isn’t a particularly profitable venture,” wrote ESPN analyst Jeff Passan on the day of Manfred’s first deadline for a deal without cancelling games.

Players’ service time has been manipulated to keep them from free agency and salary arbitration. The luxury tax, instituted to discourage runaway spending, has morphed into a de facto salary cap, and too many teams are nowhere near it anyway, instead gutting their rosters and slashing their payrolls because the game’s rules incentivize losing. The commissioner has called the World Series trophy a “piece of metal,” and the league has awarded the team that did the best job curtailing arbitration salaries a replica championship belt.

Eyes open wide saw that Manfred and his bosses are the (lack of) class attempting nothing short of its level best to push players further back toward what they were prior to 1975-76.

That was then: Curt Flood, in his courageous but failed bid to break the ancient abused reserve clause, proclaimed, “A $90,000 a year slave is still a slave.” And, Andy Messersmith, who finished what Flood started: “I was tired of players having no power and no rights.” This is now: Owners and their administrators, enough of whom originate in the corporate world, refer to baseball players as assets, commodities, elements, liabilities, pieces.

They wish you to forget that baseball is unlike the typical industry in which the worker bees make the products sold, because in baseball the worker bees are the product sold.

They also wish you to forget that a small market is in the eye and the adjusted ledger of the beholder. “There is no such thing as a ‘small market’,” tweeted Ben Verlander, an actor and the brother of future Hall of Fame pitcher Justin Verlander. “If you want a bigger market. Put more money into your team and make them competitive.” (The “small market” Pirates, believed among baseball’s premiere tankers, are worth $1.2 billion.)

Last weekend, negotiations dragged before Monday’s marathon sessions deep into the night enabled exactly what the players thought would occur, the owners refusing to budge more than milliliters if that far on any concessions the Players Association wanted to sign on the proverbial dotted line—and then propagating as Manfred ultimately did that by God they’d gone to the mattresses trying to get a deal.

This time, however, the players had an invaluable weapon in the PR wars. They weren’t shy about taking it to social media, any more than serious fans were shy about hitting the Internet running to fact-check any and just about every one of Manfred’s claims about the owners in serious binds. Finding them very wanting.

“If times are so tough for these clubs financially over the last five years,” tweeted Giants third baseman Evan Longoria Tuesday afternoon, “show us the financials. Be transparent.”

From the moment the lockout began through the moment Commissioner Nero announced the first two series of the regular season were cancelled—if not for his entire commissionership—he’s been very transparent about his view of the good of the game: making money for the owners, and precious little else.

Another future Hall of Fame pitcher, Max Scherzer, whose plainspokenness and willingness to put in sixteen-hour days at the bargaining table has impressed as much as he impresses on the mound, makes plain he’s not thinking purely of himself or the considerable dollars he’ll lose for every regular season day with an unplayed game.

“It’s about everybody else. I’m in a position to fight for those guys and sacrifice my salary to make this game better,” Max the Knife insisted to USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale.

We all want to make the game better for the next generation behind us, and we’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen. The former players that fought for the game and fought for the players, I realized the benefits from that. I had an unbelievable career for all of the rights that everybody fought for, going back to Curt Flood. Now I have the opportunity to do that for the next generation.

“Scherzer and the union are fighting for pay for the young players who aren’t eligible for salary arbitration, seeking large raises in minimum salary and bonus pools,” Nightengale continued.

They are fighting to make sure that teams are actually trying to win and not to collect draft picks with a draft lottery. They are fighting to make sure that every team can freely sign free agents without a restrictive luxury tax, pointing out the absurdity of the San Diego Padres having a larger payroll than the New York Yankees. They are fighting to make sure the integrity of the regular season is not compromised, willing to accept a twelve-team playoff system, but not fourteen teams.

It would be even better if Scherzer and his fellows, and Nightengale and his fellows in the baseball press, also remembered a particular group among the former players who fought for their brethren and for the game itself and who deserve considerably more attention than either the Players Association or the owners have paid.

There remain 525 former major leaguers, playing prior to 1980 but whose careers were short for assorted reasons, frozen out of that year’s pension re-alignment, but who were gained $625 per 43 days’ major league service time in a 2011 deal between the late Players Association director Michael Weiner and then-commissioner Bud Selig, worth up to $10,000 a year for them depending on their actual major league time.

Those players—including 1969 Miracle Mets Rod Gaspar and Bobby Pfeil and former Rangers fresh-from-high-school pitching phenom turned mishandled David Clyde—didn’t receive those annual stipends as they should have in February, also thanks to the owners’ apparent baseball death wish.

“The owners . . . still they couldn’t help themselves, couldn’t resist going for the throat,” writes The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal. “They, too, could end up net losers, depending upon how much [baseball’s] place in the entertainment landscape is diminished. But they seemingly would rather take that risk than satisfy the players who pitch and hit and make teams so valuable.”

The day you see baseball fans walking about wearing jerseys with names on the back such as Angelos, Crane, Lerner, Liberty, Monfort, Moreno, Nutting, Guggenheim, Reinsdorf, Ricketts, or Steinbrenner, among others, is the day you should see swine in the colours of American Airlines.

“They may not break the union,” writes Rosenthal’s fellow Athletic scribe Andy McCullough of Manfred and his bosses. “But they will break something.” They already have. They’ve broken the heart of a nation starved for the sort of post pan-damn-ic normalcy that baseball alone might provide.

The lockout is on

Before you start cringing while you lament the lockout, try to keep one thing in mind: It hasn’t canceled any games, regular, postseason, or World Series. Yet. If there must be a “work stoppage” for baseball, let it happen during the off-season. Let yourselves be fooled not one moment, either, that baseball has ceased going to work entirely.

About the only work that’s been stopped is contract offerings and signings between the owners and the players. Be advised that team front offices and staffs will continue going to work and players will continue their customary off-season routines preparing for the season to come.

That slightly surreal rash of tradings and free agency signings leading up to the deadline for the lockout—right down to the Red Sox trading Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers to bring home Jackie Bradley, Jr., he of the modest bat but the immodest outfield defense—is halted. That portion of the annual winter meetings involving the Show is pre-empted.

The lockout, as The Athletic‘s Evan Drellich observes, was somewhat inevitable “for months now, even years.” It’s the first “work stoppage” Major League Baseball has seen since the 1994 players’ strike.

That strike was pushed and provoked by the owners then. This “stoppage?” “Players have grown increasingly dissatisfied with club behaviors and the CBA that enables at least some of them,” Drellich writes, “and owners have shown little interest in making the concessions the players seek.”

Talks broke off a few hours before the Wednesday/Thursday midnight deadline after the owners refused to consider any economic proposal from the players unless the players agreed “in advance” to cease certain demands. Those demands, Drellich writes, include the time it takes a player to achieve free agency and changes to the current revenue sharing system.

The players believe with plenty of good reason that the current revenue sharing ways enable too much tanking, teams refusing to rebuild on the fly in favour of just throwing in the towel, allowing the major league product to perform like the St. Louis Browns while (it is alleged) they rebuild from the ground up.

Now hear this: Only two teams are known to have tanked successfully, meaning they tanked to rebuild and ended up in the Promised Land: the Astros and the Cubs. The Cubs tanked to build their 2016 World Series champion within just a handful of seasons; the Astros tanked likewise to build their long-since tainted 2017 World Series champion.

Time was when teams tried to urge certain star players out of the lineup the better to enable them to reach particular milestones before the home audience. It’s a lovely thing to behold when a man does it at home, but when his team tries maneuvering him into it it besmirches the competitive mandate.

That kind of tank usually drew a fury of indignation against the team that put coffers ahead of the honest competition, ahead of the presumption that a team must and does put its best possible lineup forth in the best interest of winning an honest contest.

Today’s tanking teams put coffers ahead of an honestly competitive season. In perhaps one of the top five perversions of “stop us before we over-spend/mis-spend/mal-spend again,” the owners would rather see a small handful of teams abuse their fans than demand such teams do what needs to be done to ensure at least an effort to compete.

Commissioner Rob Manfred audaciously calls it “this defensive lockout,” needed because the Major League Baseball Players Association’s vision for the game “would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive.” If you believe that, my Antarctican beach club’s sale price has just dropped another hundred grand. “It’s simply not a viable option,” Manfred’s statement continues. “From the beginning, the MLBPA has been unwilling to move from their starting position, compromise, or collaborate on solutions.”

The union says the lockout was anything but “defensive”—“It was the owners’ choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure players into relinquishing rights and benefits, and abandoning good-faith bargaining proposals that will benefit not just players, but the game and industry as a whole.”

“This drastic and unnecessary measure,” says a statement from union director and former first baseman Tony Clark, “will not affect the players’ resolve to reach a fair contract. We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves the product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our membership.”

Do you notice that the owners through Manfred didn’t mention the fans but the players through Clark did? Do you notice the owners didn’t mention enhancing competition but the players did? The player are also concerned, rightfully enough, with younger players getting their major league earnings due and with younger players no longer subject to arbitrary whims that include suppressing them in the minor leagues when they’ve shown themselves Show ready.

“There’s also a feeling among players that front offices have become very good at manipulating the system to their advantage,” says the union’s chief negotiator, Bruce Meyer. “We want to make changes designed to incentivize competition for players, and remove disincentives for that competition. We want to find ways to get players compensated at an earlier stage of their careers when the teams are valuing them the most. And we want to preserve the fundamental principles of a market system.”

Tanking to one side, both sides have a couple of troublesome competition proposals. The owners are said to want a fourteen-team postseason; the players are said to prefer twelve.  Both should be rejected out of hand, no further questions asked, because postseason competition needs no further dilution than has happened in the wild card era.

Not long ago, there came a proposal for four-division leagues that might require expanding the leagues to another team each. I’ll see and raise: expand each league with one additional team each (and, this time, please do make damn sure there’s a real market for major league baseball in the new locales), but return each league to two divisions.

You’d actually have something resembling baseball the way it once was, after its first expansion: eight-team divisions, two in each league. Now, eliminate the damn wild cards and make it plain enough that either you’re playing for first place or it’s wait till next year, and don’t even think about tanking any longer.

Then, you remove the number one reason why the postseason loses its audience the deeper it progresses—saturation. Today’s postseason involves a maximum forty-two games. This still isn’t as crazy as the National Basketball Association’s maximum possible 98 postseason games, but it’s insane enough. In two divisions of eight teams each, baseball could (should) re-align itself to best-of-five League Championship Series and leave the World Series its best-of-seven self.

Guess what? In that re-alignment, you’d have a maximum of seventeen games, and the postseason wouldn’t even think of sneaking into the wee small hours of the month of November.

No, I’m not angling to become baseball’s next commissioner, but I’m only too well aware that the postseason has become a plaything through which the common good of the game becomes even more equal to making money for the owners and provoking the players to demand their cuts of it, too.

“[B]oth sides, after years of discontent, could be interested to test the other’s resolve,” Drellich says of the lockout now on. “The owners, as well, might believe that the free agents who remain when the lockout concludes will feel pressure to sign quickly, and therefore, at a discount.”

Don’t believe for one nanosecond that the owners should get away with crying poverty. Not when such new deals or extentions come forth as those recently handed to a Mets trio of Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, and (especially) Starling Marte; plus, Sandy AlcantaraJavier Baez, Byron Buxton, Wander Franco, Avisail Garcia, Kevin Gausman, Jon Gray, Robbie Ray, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien (is it me, or did the Rangers just drop about $512 million on new signings including Seager?), and (especially) Max Scherzer.

Unfortunately, the mid-level players often get bypassed during collective bargaining issues and often bear the brunt of whatever new CBAs cost. The talks usually involve “a league minimum and free agency eligibility,” as ESPN’s Buster Olney observes. “The players’ middle class, which has seen salary diminishment as a lot of teams apply analytics and identify cheaper replacement-level players, while other teams adopt the tanking strategy and cut payroll dramatically, has mostly been left out of those conversations.”

Scherzer isn’t the only player concerned about that plus making sure the owners can’t further suppress real competition and the full free agency picture. “Unless this CBA completely addresses the competition (issues) and younger players getting paid,” Max the Knife says emphatically, speaking as a member of the union’s eight-member player subcommittee, “that’s the only way I’m going to put my name on it.”

More competition issues? How about pushing the owners to push Manfred away from that ridiculous three-batter minimum for relief pitchers? How about pushing them to make the designated hitter universal, once and for all time, and eliminate the single most automatic out in the game? And, to make it so without one insane owners’ proposal that it be tied to a six-inning minimum for starting pitchers?

How about knocking it the hell off with monkeying around with the baseball itself (yes, MLB used two different sets of balls with two different actual weights in 2021—unbeknownst to anyone), then just develop and use a viable ball that favours neither pitcher nor hitter but makes it as level a confrontation as possible?

People thought Pete Alonso (Mets first baseman) was talking through his batting helmet when he waxed last June about MLB manipulating the balls themselves on behalf of impacting free agency. An astrophysicist discovered not only the different ball weights this year, but spoke to one unnamed pitcher who suspected the possibility that MLB might send different-weighted balls to stadiums hosting certain series: say, deader balls to sets between lesser teams but livelier balls to those hosting, say, the Yankees vs. the Red Sox.

I’d say that demands a full-throttle investigation. If people could and did go slightly mad over pitchers using that new old-fashioned medicated goo, they ought to go slightly more mad over ball cheating by baseball’s administration itself. The MLBPA should bring that up—and stick it in the owners’ ears.

The best news about this lockout is that it did happen during the off-season. Assorted analyses say strikes in sports are becoming things of the past. The bad news is that unreason isn’t going to become a thing of the past any time soon. Not, at least, until baseball’s ownerships today continue to prefer manipulation over competition, and the players increase their concern that competition be diluted no more.

The Mets bet Max (the Knife)

Max Scherzer

Shown pitching against the Mets in New York in late August, Max the Knife is a Met now . . . and lucratively.

Lose a shot at bringing a solid pitcher back to the Mets? Lose a followup shot at luring a pitcher who resurrected himself in San Francisco? Go forth and sign a three-time Cy Young Award winner to what might well be his final major league deal—at a record average annual value for pitchers, future Hall of Famers or otherwise.

When you say it that way, it sounds so simple that a refugee from the Delta Quadrant could have done it, despite knowing about as much about baseball as a veterinarian knows about astrophysics. But this is baseball, these are the Mets, that’s Mets owner Steve Cohen, and this is Max Scherzer.

Never mind that Cohen first found an immediate way to atone for squandered time after his particular (and not yet detailed at this writing) rift with former Met Steven Matz’s agent dovetailed with Matz signing a nice four-year deal with the Cardinals.

Signing Starling Marte (center field with a big bat), Mark Canha (just about any outfield spot and an on-base machine), and Eduardo Escobar (solid third baseman who can play second, solid batter) turned Cohen almost overnight from a sad gag to a definite big-market player. Even if it means moving Brandon Nimmo to a corner outfield slot and saying goodbye to a Michael Conforto whose walk-year collapse didn’t look great for himself or the Mets.

Never mind, too, that Cohen and/or his designated hitter couldn’t quite close the deal with righthanded pitcher Kevin Gausman, who turned a career year with the Giants into a nice five-year deal with the Blue Jays—who lost Matz to free agency—that’s the second most lucrative in their franchise history. (George Springer’s five/$125 million beats Gausman’s five/$105 million.)

Signing Scherzer qualifies thus far as the largest, loudest splash on this off-season’s open market to date. Maybe even louder than the ten-year/$325 million the Rangers handed now-erstwhile Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager the day before. In two swell foops (as the lady once said on the radio) the Mets swept up both the single best center fielder available and the pitcher whose 5.9 wins above replacement-level player in 2021 led all free-agent pitchers this time around.

It may also be the least expected. Remember: Scherzer’s conditions for being traded from the Nationals to the Dodgers last July included that he go to either a west coast contender or those guys in his native St. Louis who just bagged Matz. New York was thought to be near the bottom of his baseball bucket list. The Yankees weren’t even a topic, really.

Remember when Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson said he signed his first free agency deal with the Yankees because George Steinbrenner “hustled me like a broad?” Cohen and his minions must have hustled Scherzer like ten ladies and their ladies-in-waiting.

Landing Scherzer means the Mets bring aboard as respected a clubhouse figure as exists in today’s game, a guy who does his best to keep the dysfunction away and also serves as a kind-of de facto second pitching coach, sitting with younger arms while they review video of their past performances and helping them analyse and prepare.

It also means the Mets just landed the guy who led the entire 2021 Show with the lowest walks-per-nine innings rate (1.8), the lowest walks-and-hits-per-inning pitched (WHIP) rate (0.86), posted a better than splendid 2.97 fielding-independent pitching rate, and mostly looked better than his usual self after becoming a Dodger at the 2021 trade deadline.

Mostly.

Max the Knife isn’t quite a kid anymore. At 37, it’s very possible that he’s just signed the final big contract of his major league career; it could even be his final major league deal, period. He pitched mostly like his classic self until his final two starts of the regular season, when he got pried for five runs by the Rockies in Coors Field (23 September) and then for six runs (five earned) by the Padres at home (29 September).

Scherzer recovered from those to pitch well enough in the postseason until former Dodger Joc Pederson yanked a two-run homer off him in the fourth in Game Two of the National League Championship Series. With his shoulder and arm feeling exhausted, Scherzer would have been that set’s Game Seven starter—if the Braves hadn’t yanked four runs out of Game Six starter Walker Buehler while the Dodgers had no answer past two runs off Braves starter Ian Anderson and reliever Luke Jackson.

Nobody would have counted Scherzer out for the seventh game that never came. Just two years earlier, he shook away a terrible neck issue to start Game Seven of the World Series, keep the Astros in check enough despite having nothing left in the tank otherwise, and leave the Nationals room to win the Series with a record fourth road win in the set. He really has been one of those pitchers who can survive on will when the stuff deserts him.

The Mets must be hoping that Scherzer has enough left in the tank to help yank them back into the races to stay. Either that or that he still has that iron will to survive on the mound when the repertoire goes from Kind of Blue to Milli Vanilli.

Assuming both a healthy Scherzer and a healthy returning Jacob deGrom, the Mets in theory would have a 1-2 punch at the top of their starting rotation equal to none today but comparable to several of the past. Sandy Koufax/Don Drysdale. Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling. Heady and three-out-of-four Hall of Famer company to keep.

In theory, too, it could be enough to cause division-rival Nats general manager Mike Rizzo, now navigating a rebuild on the fly without even thinking about tanking, to rub his head with sandpaper (since he has no hair to tear out) and mutter loudly, “If I’d known he’d end up a Met, maybe I wouldn’t have traded Scherzer at all.”

But . . .

“Scherzer could outperform 95 percent of pitchers his age through MLB history and still underperform relative to the contract,” writes Smart Baseball author Keith Law at his usual stand for The Athletic.

Good for him for getting paid, but the idea in free agency is to pay for expected future production, not past production, and the base rate for pitchers his age is not promising. They either lose effectiveness, or they get hurt. Maybe Scherzer is an outlier, just like the race isn’t always to the swift or the battle to the strong. That’s just the way to bet.

The Mets are laying a $43.3 million a year average annual value bet. As Law points out, no pitcher 37 or older has had a 5-WAR season since Bartolo Colon at 39 for the 2013 Athletics; only three since World War II (Hall of Famers Johnson and Phil Niekro, plus Roger Clemens) have delivered 7-WAR seasons at 38+; and, only twelve times have 38-year-old-plus pitchers posted 5+ WAR seasons since the turn of the century.

They’re banking on Jenny Diver, Suki Tawdry, Miss Lotte Lenya, old Lucy Brown, and company forming that big line on the right now that Maxie’s coming to town. For every Met fan and observer wondering if their boy Cohen’s done something else rash, there may be ten counting on Scherzer to become the kind of outlier the Johnsons and Niekros were at his age.

They might even be banking on Scherzer spinning a third no-hitter, this time for them. He has two already, both in 2015, the second of the two against the Mets. When he nailed his 3,000th lifetime major league strikeout last August, bagging San Diego’s Eric Hosmer in the second, Scherzer also took a perfect game into the eighth—when Hosmer exacted revenge by breaking it up with a double to deep right.

Assuming next season won’t be compromised or delayed by any coming lockout, (and it sure feels as though enough of the owners are landing their free-agent signings in a big hurry and rash to secure themselves further before any lockout—a rash which also puts the big lie to any claims of financial ill health), there’s something else to consider.

The Mets are scheduled to open against the Nats. How delicious would it be to see their next manager have to decide whether to open with deGrominator or Max the Knife? Already the National League East would look many things with boring not even close to being one of them.