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Cranky February Hodgepodge

Some light airing of grievances:

1. The Rays are booked up at the 1B/DH position, yet are pursuing 1B/DH Russell Branyan. Why? Because Branyan is a valuable player, and smart organizations pick up good, cheap players regardless of who is ahead of said players on the depth chart. The Mets, on the other hand, are content to stand pat despite the availability of Branyan and Felipe Lopez. Injuries happen, players slump and competent back-ups are always needed. Sign now, figure out playing time later.

2. At Baseball Daily Digest, Bill Baer (of the Phillies blog Crashburn Alley) wrote a piece comparing the Phillies' and Mets' leadership. Normally I wouldn't pay much attention to this kind of results-based, ex-post-facto leadership evaluation, but Baer is a solid writer who normally does great work, so I gave it a look. It starts out with some anecdotes about the Phillies, portraying their players as gritty gamers who never want to take a day off. The leadership skills possessed by Roy Halladay and Chase Utley are apparently a driver of the Phils' success. Fair enough, but any Mets fan reading the piece instantly knows it is headed into Jayson Stark territory. The leadership void on the Mets is depicted as a significant reason for the team's recent failures. Numerous examples of the leadership problem are presented, and I take issue with a couple of them. Here they are, with my take on each:

Jose Reyes, known more for his celebratory antics than anything he’s accomplished on the field, was being accused by New York media and Mets fans last year for being in a wimp in his recovery from a hamstring injury. Reyes worsened his injury status attempting to come back prematurely to selfishly show everyone that he was a gamer.

Let's just ignore the lame Phillie fan throwaway line about All-Star Jose Reyes being known more for celebrations than on-field performance. Although it does provide a backdrop for the (usually objective) writer's perspective. The last sentence is what struck a nerve. Reyes is selfish for wanting to come back from injury and do his job? Come again? Pushing his body to rehab from injury, in order to better his team, seems like the very opposite of "selfish". I never thought I'd see Reyes likened to Ivan Drago, screaming "I win for me... for me!" as the Soviet Premier/Fred Wilpon looks on in disgust at the egotistical glory-seeking athlete.

Reyes put his body on the line to come back and help his team win ballgames. Bad idea? Almost certainly, but the blame for that should fall more on the Mets' medical staff than Reyes himself. Maybe Jerry Manuel deserves some too; Reyes likely didn't want to be told "that's poor, Jose" by his skipper, if he chose not to exert himself too much in rehab. It's a lose-lose situation. He pushed himself to come back and was bizarrely called selfish. If he didn't come back, he'd be labeled "soft" and "not a gamer".

Attempting a comeback certainly shouldn't be held up as evidence that Reyes's actions were a detriment to team leadership and chemistry, which is the overall point of Baer's piece. Mets management and players have made numerous embarrassing blunders the last few seasons -- let's not fabricate more for the sake of a tidy narrative.

Next up is Baer's take on Johan Santana:

Ace Johan Santana appears to spend far too much time working on unique handshakes for all of his teammates, if this video is any indication.

Let's insert various other players' names and their actions into this template:

Ryan Howard appears to spend far too much time filming Subway commercials, if this video is any indication.

Charlie Manuel appears to spend far too much time dieting, if this article is any indication.

Cole Hamels appears to spend far too much time posing for ridiculous photos, if this blog post is any indication.

I could go on, but the point is made.

I tried to come up with reasons why a fun, harmless handshake exercise would be portrayed as a negative. The potential argument that Santana should be preparing for the game instead of wasting time with handshakes is a poor one -- by my count the whole process took 1 minute, 24 seconds. This is an immaterial amount of time, given how early starting pitchers are generally in the ballpark to prepare for a game. Especially a hard-working, multiple Cy Young Award winning pitcher like Santana. Also, listen to Ron Darling describe Santana as a leader of the ballclub towards the end of the clip. Maybe Baer had his speakers on mute.

If the criticism is based on what Johan does in his spare time, well, that's a pretty weak criticism. What business is it of anyone how he spends his free time? More importantly, what in the name of Zeus's butthole does this have to do with not exhibiting leadership?

If creating a separate handshake for every player on the team isn't leadership, then what is? The team's best pitcher took the time to personally engage the other 24 players on the roster. Hypothetically, if I were a 22 year-old rookie who made the Opening Day roster and Johan Santana approached me about creating a secret handshake, I'd be ecstatic. One of the best players in baseball wants to connect with me? Wow -- I'd really feel like a part of the team. Maybe it's a waste of time, but that lies in the eye of the beholder and has absolutely nothing to do with a team leadership problem. Again, let's not twist things done by Mets players just for the sake of bashing an already down-on-its-luck organization. Better to write nothing at all than to write schlock.

3. A classic myth propagated by the New York mainstream media is that of the 3 AM "middle of the night" firing of Willie Randolph. David Lennon made light it in a recent Tweet and Baer mentioned it in his BDD piece as well. This really needs to be put to rest. Randolph was fired shortly after midnight, following a game on the west coast. The only time zone that matters is the one where the firing took place. Saying it happened at 3 AM is exaggeration in an attempt to make Mets management look as inept as possible. Unfortunately, those unfamiliar with how the firing went down usually take the mainstream media's word for it that the firing happened in the middle of the night.

4. Standing still on the left side of a subway escalator should be an arrestable, or at least fineable, offense.

5. Is there any way Avatar is a better film than Inglourious Basterds or The Hurt Locker? All three are nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, and Avatar is the Vegas favorite to win. It's technically brilliant and groundbreaking, but lacking in most other departments, namely screenplay and acting. James Cameron already took home a Best Picture statue for a visually stunning film (Titanic) which was inferior to other nominees (L.A. Confidential, Good Will Hunting). Hopefully it doesn't happen again, and either Basterds or Locker wins the prize.