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Nightengale's Notebook: Theo Epstein is a perfect fit, but he's not the only one on Mets' shortlist

 28 days ago

The New York Mets may have cost themselves about $100 million by signing Francisco Lindor to a $341 million contract before opening day rather than wait until the end of the season.

They saved themselves $105 million by Trevor Bauer snubbing them for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

They cost themselves by hiring GM Jared Porter, who is suspended from baseball for his sexually explicit text messages and images to a reporter.

They saved themselves from further shame when they delayed a decision to promote interim GM Zack Scott, only to watch him get arrested for drunk driving in September after a team function at owner Steve Cohen’s house and placed on administrative leave.

Now, comes the biggest decision since Cohen shelled out $2.475 billion to purchase the Mets last year.

Hiring the person who will lead them out of decades of futility and embarassment.

There is one, and only one person, who’s perfect for the job as their president of baseball operations.

The name is Theo Epstein.

Epstein will be in the Hall of Fame one day having exorcised ghosts in Boston and Chicago, leading the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years and the Cubs to their first in 108 years.

Now, he could become man to lead the Mets to their first World Series title since 1986.

Epstein's friends tell USA TODAY Sports that he’s eagerly looking forward to speaking to Cohen and learning just what the position entails.

There’s also a groundswell of support for Billy Beane, executive vice president of baseball operations for the Oakland A’s, who has helped lead the team to the postseason in 11 of his 21 seasons.

There’s no denying Beane’s ingenuity, and why he’s making millions every year in speaking engagements to major corporations, but there’s one little problem.

Why in the world would he want the Mets job?

He has lifetime security with the A’s, can come and go as he pleases, and hasn’t been involved in the day-to-day operations for at least five years.

“I’d be completely shocked if he wanted the responsibility and all of the scrutiny,’’ one MLB GM said. “It makes no sense to me.’’

It doesn’t make sense to anyone, even though it would be a romantic tale of Beane rescuing the same organization where he failed as a former outfielder.
Billy Beane in 2019. Darren Yamashita, USA TODAY Sports

You’re getting an $8 million salary from the A’s, can show up for work when you want and you want to leave that laid-back lifestyle to move 3,000 miles away?

You really want to plant yourself in the pressure cooker of New York where you’ll be responsible for everything that happens in the organization? If you struggle, do you want tabloid back pages reminding everyone that you’ve never won – or even been to – a World Series and only once advanced past the ALDS?

Beane, 59, once rejected a $12.5 million offer to become the Boston Red Sox GM, and that was back in 2002 when he still was young and his hair hadn’t turned grey. The only job he nearly left for since was this past winter to run a European soccer club before the business venture stalled.

Sure, Beane’s frustration with owner Steve Fisher is growing, tired of developing young stars and watching them leave because you won’t pay them, knowing that All-Stars Matt Chapman and Matt Olson could be traded this winter, too.

According to an associate, Fisher would love for Beane to leave to save that $8 million and a return of his minor ownership stake.

David Stearns, 36, the shrewd Milwaukee Brewers president of baseball operations, also is on the Mets' short list, a high-ranking New York executive told USA TODAY Sports.

Stearns also is under contract for another year with the Brewers and they denied him permission to talk to the Mets a year ago. There’s no reason to believe owner Mark Attanasio will change his mind, not with the Brewers reaching the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.

“He’s a great executive, he's outstanding," Attanasio says. “He’s also under contract with us.’’

There are other names and executives bandied about, most who float their own names on the rumor mill, despite having as much chance of getting the job as your mailman.

The only man who makes sense is Epstein, who’s working as a consultant for MLB and a private equity firm, but with his fierce competitiveness, badly misses the action.

If Cohen and the Mets don’t hire Epstein, who was born in New York, and whose wife is from New York, it could be a mistake they’ll regret for another decade.

The Mets have yet to interview Epstein or any other candidate but will start once the season concludes, according to the team executive.

And is there really any doubt Cohen will fall in love with Epstein during their interview?

They both are ruthless competitors who despise losing. They build and lead successful organizations, which result in championships in baseball and billions in the private equity business.

You want to turn around the club, build it into a super-power, and make it one of the model elite franchises in baseball?

It’s Cohen’s call, but it should be the easiest decision he’ll ever have to make.
A view outside Citi Field, the Mets' home ballpark. John Jones, USA TODAY Sports

Big Mac's vision for baseball

Former slugger Mark McGwire, who has been out of the game for three years since resigning as the Padres’ bench coach to be closer to his family, tells USA TODAY Sports he would like to see a few rule changes in the next collective bargaining agreement.

You ready?

– Do away with the ghost runner at second base beginning in the 10th inning.

But if the score still is tied after 12 innings, have a Home Run Derby between three players on each team to decide the outcome.

“The home run derby would be just like the hockey shootout after two extra periods,’’ he says. “How cool would that be? Everybody loves the home run derby. You don’t see people leaving a hockey arena. They’re staying.

“You’re going to have kids doing the same at baseball games. Nobody likes staying through 15-, 17-inning games.’’

– Establish a mercy rule after seven innings. If a team is ahead by 10 or more runs after seven, the game is over, ending all of these embarrassing moments of position players pitching to save the bullpen.

“It used to happen once or twice a year,’’ McGwire said. “Now, you see it every week. I don’t see how a 10-run rule would hurt. They do it pretty much in every other league, college and high schools.’’

It has become so ridiculous that the Cubs did it Friday in a seven-inning doubleheader game with an expanded roster.

– Have a five-man umpire crew where the fifth umpire is at the ballpark and positioned near an instant replay booth.

“That fifth umpire is seeing it happen live,’’ McGwire says, “and much easier and faster to make a call upstairs instead of calling New York.’’

Also, unless a pitcher has been warned, he cannot be ejected from the game for throwing at a batter.
Mark McGwire celebrates after hitting his 62nd home run in 1998. VJ Lovero, USA TODAY Sports

Say it with me: Most *Valuable* Player

Just a friendly reminder to the Most Valuable Player voters.

The award is for the most VALUABLE Player.

It’s not the award for the BEST player.

If it was simply about being the best, Barry Bonds would have won this award for about 15 consecutive years.

It’s about the value you have this season for your team.

It’s a rational argument whether Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Shohei Ohtani should win the MVP in American League, but fair or not, Ohtani had his name etched on the MVP trophy by the All-Star break with his historic two-way performance. Guerrero could make it interesting if he won the Triple Crown and led the Blue Jays to the playoffs, but he suddenly has struggled, and the Jays are in a skid.

Fernando Tatis Jr’s hopes for the NL MVP took a huge hit with the San Diego Padres’ collapse, and Manny Machado calling him out for being selfish certainly will be etched in the memory of every voter’s minds.

What makes no sense is suddenly turning your vote from Tatis to Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals. He’s having a tremendous season, hitting .324 with 29 homers, 92 RBI and a .990 OPS, including 1.258 since the All-Star break. But guess what, the Nats are a last place team whether or not Soto is roaming right field.

The precedent has long been established that just because you had the best numbers doesn’t mean you’re going to win the MVP award.

In 1988, Kirk Gibson, the inspirational leader of the Dodger, hit .290 with 25 homers, 76 RBI and an .860 OPS.

Darryl Strawberry of the talented Mets, whose team also reached the postseason, hit .269 with 39 homers, 101 RBI and a .911 OPS.

Gibson won the MVP award.

In 1991, Atlanta stunned the world to win the National League pennant with newcomer Terry Pendleton while Barry Bonds’ powerful Pittsburgh Pirates team won the division again.

Pendleton hit .319 with 22 homers, 86 RBI and a .880 OPS

Bonds hit .292 with 25 homers, 116 RBI and a .924 OPS.

Pendleton won the MVP award.

Around the basepaths

– There’ll be a different twist in free agency this year.Teams will know just who is and who isn't vaccinated, and may shun those who don’t, fearing a possible outbreak in their own clubhouse.

It promises to be a hot topic in negotiations.

– There have been only three Major League Baseball teams sold since 2012, the Miami Marlins ($1.3 billion), the Kansas City Royals ($1 billion) and the New York Mets ($2.475 billion).

The Baltimore Orioles are expected to be sold next, and several owners predict the equally woeful Arizona Diamondbacks to follow within the next two years.

– When Manny Machado aired out teammate Fernando Tatis in the dugout last week, drawing praise from several of the Padres’ coaches, what was never mentioned is that Machado aired out his message in English, and not Spanish.

“He wanted to make sure that every single person on that bench knew what he was saying,’’ one Padres coach said, “so there was nothing loss in the translation. Manny has become a true leader.’’

– While everyone assumes that Padres manager Jayce Tingler will be fired remember that Padres GM A.J. Preller is extremely close to Tingler. He was the one who fought for Tingler instead of hiring Atlanta coach Ron Washington.

It’s quite possible that Tingler stays and everyone else is fired, with the Padres already shuffling the deck in the scouting and development departments, and several coaches are expected to be dismissed after pitching coach Larry Rothschild was fired a month ago.

The Padres have gone through three managers and 17 coaches in the Preller era already.

– The Oakland A’s went for it, acquiring outfielder Starling Marte, and probably won't reach the postseason. It will be marquee infielders Matt Chapman and Matt Olson who pay the price for the organization’s failures.

They will be shopped all winter, several MLB executives say, with the A’s refusing to give them a huge bump in pay through salary arbitration.

– The cities with the best chance to land an All-Star Game between 2023 (Seattle) and 2026 (Philadelphia), according to MLB executives:

Chicago (Cubs), Texas, Atlanta, Baltimore and Toronto.

– Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill are the second trio in franchise history to hit at least 30 homers in the same season, joining Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds in 2004.

– In a horrid Orioles’ season, the one shining star has been center fielder Cedric Mullins, who is the first player in franchise history to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season, and the first by any center fielder since Mike Trout of the Angels in 2012.

Not bad for a 5-foot-8 kid who never received a Division 1 offer out of high school and was a 13th-round draft pick out of college.

– While we all know what Max Scherzer has meant to the Dodgers, the other guy in the trade, Trea Turner, has perhaps had even a greater impact.

The Dodgers were 1-12 in extra-inning games and 13-19 in one-run games before Turner’s arrival.

Since? They are 5-1 in extra-inning games and 10-5 in one-run games.

– Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo was thrilled that he was given an extension rather than the pink slip after their embarrassing season, 105 losses and counting entering Saturday, thanking the front office and ownership for their support.

Yet, while the baseball industry was stunned, it was only a one-year deal with a club option. If the D-backs had more faith in Lovullo, it would have been for at least two or three years.

He’s on the hot seat before the 2022 season starts.

– There’s a bright light shining through at the end of that dark tunnel in Detroit. The Tigers are 65-54 since May 8 and 34-27 since the All-Star break, and plan to be big spenders on the free-agent market this winter.’

“We're not established,’’ Tigers manager A.J. Hinch says. “We haven't arrived yet. This is a team that needs to stay hungry and build off what we're doing and not reflect too far back on how we got here.’’

Watch out.

– Blue Jays pitcher Ryan Borucki is appealing his three-game suspension for plunking Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, but when he is suspended, you can be sure his teammates will be paying his fine.

– It’s unknown whether the Blue Jays can bounce back and reach the postseason, but next year, playing all of their home games in Toronto, could make them the AL East favorites.

“Regardless of how it plays out,’’ Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro says, “I am so proud of our guys for persevering through three homes and so many challenges without a complaint or an excuse.’’

– It’s a bad time for Atlanta closer Will Smith to be struggling. He has given up 11 earned runs, 15 hits and seven homers in his last 20 games, spanning 19 ⅓ innings.

Yet, soaring the other direction is Atlanta starter Max Fried, who has been sensational beginning in August, going 6-0 with a 1.48 ERA in 10 starts, pitching two shutouts and yielding more than one earned run in only three of those starts.

– It will be a historic day Thursday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis when the Cardinals host the Milwaukee Brewers.

It will be the first time two umpires with more than 10,000 games of experience will simultaneously be on the same field.

Joe West set the all-time record with his 5,376th game in May, and Gerry Davis will be umpiring his 5,000th and final game Sunday in his native hometown.

– The greatest pre-game show in baseball is watching Atlanta’s infield guru coach Ron Washington go through drills with his infielders before every game, helping make them one of the greatest infields in baseball history.

The quartet of Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Autin Riley not only are playing superb defense, but putting up historic power numbers by an infield.

They entered Saturday having combined for 120 homers and 366 RBI, with Swanson (27 homers) the only starting infielder with fewer than 30 homers.

– It’s a shame the fan in Cleveland refused to give back the historic 46th ball home-run ball hit by Royals catcher Salvador Perez, breaking the MLB record for homers by a catcher in a single season.

“Just one of those guys that likes to be difficult for no reason,” Royals infielder Whit Merrifield said on his radio show. “They were offering all sorts of stuff: signed jersey, signed bat, signed ball, signed cleats, signed glove. They were throwing everything at him. He was being a word that I would like to say but I’m not going to on the radio.’’

– Dodgers starter Walker Buehler entered the month of September as the leader in the Cy Young race with a 2.05 ERA and .187 batting average against him in 27 starts.

The Cy Young is a distant memory now with Buehler yielding a 7.32 ERA this month and a .317 batting average, failing to complete four innings in two of his four starts.

– Nationals catcher Alex Avila may be retiring at the end of the season, but expect to see him back in baseball.

Teams will be clamoring to bring him into their organization as a future MLB manager.

–The season can’t end quickly enough for Mets starter Taijuan Walker.

He was an All-Star the first half with a 7-3 record and 2.66 ERA in 16 starts, and one of the worst pitchers in the NL the second half, going 0-8 with a 7.74 ERA in 12 starts, surrendering 20 homers in his last 57 innings.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nightengale's Notebook: Theo Epstein is a perfect fit, but he's not the only one on Mets' shortlist

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