The 2019 Mets bullpen was a FEMA disaster area thanks to Edwin Diaz’s blown saves and Jeurys Familia’s setup failures. While there’s no guarantee that former Yankee Dellin Betances, who signed a $10 million, one-year contract (there is a player option for a second year) with the Mets on Christmas Eve, will be the pitcher he was before injuries caused him to miss practically all of last season, you can’t blame Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen for rolling the dice on him.
Earlier last month the Mets re-signed veteran reliever Brad Brach, who pitched well for them in 2019, to a one-year contract with a player option for 2021. “I hope to pitch for either the Mets or the Phillies next season since I’m from Freehold” (which is also Bruce Springsteen’s hometown and is located almost exactly between New York and Philadelphia). “I want to make sure that my family and friends get lots of chances to see me pitch before the end of my career,” he told me last September.
Yes, you can criticize the Mets for eschewing big-ticket free agents such as new Yankees pitching ace Gerrit Cole but you can’t fault them for not matching the five-year, $118 million contract that the Philadelphia Phillies lavished upon former Mets starter Zack Wheeler who became a free agent at the end of the 2019 season.
Wheeler is good but he’s not that good. I never heard a fan say “I have to get to Citi Field tonight because Zack Wheeler is pitching.”
In a bid to bolster his team’s starting pitching, Van Wagenen is investing in the talents of a pair of a reclamation projects, Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello. Wacha was always a smart starting pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals while Porcello has enjoyed a good career until 2019 when he turned in a miserable season with the Boston Red Sox. His timing couldn’t have been worse because it was in his walk year.
Van Wagenen had no choice but to sign them because the Mets minor league system is so barren when it comes to pitching. The organization finally gave up on perennial minor league prospect Chris Flexen, who would always get shelled by hitters when he was called up from the minors. Flexen was released last month and he signed to play in a South Korean professional baseball league.
Developing starting pitching has long been the lifeblood of the organization. While no one expects a Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden or Jacob deGrom to resurface, our Flushing heroes have to do better than what they’ve been producing the last few years. Keep an eye on southpaw David Peterson, the 2017 first-round draft choice, who will start 2020 in Triple-A.
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While it was only one game, the New York Rangers’ 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center last Monday displayed all the troubling issues that have been plaguing the Blueshirts all season. Their power play was inept; passes either went off sticks or were missed altogether; and it’s clear goaltender Henrik Lundqvist can’t do at 38 what he was able to do at 28. He turned away nearly every Flyers shot in the first two periods but then became a sieve in the third as the Flyers scored four goals. In fairness to him, the Rangers’ defense appeared to have gotten an early start on the National Hockey League’s three-day Christmas break.
If you are having trouble getting a ticket to see the Islanders or Rangers at home then you might want to consider taking the drive down to Philadelphia when either New York team plays there. The Flyers release 900 tickets in their upper balcony on the morning of games that cost a very reasonable $25. Another option is getting a standing room ticket for the Rivers Casino sports book area that is also on the upper level of the Wells Fargo Center.
The Professional Bull Riders make their return to New York City from Jan. 3 through 5, with the annual Monster Buck Off at Madison Square Garden. Among the better-known riders are 2019 Rookie of the Year Ezekiel Mitchell from Texas, whose African-American family has long been involved in ranching; Daylon Swearingen, who comes from a place normally not associated with cowboys, upstate New York; and JB Mauney from North Carolina, whose PBR ranking may have slipped in 2019 but he’s still considered the Tom Brady of his sport.
WFAN did a nice job paying tribute to its former morning jock, Don Imus, almost as soon as word of his passing became public. The station didn’t sugarcoat the April 2007 incident in which he crossed a line by making a tasteless attempt at humor involving the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. Ed Coleman’s interview with Imus’ chief writer and sidekick, Charles McCord, was especially insightful.
I enjoyed listening to the “Imus in the Morning” program when it aired on WFAN. What made it work was its terrific ensemble consisting of Bernard McGuirk, Lou Rufino, Rob Bartlett and Larry Kenney. Bartlett played a profane version of former Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone, while Kenney had fun channeling the ghost of Richard Nixon as well as doing a wickedly funny impression of actor Wilfred Brimley when he was doing Quaker Oats oatmeal radio and TV ads. Imus was often funnier as the straight man on the show than when he was making wisecracks.
Kudos to former WABC 770 disc jockey Howard Hoffman, who now runs greatbigradio.com on the internet. From Christmas to New Year’s Day, Great Big Radio relived the music, commercials and news from 1968. One of the highlights was hearing Jose Feliciano’s beautiful but untraditional take on “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Game 5 of the World Series at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. The crowd was stunned and you could hear booing. Viewers flooded NBzC’s switchboard with complaints. Feliciano’s career was left in tatters for no reason. His version still sounds great 51 years later.