Last Tuesday the Mets held a press conference for the man they hope will replace Jacob deGrom as their ace, newly acquired free agent Justin Verlander. While it is to be seen how well Verlander will pitch for the Mets, it is safe to say the team got a personality upgrade. Granted, that is a low bar when compared to deGrom. Verlander said he enjoys New York City and often spent time here after the baseball season ended.
Verlander grew up near Richmond, Va. I asked him if geography played a role in accepting the Mets’ offer over that of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “It was absolutely a factor. It will be a lot easier for my family and friends to see me.” The Mets also frequently play in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, which are even closer to Richmond.
Verlander’s agent, Mark Pieper, told me that his client has been inundated with endorsement offers ever since word leaked out at the recent baseball winter meetings in San Diego that he would be a Met. DeGrom never seemed interested in doing commercials that have benefited Mets slugger Pete Alonso, who has done television ads for Citi Cards, Car Shield and BMW.
Catcher James McCann was traded, or more accurately given away, to the Baltimore Orioles hours after news broke about free agent Carlos Correa coming to Flushing pending medical exams. The Mets will be paying $19 million of the remaining $24 million of McCann’s contract which has two more years to run.
McCann was the first free agent signed by the Mets in the Steve Cohen era. Cohen was new so he understandably allowed team president Sandy Alderson, to handle player acquisitions without interference. Alderson, perhaps believing he was still working for the Wilpons, rushed to sign the lower-cost McCann instead of pursuing the far better option, JT Realmuto, who would have been far more expensive.
It is safe to say Cohen, along with every Mets fan, regrets that decision. We will see if he also regrets making a large commitment to Carlos Correa before having all the medical facts at his disposal. Correa only became available when his deal with the San Francisco Giants fell through because their medical staff had qualms about whether his ankle, leg and back would hold up over a more than decade-long contract.
The last thing the Mets need is for Correa to become the second coming of Jed Lowrie. In 2019, then-Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen signed third baseman Lowrie to a two-year, $20 million contract. In spring training of that year, he reported pain in his left leg. He wound up getting eight at-bats and zero hits during his two years as a Met.
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The Yankees officially welcomed back Aaron Judge at a Yankee Stadium press conference last Wednesday. Judge made it clear his intent was always to play his career for the Yankees, but he had to understandably test the marketplace especially after the big season he had in 2022.
Judge’s manager, Aaron Boone, admitted he had been a nervous wreck until his star slugger agreed to return to the Bronx. The worst feeling for Boone was when an erroneous report circulated claiming Judge would be signing with the San Francisco Giants. “I felt like I lost my keys, wallet, and cellphone. The next day, when I learned he was going to be a Yankee, I felt as if someone had returned all of those items intact to me,” he quipped.
Hal Steinbrenner said he made clear to Judge he considered him to be a Yankee for life and asked him what it would take to seal the deal. The answer was a nine-year contract at $40 million per year.
The Giants were generally acknowledged to be the Yankees’ main competitor for Aaron Judge, who as luck would have it, grew up a Giants fan in northern California.
I mentioned to Hal Steinbrenner of how John Olerud left the Mets after the 1999 season to sign with the Seattle Mariners as a free agent. Olerud and his wife were from the Seattle area. He told me a few years ago how they wanted to stay in New York, but their parents instilled a ton of guilt on them. They understandably wanted to be near them and their grandchildren and the Mariners were going to make that possible.
I asked Steinbrenner if he was concerned about a similar scenario playing out with Aaron Judge. “I absolutely was worried,” he candidly replied.
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman was a bit more confident about things than either Steinbrenner or Boone.
“We knew Aaron and his wife liked New York and they enjoy Tampa where they have a home and where we have spring training. In addition, his parents frequently come to Yankee Stadium. They know many of the concessionaires and security staff by name. Hopefully, they see the Yankees family as part of theirs,” he stated.
Since parents generally all act the same way when they can be near their grandchildren, I asked Judge if his parents gave him “the Olerud business.” Judge hesitated to answer but then finally relented, “You know how it is!” he said with a sheepish smile.
The Yankees have done a good job making New York City’s postseason college football game, the Pinstripe Bowl, a holiday week tradition. Bad Boy Mowers has replaced New Era as the game’s corporate sponsor. The 2022 Pinstripe Bowl takes place this afternoon (Thursday, Dec. 29) at 2 p.m. The University of Minnesota will take on Syracuse University. Given the number of enthusiastic Syracuse alumni in our area, I expect a good turnout at Yankee Stadium.
Former NBA star and South Jamaica native Lamar Odom speaks to TMZ host Harvey Levin in an hour-long special, “Sex, Drugs & Kardashians.” It airs on FOX this Monday (January 2) at 9 p.m.
Two nights later, (Wednesday, Jan. 4) Fox debuts its “Survivor”-influenced reality series, “Special Forces,” in which celebrities have to overcome the struggles of adapting to life in the Jordanian desert without any modern comforts, and that includes toilets. Mike Piazza is one of the boldfaced names taking part in it.