There are several valid expressions for the way Yoenis Cespedes should have handled this offseason. The oldies but goodies are “strike while the iron is hot,” or “Make hay while the sun shines.” I prefer to think in poker terms, since I spent several years playing online poker. If you know you have a good hand you play from a position of strength and hope to cash in for as much as you can. If your hand isn’t great but you think you can bluff the guy you’re up against, you try your luck. It’s risky but the rewards can be nice if it works.
Anywhere from late August until game 4 of the past NLDS, Yoenis Cespedes had as powerful a hand as you can-a royal flush if you’re poker savvy. He had torn up National League pitching from the day the Mets got him from the Tigers. He was like a real-life Roy Hobbs in “The Natural,” or Joe Hardy in “Damn Yankees.” He hit .309, 17 home runs with 42 driven in during his first 41 Met games. Through the third game of the NLCS with the Cubs, Cespedes could have been elected mayor of New York, to say nothing of writing his own ticket for the next few years in orange and blue.
Holding this poker hand he should have signed on the dotted line for whatever huge amount of money and long-term deal he could have had.
But starting with game 4 of the NLCS, when he was said to have a mysterious golf injury his stock began to fall. All his good defensive work of the past 4 years will never be remembered by anybody who saw him butcher an easy fly ball from Alcides Escobar of the Royals into a leadoff inside-the-park home run, the first inside-the-parker in the Series since 1929. As bad as that was, he hit .150 with no extra base hits and the Mets lost the Series in 5.
Rather than signing again with the Mets when possible, he became a free agent. Since then he has watched one free agent after another get the money and length of contract he thought he should have-Jordan Zimmerman, David Price, Jason Heyward, and in this week alone Chris Davis and Justin Upton. The Tigers signing Upton for 6 years at $132 million leaves Cespedes in an extraordinarily weak position for a man of his talent. If Scott Boras were his agent, (as he is for Mets stud pitcher Matt Harvey,) I could understand Cespedes being in the spot he’s in. Now he’s the only stud free agent left, so there’s no cause for a team to ruin themselves offering him huge money or a long-term contract. I’ll never know why he didn’t take what he could have had when the world was at his feet. I don’t know who was advising him, but as a guy who’s made some seriously bad decisions in my life I at least know he needs a new brain trust.
With Upton signed, and no word on Dexter Fowler-the only other even mildly interesting free agent out there, we turn to today’s birthdays. The first is Phil Nevin, a terrific prospect who wasn’t a major star but had a 12-year playing career. He’s 45 now. The Astros took him with the first overall pick in 1992 and he reached the show in 1995. He was an All-Star in 2001 with the San Diego Padres where he had his longest run, 1999-2005. He now manages the Reno Aces AAA team in the PCL, the D-Backs affiliate there. His son Tyler was an early draft pick by the Rockies in 2015.
Chris Sabo is 54 today. If I think of Barry Larkin and Lou Piniella’s Reds of the late ’80s the name Chris Sabo comes to mind at the hot corner. He was rookie of the year in 1988, the team took the 1990 World Series in 4 over Oakland, and he was an All-Star 3 times between 1988 and 1991. Larkin played with Sabo both at University of Michigan and with the Reds.
Jon Matlack is 66 today. You can’t think of the “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets of 1973 without thinking of their major 3 starters-Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack. Matlack in fact started games 1, 4 and 7 of the World Series that year. As a Met he won Rookie of the Year in 1972, ending the season by giving up hit number 3,000 to Roberto Clemente-the last hit he ever got. Matlack was an All-Star in 1974-76. He went to the Rangers in 1977. As a Ranger, I can only imagine Ernie Harwell of the Tigers introducing him as Jonathan Trumpbour Matlack, the way he regularly broadcast the names of stars like Dennis Dale McClain.
From the golden oldie file, Raymond Allen “Rip” (or sometimes Ripper) Radcliff was born this day in 1906 and died in 1962. He hit .311 in his career with the White Sox, Browns and Tigers. I wouldn’t know who he was except I’ve been fortunate enough to hear some of Hal Totten’s radio broadcasts of the White Sox during 1936, arguably Radcliff’s best year. It was the only time he was an All-Star in that year when the game was held at Braves Field in Boston. He hit .342 that season.1