New York Mets: What the Bench Looks Like After Villar Addition

After signing Jonathan Villar on Monday, the New York Mets have their best group of bench players in years. Each player has multiple years of experience as starting players, strengthening the competition between each player to earn a roster spot. Here is a look at the bench options on the current 40-man roster.

Catcher: Tomas Nido, Ali Sanchez, Patrick Mazieka

Tomas Nido has the clear upper hand over Ali Sanchez and Patrick Mazeika for the back-up catcher job. Nido is only a .197 career hitter, but his defense is his calling card. He puts up strike rates above 60% on both sides of the plate since 2018. In his seven games during 2020, he was 7-for-24 with two home runs and six runs batted in.

Sanchez looked overmatched in his five games last season. He recorded one hit in nine at-bats and made numerous mental errors on defense. Mazeika made it to the big league roster but never played in 2020.

Infielders: Luis Guillorme, Jonathan Villar, Jose Martinez

Luis Guillorme, Jonathan Villar, and Jose Martinez all specialize in different facets of the game. Guillorme is defense, Villar is speed, and Martinez is power. Guillorme had an incredible offensive year to support his outstanding defense. Guillorme slashed .333/.426/.439 over 29 games with 2 outs above average on defense. He seems like a lock to make the opening day roster.

Villar should make the roster due to his speed and ability to play the infield and outfield. His defensive numbers are poor during the last two seasons, but his speed is legit. Villar led baseball with 62 stolen bases in 2019 and finished second with 16 in 2020. His bat is very streaky, but as a switch hitter with speed, it should be enough for him to make the team.

Martinez is a big wild card due to his defensive struggles. He has a .289 career batting average but -24 defensive runs saved in his career. He brings tremendous value as a pinch hitter with a .306 average and a .534 slugging percentage against left-handed pitching.

Outfield: Albert Almora Jr, Guillermo Heredia

Albert Almora Jr. and Guillermo Heredia is the most balanced battle in camp. Almora is coming off two subpar seasons with the bat but is still regarded as a strong defender. Heredia has similar stats over the last two seasons, but the Mets got to watch him play at the end of 2020. Both will play great defense in spring training, but Almora’s experience playing every day should give him the edge.

Yankees: 3 outfielders Cashman could sign in the coming days

New York Yankees, Brett Gardner

The New York Yankees aren’t done making moves yet, and with spring training just around the corner, we should expect GM Brian Cashman to be active in the coming days. The expectation is that he will allocate resources toward the outfield, as the Yankees are currently set to roll with Clint Frazier as their starting left-fielder in 2021.

The question is, should we feel confident with Frazier starting on a daily basis, or should Cashman bring in reinforcements just in case? The Yankees do still have Mike Tauchman as an option to utilize, but the LF position has been spotty the past few seasons.

There are still some free agents available the Yankees could consider on cost-efficient deals, but with minimal money left over after trading away Adam Ottavino in a salary dump, acquiring a starting-caliber player is likely off the table.

Three outfielders the Yankees could sign in the coming days:

1.) Brett Gardner

The easiest move for the Yankees would be to bring back Brett Gardner for one more season. They already rejected his $10 million option for the 2021 season, electing to take his $2.5 million buyout. With that being said, the 37-year-old will have to return on a cheap, veteran deal if he wants to play one more season in pinstripes. The Yankees aren’t ready to splash the cash on his services at this point, so they might look to a different player who is willing to take less money.

2.) Ben Gamel

Ben Gamel might raise your eyebrows, considering he was drafted in the 10th round back in 2010 by the Yankees. He spent the last two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, earning a .237 batting average last season over 40 games. He isn’t the most efficient and productive player, but he can fill a reserve role behind Frazier. He would also be extremely cheap, but he has struggled with strikeouts the past two seasons.

3.) Matt Kemp

Another veteran option is Matt Kemp, who played for the Colorado Rockies in 2020. He finished with a .239 average, six homers, and 21 RBIs. He did log a career-high 31.1% strikeout rate but also a personal best 11.4% walk rate. He is two years removed from a .290 average of 21 homers with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but those days seem to be behind him. At 36 years old, he’s only a smidge younger than Gardy, and his defense isn’t as proficient as the Yankee veteran. Based on these numbers, the Yankees are better off offering Gardner just enough to bring him back.

New York Yankees: Yankees will adjust to new MLB health protocols

New York Yankees

The New York Yankees and the other 29 teams will be subject to new stricter rules for 2021. MLB has released new health protocols (operation manual) for spring training just a week away. These measures have been agreed upon by both the teams and the players. By players, I mean the MLBPA (players union). Last year you saw manager Aaron Boone wear a gaiter last season along with other managers and staff. A gaiter is a scarf-like cloth worn around the neck and can be pulled up over the mouth and nose. That type of mask is outlawed under the new protocol. Boone this season will wear a regular mask as outlined in the protocol.

“Neither gaiters nor masks with exhalation valves meet the definition of a face covering for purposes of the requirements in this Operations Manual,” the document reads. “Gaiters may continue to be worn on the field by players.”

The team will also play differently in spring training. The units located on the west coast of Florida will only play teams located there, and the west coast teams will play only teams on that coast. That means teams will be playing more games with fewer teams. For the Yankees, it means they will only be playing exhibition games between them and the Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are all located from St. Petersburg south to Fort Myers, as noted by MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch.

If it remains in place, the plan is to promote more safety by eliminating overnight stays and long bus rides where players and staff are jammed into buses. As it is, many veteran players use their own cars anyway.

Major League Baseball’s 2021 Operations Manual, collectively bargained with the MLB Players Association, will have many of the same rules as in the 60 game shortened season in 2020. However, there will be no universal DH in baseball. The rules adopted by both sides will be the seven-inning doubleheaders, the runner on the second base after nine innings, a 26th roster spot, and no spitting. Anyone watching baseball knows that the no spitting rule wasn’t really followed or enforces. This year the agreement will feature several new regulations, including the exclusion of gaiters as an acceptable face covering for non-players in uniform. Below are some of the latest wrinkles in the agreement. Each team will have an enforcement officer who will have their hands full enforcing these rules.

  • After hitters complained last year about the lack of in-game video, they will receive access to that through MLB-issued iPads “in a format that cannot be used to steal the catcher’s signs” via selective editing and/or pixelating. Don’t even think about it, Astros or Red Sox.
  • Players, managers, and staff (designated as “Covered Individuals”) who test positive for the coronavirus must isolate for at least 10 days. A Covered Individual identified as having been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID must quarantine for seven days and must test negative on the fifth day or later to be cleared. Last year’s agreement didn’t feature a specific amount of days, instead of relying on two negative tests to be allowed back. To enhance contact tracing, all Covered Individuals will wear Kinexon devices while on team property or traveling with the team.
  • Stricter rules are in place, as per a league-wide “Code of Conduct,” to govern the movement of players, managers, and coaches (qualified as “Covered Individuals”) outside the ballpark. They can’t attend indoor gatherings of 10 or more people; eat at indoor restaurants, bars, lounges, or go to fitness or wellness centers, entertainment venues, or casinos. During spring training, Covered Individuals and their households must quarantine at their homes with the exceptions of outdoor dining, individual outdoor physical activities, and a doctor’s visit as well as going to work. Those who violate the Code of Conduct will be subject to pay forfeiture for the days they are in quarantine due to their forbidden actions.
  • Each club must appoint at least one “Facemask Enforcement Officer” whose job will be to ensure everyone is wearing a mask when required (all times at the ballpark besides playing in the game). A third violation and every subsequent one of this rule will result in a $150 fine, sent to a charity mutually agreed upon by MLB and the MLBPA.
  • For exhibition games held between Feb. 27 and March 13, the defensive manager may call an inning “complete” before the third out if his pitcher has thrown at least 20 pitches. Also, in this time frame, games can be shortened to as few as five innings if both managers consent. Starting on March 14, games can be downsized to as little as seven innings.
  • There will be no overnight trips for teams during spring training. Most Florida-based clubs typically do at least one of these a spring. For road games, players will be encouraged to drive their own cars (a choice most veterans typically make anyway) to avoid crowding on a bus.
  • On March 17 (15 days before Opening Day, as the schedule currently stands), commissioner Rob Manfred will determine whether the Triple-A level of minor league ball will begin in concert with the major leagues. If Manfred declares that Triple-A ball won’t start on time, then the “Alternate Site” model from last year will resume. Either way, each team will designate an alternate site to be ready for usage.
  • Mental health resources will be provided to players and staff.

New York Jets positional preview 2021: Defensive line

The rise of Quinnen Williams and some diamonds in the rough has made the defensive line a rare secure spot on the New York Jets’ roster.

The Position: Defensive Line
On the Roster: Quinnen Williams, Henry Anderson, Folorunso Fatukasi, John Franklin-Myers, Kyle Phillips Bryce Huff, Nathan Shepherd, Jabari Zuniga, Tanzel Smart
Free Agents: Trevon Coley
Reserve/Future: N/A

As if the New York Jets didn’t have enough problems on their homefront, the 2020 season served as a not-so-friendly reminder that they’re going to have to deal with Josh Allen for a long, long time. Cam Newton and Tua Tagovailoa didn’t live up to the hype in their AFC East debuts, but if Deshaun Watson’s not coming to the Jets, he might well take his talents to South Beach (if his Houston employers can be convinced to bargain, that is). New England struggled with Newton but they enjoyed a rushing breakout with Damien Harris and will welcome back a healthy Sony Michel come next season.

Simply put, the Jets need to make sure their first line of defense is fortified moving forward. Despite their endless struggles in 2020, the unit became one of the Jets’ most reliable areas.

Quinnen Williams, for example, was one of the most pleasant surprises in football, recovering from a tough rookie year to become one of the league’s most dominant interior linemen (55 tackles, 14 knockdowns, 10 TFL, 7 sacks). Folorunso “Foley” Fatukasi and Henry Anderson each became veteran breakouts, while John Franklin-Myers became a reliable depth option. While each dealt with injuries, the Jets have high hopes for youngsters Kyle Phillips and Jabari Zuniga. In an uncannily welcome situation, the unit has only one potential departure through free agency (Trevon Coley), though that doesn’t account for potential cap departures like Anderson ($8 million).

Adding to the defensive line’s importance is new head coach Robert Saleh’s dedication to the 4-3 defense. The Jets haven’t run such a formation on a consistent basis since Bill Parcells and Herm Edwards helped ring in the new millennium.

Saleh expects Williams to be the headliner of his unit moving forward. During Saleh’s time in the Bay Area, the 49ers extensively scouted Williams when they picked right before the Jets in the 2019 draft. San Francisco eventually took Nick Bosa but Williams left an impression on his new coach.

“With regards to (Williams) his mindset, his athleticism, his power, his love for football, I’m really, really excited to see him in our system, especially up front with the way we design with that attack style,” Saleh said, per team report Jack Bell. “He’s a game-wrecker. He’s somebody you have to game plan against to keep him at bay, and, obviously, it gives the other 10 guys an opportunity to excel just because of the focus that he’s going to garner.”

Free-Agents-to-be

DT Trevon Coley

Coley was scooped off Arizona’s waiver wire in December and didn’t appear in a game in a Jets uniform. He tallied 14 tackles and a sack over six games with the Cardinals this season. The Jets were his seventh team since entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of FAU in 2016.

Will They Draft?

Adding help to the defensive line is low on the Jets’ priority list for the time being, though the possibility could be raised if they move Anderson through a release or trade. If they had their usual output of picks, they’d probably focus beyond the front four, but they could potentially explore a mid-tier option like Janarius Robinson from Florida State or the versatile Malcolm Koonce from Buffalo. If they want to replenish the interior, they could look at Williams’ Tuscaloosa successor Christian Barmore, though he would likely require a pick over the first two days. 

Veteran Possibilities 

DE Kerry Hyder, San Francisco

Hyder is one of many San Francisco free agents that should expect a call from the Jets. He originally joined the Jets as an undrafted rookie out of Texas Tech in 2014 before latching on with Detroit and Dallas prior to his San Francisco stint. After Solomon Thomas was lost for the year, Hyder put up a career-best 8.5 sacks, leading the team. He may not be a household name, but he would provide an instant boost to the Jets’ edge efforts.

DE Bruce Irvin, Seattle

The Jets’ defensive line has potential, they just need some guidance, a push in the right direction. Irvin was set to somewhat fulfill that role by returning to the Seahawks, where he worked with Saleh during his first two NFL seasons as a 2012 first-round choice. A torn ACL limited him to only two games, but, at the right price, he can be a veteran mentor that happens to know what it’s like to work in a Saleh system.

DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Atlanta 

Having previously worked with Jeff Ulbrich, the Jets’ new defensive coordinator who held the same title in Atlanta, the undrafted sophomore from UCLA enjoyed a breakout season of sorts. He partook in all 16 games and picked up 31 tackles while also recovering three fumbles. If the Jets are looking for an interior depth option that knows what to expect from Ulbrich’s schemes, Tuioti-Mariner would be the way to go.

Outlook

In the grand scheme of things, the front four is one of the rare areas where the Jets don’t have to make too many adjustments. Yet, when you win two games in an NFL season, help from the outside would be welcome up and down the roster. If the Jets opt to let veterans like Anderson and Fatukasi go to earn additional cap space, only then would they perhaps become truly active. Still, with a new regime, namely Saleh and Ulbrich, coming in, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them add a familiar face or two to potentially create a smoother transition.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Knicks suffer another Heat-breaker on Derrick Rose’s debut

Derrick Rose has hit seven game-winners in the final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime throughout his NBA career.

But on Rose’s first game back as a Knick, Tom Thibodeau chose not to put him in a tight spot.

Instead, Thibodeau went to his youngest player for the last shot.

The 20-year old RJ Barrett missed on a last-second drive as the Miami Heat survived with another gut-wrenching win, 98-96, over the New York Knicks Tuesday night.

“He just got here. So we’re still working our way through things,” Thibodeau said, referring to Rose. “I just felt we needed people who know what we’re doing. I didn’t want to put him in a situation like that.”

With the Knicks’ best closer on the bench, the Heat pounced on the opportunity to hammer out their second straight close win against the Knicks in three days.

Tyler Herro drained a clutch triple while Jimmy Butler hit a split at the line that spoiled the third reunion of his former Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves coach and teammate.

But despite the loss, Rose showed plenty of promise even without the benefit of practice with his new teammates.

He relied on his familiarity with Thibodeau’s schemes and played with his instincts.

For a good stretch, Rose showed flashes of his former elite form that made him the league’s youngest MVP 10 years ago.

The 32-year old Rose, along with rookie sensation Immanuel Quickley, came off the bench with 3:27 left in the first quarter.

Rose quickly made an impact as the Knicks turned a seven-point deficit, 17-24, into a 42-30 lead, bridging the first two quarters.

Rose had 10 first-half points and three assists in under 11 minutes.

But the Heat hit 11 threes in the first half that enabled them to recover and led by two at the break, 57-55.

Elfrid Payton, perhaps feeling the heat with Rose’s arrival, had a strong start with 12 points and three assists in the opening half.

The Knicks would grab another 10-point lead in the second half. But the Heat thrived on the free throw line then made their shots when it mattered to pull off the come-from-behind win.

Miami sank 32 of 39 foul shots while New York only had a total of 16 free throws. Butler and Bam Adebayo combined to shoot 26 of 31 at the stripes for the Heat.

Payton led the Knicks with 18 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Rose finished with 14 points in 20 minutes. He left the game for good with 4:51 left and the tightly-fought match tied at 88-all.

Julius Randle was out-of-sync, bleeding for 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting. His late-game blunder was costly.

After Quickley answered Herro’s triple with a floater to cut the Heat’s lead to one, 97-96, the Knicks had several chances to steal the game.

Reggie Bullock grabbed a Kelly Olynyk miss with 22.6 seconds that set up a bizarre ending for the Knicks.

Instead of milking the clock for the last shot, Randle opted for a tough fadeaway with still 10.2 seconds left.

Butler did an excellent acting job to sell a foul in the mad scramble for the ball. But he could only hit a split off his free throws that gave the Knicks one more shot in the final 6.2 seconds.

Barrett wound up with 13 points, six rebounds, two assists, and a big endgame lesson that Thibodeau hoped would toughen him up.

Rose could have written a perfect ending to his fairy tale return to the Knicks, but Thibodeau held him back.

Not tonight.

Perhaps Thibodeau is reserving those Rose’s clutch shots when the stakes will be higher.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo