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Mudville: January 26, 2022 6:37 pm PDT
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Noisy Mets, Quiet Yankees

So, are the Yankees still in the business of championship baseball?

Phase II of Steve Cohen’s ownership of the Mets has hit some rough spots, but clearly the Mets are far ahead in the publicity war.

The Mets own the news cycle, the latest example is the signing of centerfielder Starling Marte to a four-year deal worth $78 million. That’s an interesting step. The Yankees have stepped aside under Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman so far on making moves.

Will the Mets many moves work? Marte will be 34 years old next season. The Mets also added infielder Eduardo Escobar and outfielder Mark Canha.

We won’t know until the games start in 2022 – barring a lockout – but for now the Mets have created buzz and as I pointed out last week, Cohen has given Billy Eppler a second chance at success and Eppler is following the depth approach to possible success. Good plan the way players get hurt these days.

“Maybe the Yankees just want to be competitive and they really don’t give a bleep about winning anymore,’’ one top evaluator told BallNine of the Yankees lack of big moves. “And make sure they make money. It will be interesting to see what the Yankees do. Cashman has a decent team that underperforms.’’

Hal Steinbrenner never liked the fuss created by his bombastic father, The Boss, and is proving that every day now as the Yankees coast along with an occasional move here or there.

There are no fireworks in Hal Steinbrenner’s life. That fits his personality. It’s about taking a low profile and cashing big checks for the Steinbrenner Family and thinking victories are mathematically made by the overuse of analytics and the underuse of good old-fashioned scouting and hard knocks baseball with heady, scout-oriented moves and managerial leadership.

More on that later in The Story and a flashback to 1976.

“Why in the world do we need more people’s thoughts involved in the making of our team,’’ it’s as if the Yankees are saying about scouts and player development. “We just need better algorithms.

“And since we embarrassingly lost Garrett Whitlock in the Rule 5 draft last year to our top rival the Red Sox, let’s over-protect every bit of mediocre talent this year. And there is no need to rush our future star Anthony Volpe, let’s not even send him to the Arizona Fall League.’’

Yes, many strange, strange maneuvers from the Yankees which makes you question their overall plan while other teams forge ahead. Listen, the Mets have a long way to go with only 77 wins last year and major holes in the starting rotation, but they are at least trying something different.

It’s a good thing the Mets make moves because at least they are trying to shake it up. When the pitching part of the plan drops into place it will be that much more interesting for Mets fans and only then can we see the full picture.

“If your manager is one competitive son of a gun, chances are you are a team that is actually trying to win a championship. And if your GM is one competitive son of a gun, then you are a team that is trying to win a championship because they will even come up with ways to overcome cheap ownership.’’

For the most part, talent evaluators like what the Mets are doing, but the most honest and objective talent evaluator I know put it all in perfect perspective.

And every Mets fan needs to understand this.

“Billy is trying to make a positive splash,’’ the evaluator said. “Marte, when healthy, is a really solid player and he can play centerfield better than (Brandon) Nimmo can play centerfield and now you have an average centerfielder playing on the corner in Nimmo. It adds a bat into their lineup and also a left-handed bat in Mark Cahna to the outfield. (Switch-hitter) Eduardo Escobar is a good sign, but the bottom line is if the shortstop earns his money, they are going to be good. That’s the big question.

“Does the shortstop show up and earn his money.’’

The shortstop is Francisco Lindor, Cohen’s first big addition last offseason, and the big money is $341 million. He batted .230 his first year as a Met.

“They should compete in a mediocre division,’’ the evaluator added of the Mets. “I still call the NL East a mediocre division because there’s Washington, Miami is slowly building, but they are still a ways away – and Philadelphia is competitive but nobody is dominant. The Braves (88 wins) barely beat the Phillies out.’’

The Escobar move gives top prospect Brett Baty a little more time to develop, too.

“He’s close and he is a really good looking hitter,’’ the evaluator said of Baty. “I really like him. I got him as an impact guy, probably an above average player all around.’’

New Mets acquisition Starling Marte. (Credit: Eric Hartline / USA TODAY Sports)

There also is the major addition of a manager that has to be made by the Mets. Kind of a big deal.

The Nerds always underestimate the true value of a manager. It’s one of the bigger mistakes they make, but they wouldn’t be Nerds if they didn’t think the manager is only a middle management position.

Is Eppler going to follow the plan of his close friend Brian Cashman and put a puppet in the manager’s office? Are the Mets going to get another nice guy like Aaron Boone as manager, someone who adds a ‘Y’ to everyone’s name on the team as his chief motivating force as manager, a la, “Hicks-y really looked good today. I thought Judge-y got it all on that fly out to the track, but the wind held it up a bit. Gary is making big bat to ball improvements, Glove to ball improvements, too.’’

Yeah, sure.

Is that the direction the Mets will go with the manager or will they take a page from the White Sox or Astros and hire a proven veteran manager like Tony La Russa or Dusty Baker? Do they have a Brian Snitker somewhere in their organization, the Braves lifer manager who finally reaped World Series rewards?

Still waiting to hear how the Buck Showalter interview went.

Or the Bruce Bochy interview? You know, the real managers out there.

Would love to have a manager’s input on the acquisition of players too, but the Mets are not following that path. The manager will manage who they give him. Period. We will see how it all shakes out. Perhaps they will go the Second Chance route just as they did at GM.

That is what the Giants did by hiring Gabe Kapler after his failure as Phils manager. Kapler made some adjustments and it was a win. The Giants are the new toast of the baseball town because of their 107-win regular season. They could not get past the 106-win Dodgers in the NLDS and certainly that battle took something out of the Dodgers in the NLCS loss to the Braves.

I have maintained that it has never been easier to turn a team around than now than in past decades because so many teams don’t have their eye on the prize.

Scott Boras is right. He said at most 17 teams are trying to compete.

That number is a little high in my book.

Mark Canha is headed to Queens from Oakland. (Photo: Daniel Shirey / Getty Images

Without going into numbers, the teams that are really competing can be measured thusly: Call it the AMBS Tanking Meter.

If your manager is one competitive son of a gun, chances are you are a team that is actually trying to win a championship. And if your GM is one competitive son of a gun, then you are a team that is trying to win a championship because they will even come up with ways to overcome cheap ownership.

The Rays are a perfect example of that and on Saturday the Rays officially made their most important signing in years, signing shortstop Wander Franco to an 11-year, $182 million contract.

They don’t want someone like Steve Cohen coming in years from now trying to sign Franco away from the Rays. Franco is locked up through the 2033 season.

I like the statement Rays owner Stu Sternberg said in making the signing official. “This is a great day for Wander and for the Rays and is evidence of the mutual trust between Wander and our organization,’’ Sternberg said. “So many of our areas had a hand in this – our scouting, development, health and wellness and coaching personnel plus many others.’’

People can’t seem to understand this, especially the Nerds, but I have been saying for a long time the Rays are a scouting, development organization first, and analytics is a part of the big picture. It does not dominate the picture. The Rays scout, the Rays develop, and you know what else the Rays do? They hold their players accountable and that is a plus for manager Kevin Cash. He lets his players have fun, but they need to play baseball the right way and for the most part the Rays do a good job of doing that.

Do you think the Rays would have ever held onto Gary Sanchez as long as the Yankees have pampered Gary Sanchez?

Do you think the Rays would have let Clint Frazier be the confused, ego-driven lost player he became under the Yankees’ watch?

Do you think Kevin Cash and his coaches would get more out of the Yankees pitchers than the Yankees got out of the Gerrit Cole group? Defense matters too to Cash.

Do you think the Rays would have wasted Gleyber Torres’ talent by trying to make a shortstop out of a second baseman?

Will Gleyber Torres regain his form as a 2B this season?

The answer of course is the Rays would have gotten so much more out of the Yankees personnel or would have simply jettisoned those players who could not cut it and brought in new players. The Rays have turned their biggest weakness, their cheapness, into a strength by making it clear to their players, “We will move on from you if you can’t cut it. And we also may move on from you if you do play well if we see a better fit for our team. We will keep scouting top notch, and player development top notch because we need a conveyor belt of talent. And if you do get a long-term contract here, it’s truly because we believe in you as being part of the heart and soul of the ballclub. And down the road we still may trade you.’’

The Rays do it their way, but the combination of pitching, defense, and accountability goes a long way as they managed to win 100 games last season.

Yes, that’s a hard message, especially for this generation of soft athletes, but it is a lovely message too because it speaks of teamwork, and not just players, but the entire organization. It speaks of commitment. We will make you better.

It speaks of toughness. This is a baseball club, not a country club. And most of all, it speaks to the fact that the Rays evaluators, damn well evaluate.

That’s a beautiful thing.

Now the Rays make their mistakes on occasion but most times it is a mistake made in the heat of competition and those things happen. Their essential plan is clear.

Is the Yankees essential plan clear?

Franco is signed for life, Aaron Judge could have been signed as a Yankee for life years ago, but the Yankees did not want to make that happen. And that is on them. They used the system to what they thought was their advantage but when you make a commitment to a young player who has the ability to play and lead and win, there are no losers. Yes, an injury can happen but that’s baseball life. Part of becoming a great player is learning how to post every day and having a team plan in place that keeps players healthy.

Orioles CF Cedric Mullins is avaliable via trade. (Credit: Tommy Gilligan / USA TODAY Sports)

The Yankees should get around to signing Judge long term any day now, they can’t let the Mets have every offseason headline.

Some teams deserve all the losing they get and at the top of that list is the Orioles, who have said that centerfielder Cedric Mullins, 27 and left-handed John Means, 28, are available through trade.

The Yankees should make every effort to get both players (Volpe is off limits, though).

If the Orioles can’t use those two players, who were finds from the previous administration, what kind of players are they really looking for to succeed under GM Mike Elias, he of the never-ending rebuild? Elias has not figured out how to make the Orioles any better under a weak ownership.

The Yankees need a centerfielder. I was never on the Aaron Hicks bandwagon once I realized he can’t stay on the field. Mullins stole 30 bases and hit 30 home runs, last year the only player in MLB to accomplish such a feat last year. Mullins switched to hitting lefty, he is no longer a switch-hitter and posted a .291/.360/.518 slash line.

Mullins is 27, the same age Mickey Rivers was when he was traded to the Yankees along with Ed Figueroa from the California Angels after the 1975 season. Gabe Paul was the Yankees GM and Pat Gillick was the scouting director. Nice deal, fellas.

That trade helped catapult the Yankees to three straight World Series appearances and two World Series titles.

The Mets have owned the headlines and signed a centerfielder so far this offseason. The Yankees need to think and act bigger.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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