Daily Dose: Hello Billy, Goodbye Gary?

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Billy Wagner came off the 60-day disabled list Thursday, rejoining the Mets’ bullpen less than 12 months after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery. He looked great while rehabbing in the minors, tossing seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and zero walks, but now enters an odd situation because the Mets have little use for him now and aren’t planning to pick up his $8 million option for next season.
Wagner’s remaining contract means that he should clear waivers without a problem, which would allow the Mets to trade him to a contender willing to take a shot on the greatest left-handed reliever in baseball history still having some gas left in the tank. He’s owed another $2.5 million or so this year with a $1 million buyout for 2010, so the Mets need to eat salary to get anything in return. He’s worth a pickup, for sure.
While the Mets welcome someone back from the shelf ahead of schedule for once, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Of course, it wouldn’t be the Mets without some trouble to go along with Wagner’s return and Gary Sheffield provided the drama Thursday by reportedly asking for an extension and then threatening to leave the team. Earlier this week Sheffield made some odd statements about not expecting to finish the season with the Mets, so his causing a stir now is hardly shocking.
He’s had a very nice season, hitting .286/.378/.468 in a part-time role for one of the best adjusted OPS+ totals in baseball history by a 40-year-old outfielder, but clearly the Mets can’t be blamed for not looking to lock him up to an extension. They pulled Sheffield back from waivers when he was claimed earlier this month, so a release is the only possible resolution if he can’t be placated.
* Cincinnati decided to put Johnny Cueto on the disabled list Thursday after he went 0-6 with a 10.63 ERA in his last eight starts. Obviously something isn’t right with the promising 23-year-old and the official word is right shoulder inflammation, although the Reds gave no indication that the injury is serious and are hoping that he can get back in the rotation when eligible to return early next month.
Cueto had followed up a very solid rookie campaign by going 8-4 with a 2.69 ERA in 16 starts prior to his implosion, so assuming that the injury proves minor the horrible recent numbers are likely to make him significantly undervalued heading into 2010. For now Micah Owings will replace him in the rotation after spending three weeks on the DL with shoulder problems of his own, but he has little fantasy upside.
AL Quick Hits: Jon Lester tossed eight innings of one-run ball Thursday for his fourth straight Quality Start … Joba Chamberlain is scheduled to make six more starts this season as the Yankees limit his workload … Nelson Cruz came off the disabled list with a homer Thursday … Jason Varitek missed his third straight game with a sore neck Thursday, so Victor Martinez filled in behind the plate … Matt LaPorta rejoined the Indians by driving in three runs Thursday … J.D. Drew went 4-for-4 with a pair of homers Thursday while batting eighth in the lineup … Jarrod Washburn served up four homers to his former Mariners teammates Thursday, giving him eight long balls allowed in four Tigers starts … Justin Morneau has flown back to Minnesota to have his inner-ear infection and dizziness examined by a specialist … Chris Duncan was released Thursday less than a month after coming to Boston in the Julio Lugo trade.
NL Quick Hits: Drew Stubbs hit a walk-off homer Thursday in his second MLB game after going deep three times in 107 games at Triple-A … Carlos Zambrano (back) threw five shutout innings in a rehab start Thursday at Single-A … San Francisco’s dominant pitching and awful hitting continued Thursday as they wasted a Matt Cain gem … Ian Stewart struck out in all four at-bats Thursday and has now whiffed in 30 percent of his at-bats overall … It took 23 starts of a 5.47 ERA, but the Mets finally cut Livan Hernandez loose Thursday … Anibal Sanchez will return from the 60-day disabled list to start Friday against the Braves … Justin Upton (oblique) is slated to begin a rehab stint Monday at Single-A … Johan Santana got stuck with another tough-luck loss Thursday despite giving up three runs in seven innings … Aaron Harang allowed one run in seven innings Thursday, but once again was left without a victory … Nick Johnson (hamstring) is likely headed for the DL if he doesn’t show improvement soon.

Marlins hire Juan Nieves as pitching coach

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This is not a terribly big deal compared to the rumors of who the Marlins want to hire as their hitting coach, but it’s news all the same: Miami has hired Juan Nieves as their pitching coach.

Nieves replaces Chuck Hernandez who was let go immediately after the season ended. Under Hernandez Marlins pitchers allowed 4.19 runs a game and had an ERA of 4.02, striking out 1152 batters and walking 508 in 1,427 innings. As far as runs per game go, that was around middle of the pack in the National League, just a hair better than league average. The strikeout/walk ratio, however, was third to last in the NL.

Nieves, a former Brewers hurler who once tossed a no-hitter, was most recently the Red Sox’ pitching coach, serving from the beginning of the 2013 season until his dismissal in May of this year.

In baseball, if you lose the World Series you still get a ring

ST. LOUIS - APRIL 3:  Detail view of the St. Louis Cardinals 2006 World Series Ring at Busch Stadium on April 3, 2007 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Scott Rovak/Getty Images)

“Second place is first loser” — some jerk, probably.

The funny thing about “winning is everything” culture in sports is that it’s revered, primarily, by people with the least amount of skin in the game. Self-proclaimed “Super Fans” and talk radio hosts and guys like that. People who may claim to live and breathe sports but who, for the most part, have other things in their lives. Jobs and families and hobbies and stuff. Winning is everything for them on the weekend at, like, Buffalo Wild Wings or in their man cave.

Athletes — whose actual job is to play sports — like to win too. They’re certainly more focused and committed to winning than Joe Super Fan is, what with it being their actual lives and such. But you see far less “winning is everything” sentiment from them. In interviews they talk about how they hate to lose but, with a little bit of distance, they almost always talk about appreciating efforts in a well-played loss. They rarely talk about big losses — even championship losses — as failures or choke jobs or disgraces of one stripe or another.

All of which makes this story by Tim Rohan in the New York Times fun and interesting. It’s about championship rings for the non-championship winners. The 2014 Royals — winners of the A.L. pennant but losers of the World Series — are featured, and the story of rings for World Series losers is told. Mike Stanton, who played on a ton of pennant and World Series-winning teams with the Yankees and Braves, talks about his various rings and how, even though the Braves lost in the World Series that year, 1991 is his favorite.

Also mentioned: George Steinbrenner’s thoughts about rings for World Series losers. You will likely not be surprised about his sentiments on the matter.

Wait, what is the non-tender deadline again?

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For the next day and a half you’ll hear a lot about the non-tender deadline and/or players being tendered or not tendered a contract. Here, in case you’re unaware, is what that means.

By midnight on Wednesday teams have to decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. If they do, the team retains control over the player. Now, to be clear, the team is not simply “tendering” the player the actual contract specifying what he’ll be paid. Think of it as more of a token gesture — a placeholder contract — at that point the team and the player can negotiate salary for 2016 and, if they can’t come to an agreement over that (i.e. an agreement avoiding arbitration) they will proceed to submit proposed salaries to one another and have a salary arbitration early in the spring.

If the team non-tenders a player, however, that player immediately becomes a free agent, eligible to sign anywhere with no strings attached.

Basically, the calculus is whether or not the team thinks the player in question is worth the low end of what he might receive in arbitration. Or, put differently, if the guy isn’t worth what he made in 2015, he’s probably going to be non-tendered.

MLB Trade Rumors has a handy “Non-Tender Tracker” which lists the status of the couple hundred arbitration eligible players and whether or not they’ve been tendered a contract. We’ll, of course, make mention of notable non-tender guys as their status for 2016 becomes known over the next day or two.

Mariners interested in free agent outfielder Nori Aoki

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New Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has kept pretty busy in his short time on the job and Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that free agent outfielder Nori Aoki could be his next target. The club recently pursued a trade for Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, but the asking price has them looking at alternatives.

Aoki, who turns 34 in January, has hit .287 with a .353 on-base percentage over four seasons since coming over from Japan. He was having a fine season with the Giants this year prior to being shut down in September with lingering concussion symptoms.

The Giants decided against picking up Aoki’s $5.5 million club option for 2016 earlier this month, but he should still do pretty well for himself this winter assuming he’s feeling good.