Oh look. The Mystery Team got its man

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Yesterday Jon Heyman said there was a “Mystery Team” in on Cliff Lee. Many mocked, but we mocked harder than anyone. Indeed, if you do a Google search for “Heyman Cliff Lee Mystery Team,” HardballTalk posts take the top three spots. And you know what happened next. There was a Mystery Team. And it actually signed the guy they were rumored to be courting.

How … awkward.

In light of this, many have asked me since last night if I believe Heyman is owed an apology.  My answer: yes. But a qualified one, as I shall explain.

To the extent that we cast doubt on the very existence of the Mystery Team — which we did until sometime mid-yesterday afternoon — we certainly owe him an apology for that. To the extent our tone was snotty and dismissive, we absolutely owe him an apology for that. In the former case we were wrong and in the latter case we were rude, and when one is wrong or rude, one must stand accountable for that. We hereby apologize for both of those things. No matter who may be the source of information or the target of our barbs, and no matter what our own history is with that person, they are owed better than that. Mr. Heyman is no exception.

That said, our apology to Mr. Heyman is not unequivocal. For one thing, it should not be taken as an acknowledgment that Heyman was completely omniscient here. His original report of the Mystery Team had him saying “hear it’s not the Phillies.” It was other reporters such as Jayson Stark,  Jerry Crasnick, Jim Salisbury and Ken Rosenthal who uncovered the identity of the team. It was Jack Curry who reported on the sense of Lee’s actual intentions. Minutes after Heyman reported that a decision was unlikely last night, Lee decided to go to Philly. The decision was reported by T.R. Sullivan. The terms of the deal were first reported by Crasnick. I don’t believe that who got something first is the most important thing on Earth — scoops are ephemeral things — but to the extent the media story that comes out of this is “Heyman was right all along,” that’s simply not accurate. He was right about one small, detail-light part of it and he was unfairly maligned for that, but this was not Heyman’s story by any reasonable estimate.

And we must also weigh the significance and implication of the portion of the story about which Heyman was correct. One of the reasons Heyman was not believed in this instance — and not just by us, but by multiple mainstream reporters and fans — was because he has made frequent use of the Mystery Team thing over the years, and this is the first time anyone can recall that it was actually borne out.  Aesop has covered this territory. If we disbelieved Mr. Heyman here, well, we had good reason to do so.

Moreover, we must ask what is really being accomplished when one puts out a report of a Mystery Team. However correct the report was, it only existed because someone — likely the agent — told him there was such a team but wouldn’t tell him who it was. If Heyman didn’t ask who it was, he wasn’t doing the basic job of a reporter. If Heyman did ask and the agent simply wouldn’t tell him, Heyman had a decision to make: deal with the information critically given the extreme lack of detail provided and/or dig for more, or merely parrot it and move on to the next thing. He chose the latter here and invariably chooses the latter when this sort of thing comes up, leaving the heavy lifting to others. In doing so he is either an unwitting or an active accomplice of PR.  Which is his prerogative — I would never suggest that Heyman has an obligation to report in just such a way that makes others happy — but which also means that one must still take his reports along these lines with an extreme dose of skepticism. Which we long have and which we will continue to do in the future.

But again, there’s a difference between skepticism and rudeness. I believe we crossed that line at some point with Heyman yesterday.  That was unfair to him and unprofessional. And for that, again, we apologize.

Noah Syndergaard on Mets extending Jacob deGrom: ‘Pay the man already.’

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March has marked contract extension season across Major League Baseball. Just in the last week, we have seen Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Brandon Lowe, Alex Bregman, Ryan Pressly, Mike Trout, Eloy Jiménez, Blake Snell, and Paul Goldschmidt sign extensions. Nolan Arenado, Luis Severino, and Aaron Nola also notably signed extensions during the offseason.

One name strikingly absent from that list: Mets ace Jacob deGrom. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is coming off of a season in which he posted a 1.70 ERA with 269 strikeouts and 46 walks across 217 innings. It’s the lowest ERA by a qualified starter since Zack Greinke‘s 1.66 in 2015. Prior to Greinke, no pitcher had posted an ERA of 1.70 or lower since Greg Maddux in 1994-95 (1.56, 1.63).

deGrom is earning $17 million this season and will enter his fourth and final year of arbitration eligibility going into the 2020 season. He will turn 31 years old in June, but is an obvious extension candidate for the Mets, who have built arguably their most competitive team since 2015, when the club lost the World Series in five games to the Royals. Thus far, though, the Mets and deGrom haven’t been able to get anywhere in extension talks.

deGrom’s rotation mate Noah Syndergaard is watching. Per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Syndergaard said, “I think Jake’s the best pitcher in baseball right now. I think he deserves whatever amount he’s worth. I want them to keep him happy so when it does come time for him to reach free agency, he stays on our side pitching for the Mets. I just think they should quit all the fuss and pay the man already.”

Syndergaard added that the recent extension trend around baseball — and deGrom’s lack of an extension to date — sends a message. He said, “I think so, yes, because of what you see in what’s going on in baseball right now. If there wasn’t a trend of other guys getting contract extensions, then I don’t know what the circumstance would be. But you see Chris Sale, Verlander getting extensions. I think it’s time Jacob gets one too.”

Part of the equation behind the recent rash of extensions is the stagnation of free agency. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel — two of baseball’s better pitchers — have gone through almost an entire spring training without being signed. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado didn’t find new homes until late February. Free agents in their 30’s are largely being underpaid or otherwise forgotten about. Extensions represent financial security for young and old players alike. Syndergaard himself can become a free agent after the 2021 season, so if deGrom’s prospects improve, then so too will his, at least without knowing the details of the next collective bargaining agreement which will be put into place ahead of the 2022 season.