Evan Longoria says B.J. Upton, James Shields couldn’t get the Devil Rays mentality out of their heads

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Opening Day is always a time for big, optimistic thoughts. A time to declare that now, the present, is so much better than the past. Thing is, when you do that, you’re implicitly saying that what came before was inferior or flawed. And when you put names on the past, you’re trafficking in some level of personal criticism whether you intended to or not.

That’s where Evan Longoria seems to be in this article from the Tampa Tribune, in which he talks about how the team is all about clubhouse camaraderie and positive thinking and how everyone is on the same page with “The Rays Way.”  Part of why that is now? Because a couple of old holdovers from the pre-2008 Rays — the old Devil Rays –are gone:

“There was a lot of history with B.J. and Shields in this organization, and I think there were some things that were tough for them to get beyond,” Longoria said. “They were really the only ones that were left in here that were here before the Rays were in 2008 when we started to be the team that we are now. I think some of those things kind of stuck around, and as much as you try to instill the new way, some of those things, it was tough to get some of those thoughts out of their head.

He says Upton and Shields were fine players, and says that he’s not trying to be negative and that maybe he wasn’t putting it the right way, but jeez, it sounds a lot like a criticism.

Know what keeps one from making such criticisms, however inadvertently? Not treating a baseball season as a grand tale in which there are necessarily good guys, bad guys, new beginnings and all the rest. It seems here that rather than have any actual criticism of his former teammates, Longoria was simply trying to fit the Tampa Bay Rays into some narrative, however contrived. Sportswriters are bad for this. But it seems that players do it too.

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.