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Some free agents who still could help the Mets: Sherman

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Clockwise left to right: Collin McHugh, Yusei Kikuchi, Andrew Miller and Brett Gardner

A baseball official asked a question recently that froze me: When the lockout ends, if you ran the Mets and only could try to sign one, would it be Carlos Correa or Freddie Freeman?

Wait. Didn’t the Mets already sign four pretty big free agents, notably Max Scherzer to by far the largest per annum deal in MLB history? Don’t they already project to a roughly $265 million payroll for luxury tax purposes — or $30 million-plus more than the runner-up Dodgers and $40 million-plus more than the third-place Yankees?

It forced this consideration: Does Steve Cohen have a stop sign? He doesn’t seem to with his art collection, for example. So why would he feel differently about another possession that brings him satisfaction — his baseball team?

The difference between running a $265 million payroll and a $400 million payroll for someone as rich as Cohen is negligible. The only stop sign is if you care about annoying the industry. In Year 1 — following some uncertainty if he would be approved by the other owners — Cohen played nice and stayed under the tax threshold.

No matter the threshold — if there is a threshold in a new collective bargaining agreement — the Mets already are pretty much assured of going over … and not by a little. But what if Cohen is the first owner who truly treats a franchise like, say, their yacht. No super-rich person would abide by thresholds on the finest accoutrements and most lavish parties — why have the yacht then? If you can afford it, why have a baseball team and not get the players you want?

Clockwise left to right: Collin McHugh, Yusei Kikuchi, Andrew Miller and Brett Gardner
Clockwise left to right: Collin McHugh, Yusei Kikuchi, Andrew Miller and Brett Gardner
AP (4)

Cohen has insisted a few times, beginning with his introductory press conference, that he would “not act like a drunken sailor” when it comes to spending. But the combination of Scherzer and $265 million are symbols, if not of inebriation, certainly of feeling a bit intoxicated by improving his roster and the fan reaction to it.

The Mets already have Francisco Lindor at short and Pete Alonso at first. But what if Correa is attracted to New York and/or the largest payday, would he move to third like his friend Alex Rodriguez did to get here? If the DH is coming to the NL, could the Mets put Alonso there and Freeman at first? Isn’t it stunning that both fit the Yankees so much better, and a change of ownership at least is going to force us to think about the Mets in connection with all players at the top of the market? Because you can make the case that Scherzer and Lindor also fit the Yankees better.

But other owners have had the wherewithal to dismiss industry norms and mainly haven’t. Instead, the boldest we will see is nudging up a payroll record from time to time. I suspect the same with Cohen. I could see him approving the first $300 million payroll and — if that is the case — as splashy and exciting as, say, signing Correa, Freeman or Kris Bryant would be, I think they are best served spreading it around. Here is how I would do that less alluring exercise (contracts are my guesstimates):

Yusei Kikuchi (two years, $26 million): He turned down a $13 million 2022 option with the Mariners. This would give him that same average for two years — could he get, say, $33 million for three?

Here is a fun game: If you were the Mets and could sign Kikuchi for two at $26 million or give Carlos Rodon one year at $20 million-ish, which way would you go? If Rodon is right, the Mets essentially would have three aces with Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. But is there already so much volatility with the two older aces plus Carlos Carasco that taking on the injury–beset Rodon just adds too much more risk? Think about this: The White Sox were willing to pick up the $16 million option on a reliever, Craig Kimbrel (albeit one they think they can trade), but did not give the one year, $18.4 million qualifying offer to a starter in Rodon. Does the team that knows him best know something the sport in general might not?

Kikuchi has made 70 starts in his three MLB seasons, tied for 23rd and one more than Scherzer. That durability is needed behind deGrom/Scherzer/Carrasco. Kikuchi’s 2021 season was akin to that of the Mets’ other veteran starter, Taijuan Walker. Both were first-time All-Stars, who then devolved to among the worst regularly used starters afterward. Was that a sign of fatigue worsened by coming off a 60-game season in 2020?

Collin McHugh (one year, $8 million)/Ryan Tepera (two years, $16 million): My original thought was to go with a lefty swingman like Kwang Hyun Kim, Martin Perez or Drew Smyly to complement righty Trevor Williams, which would give the Mets length out of the bullpen, tandem starter insurance and more comfort at keeping Tylor Megill and David Peterson at Triple-A for depth. Joey Lucchesi, who likely will miss most of the 2022 season after Tommy John surgery, actually would have been well suited for this task.

But I think Kim and Perez — with low strikeout rates — are too defensive dependent, and new GM Billy Eppler favors strikeout pitchers. Smyly almost certainly will get a full-time opportunity to start somewhere. So with the Mets not having a veteran lefty reliever, this adds righties who suffocate lefties: .429 OPS last year vs. Tepera, .442 for McHugh (the same as another righty relief free agent Brad Boxberger, by the way).

McHugh and Tepera would give a new Mets manager a buffet of late-game options with Edwin, Diaz, Miguel Castro, Seth Lugo and Trevor May — and Lugo and McHugh could be used for multiple innings (McHugh pitched three innings five times last year).

Andrew Miller (one year, $3 million): Andrew Chafin or Jake Diekman may be the safer bet for a pure lefty reliever. But in this case I am betting on the person. The Mets are trying to change culture, and Miller is a terrific clubhouse force. Plus, even in a down year he held lefties to a .545 OPS — which has value in a division with Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper, Washington’s Juan Soto and the potential for a Freeman reunion in Atlanta.

Righties, though, clobbered Miller (1.151 OPS). He’ll pitch at 37 next year. He’s endured injuries. He just may be at the end. But I think it is worth a gamble that he has something left.

Eppler will be familiar with him, having been part of the group that brought Miller to the Yankees after the 2014 season. So he knows Miller is fearless, can handle New York and improves culture.

Brett Gardner (one year, $3 million): Everything Eppler knows about Miller goes for Gardner. But would Gardner keep playing if the Yanks are disinterested in bringing him back (the distance from his Westchester home to Citi Field would be near equidistant to Yankee Stadium)? Would he be willing to Curtis Granderson it across town?

The Mets — with Mark Canha, Starling Marte and Brandon Nimmo — have a starting outfield. They need a real fourth outfielder, not the misplaced Jeff McNeil or Dom Smith. Even playing at 37 last year, Gardner could still field at a high level (including center field) and run. The last two months of the season his slash line was .261/.351/.441. I sense the Canha/Marte additions, in particular, were Eppler addressing a tough Citi Field scoring environment by adding more contact, speed and on-base percentage. Canha, Marte and especially Eduardo Escobar also are known as positive clubhouse personas. Gardner helps in both areas.

That is $35 million more of Cohen’s money for 2022 on Kikuchi, McHugh, Tepera, Miller and Gardner without long-term investment. I think it makes the Mets deeper and better.

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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