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NEW YORK (AP) — Pete Alonso has been full of surprises during a memorable rookie season with the Mets. For fans in his new home city, his gesture Wednesday night might be the biggest home run yet.

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Alonso coordinated the purchase and production of custom 9/11 cleats for Mets players to wear on the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The shoes were painted red, white and blue and included “We will never forget” and lettering for first responder units.

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Following the Mets’ 9-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, Alonso said he wanted to design hats the Mets could wear on the field, but that idea was rejected by Major League Baseball, which hasn’t allowed the Mets to wear first responder hats during games since 2001.

“I think it’s kind of sad that first game back, they’ve kind of shot it down every single year since,” Alonso said. “It’s real unfortunate. So a way to kind of get around that was the cleats.”

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Alonso said he went around the Mets locker room and collected shoe sizes and preferred brands for each teammate. He said he didn’t contact Major League Baseball about the cleats.

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It’s no secret that eSports is slowly becoming the next big institution, which The Source got to experience in-person during the 2019 NBA 2K League Draft back in March. Sportswear stalwart Champion is now jumping into the game by dropping custom baseball jerseys that will release exclusively via NTWRK tonight in a webisode hosted by YBN Cordae and Slim Jxmmi of Rae Sremmurd.

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MLB Players Weekend returned for its third year on Friday, and fans are roasting the league’s decision to introduce solid black and white Players Weekend jerseys for every team in 2019.

In the past, teams wore special edition jerseys for Players Weekend, but still retained their usual team colors. This weekend, every baseball game on television will be almost indistinguishable, and you might forget which teams are playing if you aren’t paying attention to the scoreboard.

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The Cubs, thankfully, wore their usual blue caps on Friday to add a splash of color to their game against the Nationals. For teams wearing solid white, however, it’s nearly impossible to read the logos and nicknames on each jersey. If you’re checking out highlights from across the league, every game looks the same.

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The featured teams that get their own sports gear include Renegades, Counter Logic Gaming, Spacestation Gaming, Dignitas and Optic Training — the latter being our personal favorite design. The graphics are incorporated onto Ultrafuse baseball jerseys, and feature various etchings, detailing and team logos that call to mind real-life athletic apparel. As this current institution that’s continually intersecting the worlds of gaming and sports culture grows at a rapid rate, make sure to get up on game early by grabbing up one for yourself. Which team will you align with?

Log into the NTWRK app to watch the episode and shop these Champion eSports Jerseys for $80 USD, followed by a wider release at Champs Sports, Foot Locker, Footaction & Eastbay on Thursday (May 2). See all the options below:

“I feel like if Major League Baseball kind of got their hands on it, it may not have been approved,” Alonso said. “But I’m really happy that we kind of banded together here in the clubhouse and made something cool happen.”

The cleats were just the latest in Alonso’s efforts to assist those impacted by the attacks. After winning the All-Star Home Run Derby in July, Alonso donated $50,000 of his $1 million prize to the Tunnels to Towers Foundation.

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Prior to the first pitch Wednesday night, children who lost parents or grandparents to 9/11-related illnesses ran to each position before being joined by the Mets’ starters. Alonso gave autographed baseballs to the two children at first base.

“It’s not just the victims, it’s the scars left behind, like someone missing their mom or missing their dad,” Alonso said. “For me, I can’t imagine what that’s like. The toll isn’t necessarily all taken on that day, it’s progressively after because there’s not someone there in their family. It’s different from then on.”

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Both the Mets and Diamondbacks wore first responder hats during batting practice, then lined up on their respective baselines alongside firefighters, police and EMTs prior to the national anthem.

The Mets ended the game with nine runs on 11 hits.

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Javier Baez led the Chicago Cubs with just 11 stolen bases in 2019 and one way for the team to get better is to steal more bases next season.
In a boom or bust offense the past couple of years, the Chicago Cubs have struggled to consistently score runs. in 2018, they finished tied for dead last with the Baltimore Orioles in games scoring 1 or fewer runs. The team finished with the fourth-highest OBP (0.333) but couldn’t get the runs in, outside of hope and a prayer for a long ball.

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Flash forward to 2019 and it looked eerily similar, which makes sense given that the only notable roster change was the addition of Daniel Descalso. The Cubs, as a team, posted the eighth-highest OBP (0.331) but finished with just 45 stolen bases, which was second-worst in baseball ahead of the American League leaders in home runs in the Minnesota Twins.

And while I look back to the 2016 season in which the team finished with just 66 stolen bases, the same number as 2018, a good argument can be made that the World Series roster had a more dynamic offense. That team was capable of manufacturing runs in nearly every way other than just the home run. Also looking back to the 2016 season, the St. Louis Cardinals finished with the second-fewest stolen bases (35) and finished with an 86-76 record, just two games better than the 2019 Cubs. Interesting.

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In an offseason that should finally see some changes, one area that the Cubs should look to improve next season is swiping more bases. Javier Baez led the way with 11 stolen bases, followed by Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo with 8 and 5, respectively. That’s pretty bad and while the offensive woes go way beyond just stolen bases, getting runners closer to scoring position would take less pressure off each hitter.

The problem is the current roster doesn’t have the makeup for a team that will be successful in stealing 70+ bases in 2020. There’s no rhyme or reason why 70 was chosen, it’s just a number I would like for them to target. If Nico Hoerner becomes the everyday second baseman, he certainly has some speed on the base paths, as he stole 8 of them in 75 games with Double-A Tennessee, which projects to approximately 17 over 162 games. But Theo Epstein is going to have to take a long look at this roster and likely have to sacrifice some home run power for contact hitters.

A couple who rented their Arizona home to Theo Epstein during spring training in 2015 has filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Cubs president, alleging his dog’s excessive urination damaged their home, according to the Phoenix New TImes.

John and Mary Valentino rented out their Paradise Valley, Arizona, home to Epstein in February and March 2015, when the Cubs were at spring training. Epstein, his wife, two children and 10-pound dog, Winston, stayed at the home.

With the league championship series now underway, we are inching closer and closer to the true beginning of the offseason. Shortly after the World Series ends, player movement begins. The Cubs are likely to use every possible avenue to find players they think can help them a championship over the two remaining seasons of Theo Epstein’s leadership, which of course includes trades.

What’s different about this year is that the Cubs could actually trade major league talent for more major league talent. Then again, they could also use their minor league system to acquire both short- and long-term assets. Yes, you heard that correctly. Despite what you may have been told, the Cubs do actually have enough depth in the system to make deals.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be looking to part with guys like Brailyn Marquez, Brennen Davis, or Miguel Amaya, but there are plenty more who could be moved in the right deal. In fact, if we break it down by position, the Cubs have three very strong position groups in the minors from which they could move players without affecting the system that much.
Right-handed starting pitching

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From Triple-A all the way down to Eugene, the Cubs have plenty of depth with righty starters. While they technically do not have what might be seen as a top-of-the-rotation guy just yet, there are several big arms they’ve taken in the past two years that other teams might see as an asset to their organization.

A few weeks ago, I tried to figure out which starting pitchers were going to each affiliate for 2020. It was a cluster[bleep] of a thought process. There were so many guys that I just gave up after like 10 minutes. When you draft 27 arms in the 2019 draft class, that will happen.

Catchers
Pardon my French, but the Cubs have catchers coming out their ass. They could deal two or three and still have enough backstops throughout the system. When the Cubs protect a few top prospects for the 40-man roster next month, expect to see Miguel Amaya and PJ Higgins on that list.

The Cubs are just loaded with defensive backstops beyond those two, including Luis Sojo, Jhohnny Pereda, and Erick Gonzalez. Then there are two very young and highly touted catchers they acquired last summer in Ethan Hearn (draft) and Ronnier Quintero (international free agency). Both will be in the lower levels of the system next year.

According to the report, Winston “peed prolifically” in the home, staining the floors, wood door jams, cabinets and furniture while leaving a terrible odor. The Epsteins also allegedly left holes in the drywall, broke cabinet handles, tore a shower curtain and grill cover and more.

Epstein and his family moved out of the home early, per the report, due to a scorpion infestation on the property he claimed the landlords failed to address.

The Valentinos did not refund Epstein’s $5,000 deposit, and reportedly sent Epstein a repair estimate of $51,405 in 2017. They claim they have been unable to rent the property since, and that urine “penetrated through the carpeting and pad to the slab.”

“The Valentinos attempted to re-mediate the premises through major cleaning, power washing the patio and walls, having the carpet cleaned and treated, having the tile cleaned and treated, fumigating the premises and replacing the air cleaners and touching the paint,” the lawsuit said, via the New Times.

Epstein denied the allegations through Julian Green, the Cubs’ vice president of communications, who called the lawsuit “baseless.” Epstein claims his family found the urine stains after moving into the home.

“This frivolous lawsuit would have you believe a 10-pound rescue puppy transformed into a nightmarish Levitan from the 1984 Alice Cooper horror movie and went on a rampage in the rental property,” Green said, via the New Times. “The truth is the real horror story was the house and inhabited creatures that put this family at risk every time they put their children to sleep.”

Whether the allegations are true, Epstein has publicly admitted to having trouble with his dog peeing in the house before.

“Um, I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in the house,” Epstein told ESPN’s Buster Olney in 2016.

It’s the same logic as when they acquired Nick Castellanos, who is not known for his defense but the Cubs were willing to sacrifice some defense because his bat more than made up for it. And to be honest, he was one of the few bats that was consistently hitting down the stretch.

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So how do they improve this?

Epstein will have to target one or two players in free agency and/or trades that can be useful in improving the dynamic of the lineup. One player that I would personally like to see them go after is Starling Marte of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is under contract, albeit two club options, through the 2021 season and is owed $24 million over the next two seasons. Add to that he would be traded within the division, so Theo would have to get creative to acquire him.

However, the Pirates are, seemingly, now in a full rebuild and under a new manager next season so they could potentially make some veteran players available. Marte finished with a strong 0.295/0.342/0.503 line with 31 doubles, 6 triples, 23 home runs, 82 RBI, and 25 stolen bases. The Cubs have a huge need in centerfield right now with the underperforming Albert Almora and questionable future of Ian Happ.

Happ looked like a somewhat improved player once he returned from Iowa last season as he had a 25 percent strikeout rate in 58 games with the team, which was down from his 36.1 percent in 2018. He doesn’t offer a lot in the stolen base department as he had just 8 over the course of a full season in 2018 and could be moved as part of a trade package.

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Another player that makes a lot of sense and would kill two birds with one stone is Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield, who led the American League in hits as the Royals leadoff hitter. He also stole 20 bases and played in all 162 games which would be a remarkable improvement. He’s extremely versatile as well and could potentially play right field permanently for the Cubs if Castellanos is not retained. Merrifield logged over 630 innings in the outfield this season, so it wouldn’t be a reach either. He’s under contract through the 2023 season at an extremely team-friendly deal of just $4.1 million AAV.

NEXT: Offseason priority of finding a leadoff hitter
As I said, Epstein will have to get creative this offseason to fix the offensive woes. The issues with the starting pitching are known and acknowledged but a slight tweak to the offense could get them back on track.

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Although the 2019 season just ended, the Braves already have some difficult decisions to make for 2020. Some of those initial decisions will focus on the four players on whom the Braves hold team options for the 2020 season. These decisions will have a significant impact in shaping the Braves’ focus and priorities this offseason.

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First, it is important to consider how options work and how they should be viewed. There are three main types of contract options: player option, team option, and mutual option. The difference in the three is who gets to make the decision whether the option is exercised. All the Braves’ options except for Billy Hamilton’s are team options, meaning that the team gets to decide whether they exercise the option under the parameters in the contract. Hamilton has a mutual option, meaning that both sides would need to agree to exercise the option, but you’ll see later that this is of little significance. (In fact, mutual options are basically a placebo, as Sam Miller notes here, fewer than five percent, or literally four all-time have ever been picked up by both sides, and one of those four was picked up 18 months in advance.)

Each option under consideration for the Braves includes a buyout. This means that the team must pay this amount regardless of whether they exercise the option. For example, a $7 million option with a $2 million buyout would mean that the team will have to pay the player $2 million regardless of whether or not they retain his services for the following season. The decision is whether they want to pay the additional $5 million to keep that player on the roster for the next season (not an additional $7 million on top of the $2 million).

This wrinkle is critical in determining whether a team should exercise the option. The correct question is, “Is this player worth the option cost minus the buyout amount?” (in our example, is the player worth $5 million – i.e. $7 million option minus $2 million buyout?). The team is already on the hook the buyout amount, so if they decline the option, the $5 million is all that has been saved, and this amount can be used to fill that roster spot, externally or internally.

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Now that you’re an expert on options, let’s look at the options that the Braves must consider:

Julio Teheran
Option: $12 million option for the 2020 season with a $1 million buyout

2019 season: 174 2⁄3 IP, 3.81 ERA, 4.66 FIP, 5.26 xFIP, 1.6 fWAR

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Teheran has a 3.67 career ERA in nine season with the Braves and is still somehow only 28 years old. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Teheran provided solid results for the Braves in 2019 and ate a lot of innings for a rotation that was fluid for much of the season. He tied for the team lead in innings pitched, and a respectable 3.81 ERA and 1.6 fWAR provided decent value for a back-of-rotation starter.

However, Teheran outperformed his peripherals by a good margin. His 5.26 xFIP was the highest in the NL and his 11% walk rate was third-highest in baseball among qualified pitchers. All his breaking pitches had below-average movement, and his fastball was in the 10th percentile in average velocity, per Statcast.

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Why are his peripherals important to the decision of whether to exercise Teheran’s option? Because the decision must be based 100 percent on how the team thinks he will perform in 2020, and these peripherals can be predictive. In other words, Teheran’s peripherals suggest that he had luck on his side in 2019, and the Braves shouldn’t throw $11 million at a pitcher that relies on luck so heavily to make his results decent.

The Atlanta Braves failed to advance to the next round of the 2019 playoffs, and with how this current series is playing out, it sure is irritating.
As a devoted Atlanta Braves fan — and admittingly still a discouraged one — there are a few different routes I could take when discussing the current National League Championship Series between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals.

If you hadn’t noticed, the Cards are just a loss away from getting swept in the NLCS, now down 3-0 after Monday’s 8-1 defeat.

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They’re getting dominated to the tune of a minus-11 run differential in the current series, as the Nats have outscored the Redbirds 13-2 over these first three games.

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This should make Braves Country happy, right?

This is the same Cardinals team that unleashed a record amount of runs in the opening inning of an elimination game versus the Braves, quickly ending our team’s postseason experience in less than 30 minutes last Wednesday.

Even more, this is also a Cardinals team that beamed our best player — Ronald Acuna Jr. — because of course a 10-0 first-inning lead just wasn’t good enough.

And there were plenty more acts of kindness from the Cards, including an interesting Game 5 postgame speech by their leader, manager Mike Shildt, who felt like the Braves started something during last week’s NLDS.

Maybe karma really is such a thing?

But this isn’t about that. Sure, I’m rooting for an early Cardinals exit versus the Nationals, but this piece is less to do with that and more about something else.

That something else is the fact that I believe the Atlanta Braves could’ve given the Nationals a better fight thus far. More specifically, I don’t think our Braves would be down three games in the NLCS, with only 9 total hits in three games.

We could play the what-if game all day:

What if reliever Chris Martin didn’t get hurt?
What if Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis didn’t struggle so much in the NLDS?
What if Mike Foltynewicz could’ve gotten through the first inning of Game 5 unscathed?
I’m not one to dwell too much on the past, but watching the Nationals repeatedly outplay the Cards… it does make you wonder.

I mean, just look at how each contest has played out…

Game 1, Friday

Washington’s Anibal Sanchez carries a no-hitter into the 8th inning, as the Cards manage just one hit. The Nats shut St. Louis out, 2-0.

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Game 2, Saturday

Once again, Washington’s pitching is too much for the Cards. The Redbirds manage just one hit versus Max Scherzer, and only two overall, as Mad Max and the Nationals win 3-1. Scherzer punches out 11 in seven innings of pure domination.

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Game 3, Monday

This time St. Louis manages 7 hits, but Stephen Strasburg still strikes out 12 and the Nationals’ lineup scores four runs on Cardinals’ ace, Jack Flaherty. Washington’s Howie Kendrick hits three doubles and the Nats win 8-1.

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The @Nationals are the 1st team since the 1966 Orioles to allow 2 R or fewer through the first 3 games in a best-of-7 #postseason series.

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I’m not guaranteeing the Braves would’ve done better… but these aren’t competitive games — not in the least.

And it’s a shame that the Nationals will more than likely cruise right on to a World Series bid, the first time Washington has sent a team there since 1933 (when the Senators faced the New York Giants).

Also, considering only one team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit — the Red Sox in 2004 — it’s practically inevitable that the Nationals will compete for a World Championship this year. Which, obviously, they deserve.

The Braves didn’t get it done this year, and that’s just the way things ended up. It wasn’t any one thing, as there were numerous reasons for the team’s failure (as there is generally every year).

Heck, I may be way off here. The Braves’ lineup didn’t exactly do all that great versus the Nationals’ postseason rotation (even though previous performance shouldn’t count for much, theoretically):

Sanchez: 5 starts, 3.41 ERA
Scherzer: 2 starts, 3.27 ERA
Strasburg: 4 starts, 4.07 ERA
But as I’ve watched the primacy and one-sidedness of this year’s NLCS, there’s just this feeling that it would be different if the Braves were involved. Call me a homer, but at this point in the year… it really doesn’t matter.

NEXT: Report Cards
What do you think? Do you believe the Atlanta Braves would’ve been a more competitive opponent for the Nationals in the NLCS?

(Even if you believe that Teheran can outperform his peripherals to a substantial extent, his FIP-ERA gap in 2019 was 0.85, whereas for his career, it’s only been 0.56. His 2019 xFIP-ERA gap was 1.45; for his career, it’s 0.70. Regardless of whether Teheran can consistently outperform his peripherals, there’s no arguing that he did so to an extreme extent in 2019, and failing to do so again in 2020 would have adverse impacts on his run prevention.)

The biggest indication of how the Braves view Teheran is how he was used (or not used) in the last two postseasons. Teheran was not given a start and was only used in mop-up duty in both postseasons. He didn’t even initially make the postseason roster this season and was added only after Chris Martin was injured. A pitcher that has not been trusted in the postseason seems unlikely to be given $11 million.

Teheran has done some great things in Atlanta and has been a consummate professional and competitor in a Braves uniform. However, the Braves could spend $11 million more wisely than exercising his option. That said, I would not be surprised if the Braves declined Teheran’s option and tried to work out a less expensive deal to keep him.

Nick Markakis
Option: $6 million option for the 2020 season with a $2 million buyout

2019 season: .285/.356/.420, 9 HR, .332 wOBA, 102 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR

Markakis is coming off a less than inspiring season. He was slightly above average offensively (102 wRC+) and below average defensively (-2 Outs Above Average, -4 Defensive Runs Saved, -6 Ultimate Zone Rating) which led to an overall production slightly above replacement level (0.4 fWAR).

Markakis does have some value as a corner outfielder who hits right-handed pitching well. Additionally, with top prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters likely to be knocking on the door to the big leagues soon, the Braves probably do not want to dole out any big long-term contracts to outfielders this offseason. Having a veteran outfielder like Markakis on a one-year deal would certainly be a good fit for the Braves.

If I had any confidence that the Braves would use Markakis as a platoon player and pinch hitter against right-handed pitchers, I might be inclined to advocate for exercising his option. However, as long as Markakis is on the active roster, Brian Snitker will start him and bat him fifth in the lineup as routinely as he brushes his teeth every night before going to bed. The Braves can find other options that are just as good as or better than Markakis at probably a lower cost. Just like when the team signed Matt Joyce for $1 million this season (and I would much rather bring Joyce back than Markakis), there are usually some slightly above replacement-level outfielders out there that could help the team wean themselves off their Markakis addiction.

However, given this organization’s admiration of Markakis, I would not be surprised at all to see the Braves exercise Markakis’ option. I could see them deciding that they would like Markakis to serve as a mentor for and bridge to the young prospects and would rather focus their resources on third base, pitching, and catcher. While I don’t think this would be the worst decision they could make, it would be a big mistake to continue to start and hit a 36 year-old replacement-level player in the heart of the lineup on a team that is trying to win a World Series.