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Keeping Mets’ third base job has Eduardo Escobar fired up

Eduardo Escobar may not be Carlos Correa, but the Mets would like to believe he’s better than the .726 OPS he brought to the lineup last season.

Quietly, the veteran third baseman suffered emotionally last year, dealing with multiple family matters Mets officials believe affected his play. Those issues began to resolve later in the season, which coincided with a breakout September that earned Escobar National League Player of the Month honors.

“I could tell there was a lot of stuff going on in his life and you could almost tell on the field when it started turning for him,” manager Buck Showalter said in a phone conversation this week.

Showalter declined to detail what Escobar was working through, but added: “It was tough for him. This guy was in my office and he made me cry a couple of times.”

Escobar, 34, is again the team’s third baseman heading to spring training, after the Mets decided Correa’s right ankle wasn’t worth the risk and slashed the guaranteed dollars in their initial $315 million offer over 12 years for the All-Star shortstop. Correa recently returned to the Twins, for whom he played last season, before opting out of the contract he signed with them before last season.

Eduardo Escobar #10 of the New York Mets hits a game-tying 2-RBI infield single during the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field on September 28, 2022 in New York City.
Eduardo Escobar rebounded from a tough season personally last year with an award-winning September, when he hit .340 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 26 games.
Getty Images

The Mets have other options at third base, including Brett Baty, Mark Vientos and perhaps Ronny Mauricio — following a strong winter season in the Dominican Republic — but to Showalter there is clarity heading to Port St. Lucie for camp.

“[Escobar] goes into camp as our third baseman,” Showalter said. “You could make a point, he had how many more RBIs (five) than Correa last year? In a down year for Escobar. When we talked about signing him and what we were looking for him to provide, he provided it, in the clubhouse and [with] no excuses.”

The Mets signed Escobar to a two-year contract worth $20 million last offseason that has a club option for 2024, so there is incentive for him to produce. Another motivating factor may be the presence of Baty, who is regarded among the organization’s top prospects, and awaiting an opportunity.

Escobar called infield coach Joey Cora last week after Correa’s deal with the Mets fizzled. Cora told Showalter it was the most excited he had ever heard Escobar.

Eduardo Escobar #10 of the New York Mets makes a diving stop taking a hit away from Cristian Pache #20 of the Oakland Athletics in the bottom of the ninth inning at RingCentral Coliseum on September 23, 2022 in Oakland, California.
Escobar played 127 games at third base last season for the Mets and heads into spring training as the presumed starter there again after Carlos Correa and the Mets could not come to terms on a contract.
Getty Images

“There’s just a lot of signs pointing up,” Showalter said. “He’s had a lot of challenges that are behind him. I think he knows how much he is appreciated and respected. He’s walking into a clubhouse that — I think he knows the gig.”

Pham gets a hand

Newly signed Tommy Pham, who created a stir last season when he slapped Joc Pederson over a fantasy football dispute, got a ringing endorsement by someone Showalter knows well, former longtime Orioles star outfielder Adam Jones.

Tommy Pham #22 of the Boston Red Sox reacts with Michael Wacha #52 after Pham hit a game-winning walk-off RBI single during the tenth inning of a game against against the New York Yankees on August 12, 2022 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.
Despite his fantasy football controversy with Joc Pederson, Tommy Pham has won the support of many of his teammates over the course of his career.
Getty Images

“Teammates love this guy,” Showalter said of the 34-year-old veteran who signed a one-year, $6 million deal this week. “It’s an adjustment of not playing every day initially, but competition is a good thing.”

Showalter noted that Pham’s hustle will endear him to fans.

“This guy goes down the line,” Showalter said. “He is built like a truck.”

Al Leiter and the broadcasting road not taken

Gary, Ron and Keith could have been Gary, Al and Keith.

Al Leiter, on a Zoom call Thursday to announce his selection to the Mets Hall of Fame — the former pitcher will be inducted on June 3 along with Howard Johnson, Gary Cohen and Howie Rose, with Jay Horwitz receiving a Hall of Fame achievement award — recounted the opportunity he had in 2006 to join the first SNY booth. Cohen and Keith Hernandez were already onboard at the time.

Leiter, who had retired after the previous season (his final appearances were for the Yankees), convened with network brass, including Fred Wilpon, and was offered the job. The hitch was he had to work a full schedule of games. Instead, Leiter accepted the YES Network’s offer to work a package of Yankees games.

Al Leiter, former player and current MLB Network analyst.
Al Leiter had the chance to join SNY’s broadcast booth in 2006, but an inability to agree on a somewhat flexible schedule with the network led the former Mets hurler to join the Yankees’ TV team.
MLB via Getty Images

“Finishing with the Yankees, they had a package for somebody who wanted to be around, but not every day,” Leiter said. “The Yankees offered me something that was manageable for me after playing 19 years in the big leagues, and [SNY] … had different ideas. They didn’t like the idea of a 20-game package here and 30-game package there. That was really the difference.”

SNY officials pivoted and hired Ron Darling, who had spent the previous season in the Nationals television booth. Seventeen seasons later, Darling, Hernandez and Cohen are still together, though Hernandez is now unsigned and will soon resume negotiations on a new contract after rejecting the network’s initial offer.

For Leiter, the SNY impasse added to the frustration he had surrounding his relationship with the Mets. After pitching for the franchise from 1998-2004, he had hoped to finish his career with the team because he wanted to win 100 games for them. Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Dwight Gooden are the only pitchers with as many wins for the Mets. Leiter never received an offer to return, leaving him at 95 victories with the club.

“I was very upset,” Leiter said. “They had some other ideas, and I was mad with [general manager] Omar Minaya for many years. We are now good friends — I mention that because I do like Omar — but I wanted to finish a Met and it mattered to me.”

And then there were 13

One of the New York Mets baseball stars, Frank Thomas.
Frank Thomas’ 34 home runs in 1962 stood as the Mets’ single-season homer record until Dave Kingman hit 36 in 1975.
Getty Images

Thirteen “Original Mets” remain following the death of Frank Thomas this week at age 93. Thomas played for the Mets’ first team in 1962 and hit 34 homers — a franchise single-season record that stood until 1975.

The remaining Original Mets: Craig Anderson, Joe Christopher, Galen Cisco, Cliff Cook, Roger Craig, John DeMerit, Rick Herrscher, Jay Hook, Ed Kranepool, Hobie Landrith, Ken MacKenzie, Felix Mantilla and Jim Marshall.

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