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Mets may regret passing on Jackie Bradley Jr. in free agency

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PORT ST. LUCIE — In early February, the Mets held a Zoom meeting with free-agent center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., as a contingent which included team president Sandy Alderson, acting general manager Zack Scott, manager Luis Rojas, hitting coach Chili Davis and outfield coach Tony Tarasco talked about the organization’s vision and ambition.

The Mets’ pursuit of Bradley went no further, according to multiple industry sources. There proved to be no more discussions and never any negotiations with Bradley, who agreed to a two-year, $24 million contract with the Brewers on Thursday. The deal features an opt-out after 2021.

Hence we arrive at another Mets flashpoint, likely the last of their extremely interesting offseason. It’s defensible that, with the designated hitter currently not implemented in the National League for 2021, they opted to stick with their top alignment of Brandon Nimmo in center field, Dominic Smith in left field and Pete Alonso at first base. And it would have been justifiable to disrupt that alignment, be it with a trade to free up at-bats or simply a commitment to some Rojas playing-time razzle-dazzle, to make room for Bradley.

So we’ll watch it play out, the three popular homegrown guys in New York and Bradley in Milwaukee. Just as we’ll monitor how new Mets catcher James McCann fares while J.T. Realmuto, the top receiver on the market, begins his five-year contract with the Phillies.

“We have to balance the offensive production of a player versus what liabilities may exist on the defensive side,” Mets president Sandy Alderson told ESPN Thursday during its broadcast of the Mets’ 8-4 victory over the Nationals at Clover Park. “Rather than just change out personnel, what we’ve tried to do is become more flexible and versatile so that we have players that can platoon if necessary.

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Jackie Bradley Jr. and Sandy Alderson
EPA, Corey Sipkin

“We’ve got several people that can play third base with a range of defensive abilities. The same is true in the outfield. We brought in [Albert] Almora and [Kevin] Pillar. Definitely, we’ve got choices. While some of our players aren’t defensive geniuses, we think that the overall blend that we have is pretty good.”

None of Nimmo, Smith and Alonso qualifies as a genius at his likely Opening Day position. All can provide significant offensive value to, the Mets hope, mitigate their liabilities with the glove. On Thursday, Alonso mashed a fifth-inning grand slam to right-center field off the Nats’ Cole Henry — a fitting “birthday bomb” for his mother Michelle, he explained afterward. Alonso also vowed to keep working on his performance at first base, saying, “I want to learn all the mistakes I’ve made so I can play as cleanly as possible.”

Nimmo, meanwhile, added a homer of his own, a leadoff blast to right field in the first inning, and added an opposite-field base hit in the third and eight-pitch walk in the fifth. We’ve already heard plenty about the team’s faith in new outfield coach Tony Tarasco to optimize the defensive contributions of Nimmo, Smith (who went 0-for-3) and the rest of his charges as well as the notion of lifting Nimmo and Smith for Almora and Pillar late in games the Mets lead.

It all could work. Or the Mets’ defensive issues could undermine their strengths while Bradley becomes a beloved Brewer (in which case he could opt out and give the Mets another shot next winter). As Rojas said on Thursday, defense “is one of the things that we’re working on in this camp. Defensively, we can hurt ourselves. We’ve seen it happen in the past. It happened last year.”

The beauty of these flashpoints comes in their uncertainty and the resulting debate. The Mets lost a bad one last year when they banked on Marcus Stroman, whom they had acquired in a 2019 trade, to outperform Zack Wheeler, whom they let move down to the Phillies. Bradley prevailed easily in a longer-term debate by rewarding the Red Sox for letting Jacoby Ellsbury jump to the rival Yankees.

“We feel great about our team,” Rojas said. “Whatever moves come our way, I think we’ll always be grateful.”

Let’s check back in October and check the gratefulness of the Mets’ fan base for the choices the club made at this fork in the road.

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Bulls’ Zach LaVine called cops on ‘obsessed’ fan at his home

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Zach LaVine had an unwanted visitor.

The Chicago Bulls star had to call the police after an “allegedly obsessed” woman showed up to his Chicago home and refused to leave on Thursday night, according to TMZ. 

The woman reportedly traveled from out of state, demanding to speak with the first-time All-Star, who was home at the time.

Police took her a local hospital for mental evaluation, and she has not been formally arrested or charged with a crime.

LaVine, 25, wrapped up first-half action with the Bulls on Wednesday and was drafted to Kevin Durant’s All-Star side for Sunday’s festivities in Atlanta.

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Blake Griffin a free agent after Pistons buyout

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Blake Griffin will be free to sign with the Nets or another interested NBA team after agreeing to a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons.

The six-time All-Star forward “has interest from most of the NBA’s top playoff contenders and is expected to make a decision on his next team after conversations with prospective teams,” ESPN reported.

The Nets, Lakers, Heat, Warriors and Clippers – his former team — are among those that have expressed interest, according to the New York Times. ESPN.com added that the Blazers are interested

The 31-year-old Griffin hasn’t played since Feb. 12 while the Pistons attempted to trade him before the March 25 deadline, but they found no takers due to the remainder of his $36.6 million salary for this season and the $39 million he’s owed for 2021-22.

Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
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Griffin is averaging a career-low 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20 games this season. He was dealt by the Clippers to Detroit in 2018, during the first season of a five-year extension worth $171 million.



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Broncos send a pretty strong warning to Drew Lock

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Drew Lock is no lock to remain the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2021.

General manager George Paton and coach Vic Fangio both said Thursday that the team expects to bring in competition for Lock, possibly with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft.

“Obviously we’re always looking to bring in players at all positions that can raise the level of competition, and the quarterback is no different in that regard,” Fangio said, according to the team’s website.

“Until we get or until Drew proves to be the next great quarterback, like the ones that the Denver franchise has been used to in years past or certain teams around the league … are used to, we’re going to always try and bring in competition. But I have confidence that Drew can continue to improve.”

Lock made 13 starts in 2020 and tied with Carson Wentz for the league lead with 15 interceptions. He finished 32nd in the league among qualifying quarterbacks with a 75.4 passer rating, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins, Wentz and Sam Darnold.

Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
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“Very talented, was inconsistent at times, has a lot to work on,” Paton said Thursday. “But I’ve spoken with Drew, I see him every day. He’s here early. He’s working. He really wants to be great. And we’re always going to try to bring in competition at every position, and quarterback as well. But I like the track that Drew’s on.”

Lock, the Broncos’ second-round pick in 2019 out of Missouri, had started five games as a rookie, winning four of them. Denver went 4-9 with him as the starter last season.

“I’m confident that Drew’s going to continue to improve,” Fangio said. “Drew’s had a great offseason up to this point. There’s not a lot you can do, but he’s working hard on his own, coming over here and getting workouts, and I know he’s doing a lot at home by himself, watching video by himself. He’s got a good setup over there. And he’s doing anything and everything he can to improve, even in February and now in March.”

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