Are Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario the Next Wright and Reyes?

By Ethan Marshall

 

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David Wright and Jose Reyes celebrating the Mets division title in 2006.  Photo credit: Ron Antonelli.

The left side of the Mets infield played a big role in making them playoff contenders from 2005 to 2008.  Jose Reyes, nicknamed “Mr. Excitement,” presented a threat to opposing pitchers and catchers every time he got on base.  He provided life at the top of the lineup. So often would he start the first inning with a single and a stolen base or a triple before scoring, that the term “Reyes run” was used to refer to this.  Over this four-year period, Reyes stole a combined 258 bases, leading the league in that category in all but one year, including a franchise-record 78 stolen bases in 2007.  He had no fewer than 190 hits in any of these seasons.  In 2008, he posted a league-best 204 hits.  Reyes also combined for 65 triples, leading the league in that category in three of the four years.

While Reyes provided the speed, Wright provided the power.  He hit 116 home runs and drove in 449 runs over that span.  He finished fourth in MVP-voting in 2007, when he had a 30-30 year, batted .325, slugged .546 and had an OBP of .416.  It became a familiar sight for Mets fans to see David Wright driving in Jose Reyes.  Not since Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry in the 1980s had there been such a talented and admired duo of Mets. The young dynamic duo seemed destined for Hall of Fame careers, but injuries kept sidelining them, likely ruining their chances.

While the two have been reunited as teammates on the Mets, Wright has yet to take the field since Reyes was signed to replace his injured buddy.  Injuries have kept the captain sidelined for over a year, but he recently took a big step forward when he was cleared to resume baseball activities.  Reyes has been vocal of how much he misses Wright, and is optimistic that the captain will play this season.

While Strawberry and Gooden were terrific athletes in their Mets careers, they didn’t get along as well as many people actually believed.  Throughout their baseball careers, David Wright and Jose Reyes have been known to be very close friends.  Reyes often described their bond as similar to that of brothers.

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Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario hanging out together during Spring Training.  Photo credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images.

Now, 13 years after Wright and Reyes shared the left side of the infield for the first time, a new young duo has appeared in Queens.  Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, the Mets top two prospects, have now made their MLB debuts.  Their relationship in the minors was very similar to that of Wright’s and Reyes’.  After the game in which Smith made his MLB debut and Rosario hit his first career homer, both players spoke highly of each other and described the bond they shared as akin to that of brothers, just as Wright and Reyes have described their relationship.

Many Mets fans have already expressed that the new duo reminds them in both skills and personalities of those of Wright and Reyes.  Like Reyes at his age, Rosario is a speedy shortstop with strong defensive skills and the potential to be a great hitter.  Reyes has even become a mentor to Rosario since Spring Training, texting him almost every day.  Since Rosario’s promotion to the Mets, he and Reyes are often spotted fooling around and having fun together.  They both have a youthful and bubbly personality, making them likable in the clubhouse.

While Dominic Smith doesn’t play the same position as Wright, he has shown the same defensive ability as a young Wright.  Perhaps the biggest similarity between the two is their ability to use the whole field effectively.  Smith has shown strong opposite-field power in AAA Vegas this season, something Wright made a career doing (until Citi Field opened, designed basically against him with a deep rightfield).  Both Smith and Wright showed a strong maturity despite their young ages.  Perhaps Wright can become a mentor to Smith in the same way Reyes has for Rosario.

Whether or not Rosario and Smith can be as successful as Wright and Reyes, while also avoiding the constant injuries that slowed down the latter two, has yet to be seen.  They haven’t played a month in the big leagues, but the hype surrounding them is very similar to when Reyes and Wright were top prospects.  Time will tell whether or not they live up to the expectations presented to them.

 

The Bruce is Loose

By Ethan Marshall

 

The Mets’ trade of Jay Bruce to the Indians speaks a lot about the state of the organization right now.  Ownership appears to be focused more on saving money than getting valuable prospects in return.  While the trades of Lucas Duda to the Rays and Addison Reed to the Red Sox allowed for the Mets to save money too, the prospects received in return may prove valuable pieces of the Mets bullpen in the near future.  All of the young arms the Mets acquired in these trades are described as throwing in the mid-to-upper-90s by scouts.  All three of the pitchers acquired for Reed are hard-throwing 22-year-olds.  However, some of the pitchers are further along in their development than others.

The pitcher the Mets received for Jay Bruce, Ryder Ryan, wasn’t even a ranked prospect in the Indians’ system.  A 30th round pick, Ryan has posted a 4.50 ERA in two minor league seasons.  Considering how solid Bruce has been this season, this trade is mind-boggling.  According to Ken Rosenthal, the Mets were focused more on getting a team to pick up the $5 million remaining on Bruce’s contract than to receive decent prospects in return.  This is further shown by the fact that the Yankees were willing to give the Mets multiple prospects who were much better than Ryan in exchange for Bruce if the Mets were willing to take on 4/5 of his salary.

For several years, Mets fans have complained about the Wilpons preferring to pad their own wallets rather than improving the team they own.  This trade has only added more fuel to this notion.  As far as MLB contracts are concerned, $5 million isn’t that much money.  If the goal is to save money for free agent signings in the upcoming offseason, the Mets could’ve (and should’ve) taken the Yankees offer, which allowed them to save some money while also gain valuable prospects in return.  By trading Bruce for what likely amounts to a player who will never see the MLB, the Mets wasted one of their most valuable trade chips.  They likely would’ve received a better return by keeping Bruce and giving him a qualifying offer at the end of the season.

 

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Drew Smith pitching for the Rays’ Advanced A Charlotte Stone Crabs.  Photo Credit: Dilip Sridhar.

Drew Smith was Tampa Bay’s 30th ranked prospect when he was traded, with a fastball that could reach 98 m.p.h.  He has pitched well at each level in the minors, posting a career 1.74 ERA with 141 strikeouts in 129 innings.  While he was assigned by the Mets to AA Binghamton, Smith could play a valuable role for the team in 2018.

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Stephen Nogosek pitching for the Oregon Ducks college baseball team.  Photo credit: Mark Humphrey.

Stephen Nogosek may be the furthest from being major-league ready among the young arms the Mets received from Boston.  However, he was also the highest-rated among the three pitchers acquired for Reed, at number 18.  He was assigned to High-A St. Lucie upon his acquisition.  He’s posted a 3.27 ERA with 99 strikeouts in 85.1 innings pitched in the minors.  The main point of concern for Nogosek right now is that he has control problems, with a career 3.5 walks per nine innings.  While he clocks in as reaching 96 miles per hour, his fastball has no movement whatsoever.

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Jamie Callahan pitching for the Red Sox low-A affiliate Lowell Spinners.  Photo credit: Jonathan Raymond.

Jamie Callahan may debut for the Mets as early as September.  He’s currently pitching for AAA Las Vegas.  In 376 career minor league innings, Callahan has posted a 4.79 ERA with 365 strikeouts.  His velocity typically sits in the mid-90s.  He was ranked as the 23rd-best prospect in the Red Sox system.  Since being moved from a starter to a reliever, his velocity has increased from the low-90s to the mid-to-upper-90s.  He has a great splitter that has become his out-pitch.  However, like Nogosek, Callahan has very little movement on his four-seamer and has control issues, with 4 walks per nine innings in 28 innings pitched this season.

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Gerson Bautista pitching for the Red Sox organization.  Photo credit: Kelly O’Connor.

 

Gerson Bautista has a 2.73 ERA with 167 strikeouts in 198 innings in his minor league career thus far.  He was ranked as the 28th-best prospect in the Red Sox farm system upon being traded.  Along with Nogosek, Bautista was assigned to High-A St. Lucie.  He’s shown the ability to reach 100 miles per hour at times, but also has control problems, with 4.1 walks per nine innings in his career.  While he does have a slider that sits in the high 80s, he hasn’t mastered the pitch yet.  The slider can prove to be very effective if he can get better control and movement from it.  Another issue is that he was suspended in 2013 for testing positive for PED use.

The trade of Bruce may also signify the Mets may not be that interested in attempting to re-sign him in the offseason.  While the Mets recently said they believe Michael Conforto could play centerfield in the long term, this trade may mean they will be pursuing a centerfielder in the offseason and move Conforto to rightfield.  As a result, the Mets may be more focused on pursuing Lorenzo Cain than Jay Bruce this winter.

The Mets basically traded Bruce for money.  Players who are usually traded for cash are usually minor leaguers who may have had cups of coffee in the majors, not star players. The one positive thing to come out of this trade is that, unlike the Rangers with Ernesto Frieri, the Mets didn’t trade Bruce for $1.

Feature on PEDs

By Ethan Marshall

 

*Editor’s note: While David Ortiz and Ivan Rodriguez were suspected of PED-use, they were not named in the Mitchell Report.  This article has been updated to correct this factual error.

 

For almost two decades, Major League Baseball turned its head away from players using performance-enhancing drugs.  While steroids were put on MLB’s banned substance list in 1991, players weren’t tested until 2003.  Even after testing began, many players continued to use the banned substance.

The poster boys of baseball’s steroid era included Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez.  While each of these players compiled career numbers that would’ve made them worthy of being inducted into Cooperstown, their use of the banned substance gave them an unfair advantage, thus inflating their numbers.   Each of these players, excluding A-Rod, were among the 89 names mentioned in the 2007 Mitchell Report.

The Mitchell Report resulted from an investigation into steroid and human growth hormone use in MLB by US Senator George Mitchell over a span of 20 months.  The report discussed the ineffectiveness of the MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program of stopping or reducing PED-use in the game.  It also provided recommendations for MLB to use as punishments for players who failed their drug tests.

Despite the fact that all the big names on the Mitchell Report have since retired, the controversy surrounding these players’ legacies is very relevant today.  Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro and Sosa have all appeared on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.  McGwire fell off the ballot after 2015, never reaching even 25% of the vote.  Palmeiro didn’t receive enough votes to stay on the ballot for the 10-year eligibility.  While Sosa’s name is still on the ballot, he received less than 10% of the votes in the most recent ballot.

What separates Bonds, Clemens and A-Rod from McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro is the view by many sportswriters that these three players were already Cooperstown-worthy before they began taking PEDs.  Some sportswriters believe these players belong in the Hall, but their plaques should have an asterisk and say these players took PEDs.

George Vecsey, a longtime sportswriter for The New York Times, has his own opinions on whether or not players who took PEDs belong in the Hall.  “If there’s real evidence on them, I would have trouble voting for them,” Vecsey said.  “I would have trouble voting for anybody that I’m convinced was caught.  I wouldn’t vote for [Bonds and Clemens].  As long as the vote is a subjective vote of writers having to define Hall of Fame eligibility and the degree of usage, I wouldn’t vote for them.”

As for his opinion on A-Rod, Vecsey is adamantly against him being voted in.  A-Rod was found to have taken PEDs twice since stricter drug testing was introduced to the league.  “He was quite manipulative, he cheated and he lied,” Vecsey said.

Vecsey believes any player who has ever tested positive for PEDs doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.  He says that players who took PEDs essentially sold their souls to the devil.  They put their morals aside for the sake of becoming a star ballplayer.

Vecsey also emphasizes that evidence should be provided if a player was accused of taking PEDs.  “Proof is important,” Vecsey said.  He pointed to Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell as examples.  While both were accused of PED-use, they never failed a drug test and little to no evidence has been provided to support these claims.  As a result, he feels they belong in the Hall of Fame.  “I’d vote for Piazza and Bagwell.”

Vecsey is a bit skeptical of some of the names listed on the Mitchell Report.  “I think the Mitchell Report was a little bit dicey,” Vecsey said.

Vecsey doesn’t believe some of the players accused or linked to PED-use, like David Ortiz or Ivan Rodriguez actually took PEDs.  According to Vecsey, there isn’t much evidence to prove players like them took PEDs.  “The fact that [Ortiz] was mentioned in the Mitchell Report, that’s not enough for me.”  However, Ortiz was not named named in the Mitchell Report, though he was one of the players who tested positive in a screening process in 2003, on the condition of anonymity.  Rodriguez was accused of being injected with steroids by Jose Canseco in his book Juiced, but he also has many other recollections throughout the book that have been proven to be historically false.

Vecsey compared PED-use to amphetamine-use during the 1950s, 60s and 70s.  While he believes players who took amphetamines should be considered for the Hall of Fame, he doesn’t share that feeling for PED-users.  Amphetamines weren’t exactly performance-enhancers.  They were more similar to pep pills than steroids.  Vecsey knew many players who used to take amphetamines before ball games, including the great Willie Mays and Pete Rose.  “A teammate of Rose once told me that the funniest thing he ever saw in baseball was Pete Rose’s ‘greenies’ kicking in during a rain delay,” Vecsey said.  “The guy was bouncing off the walls in the clubhouse.”

Amphetamines were particularly popular in the 60s.  “People tell me anecdotally that the best players in baseball in the 1960s took amphetamines,” Vecsey said.  “It was in the culture.  It wasn’t the right or wrong issue, it was the health issue.  Nobody wanted to know, including me.  I didn’t care for a long time.”  Some players even referred to amphetamines as “a major league cup of coffee.”

In the hypothetical scenario in which a player already in the Hall of Fame is later found to have taken PEDs throughout their career, Vecsey believes the player shouldn’t be booted from Cooperstown.  “It’s what you know at the time,” Vecsey said.  “I think I’d have trouble with going backwards.”

Vecsey believes that when the older writers who vote on the Hall of Fame are gone, it is likely that Bonds, Clemens and A-Rod will eventually get voted into Cooperstown.  New writers will arise that won’t have the experience of the previous generation of covering the PED era and its aftermath.  “They don’t have the memory of being assigned to report on this stuff, and being lied to and ridiculed for asking questions,” Vecsey said.  While he doesn’t like it, he feels it’s almost inevitable.

Juliet Macur, another sportswriter for The New York Times, shares similar beliefs to those of Vecsey.  “I personally don’t feel [PED users] belong in the Hall of Fame,” Macur said.  “I don’t think it’s fair for someone who broke the rules to belong in the Hall of Fame.  They’re breaking the rules of the game.  They took a look at the rules, they knew it was illegal and they went ahead and did it anyway.”

Macur feels that if a player already in the Hall of Fame is later found to have taken PEDs, there should be an asterisk put on their plaque to identify them as PED-users.  “I don’t think they should be kicked out because it would be too much of a circus,” Macur said.  “Once you’re voted in, you should stay in, but if there is evidence that’s shown a player has broken the rules, the Hall of Fame should mention that.”

Macur is happy with MLB’s current drug testing program.  The fact that one failed test would cost a player almost one-third of the season shows MLB takes these tests very seriously.  A three-time offender gets a lifetime ban from playing in the MLB.  “They have a very rigorous drug test,” Macur said.

As far as amphetamines are concerned, Macur doesn’t believe they’re as bad as other PEDs.  Macur doesn’t feel they have as much of an overall impact as other drugs, such as steroids.  “When it comes to athletic performance and what drugs should be banned, amphetamines are pretty low on the list for me,” Macur said.  “Steroids and human-growth-hormones are probably way up there for me.”

While she isn’t happy about it, Macur believes that Bonds, Clemens and A-Rod will eventually get into the Hall Of Fame.  She is especially against Rodriguez getting in.  “I quite personally can’t believe Alex Rodriguez would ever get into the Hall of Fame because he lied several times about his drug use,” Macur said.  “Several times he said he never used drugs before admitting to it twice.  He’s a complete liar who made a joke out of drug testing and the sport and everything about athletes having any integrity.  But he’s a really good play-by-play announcer.”

Macur thinks it won’t be long before Bonds and Clemens are voted into Cooperstown.  “I think in another five or ten years, maybe even earlier, with younger people on the panel who have forgotten what it really was like to have guys break records without using steroids at the time, will care less and less about performance-enhancing drug use in sports and vote them in,” Macur said.

Macur thinks if and when Bonds, Clemens and Rodriguez are elected to the Hall of Fame, there should be an asterisk on their plaque as well as a line saying something like “His career was clouded by drug use” or “His career was clouded by suspicions of drug use.”  “I think it needs to be acknowledged,” Macur said.  “If it’s acknowledged on the plaque, I think that says a lot.  I feel if [Cooperstown] did that, the public will feel a little bit better.”

Last year’s Baseball Hall of Fame voting results seemed to show a shift in thought towards players who took PEDs.  This may be due to the fact that the number of voters were reduced prior to the 2016 voting.  Additionally, as each year goes by, more of the older sportswriters who previously voted had either retired or passed away.

Ivan Rodriguez, who was suspected of PED-use, was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot.  Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, each on their fifth year on the ballot, saw their vote-percentage rise nearly 10%.  Clemens went from 45.2% of the vote in 2016 to 54.1% in 2017.  Bonds went from 44.3% to 53.8%.  With five more years left on the ballot for these two, it appears likely that they will eventually get in within that period of time.  While these two players cheated their way into the record books, the voters appear willing to accept them for their careers before taking PEDs.  It could very well be that Alex Rodriguez gets similar treatment when he appears on the ballot.

 

 

 

Mets’ Offensive and Pitching Comparisons to National League Average Since 2011

By Ethan Marshall

The Mets’ 2017 season has been nothing short of a disaster thus far.  Until recently, the team was getting solid pitching every day, but little to no run-support.  Now, while the team has been scoring runs, the pitching has faltered.

It’s commonly believed for a baseball team to be successful, they  need a combination of good hitting and solid pitching.  Before the Mets were a playoff team each of the last two seasons, they were a bottom-of-the-barrel team in the National League for quite awhile.  The charts below examine the Mets’ team batting averages (BA) and earned-run averages (ERA) since 2011 to those of the league averages in that same time frame.

The data below suggests a team built like the Mets can be successful with slightly below-average hitting as long as the pitching is superb.  The data shown confirms the saying: “Good pitching beats good hitting.”

 

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Data Source: Baseballreference.com

 

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Data Source: Baseballreference.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panic Time for the Mets’ Rotation?

By Ethan Marshall

 

The disaster that has been the 2017 Mets season thus far has fans thinking “How can this get any worse,” every day.  With Yoenis Cespedes and now Noah Syndergaard sidelined indefinitely with injuries, the Mets need to right the ship without their best pitcher and hitter.

Noah Syndergaard walks off the field with trainer Ray Ramirez after suffering a partial tear of his right lat muscle yesterday in Washington.  Photo credit: AP Photo/Nick Wass.

Syndergaard’s injury may prove more costly in the long run.  With Seth Lugo and Steven Matz still weeks away from returning from their own injuries, the Mets are without a decent replacement.  The current plan for Friday is for Rafael Montero to start, but he’s failed to prove he belongs in the big leagues time and time again.

Assuming the Mets sign free agent Doug Fister (which they should), he would likely need two or three weeks to get himself ready to pitch in a major league game.  As early as it is, the Mets could explore the trade market for a pitcher that can eat up innings.

Bartolo Colon, who the Mets let go in the offseason because they felt they already had enough pitching depth, could be a suitable target for Sandy Alderson.  The Braves are in rebuilding mode, and with Colon signed on a one-year deal, he seems likely to be traded at some point this season.  Colon proved incredibly reliable in his Mets tenure, eating up innings while pitching well.  The Mets could really use a pitcher with a rubber arm like Colon’s right now.  With the Mets beginning their first series at SunTrust Park in Atlanta tonight, this could be a good time for Alderson to talk with Braves general manager John Coppolella about working out a deal for Colon.

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Bartolo Colon pitching at Citi Field against the Mets.  Photo credit: Getty Images.

 

The Mets and Braves have gotten along well in recent years on the trade front.  In July 2015, the Mets traded minor league pitchers John Gant and Rob Whalen for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson.  In June 2016 the Braves again traded Johnson to the Mets, this time for minor league pitcher Akeel Morris.

Of course there may be problems in negotiating a deal for Colon.  The Braves may try to take advantage of the Mets’ desperation by asking for higher tier prospects in exchange for Colon.  Additionally, Colon has an ERA of 5.59 in 29 innings pitched.

The Mets can’t afford to throw Montero out to the mound every five days for at least the next three weeks.  Whether it’s through the waiver wire, free agency or trading, the Mets need to find a replacement that can give them a quality outing each start.

Perhaps one way to negotiate with the Braves is to consider offering media magnet Tim Tebow.  The Braves just opened a new stadium, and need a way to sell more tickets.  Arguably nobody draws as much a crowd as Tebow.  While he alone wouldn’t be nearly enough for the Mets to give up for Colon, he could still draw the attention of the Braves if he continues to produce in the minor leagues.  While he is only batting .237 for the Class A Columbia Fireflies, he did go 6-21 last week, posting a .285 average.  Trading Tebow for Colon may just be stupid enough to work.

 

 

Tebow, Tebow, Tebow

By Ethan Marshall

 

The Tim Tebow show arrived in Port St. Lucie a few weeks ago, and, this week, he appeared in two spring training games for the Mets.  The 29-year old prospect went 0-7, with three strikeouts and a hit-by-pitch in the the Grapefruit League.

After signing with the Mets last summer to play full-time professional baseball for the first time since when he was a junior in high school in 2005, Tebow was thrown right into the wringer this spring. His Grapefruit League debut last Wednesday came against 2016 A.L. Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello.  Porcello struck him out looking on four pitches.

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Tebow walking back to the dugout after striking out in his first at-bat of spring training.  Photo credit: Jason Vinlove, USA TODAY Sports

Tebow’s second at-bat seemed like a Hollywood movie moment in the making when he stepped into the box with the bases loaded and nobody out.  A homer would’ve added to the circus that is Tim Tebow.  While Tebow did hit the ball hard, it was on the ground and right at the second baseman, resulting in a double play.

After getting hit in the shoulder in his third at-bat, Tebow didn’t even flinch as he tossed his bat and went to first base.  Tebow would get doubled up shortly after this when he was caught too far off first base on a lineout to second by L.J. Mazzili.

While Tebow and the Mets have been criticized for inserting him into the starting lineup, taking away playing time from potentially better ballplayers, it should be noted that Tebow was a very good baseball player in his high school days.  Tebow’s former high school  baseball coach, Greg “Boo” Mullins, described him as a “six-tool player,” the sixth tool being his character.  In a 2013 interview with The Sporting News, the former Nease High (Ponte Vedre, Florida) baseball coach said “Everybody should know this: He wasn’t just a great football player, he was a great baseball player too.  I believe he could have played in the big leagues.

In his junior year, Tebow batted .494, with four homers, 30 RBI, and 10 doubles.  Mullins projected Tebow could’ve been drafted between the 7th and 12th rounds out of high school.  He went as far to say that Tebow could’ve potentially be drafted in the second round had he played baseball in college.  The reason he was never drafted, as Mullins points out, was that while multiple MLB teams were considering drafting him out of high school, they didn’t want to waste a pick on a man who had clear intentions of playing football over baseball.

Despite Tebow’s unsurprisingly poor spring performance, Mets manager Terry Collins did see some bright spots in the former Heisman Trophy winner.  According to The New York Daily News, Collins said “The speed of the game is really something he hasn’t seen before.  [Wednesday] was his first game, he went back and took live (batting practice) and he saw better at-bats [Friday].  He was more rested at the plate, a lot more comfortable.  All things considered I thought he did a nice job.”

Regardless of how Tebow’s baseball career pans out, every at-bat, every defensive opportunity, and every game he participates in will be heavily covered by the media.  For the Mets, this is just the beginning of the Tim Tebow circus sideshow.