Armando Benitez

From Todd Hundley to Mike Piazza

The things we are willing to tell ourselves as fans can sometimes be quite outlandish.  Back in 1997, if you polled Mets fans, they would probably tell you they would rather have Todd Hundley than Mike Piazza.  Why not?

The two were the same age.  Both were All Stars in 1996 and 1997.  In those two years, Hundley had hit 71 homers to Piazza’s 76.  Hundley had 198 RBI to Piazza’s 229.  Hundley’s 53 doubles surpassed Piazza’s 48.  In fact, Hundley’s 127 extra base hits were actually two more than Piazza’s 125.  On top of that, Hundley was a switch hitter and a much better defensive catcher.  He was the homegrown Met that was afan favorite with his very own Todd Squad cheering section at Shea Stadium.  Hundley’s career was taking off, and he was seen by Mets fans as a newer version of Gay Carter.  When he returned from his elbow surgery in 1998, he was expected to once again be the slugging defensive minded catcher who was going to lead the Mets to the postseaon for this first time in a decade.  If you took a poll of Mets fans, they may begrudging admit Piazza was the better player, but overall, they would also state their belief that they would rather have Hundley as he was their guy.  It was all a moot point anyway because there was no way the Dodgers would ever get rid of Piazza.

Until they did.  There wasn’t a baseball fan alive in 1998 that was utterly shocked when Piazza was traded to the Florida Marlins along with future Met Todd Zeile for a package that included future Met Gary Sheffield and former/future Met Bobby Bonilla.  Once Piazza was a Marlin, the world over knew the team that sold everything except the copper wiring after winning the 1997 World Series was going to trade the impending free agent Piazza.  All of a sudden, the very same Mets fans who loved Hundley, desperately wanted Piazza.  Myself included.

It was certainly possible.  In that offseason, the Mets had acquired Al Leiter and Dennis Cook.  There was a reporte there.  Even with those trades, the Mets still had a good farm system headlined by Mookie Wilson‘s stepson, Preston Wilson, who could justifiable headline a Piazza trade.  Without Hundley, the team was languishing around .500, and they needed a shot in the arm if they were ever going to earn a postseason berth.  You could tell yourself that when Hundley got back he could either play left field in place of the struggling Bernard Gilkey or in right in place of another fan favorite, Butch Huskey.  At least, that is what you told yourself.

Amazing, it actually happened.  On May 22, 1998, the 24-20 Mets actually pulled off a trade to acquire Piazza.  Perhaps just as a amazing, when the Mets activated Hundley from the disabled list on July 22nd, they put him in left field.  Very rarely in life does things happen exactly as you imagined it would.  This did.

Except it didn’t.  While Piazza was originally greeted with a hero’s welcome, he would then become roundly booed by the very same fan base who was desperate to acquire him.  Hundley would be a disaster in left field.  As uncomfortable as he was in the field, he was equally uncomfortable at the plate hitting .162/.248/.252 with only one home run.  He eventually forced Bobby Valentine‘s hand, and he became the backup catcher to Piazza.  In retrospect, how could it have ever worked?  Piazza was a star in Los Angeles, which is nowhere near the hot bed New York was.  Hundley was a catcher out of the womb as he was taught the position by his father Randy Hundley.

But then on a September 16th game in the old Astrodome, it all worked according to plan.  In the top of the ninth, with the Mets trailing 3-1, Piazza, who had been 0-3 on the night, stepped in the box against Billy Wagner with two on and two out.  He would launch a go-ahead three run homer.  After Cook blew the save in the ninth, Hundley would be summoned to pinch hit in the top of the 11th.  He would hit a game winning home run.  It would be the first and only time Piazza and Hundley would homer in the same game.  In fact, it was Hundley’s last homer as a Met.  At that point, the Mets seemed to have control of the Wild Card, but they would eventually fall apart, thanks in LARGE part to Mel Rojas, and they would just miss out on the postseason.

Going into that offseason, the Mets had to make a choice.  Do you stick with your guy Hundley behind the plate, or do you bring back Piazza.  To everyone’s delight, the Mets made Piazza the highest paid player in the game giving him a seven year $91 million dollar contract.  When the Mets re-signed him, the Mets seemed assured of returning to the postseason.

And they did with the help of both Piazza and Hundley.  With Piazza back in the fold, the Mets had to move Hundley.  That spurned two shrewd moves by Steve Phillips that helped build a supporting cast around their superstar.  Hundley was traded for Roger Cedeno and Charles Johnson, the same Johnson who was traded by the Marlins to acquire Piazza.  Cedeno would spend 1999 being tutored by Rickey Henderson, and he would set the then Mets single season record for stolen bases while manning right field.  Phillips would then flip Johnson for Armando Benitez, who would become a dominant closer out of the bullpen.

Piazza was dominant that year.  He hit .301/.361/.575 with 40 homers, a Mets right-handed batter single season record, and 124 RBI, which is the Mets single season record.  He led the Mets throught the play-in game and into the NLCS.  His seventh inning opposite field home run off John Smoltz in Game Six of the NLCS tied the game at 7-7.  In a game they once trailed 5-0 and 7-3 and a series they had trailed three games to none, it seemed like the Mets were on the verge of pulling off the impossible.  With a Kenny Rogers walk, they didn’t.  The Mets came so close to making the World Series, but they fell short.  Even with as much as Piazza gave them, they would need more in order to make it to their first World Series since 1986 and to play in consecutive postseasons in team history.

Amazingly, Piazza had another gear.  He would hit .324/.398/.614 with 38 homers and 113 RBI.  It remains the highest slugging percentage in team history.  The 78 homers and 237 RBI over two years stands as the team records over a two year stretch.  He would tie the Mets single season record with three grand slams.  In 2000, the Mets would go to the World Series, and they would fall agonizingly close as his shot to center field fell just short of tying the game.

It was a start to an amazing Mets career and part of a Hall of Fame career.  Before Piazza left the Mets after the 2005 season, he would hold many records.  He would have the most home runs by any right-handed Mets batter and second most all time to Darryl Strawberry.  He would also be second to Strawberry in team RBI.  He would be passed by David Wright in those catergories.  However, Wright wouldn’t pass Piazza in some other catergories.  Piazza has the third highest team batting average, and he has the highest slugging percentage in Mets history.  He would also hit the most home runs all time by a catcher surpassing Johnny Bench.  It was one of many memorable home runs in Piazza’s time with the Mets, which included the June 30, 2000 home run capping a 10 run eighth inning rally that saw the Mets overcome an 8-1 deficit against the Braves, and the most important home run he would ever hit:

Now, Piazza is going to be a Hall of Famer.  He is going to be a Hall of Famer in a Mets uniform.  It never seemed possible.

Years ago, Mets fans would’ve picked Hundley over Piazza.  Almost twenty years later, Piazza chose us when he chose to enter the Hall of Fame as a New York Met joining Tom Seaver as the only Mets in the Hall of Fame.  It was an incredible ride that has seen Piazza become perhaps the most beloved Met to ever wear the uniform.  He deserves that love and much more.  He deserves every congratulation and accolade the Mets, Mets fans, and all of baseball can throw his way.

Thank you Mike Piazza.

 

Mets Do Not Need Bullpen Help

As the trade deadline approaches, every team usually states that they need bullpen help, and those that are true contenders usually add an extra arm or two to the bullpen.  For example, back in 1999, one of the biggest strengths for a Mets team fighting for the NL East and the Wild Card was their bullpen.  Armando Benitez had taken over the closer role much earlier than anticipated.  Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook were having excellent seasons.  Pat Mahomes was a revelation as the long man in the bullpen.  Ex-closer John Franco was expected to return form injury to help with the playoff push.  Greg McMichael was having an off year, but he had previously been a valuable bullpen arm in a pennant race from his days with the Atlanta Braves.  On top of that, the Mets had some young promising arms to go to down the stretch with Jason Isringhausen and Octavio Dotel (even if Bobby Valentine thought they were better suited and belonged in the rotation).  Overall, the point being is the Mets did not need bullpen help.

Even with that being the case, a Mets team that was very active during the trade deadline made sure to acquire another arm for the bullpen by sending McMichael and Isringhausen for Billy Taylor.  It turns out Billy Taylor was washed up, and he would not even be on the postseason roster thereby forcing the Mets to make do with the already good bullpen pieces they had.  The Mets find themselves in a similar position than the 1999 Mets did.

The Mets bullpen is led to Jeurys Familia who is the best closer in the game. When needed, Familia can pitch two innings to get the big save that the Mets need.  The primary eighth inning set-up man has been Addison Reed, who is only sporting a 2.26 ERA and a 0.912 WHIP.  This duo has only lost one lead that has been given to them this year in 32 attempts.  Behind them is Hansel Robles who has done everything the Mets have needed in the bullpen.  He can come out and bail the Mets out of a bases loaded no out jam or pitch 3.2 terrific innings to save a Mets bullpen from a first inning injury to a starting pitcher.  Jerry Blevins has been an extremely effective LOOGY allowing lefties to hit .210/.269/.310.  By the way, he has been even better against righties limiting them to a .107/.188/.214 batting line.

Behind these pitchers are some very solid options.  There is Jim Henderson, who was great before Terry Collins abused his arm.  Henderson is currently in AAA on a rehab assignment.  Seth Lugo has been absolutely terrific out of the bullpen in his two appearances.  However, it is only two appearances, and there still remains a (remote) chance that he may wind up in the starting rotation with the Matt Harvey injury.  There is Erik Goeddel, who even despite one poor performance this season, still has a career 2.75 ERA and a 1.054 WHIP.  There is still Sean Gilmartin, who was an essential part of the Mets bullpen last year.  He is a starter in AAA, but if the Mets are that desperate for major league relief help that they will swing a trade, they should pull up a known quantity to help the team where he is needed.

If the Mets will consider calling up players from the minors, there are some good options in AAA.  Josh Edgin has a 2.45 ERA in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.  Paul Sewald has taken over as the closer, and he has recorded nine saves.  There is always the alluring Josh Smoker, who is having a down year but still sports a mid-nineties fastball.

Finally, in addition to all of these players, there is still Antonio Bastardo, who is going nowhere.  It is doubtful a rebuilding team will want to add him into the mix with his high salary and poor production.  The Mets are stuck with him, and they are going to be stuck with him for the full season, regardless of whether they make another move to add a reliever or not.  In essence, Bastardo is the reason why people mistakenly believe the Mets need bullpen help.  With that in mind, the best thing the Mets can do is to find a way to get Bastardo back on track.  That will help the Mets bullpen more than them adding another reliever.

Overall, the Mets bullpen is in fine shape with four outstanding relievers and plenty of good options behind them.  The Mets do not need a reliever.  They need to fix Bastardo since he’s going to be here whether or not the Mets make a trade.  With that in mind, the Mets should leave the bullpen as is and turn their attention to the teams other needs at the trade deadline.

You Can Trust Jeurys Familia Is Getting the Save

Normally, I’m much more in tune with a Mets game than I was last night. Generally speaking, no matter where I am, I’m getting play-by-play someway, somehow. I didn’t last night because I was at the Brooklyn Cyclones game with my family, and courtesy of Nicco Blank, we had great seats:

  
Being that close, especially with an active toddler, we had to be on high alert foul balls  in the stands:

  
Courtesy of Blake Tiberi

In any event, by the time we got to the car, I knew little about the game. I knew Bartolo Colon started the game. I knew Neil Walker hit a two run homer. I knew the Mets were up 4-3. I was just fuzzy on the rest of the who, what, where, when, or why about the other five runs that scored. 

There was another thing I knew. Jeurys Familia was going to close it out. 

So far this year, Familia is a perfect 28 for 28 in save chances. He has a career 2.49 ERA, 1.182 WHIP, and an 8.9 K/9. He has a career 149 ERA+. He’s consistent. He’s durable. He’s the best closer in the National League, and he’s amongst the best in baseball. As a fan, he’s a closer that gives you confidence. That’s a rare feeling for Mets fans. 

Sure, John Franco usually got the job done as evidenced by his 424 career saves. That’s the most for a lefty closer. That’s also 424 times he gave some poor Mets fan a heart attack for his Houdini acts. 

He was supplanted by Armando Benitez. Benitez was as dominant as they come unless he was facing Pat BurrellPaul O’Neill, the Braves, or any team in the Month of September or October. 

Billy Wagner was tremendous until he faced the immortal So TaguchiJesse Orosco and Roger McDowell were a bit before my time. 

About the only closer I can come up with during my time I had any confidence in was Randy Myers. Back in 1988 and 1989, he was great as the Mets closer. You had confidence when he took the mound. It was the opposite feeling when the Mets brought in Franco to start the 1990 season as the closer. It began a 14 year high wire act that was followed with the Benitez’s and the Braden Looper‘s of the world. 

It’s been 18 years since the Mets had a closer they can trust not to give everyone a minor stroke when they take the mound. Familia is different than his predecessors. When Familia enters the game in a save situation, he’s getting the save.  He typically does it without giving you a heart attack. When he enters the game, you know he’s converting the save. 

It’s about the one thing I knew for certain about the Mets game yesterday. 

The Mets Shortstops Came Up Big

When the lineup was announced, the main reaction everyone had was “HOW CAN YOU START MATT REYNOLDS IN LEFTFIELD!”  Matt Reynolds never played in the outfield in his professional career, and the Mets were sitting Michael Conforto against Danny Duffy, the pitcher off whom he hit a home run against in the World Series.  In the bottom of the sixth, Reynolds made Terry Collins look like a genius with his first career home run:

  
His homerun broke the 3-3 tie, and it put Noah Syndergaard in position for a win after what was an uneven outing.

The Mets other three runs were courtesy of the Mets other shortstop, Asdrubal Cabrera, who actually played shortstop today.  In the fourth, he scored off a James Loney two out RBI single with a nifty slide:

 
In the top of the fifth that 1-0 lead would quickly evaporte when Syndergaard allowed Chelsor Cuthbert to hit a solo home run.  The Royals continued the rally, and they would eventually went ahead 2-1 on a Whit Merrifield RBI single scoring Jarrod Dyson.  This meant Cabrera would have to go back to work by hitting a go-ahead two run home run (scoring Curtis Granderson).

Syndergaard had a rough sixth inning.  He got Rene Rivera crossed-up not once but twice.  One of them went for a wild pitch moving Salvador Perez to third.  He would score on a Paulo Orlando RBI single tying the game at three.  The Mets would go ahead for good on the aforementioned Reynolds’ home run.

In the eighth, Cabrera would leave his impression on the game AGAIN with a great stab and behind the back throw to get the force out at second. 

  
It would help Addison Reed pitch a scoreless eighth. Jeurys Familia pitched a scoreless ninth to preserve the 4-3 win. With that save, Familia is now tied with Armando Benitez for most consecutive saves to start a season (24). 

After the stretch the Mets went through, including getting swept by the dreadful Braves, you would feel terrific after sweeping a two game set against the team that beat you in the World Series.  However, there remains some trepidation as Yoenis Cespedes had to leave the game with an apparent wrist injury after his walk in the fifth.  He was replaced by Alejandro De Aza, who may be set to get more playing time in center if Cespedes needs to miss any period of time.  Given the way De Aza has played this year, it is an not all too enticing proposition. 

With that said, there’s nothing left to do but enjoy this win while waiting with baited breath for the Cespedes news. By the way, we still don’t know about Zack Wheeler and his elbow. Good times. 

Game Notes: Jerry Blevins continues to put up zeroes:

Worst Loss in Mets History?

There’s an inherent danger when a national baseball writer or broadcaster talks about a team.  These people don’t have the intimate knowledge the local media or the fans. What’s frustrating when it comes to the Mets is the national media usually treats the Yankees as the Mets biggest rival or acts like those games are bigger than any others. 

Yes, there is more juice to Mets-Yankees games than a Mets-Padres game. However, the national media makes these games to be much bigger than what they are. Case in point – of all the years you were a Mets fan, what was the single worst regular season loss you experienced?  

For me, it was the last game of the 2007 season. The Mets had unfinished business from the 2006 season. They were amongst the World Series favorites. They pretty much had the division locked up being seven up with 17 to play. No one had ever blew that kind of lead. Well, the Mets did, but they still had a chance to either win the division or force a one game playoff against the Phillies to win the NL East. 

It didn’t happen. The Mets lost to the Marlins. It was over in the first inning when Tom Glavine allowed seven runs in 0.1 innings. One of the runs scored when Glavine just threw the ball into left field while trying to throw out a runner at third base. Not only did the Mets lose, but the Phillies won. No postseason for the Mets. To make matters worse, Glavine spoke after the game and said that he wasn’t devastated by the loss or his performance. 

You may have your own moments. There is certainly the Final Game at Shea. There was the Mel Rojas game in 1998. There was Armando Benitez blowing the save against the Braves in late September 2001 thereby taking away any hope that the Mets could win the division.  I’m assuming there were games before my time, or games I’m just not remembering right now. For example, I know many people talk about how close the Mets came to winning the division in 1985 with a brutal September loss to the Cardinals. Point is, there are many valid answers. Apparently, we’re wrong. 

The Sporting News picked the game where Luis Castillo dropped an Alex Rodriguez pop up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Derek Jeter and a hustling Mark Teixeira would score giving the Yankees a 9-8 win. Brutal loss. Absolutely brutal. However, there is no way it’s the worst regular season loss in Mets history. This is the type of mistake a national writer makes when they over-emphasize the Mets-Yankee rivalry, and they don’t pay attention to the losses that actually matter. 

In any event, my guess was closer than yours. The Sporting News listed the 2007 loss as an honorable mention. In retrospect, that’s worse because they were aware it happened. 

Baseball Player Political Endorsements

“Dad, who did you vote for in the Republican primary?”

“I voted for Donald Trump.”  

“Why Dad?”

“Well son, Paul O’Neill endorsed him.”

In my life, I have honestly never come across someone who voted for a candidate because a baseball player or other celebrity endorsed that person.  However, that still didn’t stop the outrage. 

Some people are apoplectic that this happened. Doesn’t he know what Trump stands for?  Doesn’t he know Trump’s policies?  How could Paul O’Neill possibly have endorsed Donald Trump?  I’m sure there are also people who are commending O’Neill for understanding why the country needs to elect Trump. 

For all the uproar, I haven’t seen one interview with O’Neill questioning him why he endorses Trump. I’m sure he can provide a cogent argument for his decision.  As I’m sure Johnny Damon could as well for why he has endorsed Trump.

With that said, I’m not making my decisions based upon that. I’m not going to let O’Neill’s endorsement affect the way I think about him as a player or the election.  To me, he will always be the player who Armando Benitez couldn’t strike out. He’s the guy who once kicked the ball into the infield while he was in Cincinnati. 

I encourage everyone to get involved and make their own decisions even if the my disagree with mine. Although, I wish you would agree with me. Watch tonight’s debate. Research the candidate’s history and what they believe. 

Don’t support a candidate based upon your favorite player. Don’t let a player’s endorsement let you affect what you think of that player. If you’re a Yankee fan, you should adore O’Neill for all that he’s done. As a Mets fan, tip your cap to him for having the at bat that might’ve altered the course of the entire World Series. 

I don’t watch baseball to get into endless political debate. People don’t listen to Mark Levin or watch Rachel Maddow to get their take on the Mets chances this year. People need to compartmentalize. 

I’m moving on now and ignoring who any future athletes endorse. 

It’s Not World Series or Bust

I remember back in 2000, the stories were that Bobby Valentine needed to make the World Series in order to keep his job. The amazing thing is he actually did it. 

Just think about everything that had to happen that year for the Mets to make the World Series. First, the Mets had an overhaul of its outfield during the season.  On Opening Day, the Mets outfield was, from left to right, Rickey HendersonDarryl HamiltonDerek Bell. At the end of the year, it was Benny AgbayaniJay Payton-Derek Bell. Agbayani was only on the Opening Day roster because MLB allowed the team to have expanded rosters for their opening series in Japan. 

On top of that, Todd Zeile was signed to replace John Olerud. Zeile had to become a first baseman after playing third for 10 years. Edgardo Alfonzo had to adapt from moving from the second spot in the lineup to the third spot. The Mets lost Rey Ordonez to injury and first replaced him with Melvin Mora for 96 games before trading him for the light hitting Mike Bordick. More or less, all of these moves worked. Then came the postseason. 
A lot happened in the NLDS. After losing Game One, the Mets faced a quasi must win in Game Two. They were leading before Armando Benitez blew a save. I know. I’m shocked too. The Mets regained the lead, and they won the game when John Franco got a borderline third strike call against Barry Bonds. In Game Three, the Mets won on a Agbayani 13th inning walk off homerun. This was followed by Bobby Jones closing out the series on a one-hitter. 

The Mets were then fortunate that the Braves lost to the Cardinals in the other NLDS series. The Mets tore through the Cardinals with new leadoff hitter Timo Perez. We saw all that luck run out in the World Series. We watched Zeile’s potential homerun land on top of the fence and bounce back. On the same play, Perez was thrown out at home. In the same game, Benitez blew the save. Unfortunately, there were no more heroics. 

We saw this repeated in 2015. The epically bad Mets offense had to have its pitching hold things together until help came. Part of that required the Nationals to underperform while the Mets were fighting tooth and nail just to stay in the race. 

In the NLDS, the Mets were on the verge of elimination. They weren’t eliminated because somehow, some way Jacob deGrom pitched six innings with absolutely nothing. The Mets then needed Daniel Murphy to have a game for the ages. He stole a base while no one was looking, and he hit a big homerun. It was part of an amazing run through the postseason for Murphy. Like in 2000, it came to a crashing halt in the World Series. 

No matter how good your team is, it takes a lot of luck to win the World Series. Look at the 86 Mets. 

In the NLCS, they barely outlasted the Astros. In Game Three, they needed a Lenny Dykstra two run homerun in the bottom of the ninth to win 6-5. In Game Five, Gary Carter hit a walk off single in the 12th to send the Mets back to Houston up 3-2. It was important because they didn’t want to face Mike Scott and his newfound abilities. With that pressure, they rallied from three down in the ninth, blew a 14th inning lead, and nearly blew a three run lead in the 16th inning. 

Following this, the Mets quickly fell down 0-2 in the World Series before heading to Boston. After taking 2/3 in Boston, the Mets had to rally in the eighth just to tie Game Six. There are books that can be written not only about the 10th inning, but also Mookie Wilson‘s at bat. 

First, they had to have a none on two out rally with each batter getting two strikes against them.  For Calvin Schiraldi to even be in the position to meltdown, he had to be traded by the Mets to the Red Sox heading into the 1986 season. In return, the Mets got Bobby Ojeda, who won Game Three and started Game Six. John McNamara removed Schiraldi way too late and brought in Bob Stanley. His “wild pitch” in Mookie’s at bat allowed the tying run to score. You know the rest:

By the way, keep in mind Bill Buckner wasn’t pulled for a defensive replacement. Also, the Mets had to rally late from 3-0 deficit just to tie Game Seven. 

We need to keep all of this is mind when setting expectations for the 2016 season. Terry Collins is right when he says World Series title or bust is unfair. We know way too much can happen between now and the World Series. Right now, the only goal should be winning the NL East. If the Mets do that, they have met their reasonable expectations. After that, the Mets are going to need a little luck to win the World Series. 

Fortunately, the Mets are carrying a four leaf clover in the form of Matt HarveyJacob deGromNoah Syndergaard, and Jeurys Familia

Happy Bobby Valentine’s Day

It’s that time of the year when we get that warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s a time when you feel even closer to what you love. I am of course referring to Pitchers and Catchers reporting to Spring Training this week. 

As the Mets report, they are trying to do something that only Bobby Valentine’s Mets have ever done. They are trying to go to the postseason for consecutive years. It’s still amazing to think that in the 54 year history of the Mets, they have only e been in consecutive postseasons only once. Gil Hodges couldn’t do it. Davey Johnson couldn’t. Willie Randolph came agonizingly close. 

No, the only one to do it was Bobby V. He did it with a core of Mike PiazzaEdgardo AlfonzoRobin Ventura, and Al Leiter. He had a terrific bullpen of Armando BenitezJohn FrancoTurk Wendell, and Dennis Cook. Each year, he had drastically different outfields and rotations. Yet, he was still able to make it work. He got the most out of these teams.  The Mets made consecutive NLCS appearances, and they were close to winning a World Series. 

This now is the task set forth for Terry Collins. For the first time in 16 years and the second time in Mets history, he is tasked with leading a Mets team to consecutive postseason berths. Like Bobby V, he has a strong core of players. Unlike Bobby V, he has not had much turnover in the roster. 

Overall, the one thing uniting Bobby V’s Mets and Terry Collins’ Mets is hope. Mets fans hope and believe in this team. We all believe this is our year even after a heartbreaking loss. And yes, as this is Valentine’s Day, Mets fans love their team. 

So remember on this the coldest of Bobby Valentine’s Day, Spring is in the air, and we will soon be reunited with the team we love. 

Revisiting the Impact of the 2000 Offseason 

With Mike Piazza finally getting elected to the Hall of Fame and this current Mets offseason, I’ve been thinking a lot about missed opportunities in Mets history. For me, the 2000 offseason and 2001 season might’ve been the biggest missed opportunity in Mets history (or at least my lifetime).

Coming off a disappointing loss in the World Series, the Mets had a ton of important decisions to make. The most intriguing one was Alex Rodriguez. The Mets passed calling him a 24 and 1 type of player. The biggest free agent in baseball history, a 25 year old shortstop with 40/40 capability, and the Mets weren’t interested. They weren’t interested despite A-Rod wanting to be a Met. The Mets wouldn’t sign a big bat in lieu of him.

The next big decision was NLCS MVP Mike Hampton. The Mets have up a lot to get him, namely Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel. However, Hampton delivered. He was 15-10 with a 3.14 ERA. He won a Silver Slugger. He was an ace. He and Al Leiter were terrific that year during the regular season, and they helped pitch the Mets to the World Series. The Mets wouldn’t outbid the Rockies, who offered him the biggest contract in baseball history (until A-Rod signed with the Rangers) and the benefits of the Denver school system.

With the Mets missing out with these two players (and Mike Mussina), the Mets decided to build a deep, cost effective starting rotation. By the way, where have we heard of a World Series losing team choosing depth over high-end expensive players? In any event, the Mets re-signed Rick Reed and added Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel. The last two moves were about as popular now as they were then.

The end result? The Mets got a compensatory pick for Mike Hampton (more on that in a minute) and an 82-80 record. It would be the last year the Mrts finished above .500 until 2005, which was Piazza’s last year with the Mets. The end of Piazza’s prime was wasted by the Mets. He would never return to the postseason with them. He would never play in another World Series. Was it worth it? Well, it depends on your point-of-view.

For me, the pivotal figure in this inquiry is Hampton. For startees, I say Hampton because I believe the Mets were never truly enamored with A-Rod. The Wilpons and Nelson Doubleday were fighting over the valuation of the Mets. The Wilpons were buying out Doubleday, and they didn’t want the value of the franchise to increase any further. A-Rod would’ve done that. Furthermore, it’s likely they would’ve had a hard time signing A-Rod, building a pitching staff, and buying out Mr. Doubleday. Hence, it was Hampton and not A-Rod as the pivotal figure.

We know Hampton was terrible in Colorado, but then again most pitchers are. It’s fair to assume, he would’ve continued pitching as well as he did in 2000 for the next year or two with the Mets. That’s about a pitcher with a 4.7 – 6.6 WAR. Would that have been sufficient to keep the Mets afloat in 2001? Would he have been enough to rescue an offense with the least runs scored in all of baseball that year?

We don’t the the corresponding moves. We also don’t know if the lack of moves created a negative vibe over a Mets team that sputtered out of the gate in 2001. This was a team that was Jekyll and Hyde. It was 38-51 in the first half and 44-29 in the second half. In reality, their second half push came too late leaving them no margin of error, as we know all too well with yet another huge Armando Benitez blown save.

Maybe with Hampton the season starts off different. It’s possible the Mets don’t make the flurry of moves they did in 2002 that proved disasterous. Maybe with Hampton the Mets make the postseason in 2001 and/or 2002. Maybe Piazza gets his ring. Maybe Mets fans are not waiting 30 years for a World Series. We don’t know. All we know is two things: (1) the Mets missed Hampton; and (2) Hampton leaving might’ve been the best case scenario.

The second reason Hampton is the pivotal figure is the player the Mets got in his stead. When Hampton left, the Mets received a compensatory pick. With that pick the Mets selected one of the best high school bats. The Mets got a third base prospect by the name of David Wright. Wright has been a big part of Mets history. He’s the Mets All-Time leader in games played, runs, hits, doubles, RBI, and walks. He’s second in homers. He’s hit the first a Mets homerun at Citi Field and the first World Series homerun at Citi Field. He was a big part of two postseason teams, which is no small feat in Mets history.

Essentially, you cannot tell the story of the Mets without David Wright. It’s unfathomable to imagine Wright in another uniform. However, I ask you has he been worth it? Was he worth wasting away the last years of Piazza’s prime? Was he worth losing all momentum from the 1999 and 2000 seasons? Would you rather have had a shot for another World Series run back then in exchange for Wright’s entire career?

Before answering, I ask that you keep some thoughts in mind. The first is if Hampton returns, you don’t hate him the way you do now. In fact, you may not hate him at all. Next, I’m not asking you to assume the Mets win the World Series Hampton re-signs. I’m only requesting you think about how he would’ve impacted the 2001 Mets and/or his impact in subsequent years. With that in mind, what do you do?

Now, if you asked me this question in 2000, I’m taking Hampton. No doubt about it. Hampton was a much better option than Appier. If the Mets got Hampton and Appier without signing Trachsel, even better. However, I’ll be honest, while I can separate myself from my hatred of Hampton, I can’t separate myself from my love of David Wright.

Sure, Piazza is my favorite player, but Wright has also been a terrific Met. He’s a homegrown Met. He has a contract that may make him a lifetime Met. Generally speaking, Wright has been everything good about the sport of baseball since he was called up. He’s created some great memories for Mets fans. His name is all over the record books. I’m not sure I could part with that, perhaps not even at a chance at a World Series.

So begrudgingly, I believe I’d pick the entire career of David Wright over the possibility of another World Series title. Sure, World Series titles are rare, but so are the David Wrights of the world. I’m hoping in 2016 Mets fans can celebrate both Wright and a World Series title. It’s a lot more fun than playing the what if game.

Magic Number is 12

Yesterday, the problem was finding out who to pick for 14 in this series with the paucity of choices. Today’s selection was an abundance of good choices. 

There was Roberto Alomar‘s disappointing tenure. I’m sure there are Mets fans that would’ve picked Willie Randolph, but he was decent with the Mets in the last year of a good career. Furthermore, I was higher on him as a manager than most people. I remember that Jeff Kent was hated by Mets fans, except the ones in my household. 

When fans booed Kent, my Dad was baffled. When he saw Kent, he saw a terrific player. My Dad was right. Kent played well in his five years as a Met. Kent would win the 2000 NL MVP and finish his career with the most homeruns by a second baseman. However, all of that happened elsewhere. Why elsewhere? Well, the Mets made an idiotic trade including him and Jose Vizcaino for Carlos Baerga and today’s selection, Alvaro Espinoza:

  
Espinoza was not a great major league player, but truth be told, he was at his best in those 48 games with the Mets. So, why pick him?  He was part of a trade that ditched a possible Hall of Fame second baseman for a player fading fast in Baerga. Neither player was of much help, especially in a 1996 season when the Mets finished 71-91. 

Baerga’s numbers dropped steadily his three years in New York, and he couldn’t stay on second base.  He would be gone before the glory years of 1999 and 2000, but you know who would reappear in 2000?  Vizcaino. The man who put an end to Game 1 of the 2000 World Series. He was in that position due to Timo Perez‘s lack of hustle and Armando Benitez once again caving in from the pressure. 

So I picked Esponiza more as a symbolic gesture as a reminder that the trade for the star usually doesn’t work in the Mets history. I think that reminder is quite aprospros this season. 

With that in mind, please join me in offering a hat tip to Magic Number 12, Alvaro Espinoza.