The Mets announced two major transactions prior to tonight’s game against the Atlanta Braves that they hope will give their sagging offense the same jolt they got last July when they promoted Steven Matz and acquired Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe. The additions of those players were just the appetizer for the main course a week later, Yoenis Cespedes. And don’t discount another Cuban superstar following in blue and orange in the next week or two.
First things first. The Mets swapped first round draft picks with AAA Las Vegas as they promoted 2011 First Round pick Brandon Nimmo (23) and sent down 2013 first round pick Michael Conforto.
The 6-3 outfielder Nimmo was Sandy Alderson’s first draft pick (13th overall) when he took control of the Mets and was was hitting .328 in 63 games in the Pacific Coast League with 5 HR and 37 RBI.
Conforto, the #10 overall pick in 2013 who took NY by storm last season hitting nine HR in 56 games with the Mets has hit just .130 since May 1.
“I think in talking with the coaching staff and the manager, we just felt that, look, this is counterproductive and what we need to do is get him to Las Vegas, get his swing back, and then hopefully get him back here within a relatively short period of time,” Alderson said.
Both Bryce Harper (Nationals) and Jose Fernandez (Marlins) were part of that fruitful first round in 2011 and have already developed into stars at the major league level. Fernandez was taken by Miami directly after the Mets selected Nimmo. This will be Nimmo’s Major League debut.
Was he concerned that the others have not only made it to The Show, but have already flourished? Here’s what he said previously about getting a chance to play against Harper and Fernandez some day in the big leagues:
“If everybody knew how it was going to turn out, I think he (Fernandez) probably would have went No. 1 overall. There were 12 other teams that passed on him too. But I can’t put any pressure on me. I played against Bryce Harper since I was 9 years old. I played those guys. There’s nothing that I can do. I’m myself. I just have to control what I can control and just go out there and have fun.
“It’s the way it is. They’re very talented. Very talented. And they learned the game a little bit quicker than I did. I don’t feel like I’m going to be anywhere behind them. I think I’m going to be playing against them one day and on the same playing field, but it just took me a little bit longer. I hope to face [Fernandez] 1,000 more times, hopefully in the big leagues. We’ll see how it goes. But no more pressure. I’ll just be myself and play.”
According to Terry Collins, Nimmo will not be in the starting lineup tonight, but will start and play left field on Sunday. Cespedes will remain in centerfield.
JOSE REYES II
After weeks of speculation, Jose Reyes signed a minor league deal with the Mets just a few minutes after he became a few agent after being released by the Colorado Rockies, reuniting with the only team he really had any success with.
Of course, the baggage that Reyes brings with him is enormous.
After winning the batting title with the Mets in 2011, Reyes jumped at the Miami Marlins 6-year, $106 million deal just a few minutes after entering the free agent signing period. Although he never lived up to the expectations of a big contract, his off the field domestic abuse issues got him suspended 52 games by MLB and his eventual release from the Rockies.
Reyes, now 33, was signed as teenager in 1999 out of the Dominican republic and spent 12 highly productive years with the Mets. But since signing that mega deal with the Marlins, Reyes was traded to Toronto the following season as the Marlins purged their roster and then traded from Toronto to Colorado last year as part of the Troy Tulowiski trade deadline deal.
Baseball suspended him without pay for the first 52 games of the 2016 season for violating its domestic abuse policy, costing him over $6 million in salary.
With David Wright out for the year and a possible Reyes reunion for the struggling Mets offense at a very low-cost financially, the Mets initially balked at bringing back Reyes because of the league and the fans stigma attached to domestic abuse. Most professional sports franchises want no part of players with that type of item on their resume and the Mets are no different.
“We made the decision to offer a contract to Jose after extensive consideration and discussion with Jose, his representatives, Major League Baseball and various departments at the Mets,” Alderson said today. “We are convinced that Jose has accepted responsibility for his actions and their consequences and have confirmed he is taking steps beyond those prescribed by MLB, including ongoing counseling. Accordingly, we believe he deserves a second chance to return to our organization.”
The Rockies are on the hook for the remaining $39 million on Reyes contract, and the Mets would be responsible for only $507,500, the major league minimum. Reyes will be required to undergo counseling while with the Mets.
“I did meet with Jose personally. We talked for about an hour,” Alderson said. “Obviously this domestic abuse issue was the focal point of that conversation. I came away feeling that he had taken responsibility for this mistake on his part, that he was remorseful. He obviously has paid a penalty for this, both financially and in terms of his career. He, I believe, is committed to ongoing counseling and support of organizations working against domestic abuse.
“And obviously, in addition to this personal meeting, we had a lot of internal conversations. [Chief operating officer] Jeff Wilpon was directly involved in this every step of the way. We were aware of the possible controversy this would generate. We’re also fully aware of the responsibility we sort of have to be leaders in this area of fighting domestic abuse. … At the same time, Jose was a member of the Mets organization for 12 years. He was signed at 16 years of age. He was a solid citizen during all of that time. And so, if you think of it in those terms, us as a place where Jose grew up, almost as a surrogate family, we felt that he deserved a second chance, and that second chance was most appropriate with us.”
Jose Reyes released a statement to the media: “As I have expressed in the past, I deeply regret the incident that occurred and remain remorseful and apologetic to my family. I have completed the counseling required by MLB, have been in ongoing therapy, and will continue with counseling going forward. I appreciate the Mets organization for believing in me and providing the opportunity to come back home to New York.”
Manager Terry Collins, who did manage Reyes in that batting tile 2011 season had good memories of Reyes time with the team. “One of the things that probably caught my imagination was his joy of playing in New York. He loved it. That’s why he moved there. He loved being there. He loved playing in New York. It’s a tough place, because you’re going to have some bad times and some bad days. But he always had a smile. And when he didn’t, something was wrong, and you knew it. And that was the easiest kind of way to judge that it’s time for a day off. In my time around him, he was a joy to be around.”
Met fans have been blowing up Social Media in the last 10 days when Reyes was originally designated for assignment by the Rockies, pretty evenly split between the need to improve the team and their disdain for domestic abusers. “We fully understand there will be differences of opinion about this,” Alderson said. “Some people will feel strongly and differently. I think we accept that. We respect that. All I can say is can is both Jose and the organization will be held to a standard going forward that recognizes the seriousness of domestic abuse and a commitment to stand against it.”
Reyes will report to Class A Brooklyn and begin his second tour with the Mets on Sunday, playing third base. The Mets expect him to move on to AA Binghamton and then to AAA Las Vegas before joining the Mets in a week to 10 days.
IS GOURRIEL NEXT?
And then there is Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel, who will attend a private workout with the Mets next week. The 32 year-old Cuban defector was once regarded as the best player in the top Cuban league and has hit 250 home runs with a .335 lifetime batting average. e also comes highly endorsed by his good friend, Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes called Gourriel “the best player I’ve ever played with”.
Gourriel may require a long term deal, and taking a big risk with an unknown commodity would be unusual for both Alderson and the Mets.