Good riddance to bad rubbish. Jenrry Mejia threw it all away and for some strange reason, I just don’t care anymore. And neither should you. We’ve got much nicer things to talk about today!
On Wednesday morning, the National League Champion New York Mets – my Mets, our Mets – will begin the defense of their NL East Division Title as pitcher and catchers report to Spring Training in Port St. Lucie. How great does that sound when the temperature here in NY is in the single digits?
In case anyone has forgotten, General Manager Sandy Alderson has been a busy little beaver since the end of the World Series and for the first time in recent memories, the Mets are reporting to Spring Training with not a lot of holes to fill. Usually Tradition Field is the site of many question marks. Who’s going to be the shortstop? Can this veteran return to form? Can this pitcher return from surgery? Who is going to be the bridge to the closer?
The offseason saw both sadness and joy for Mets fans. Trying to reconcile the loss in the World Series to the KC Royals when we had the lead in every game was a tough nut to crack. Then, Mike Piazza finally gets elected to the Hall of Fame and a few weeks later, Cespedes is back in the Blue and Orange.
The 2016 season has a completely different line of questioning. The question is no longer CAN the Mets get to the playoffs, now it’s WILL the Mets get to the playoffs. It’s just a slight difference, but it means everything. For the first time in a long time, it’s the Mets that have a target on their back.
Of course, Mets history always haunts us the year after making the post season. Did you know that the only time the Mets went to the post season in consecutive years was 1999-2000? Remember the “Dynasty” of the 1986 team? Just one other playoff appearances before it all fell apart, a 1988 loss to the Dodgers. How about the strength of that 2006 team that came within one strike of the World Series? I’m not even going to get into that disaster.
Although the 2015 Mets went all the way to the World Series, the club reporting to Spring Training is significantly better in a lot of ways. Let’s take a look at some of the key factors as we start dreaming of wearing T-Shirts and shorts outside again…
The Daniel Murphy Factor – Of course this was a difficult decision. Murphy was one of our best, if not the best hitter we had, hands down. He was an emotional player and in most cases the heart of the team. I was (and still am) a big Daniel Murphy fan. But I had learned to come to grips with his limitations. Can we all be honest here? He was a liability without a bat in his hands. He makes poor decisions in the field with his glove, with his arm and with his legs. I know, he hit 50 home runs in the post season, but let’s be realistic, shall we? I don’t know what Daniel Murphy that was and I don’t ever expect to see that Daniel Murphy again. But I am quite sure the Washington Nationals are expecting to see THAT Daniel Murphy. And when they don’t, he is going to be one very unhappy muchacho until 2019. He should have taken the Mets offer.
My article: WHY DANIEL MURPHY SHOULD HAVE TAKEN THE DEAL
The Jonathan Niese Factor – Have you ever seen a pitcher with such mediocre talent that didn’t know which side of his bread was buttered? Niese was a malcontent that saw the writing on the wall with all of these young guns, and instead of embracing the future of this team and learning to become part of it, he whined and cried like a little baby. He complained every time someone made an error. If he got into trouble on the mound, he didn’t have the ability to get out of it. Then, when he was traded to Pittsburgh, the first thing he said was he was happy to go to a team that played good defense. Guess he didn’t know the Pirates led the National League in errors last year. Good luck with that, Jonathan. This was addition by subtraction for Alderson and the Mets.
The Remaking of the Middle Infield – Part of the Niese trade was bringing in second baseman Neil Walker from the Pirates. Walker is certainly an upgrade defensively over Murphy (who isn’t?) and is a pretty good hitter himself. At the very least, this is a slight upgrade. But Alderson went one better and signed shortstop Asrubal Cabrera for two years ($18.5m) a few hours later. Now Wilmer Flores can become the super utility player the Mets have lacked for a long time. And with David Wright’s back still a part of the great unknown, we are going to need a couple of guys that can play third. This also gives Terry Collins a middle infield combination that he can pencil in almost every day. This is a huge upgrade for the Mets.
The Bartolo Colon Show Returns – Was there any other Met that made you smile every time you saw him on the field? When he was standing on the mound, flipping the ball up and down, when he was strolling to the plate with a bat in his hand? Bartolo Colon is like Bruce Springsteen on stage – he is thoroughly enjoying himself and getting the job done. For $7 Million, Colon will easily be able to bridge the gap while Zack Wheeler rehabs from Tommy John surgery.
More Help For The Bullpen – Tyler Clippard is gone (thank goodness), but Jerry Blevins and Addison Reed will be back. Then for good measure, Alderson inked Antonio Bastardo, the lefty specialist the Mets were looking for all year. Lefties hit just .178 against him last year while he was with the Pirates. That is a pretty good three-man bridge to Familia. With this starting pitching staff, the Mets are going to have a lot of 6 and 7 inning games from their starters. That’s where these guys are going to earn their money. With no more innings limits to worry about, the guys won’t have to start warming up in the 4th inning anymore. Mets long relievers should already have a new nickname, “The Maytag Men”. (You kiddies won’t get that one, sorry. Google it)
The Big Bat We All Know We Wanted – The Mets and Yoenis Cespedes danced the entire off season, causing the fan base to lose their mind. Of course we needed Cespedes, but it turns out he needed us too. Some teams offered him more money, others more security. But when you get right down to it, the other teams couldn’t offer him what the Mets had – a stud pitching staff ready to take them to the next level. The Mets fans showed him the love he needed to see after four teams in five years, but I think it really came down to NOT wanting to face these pitchers 18 times a year – especially if he signed with Washington. Cespedes was able to see firsthand what NY was like in the postseason. Not a lot of free agents get that on the tour, you know.
Now for some outstanding questions – Shall the nitpicking begin, then?
- Is Lucas Duda an everyday first baseman? If not, is the answer really Wilmer Flores? This guy hits a lot of home runs, but they always seem to come in bunches. He may not be as big a mental case as Ike Davis was, but it’s all in his head. Maybe he can finally relax now that Cespedes will be hitting in front of him. Let’s hope so. Not a lot of talent in the minors to play 1B. Why do you think they asked Plawecki and d’Arnaud to invest in first baseman gloves?
- Will the Mets have the lowest stolen base total in baseball history? Not going to be a lot of RBI doubles with a man on first this season, my friends.
- Can our catchers throw anyone out? To answer this I just say, oh yeah? YOU try throwing down to second after five innings of catching 98 MPH heaters all the time, every day.
- Is there any doubt that one or more of our stud pitchers is going to come down with what will initially be diagnosed as “arm fatigue” that turns into full blown Tommy John reconstructive surgery? I really hope not, but these are MY Mets, after all…
- Are Steven Matz and Michael Conforto ready for everyday duty at the Major League level? Matz needs to show he can stay on the field and Conforto needs to show he can play against left-handed pitching. This smells of “sophomore Jinx: all over the place.
- What will Zack Wheeler be able to deliver when (if) he returns in July? When Matt Harvey returned to Spring Training last season, he had almost 18 months without having to face a batter. He left in August of 2013 and rehabbed the entire 2014 season making him very ready to return in 2015. If you are going to have TJ surgery, looks like August is the best time. But Wheeler is just a year out of surgery and even though he will not be pitching competitively until May or June, let’s just hope the Mets don’t “need” him in July because of an injury or something else. We kind of got spoiled with Harvey’s return, you know.
- Will both Wild-Cards come out of the Central again? That’s a tough division to start with and the Cubs have gotten better. Looks like the Mets will need to win the East again.
- There’s another baseball team in this town? Talk about role reversal! The Yankees were very quiet in the Free-Agent market, but they seem to be building a great bullpen. Did you know they led the league in runs scored last year until September? But without that run production this year and suspect starting pitching, that bullpen is going to lead the league in “holds” while the Yankees scramble to score runs. And I bet they wished Tanaka had that TJ surgery when he had the chance, don’t they? And good for CC Sabathia in getting his life back together. Not gonna matter, baseball fans. This will be another banner-less year in the Bronx as their aging lineup has to start acting their age without the benefits of steroids.
Now that the Super Bowl closed out the NFL Season, it’s time to dust off that Mets cap and get ready for what is going to be one of the most anticipated springs in Mets history. After each one of our previous World Series appearances, there were lots of question marks and concerns. Not this year. We are coming back as Defending National League Champions and for the first time, we are even better.
I can’t wait, and I am sure you, my faithful readers, can’t wait either!
By: Paul DiSclafani
I admit it, I’m a Mets fan and having Mike Piazza in the Hall of Fame makes me more proud that I thought possible.
This article is not about statistics or steroids or who should be or who should not be in the Hall of Fame. It’s about one of the great players of this great game, a player truly deserving of the honor of being in the Hall of Fame.
Piazza was a player whose statistics were arguably good enough for him to be considered as one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game. He was a power hitting catcher no doubt, a career .303 hitter, when all was said and done.
But this was more about the type of player he was. He respected this great game and never took anything for granted.
You are going to (or already have) read a lot of stories about Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr being elected to the Hall of Fame today. They will spout their statistics and talk about percentages and other facts. I don’t think I can add anything to that conversation.
I thought I would tell you about what it was like to actually visit the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
You will be reading a lot about players like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Pete Rose not being in the Hall of Fame and why some of baseball’s greatest All-Time performers deserve to be enshrined. Much of what you read is probably written by authors that have never actually been to the Hall of Fame. I don’t think you can understand what it means to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame unless you have actually been there.
If you have been to the Hall of Fame, you understand the importance of this shrine and its place in baseball history. All of those players’ mentioned above have their accomplishments and achievements in the Hall of Fame and are properly displayed and honored, as they should.
But should players who took steroids to enhance their performance or players who broke the one cardinal rule everyone agrees to (no gambling) be enshrined? Should players that had so little respect for themselves, the fans, their opponents or the game itself be rewarded with the ultimate honor?
The players honored with enshrinement had great careers statistically, but they were honored also for what they brought to the game and how they conducted themselves during their entire career – with their teammates, the media and the fans. Let’s save that argument for another time, shall we?
The last time I went to the Hall of Fame, about 13 years ago, I took my teenage son. The Hall was undergoing renovations at the time and some of the exhibits were closed or combined with others, but it was a great experience. We marveled at the Hall of Records and the great displays of players and their accomplishments. Seeing what players have done and recalling feats that you have been able to witness or be a part of was thrilling and humbling. To be able to share those moments and memories with your children is beyond priceless.
The exhibits are colorful and stimulating while the loud chatter all around you and the excitement of the other visitors was infectious. It is a great experience that kept me smiling the entire time.
But when you enter the Great Hall, everything changes. It’s quiet and solemn. There are muted conversations going on. You can hear foot steps echoing in the huge hall. Everything has slowed to a crawl and all the visitors are having the same experience as you, only now it is personal. It is no longer interactive. It is a place to quietly reflect on the truly great players of the game. As you saunter up to the individual plaques, you want to take the time to read every one of them.
And there are plenty of players you may not really know about, but each player’s plaque tells a different story. No two plaques are alike. You begin to understand that baseball isn’t always about home runs and strikeouts. It isn’t always about winning and losing either. It truly is about how you represented the game.
The players that have been honored (less than 1% of all baseball players get enshrined in The Great Hall) had careers that we all could be proud of. They represented the best the game could be and they respected not only the history of the game, but the future of the game.
As we walked past and read some of the plaques, I pointed out some of the players I remembered seeing and added what little vignettes I could to the engravings on their plaques. I don’t think my son at that time knew what a great ballplayer Ralph Kiner was, only that he was a goofy Mets announcer.
Then we came upon Tom Seaver’s plaque. This was my hero, my favorite baseball player, this was my youth. I had read the engraving on his plaque a number of times from afar – pictures, stories in the newspaper, someone even bought me a souvenir postcard of his plaque when they visited. But never in The Great Hall, never in that spot. Seaver’s plaque was not just surrounded by the All-Time great players of baseball, it was a part of the All-Time players.
As I stood in front of it and quietly read it aloud, I was overcome with the emotion of that moment. How silly is it for a grown man to be quietly weeping and so overcome by emotion that he can barely speak – over a baseball player?
Feeling slightly embarrassed, I took a look around to see if anyone was looking at me and noticed something quite unusual. There were other adults sniffling and looking like they were holding back their emotions. It was at that moment that I realized this game of baseball was more about life than anything else.
We are baseball fans and have spent a good portion of our young adult life following these players and living vicariously through them. Unless you are a true baseball fan, you can never understand the bond between this game and us.
But these players enshrined in The Great Hall did. They embodied this great game and very rarely took it for granted. There seemed to be pride in putting on that uniform and representing their team – our team.
Baseball players will always tell you this is a humbling game, but each and every player elected to the Hall of Fame says the same thing – they are truly humbled and honored.
Now Mike Piazza joins the ranks and will be enshrined in The Great Hall later this year. His plaque will join the others. He gave us one of the great baseball moments of all time – hitting that home run during the first baseball game played in New York City after the 9/11 attacks. That one moment brought this great City back to life and allowed not only New York, but this great country, to begin to return to normal life again. It took a baseball game to get things started back in the right direction.
I can’t wait to get back to Cooperstown again later this year. I want to go back to The Great Hall with my adult kids this time and read those great plaques again, including Tom Seaver’s. And it will be a special moment when I approach Mike Piazza’s plaque for the first time and see that great smile again, wearing a Mets cap in perpetuity.
Only this time I’ll remember to bring the Kleenex…