Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why Collin Cowgill Needs To Start

So far this offseason, the Mets have parted ways with Jason Bay, Andres Torres and Scott Hairston.  They also tried and failed to sign Michael Bourn, who chose to sign a multi-year deal with the Cleveland Indians.  To say the Mets are going to have a hodgepodge outfield in 2013 would be a serious understatement.

Going into March, the only outfielder assured of an everyday job is Lucas Duda, who's swinging and missing in spring training as if the pitcher was throwing furniture at him.  The other two outfield spots will be split between Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Marlon Byrd and Collin Cowgill.  Basically, the Mets are holding open tryouts for two-thirds of their outfield, with two right-handed hitters and two lefties battling it out for outfield supremacy.

All four players have their reasons for starting.  But I believe one player should start before the others, regardless of the position he ends up getting.

Collin Cowgill photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Collin Cowgill has played 423 games in the minor leagues, which is approximately three full seasons worth of games.  In that time, he has an impressive .291/.371/.470 slash line.  Cowgill has amassed 100 doubles, 22 triples, 51 homers and 80 stolen bases since he played his first professional game in 2008.  He has also been an exceptional defensive outfielder, racking up 44 assists while committing only 18 errors in five minor league seasons.

Cowgill's time in the majors has been limited, as he indulged in a cup of coffee with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011 and had a refill with the Oakland A's in 2012.  Between the two stints, he has collected 196 at-bats, batting .255 with five doubles, two homers, 18 RBIs, 18 runs scored and seven stolen bases.  But a closer look at the numbers reveals that Cowgill is not at all suited to coming off the bench.

In 25 career games off the bench, Cowgill has racked up a total of three hits.  Three might be a magic number to some, but it's downright tragic when that number represents a player's hit total off the bench in parts of two seasons.  I mean, Jordany Valdespin had two more HOME RUNS off the bench in 2012 than Cowgill had BASE HITS in 2011 and 2012 combined.  However, as a starting player, Cowgill has been much more effective.

In his first go-round in the majors in 2011, Cowgill started 21 games and batted .250 (19-for-76) with three doubles, one homer and nine RBIs.  Last season, he earned more starts and showed great improvement, raising his batting average to .283 in 28 starts.  He also showed more patience at the plate, as evidenced by his .351 on-base percentage in his starts.  (Cowgill had a .321 OBP as a starter in 2011.)

Let's consider Cowgill's career batting average and on-base percentage as a starter and bench player and compare them to those of the Mets' other three outfield candidates:

  • Collin Cowgill:       .250/.321 (as a starter); .188/.188 (off the bench)
  • Mike Baxter:          .232/.332 (as a starter); .321/.418 (off the bench)
  • Marlon Byrd:         .278/.335 (as a starter); .272/.351 (off the bench)
  • K. Nieuwenhuis:    .255/.316 (as a starter); .217/.308 (off the bench)

Going by those numbers, it would appear as if Cowgill and Nieuwenhuis should get the bulk of the starts, saving Baxter and Byrd as the top left-handed and right-handed pinch hitters, respectively.

Terry Collins will have to consider all the variables when it comes to filling out his lineup card every day.  Will he need a better defensive outfield?  Does he need an extra lefty in the lineup?  What about an extra right-handed hitter?

Any one of the four outfielders not named Duda can get the bulk of the starts in center field or right field.  But of the four, Collin Cowgill should be the one who remains on the bench the least.  Not only is he an exciting player who can hit, run and field, but he's most valuable when his name is in the starting lineup.

If Collin Cowgill can continue to produce as a starting player as he has in the past, then Mets fans will be seeing a lot of him at Citi Field in 2013.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Mets That Got Away: Randy Myers

In 1988, the Mets suffered an unexpected and heartbreaking loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.  Following the season, the team began what was to become a major 12-month overhaul.

By the end of the 1989 campaign, a year in which the Mets failed to win 90 games for the first time in the Davey Johnson era, the Mets had said their final goodbyes to Wally Backman, Terry Leach, Roger McDowell, Lenny Dykstra, Rick Aguilera, Lee Mazzilli, Mookie Wilson, Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter.  Replacing them were players such as Juan Samuel, Frank Viola, Jeff Musselman and a number of minor leaguers.  Samuel, Viola and Musselman were all ex-Mets by the end of the 1991 season, while the minor leaguers became never-Mets.

Only one trade produced a player who remained a Met past the 1991 season.  It gave the Mets a player who participated in their two postseason runs in 1999 and 2000, which would seem to suggest that the deal was a steal for New York.  Although John Franco became the team's all-time saves leader and was eventually enshrined into the Mets Hall of Fame, he did come at a price, and that price was a young relief pitcher who became one of the most dominant closers in baseball in the 1990s, helping three teams reach the postseason and setting all-time National League records for a fourth.

Randall K. Myers, before major league hitters discovered what the "K" was for.

Randall Kirk Myers was drafted by the Mets in the first round of the 1982 June secondary draft.  Myers was a starting pitcher at the time who had a blazing fastball, but no control over it.  In his first four years in the minors, Myers walked 343 batters and threw 56 wild pitches.  But when hitters took a hack at Myers' pitches, they usually came up empty.

From 1982 to 1985, Myers averaged nearly a strikeout per inning (597 Ks in 604 IP), allowed a mere 505 hits (7.5 H/9 IP) and gave up only 30 HR (less than one homer every 20 innings).  As a result, Myers posted an excellent 40-28 won-loss record and was able to maintain a fine 3.01 ERA.

But despite his fantastic minor league numbers as a starter, Myers was unable to crack the Mets' rotation, as the youth movement of Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Rick Aguilera limited Myers' opportunities at the big league level.  Myers made one appearance for the Mets in 1985, pitching the final two innings of the season in relief.  Then in 1986, Myers was back in the minors, but this time he was there as a reliever.  It would turn out to be a career-changing decision.

Myers began the 1986 season at AAA-Tidewater, where he spent the first half of the season in the bullpen.  In 45 games with the Tides, Myers posted a 2.35 ERA and recorded 12 saves, striking out 79 batters and allowing only two homers in 65 innings.  Myers was called up to the Mets in July and got into ten games with the parent club, striking out 13 batters in 10⅔ innings.  By 1987, Myers became a bigger cog in the Mets bullpen.

In the year following the Mets' World Series championship, the two-headed closer combo of Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco suffered from a post-title hangover.  Both pitchers had ERAs north of 4.00 and Orosco actually led the team in losses with nine.  The Mets bullpen as a whole did not fare well in 1987, but one of the bright spots was the emergence of Randy Myers.

Myers had a rough start in his first full season as a Met.  Manager Davey Johnson used the rookie reliever sparingly through the first four months of the season, with Myers appearing in only 29 of the team's first 102 games.  As a result, Myers was maddeningly inconsistent, sporting an ungodly 5.44 ERA for the third-place Mets.  But in the season's final two months, Myers was unhittable as he helped the team rise back into NL East contention.

Over the first three weeks of August, Myers struck out 17 batters in ten scoreless innings.  He also held opposing hitters to a .162 batting average, .184 on-base percentage and notched two saves.  Although the Mets finished short in their quest to repeat as division champions, Myers' performance over the final two months of the season (1.97 ERA, five saves, five holds, 43 Ks, eight walks, no homers allowed) gave the Mets hope that 1988 would be a more successful campaign.  Rookie of the Year voters also took notice of his final two months, as Myers finished tied for 6th in the 1987 vote.

The 1988 campaign started out with Myers in a new role as the team's left-handed closer, as long-time Met Jesse Orosco was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the offseason.  Myers' start was as blazing as his fastball, as the lefty went 4-0 with nine saves and a microscopic 0.87 ERA through early June.  After allowing three runs without retiring a batter in a game against the Expos on June 12, Myers settled down, saving 17 games in 18 chances and posting a 1.52 ERA the rest of the way.  Myers finished his first season as a closer with a brilliant 1.72 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.  He also recorded 26 saves and struck out 92 batters in 75 innings.  More importantly, he finally started to control the fastball that constantly got away from him in the minors, as he walked just 30 batters and uncorked three wild pitches.

In 1987, Myers' strong finish didn't help the Mets reach the postseason.  That was not the case in 1988, as the Mets ran away with the NL East title.  Although the Mets lost a heartbreaking NLCS to the Dodgers in seven games, Myers was outstanding in his first playoff experience.  Myers got into three games, allowing no runs and one hit in 4⅔ innings.  But the series turned when Myers wasn't brought into a game.

With the left-handed hitting Mike Scioscia representing the tying run at the plate in the ninth inning of Game 4, manager Davey Johnson chose not to replace Dwight Gooden with Randy Myers to set up a lefty-lefty matchup.  The move went on to become one of the costliest decisions in Mets history, as Scioscia took Gooden deep to tie the game.  Myers eventually replaced Gooden in the ninth, pitching 2⅓ shutout innings before he was replaced by co-closer Roger McDowell.  One inning later, McDowell allowed a solo homer to NL MVP Kirk Gibson, a lefty just like the recently-removed Randy Myers.  Myers never threw another pitch in the series.

Following the disappointing end to the 1988 season, the Mets continued to underachieve in 1989.  The team won fewer than 90 games for the first time since 1983, spending most of the season alternating between third and fourth place before finally moving into second place to stay on the next-to-last day of the season after they had been eliminated from playoff contention.  Randy Myers, however, did not underachieve, going 7-4 with 24 saves and a 2.35 ERA.

With the Mets having traded Roger McDowell during the 1989 season, the team went into the Winter Meetings searching for a right-handed reliever to replace McDowell and serve as a complement to Randy Myers.  They succeeded in getting a reliever in Nashville, but he wasn't a righty.  And he also came at a price.

On December 6, 1989, Myers was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for fellow southpaw and Brooklyn native John Franco.  The move brought an ecstatic Franco back home, while Randy Myers was left stunned, especially since he had become one of the most dominant closers in the league.  Franco eventually became the longest tenured pitcher in Mets history, saving a team-record 276 games.  But Myers had more success on an individual level and a team level after the Mets let him get away.

Who needs sleeves when you can have a Nasty Boy or two keeping you warm?

While Franco was saving games for a second-place Mets team in 1990, Randy Myers was becoming one of the "Nasty Boys" in the Reds bullpen.  The three-headed monster made up of Myers, fellow southpaw Norm Charlton and wide-eyed righty Rob Dibble became one of the most formidable relief trios of their generation.  The Nasty Boys combined to record 44 of the Reds' league-high 50 saves, in addition to their 2.14 ERA and 291 strikeouts in 235 innings.

With a steady offense, quality starting pitching and dominant relief corps, Cincinnati was never out of first place, keeping a firm grip on the division lead from Opening Day to the end of the season.  Randy Myers was one of the many contributors to the Reds' wire-to-wire success.  Myers led the team with 31 saves and posted a 2.08 ERA, striking out 98 batters in 86⅔ innings.  He was also one of the toughest pitchers to hit in the National League, holding opposing hitters to a .193 batting average and .281 slugging percentage.

For his efforts, Myers earned his first trip to the All-Star Game, finished fifth in the NL Cy Young Award vote and even received MVP consideration.  But he got a lot more consideration for MVP in the National League Championship Series.

Myers took home the top prize in the NLCS, saving three games for the Reds, including the Game 6 clincher that sent Cincinnati to the World Series for the first time since 1976.  Myers was also on the mound in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the World Series against the defending champion Oakland A's, retiring Carney Lansford on a foul pop-up to complete an unlikely four-game sweep that gave the Reds the title.

Myers did it all for Cincinnati in 1990, even taking time out to record a rap video as a member of "B-Lark and The Homeboys".  But Myers was just getting started in 1990, even if his fledgling music career was not.

In 1991, the Reds couldn't capitalize on their unexpected World Series-winning campaign.  Instead, they decided to convert Randy Myers into a starting pitcher, which he hadn't done since his days as a Mets farmhand.  Needless to say, it failed miserably.

Myers started 12 games for the Reds in 1991.  Although he had a respectable 3.45 ERA in those dozen starts, he pitched in and out of trouble regularly, allowing 106 base runners (62 hits, 43 walks, one hit batsman) in 70⅓ innings.  Myers' teammates didn't fare much better, as Cincinnati followed up its memorable 1990 campaign by finishing fifth in the six-team NL West with a disappointing 74-88 record in 1991. 

Two months and two days after he became a Red, Myers was sent packing again, this time to San Diego in a trade for infielder Bip Roberts.  After a so-so season with the Padres (3-6, 38 saves, 4.29 ERA, 1.48 WHIP), Myers became a free agent and signed a three-year deal with the Chicago Cubs.  The National League record book was not prepared for what Myers was about to accomplish.

In 1993, while the Mets were plodding through their first 100-loss campaign since 1967, their former closer was thriving as a North Sider.  Myers set a National League record by saving 53 games in his first season as a Cub, helping Chicago finish the year above .500 for only the third time in 21 seasons.  Myers' save total dropped to 21 in 1994, as the Cubs failed to give Myers many late-inning leads to protect.  Chicago finished the 1994 season in last place in the NL Central, winning only 49 games before the players' strike put the kibosh on the season.

The Cubs went back above .500 in 1995, finishing the year with a 73-71 record (the strike cut 18 games from the schedule) and contending for the first-ever National League wild card berth.  Chicago eventually fell short, finishing four games behind the Colorado Rockies for the additional playoff spot.  For the second time in three seasons, Myers led the National League in saves with 38.  He also became a three-time All-Star, earning his second consecutive nod as a Cub.  But his time with the Cubs ended with an unexpected bang, as Myers had to fend off a would-be attacker on the Wrigley Field mound after allowing a crushing home run to Houston's James Mouton.

Even a Getty Images watermark can't cover up the fact that Randy Myers is one tough badass.

The attack on the mound helped steer Myers to Baltimore when he became a free agent after the conclusion of the 1995 season.  As an Oriole, Myers was reunited with former Mets manager Davey Johnson, who gave him his first shot in the big leagues a decade earlier.  Myers did not disappoint, helping the Orioles make the playoffs in each of his two seasons in Baltimore.

Myers saved 31 games for Baltimore in 1996, as the Orioles ended a 13-year playoff drought by claiming the American League wild card.  Myers was especially productive during the season's final month.  On August 29, the Orioles found themselves in a virtual three-way tie with the White Sox and Mariners for the AL wild card lead.  From that point on, Baltimore was one of the hottest teams in the league, winning 12 of their next 16 games to take control of the wild card race.  Myers was particularly dominant during the season's final month, posting a barely-there 0.84 ERA in 13 games and allowing only nine hits - all singles - in 10⅔ innings.

Myers' regular season success in his first year as an Oriole continued in his second year with the team, as he led the American League with 45 saves in 1997.  In doing so, Myers set a new single-season team record, shattering the old mark of 37 set by Gregg Olson in 1990.  (Myers' record was eventually surpassed by Jim Johnson, who saved 51 games for the Orioles in 2012.)

Unfortunately, his success in the regular season didn't carry over into the playoffs, as Myers struggled in the postseason for the first time in his career.  After not having allowed an earned run in any of his first 12 postseason appearances with the Mets and Reds, Myers gave up an extra-inning walk-off home run to Bernie Williams, giving the Yankees the win in Baltimore's first ALCS game since 1983.

In 1997, Myers lost another ALCS game in walk-off fashion, although this one was far from being a conventional walk-off loss.  In what was perhaps the turning point of the series, Marquis Grissom of the Indians stole home off Myers in the bottom of the 12th inning on a failed suicide squeeze attempt by Omar Vizquel.  The Game 3 victory gave Cleveland a 2-1 lead in a series they went on to win in six games.

Randy Myers was one of the most dependable playoff relievers of all time.  But even he wasn't perfect all the time.

Once again, Myers was facing free agency and once again, he switched teams.  This time, Myers packed his bags for Toronto, who gave him a three-year, $18 million contract.  While in Toronto, Myers fared well in the saves department (28) but did not fare well with his ERA (4.46), leading the Blue Jays to bid farewell to Myers in August.  Toronto placed Myers on waivers, where he was unexpectedly claimed by the San Diego Padres.

The Blue Jays gladly traded their expensive reliever back to San Diego (Myers was a Friar in 1992), where he served as a lefty specialist and set-up man to closer Trevor Hoffman.  Myers didn't pitch well in his new role, posting a 6.28 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 21 games with the Padres.  But the trade to San Diego did allow Myers to pitch in the World Series for a second time, eight years after winning a ring with Cincinnati.  Myers did not perform well in the playoffs, allowing four runs in three innings to the Braves and Yankees.

Since San Diego had claimed Myers off waivers, they were now on the hook for the remaining two years and $13 million left on his contract.  But Myers did not pitch at all in 1999 and 2000 because of a damaged shoulder and offseason rotator cuff surgery.  Myers' injuries caused the Padres to become involved in an ugly legal dispute with their insurance carrier, which was eventually settled in 2003.  By that time, Myers had already been out of baseball for two years.  Myers retired in 2001 after appearing in one game with the Seattle Mariners' Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma, allowing four runs without retiring a batter.

Randy Myers pitched 14 seasons in the major leagues with six different teams.  He finished in the league's top ten in saves at least once with each team.  In doing so, Myers became the only player in history to finish in his respective league's top ten in saves with at least six teams.  Myers also led the league in saves three times (1993, 1995, 1997) and finished second twice (1991, 1992).  Against the Mets, Myers was a perfect 21-for-21 in save opportunities.  And of course, Myers' 347 career saves are ninth all-time and third among left-handed pitchers.

The man affectionately referred to as Randall K. Myers by former Mets broadcaster Tim McCarver was a four-time All-Star who received Cy Young consideration in 1990, 1993 and 1997 and MVP votes in 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1997.  Myers also made the playoffs five times with three teams and posted a 2.35 ERA in 29 career postseason appearances.

In his short time with the Mets, Myers saved 56 games, which has him on the outside of the team's top ten list looking in (Braden Looper is 10th all-time with 57 saves as a Met).  His time as a starter in Cincinnati kept him from cracking the Reds' top ten as well.  But Myers is one of only four relievers to save as many as 100 games for the Cubs.  He is also eighth on the Padres' all-time saves list and ranks fifth on the Orioles' leaderboard.

Randy Myers last threw a pitch in a Mets uniform on September 30, 1989.  Since then, six pitchers have earned the right to be the Opening Day closers for the Mets.  Those six pitchers are:

Braden Looper
  • John Franco (1990-1999)
  • Armando Benitez (2000-2003)
  • Braden Looper (2004-2005)
  • Billy Wagner (2006-2008)
  • Francisco Rodriguez (2009-2011)
  • Frank Francisco (2012)

Besides being the team's Opening Day closers, the six pitchers listed above have another thing in common.  None of them were developed in the Mets' minor league system.  Franco and Benitez were acquired via trades, while Looper, Wagner, Rodriguez and Francisco all signed with the Mets as free agents.

The Mets have not developed a closer in their system since Randy Myers.  Sure, Aaron Heilman and Bobby Parnell have been used to close out games for limited stretches, with Heilman recording nine saves as a Met and Parnell notching 14, but the homegrown Met with the most saves since Randy Myers left New York is ... (drum roll please) ... Anthony Young!

Young is most known for his record-setting 27-game losing streak, but he also filled in for incumbent closer John Franco while the Mets' all-time saves leader was recovering from various injuries in 1992 and 1993.  Young saved 15 games for the Mets in 1992 and three more in 1993, ending his Mets career with 18 saves - a number that has only been surpassed by 16 players in Mets history, including the last homegrown Met to save that many games, Randy Myers.

The Mets haven't developed many closers over the last quarter century.  The last time they did, they traded him away for a hometown kid, but not a homegrown player.  The hometown kid (John Franco) became the team's all-time leader in saves, but was never an imposing figure on the mound and only led the league in saves twice as a Met.  The homegrown player (Randy Myers) went on to become one of the most dominant closers the game has ever known, becoming an All-Star with three different teams and setting the National League single season saves record.

Having veteran leadership is always beneficial to a contending team, but sometimes that leadership comes with a price.  The Mets paid that price when they traded Randy Myers to the Cincinnati Reds in 1989.  And they've been paying for other teams' closers ever since.  Sometimes it's best to give a kid a chance.  Otherwise, he might turn into a Met that got away.

Not even a black and white photo can mask how colorful Randy Myers was.

Note:  The Mets That Got Away is a thirteen-part weekly series that spotlights those Mets players who established themselves as major leaguers in New York, only to become stars after leaving town.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 7, 2013: Nolan Ryan
January 14, 2013: Melvin Mora  
January 21, 2013: Kevin Mitchell 
January 28, 2013: Amos Otis
February 4, 2013: Jeff Reardon
February 11, 2013: Lenny Dykstra
February 18, 2013: Jeff Kent

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Joey's Soapbox: Hope Springs Eternal As Winter Ends

Hi, everyone!  I'm Joey Beartran.  Did you miss me?  If you can believe it, I haven't written anything for this site in over two months.  But like the groundhog, I just popped my head out of my hoodie and declared that winter's over and spring has arrived.  And how do I know that?  Because Mets baseball is back and on the air!

When we last saw the Mets, R.A. Dickey was picking up his 20th victory in the Mets' last home game and Scott Hairston was hitting his career-high 20th HR in the regular season finale.  At that point, I should have had 20/20 vision and clearly seen that neither of them would play in a Mets uniform again.  And I would have been right, as Dickey was traded to Toronto for the man with a large P on his back and Hairston signed a free agent contract to lose repeatedly in Chicago.

Since Dickey and Hairston played their last games in New York (as well as Jason Bay, Andres Torres, Ronny Cedeño and a bunch of relief pitchers), I've done many baseball-related activities to keep active with the sport I love.

Are you ready for some Mets baseball?  I sure am!

In November, I went out to Seattle with my sister Iggy.  We took an awful tour of Safeco Field and attended a Seattle Seahawks game.  It wasn't the tour of Safeco that was awful; it was the tour guide.  I actually think Safeco is a beautiful stadium and can't wait to see Jason Bay suck there as much as he did at Citi Field.  At least he'll have company in Seattle, as his teammate from 2010 (Oliver Perez) is already a rusty staple in the Mariners bullpen.

In December, I wrote a letter to Sandy Claus asking for a number of presents underneath my blue and orange tree.  I asked for an upgrade to the bullpen (supposedly accomplished), a set outfield by Opening Day (Sandy Claus must have ignored that one), the re-signing of Scott Hairston (denied), Johan Santana making more than 21 starts (perhaps that's why he's missing time now rather than in the regular season), a dependable fifth starter in the rotation (thank you for Shaun Marcum) and patience with the team's minor league talent (I'll be patient as I await Sandy's decision on that).

In January, I was invited to attend a Q & A session with the Mets front office at Citi Field.  At this event, I met a man who bore a striking resemblance to Sandy Claus, but it couldn't have been him.  If it had been, I'm sure he would have mentioned receiving my letter when I asked him to pose for a photo with me.

Where are my presents, Sandy Claus?  I've been looking everywhere for them!

The calendar has now flipped to February.  Pitchers, catchers, infielders and a plethora of wannabe outfielders have descended upon the newly-renamed Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie for six weeks of spring training.  After nearly two weeks of hitting and fielding drills, as well as sharpening up those "fundies", the Mets will finally play an actual game against another major league team, taking on the division rival Washington Nationals today at noon on SNY.

This winter has been a harsh one for Mets fans and people in the Northeast in general.  We've seen a massive snowstorm.  We've seen the defection of our best pitcher and our slugging outfielder to other teams via a trade and free agency.  We've seen Jason Bay and Bobby Bonilla become our highest paid outfielders despite Bay taking his hustle and ineptitude to the Pacific Northwest and Bonilla not giving up his day job of being a Bronx tour guide.  We've seen it all this winter, but none of it matters anymore.  And why is that?

Because today we're seeing the Mets take the field.

It's time for this ice to melt away.  The Mets are back and they're here to stay!

It doesn't matter how much you think the Mets aren't going to compete this year.  It's irrelevant if you think the only race the Mets will be involved in is the race to finish ahead of the Marlins in the NL East.  Today, everyone is on the same page.  Today, no one player is better than any other player.  Today, the Mets play ball again.  And our hope springs eternal as another long, hard winter comes to an end.

Are you ready for some Mets baseball?  I've been ready since last October.  Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks (and an order of chicken nachos).  I'm so glad the Mets are back!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Travis d'Arnaud Has A Large P

So tell me, Mets fans.  Have you seen the jersey being worn by new Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud in Port St. Lucie?

Take a look at this photo taken by MetsBlog's Matt Cerrone and see if you notice something odd.

Photo by Matt Cerrone/MetsBlog

Now I don't claim to be an expert on fonts, but it sure looks to me as if the first "d" in d'Arnaud is actually an upper case "P" turned upside down.  So do the Mets have a shortage of lower case letters as they do with experienced outfielders?  Or did they just use up their entire budget on left-handed relievers, low-risk, high-reward reclamation projects and Bobby Bonilla?

Travis d'Arnaud is not the first Mets catcher to have a lower case letter in his surname.  In fact, they've had several in recent years.

In 2005, Mike DiFelice played in 11 games for the Mets.  He also spent time as a Met in 2006 and 2007, when he was a teammate of Paul Lo Duca.

If you look at the photos below, the lower case letters on the jerseys of DiFelice and Lo Duca were actually smaller versions of upper case letters.  However, they were definitely Is and Os and not one of the other 24 letters in the alphabet.

Lower case letters in players' surnames were like opinions in the mid-2000s, as it seemed every Met had one.  Even pitcher Mike DeJean, a teammate of DiFelice in 2005, had a mini-"E" on the back of his jersey.

But all Travis d'Arnaud gets is an upside-down upper-case "P" on his first Mets jersey.  I guess he shouldn't complain.  After all, it could have been worse.  He could have been traded to Washington or Los Angeles (of Anaheim) instead of New York, where he might have been a "Natinal" or an "Angee".

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What Do Bob Murphy and The Walking Dead Have In Common?

At first glance, the question looks bizarre.  What does the late, great Bob Murphy have in common with everyone’s favorite zombie apocalypse show?  No, the long-time voice of the Mets has not turned into a ravenous flesh-eating ghoul since he passed away in 2004.  But something he did during his early years as a Mets broadcaster is now being brought back from the dead, so to speak.

In 1973, the ever-versatile Bob Murphy was the host of “Bowling For Dollars”, a show on WOR – TV (Channel 9).  The premise of the show was simple.  If you bowled well, you won dollars.  If you rolled the ball in the gutter, you wouldn’t even get the bowling shoes as a lovely parting gift.  Murphy was the show’s host for one year, then gave up 7-10 splits for seeing-eye hits, focusing his full attention on the Mets in the broadcast booth.

Since “Bowling For Dollars” rolled out its final episode in 2008, the small screen has been devoid of programs filmed at a bowling alley (I’m not including the short-lived “Let’s Bowl”, which ran on Comedy Central for a spell.  That “show” was worse than Mickey Lolich’s farts after eating a rack of Rusty’s ribs.)

But bowling is about to make a comeback on television.  And AMC is making sure it’ll be a show that’s right up our alley.

According to deadline.com, AMC is currently developing a new show called “All-Star Celebrity Bowling”.  The show would feature cast and crew members from top-rated AMC programs such as “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad” bowling for fun and charity.  “Celebrity Bowling” producer Chris Hardwick - who also hosts AMC’s “Talking Dead”, a show that discusses the just-aired episode of its zombie drama - currently streams a bowling show on his YouTube channel featuring AMC celebrities.

For the time being, the new bowling show would only air as a special on AMC.  However, if the show garners good ratings, it could potentially be turned into a series on the channel.

In 1973, Bob Murphy turned a beautiful double play when he provided happy recaps to millions of Mets fans and hosted “Bowling For Dollars”.  Forty years later, bowling is about to make its return to television, this time featuring cast members from “The Walking Dead”.  This Mets fan can’t wait to watch the damn thing.

Monday, February 18, 2013

To 'C' or Not To 'C' - That Is The David Wright Question

According to Anthony DiComo at mlb.com, Terry Collins would like David Wright to be named the team captain, and intends to discuss the matter with Jeff Wilpon and Sandy Alderson. 

For what it's worth, I don't think a 'C' on Wright's jersey is a necessity.  John Franco was the last player to wear the 'C', following Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter, who were co-captains in the late '80s.  But Franco did not officially get the honor until after he lost his job as Mets' closer to Armando Benitez.  Carter didn't get his share of the 'C' until he lobbied for it, saying (and I paraphrase):

"Why does Keith get to wear the 'C' and I can't?  He didn't get a hit in the tenth inning of Game 6.  But I did."

No Met has donned the 'C' in the prime of his career.  So giving it to David Wright when he is in the middle of his stellar career would be a first for the team.  But it's not really necessary.

Did you hear the one about the third baseman and the 'C'?  Cracks me up every time.

The team already knows Wright is the captain of the team.  With the departure of Mike Pelfrey to Minnesota, there is no one else left on the team who remembers firsthand the Great Collapse of 2007.

Wright has been through the highs and suffered the lows.  He even got to play for Mr. Personality himself, Art Howe.  Wright already is the captain.  So why put a 'C' on his jersey other than for merchandising purposes?

Hey, if it gets those Sandy Koufax Brooklyn Dodgers shirts out of the team store, then I'm all for it.  Otherwise, it's not necessary.

David Wright is the longest-tenured Met.  The player with the second longest time on the team is Johan Santana, who almost certainly won't be here in 2014.  After Santana comes Daniel Murphy, Jonathon Niese and Bobby Parnell - the last survivors of Shea Stadium.  None of those players is going to become the team captain while Wright is still around.  And he figures to be here until 2020.

No one needs to tell David Wright he's the captain.  He already knows it.  Similarly, no one needs to stitch a 'C' on his jersey.  I'm sure Wright would rather have a ring instead of a 'C' any day of the week.

The Mets That Got Away: Jeff Kent

There have been countless players who were drafted by the Mets or made their major league debuts wearing orange and blue.  Some of these players became very successful in New York (Tom Seaver, David Wright), while others saw their careers fizzle once they made it to the majors (Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson).

There have also been quite a few players who weren't necessarily drafted by the Mets, but established themselves as major leaguers in New York.  However, some of these players fell short of expectations and were later shipped off to another team, becoming stars for their new employers.  One such player is Jeff Kent.

In 1992, the Mets acquired Kent from Toronto in a much-maligned trade for David Cone.  Cone went on to win the World Series that year as a Blue Jay, then won a ring for each of his other four fingers as a member of the Yankees.  Jeff Kent, on the other hand, never got to experience a winning season in New York.

Although Kent was producing offensive numbers the Mets had never seen before at the second base position, he wasn't about to replace David Cone in the hearts of Mets fans.  Couple that with the fact that Kent was a loner in a city where no one is ever left alone and you have the recipe for a future trade.  And that's exactly what happened four years after the Mets first acquired Kent.  This time, a change in scenery did wonders for Kent's career.

Jeff Kent's cap didn't fit him in New York, just as New York wasn't a good fit for Jeff Kent.

Jeffrey Franklin Kent was not a top prospect when he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1989 June amateur draft.  Drafted as a shortstop in the 20th round, Kent was a good, but not great, prospect.  From 1989 to 1991, Kent showed decent pop in the minors, collecting 80 doubles and 41 homers.  He also showed he could steal a base or two, swiping 47 bags.  However, he had a penchant for striking out (283 Ks in 1,160 at-bats) and combined to hit .256 during those three seasons.

Despite his shortcomings at the plate, Kent was invited to spring training with the Blue Jays in 1992.  A torrid spring allowed Kent to make the team, even though he didn't have a regular position to play.  After being drafted as a shortstop, Kent played mostly second base and third base in the minors.  But Kent was blocked at each position at the major league level by two Gold Glove-winning All-Stars in Roberto Alomar and Kelly Gruber.  Kent also dabbled a little at first base but was blocked there by future batting champion John Olerud.

Kent played sparingly during his rookie season in Toronto, starting 52 of the team's first 126 games.  The ample bench time dashed Kent's confidence at the plate, as the infielder was held to a .240 batting average in 192 at-bats.  With the Blue Jays trying to win the AL East, they weren't about to give a rookie extended playing time.  At the same time, they needed another arm in the rotation if they wanted to make a serious run at the World Series, a place they had never been even though they had won three division titles in seven years.  Enter the New York Mets.

In 1991, the Mets completed their first losing season in eight years, causing them to retool their roster with former All-Stars.  Gone were most of the players from the mid-to-late '80s teams, replaced by veterans such as Eddie Murray, Bobby Bonilla and Bret Saberhagen.  But when those players didn't help the Mets return to prominence, the team realized that it had spent too much money and had gotten nothing in return.  Therefore, the front office decided that if a player's contract was about to expire, especially a player who was due to earn a large sum of money in free agency, that player was going to be traded.  One of the casualties of that new edict was David Cone.

In his five-plus seasons with the Mets, Cone had become one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League.  He became only the fourth pitcher in franchise history to post a 20-win season in 1988 and won two league strikeout titles in 1990 and 1991.  In 1992, as September approached and postseason rosters were due to be set, Cone was gunning for his third consecutive strikeout crown.  But he was also gunning for a big payday as a free agent, and the Mets were not about to dole out another huge contract while the team was in the midst of another losing season.  Cone never got to win that third National League strikeout crown, as he was traded to Toronto for Jeff Kent and outfielder Ryan Thompson.

The Coneheads at Shea Stadium were not happy with the deal, as their favorite son was going north of the border for two players who weren't on anyone's radar.  Kent didn't help things either.  He never went out of his way to endear himself to the fans and he also didn't earn the respect of his teammates, especially when he didn't go along with the rookie hazing that has become a tradition in baseball clubhouses.  Kent raised a ruckus in the clubhouse when his clothes were taken from him and replaced with apparel only a rookie's mother could love.  Kent went on to say:

"I paid my rookie dues in Toronto.  I feel I have endured my embarrassments, my punishment.  I felt I was being taken advantage of.  They wanted to go overboard.  I stuck up for myself.  I won't be pushed around."

Ordinarily, it would be a good thing to hear a player say that he won't be anyone's patsy.  But normally, that player is referring to someone on an opposing team, not a teammate who is sharing locker space with him.  Needless to say, Jeff Kent wasn't the most popular player in the clubhouse after making those remarks.  Kent also wasn't becoming a fan favorite at Shea Stadium, as he batted .239 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 113 at-bats following the trade.

The 1993 season saw Kent finally establish himself as a major leaguer.  Kent set team records for second baseman by blasting 21 homers and driving in 80 runs.  But although he was hitting with power, he did not have very good plate discipline (88 Ks, 30 BB).  Kent was also a horrible fielder.  He led the league in errors by a second baseman (18) despite playing only 127 games at the position.  Still, it was hard to get on him for his defense, especially when he was becoming one of the team's most productive hitters.

In the strike-shortened 1994 campaign, Kent led the Mets in batting average (.292), hits (121), doubles (24), triples (5) and RBIs (68).  He also hit 14 home runs while playing 107 games at second base.  But that wasn't the only thing he had 14 of.  Once again, Kent played atrocious defense, making 14 errors at second base to tie for the league lead with the Marlins' Bret Barberie.  But hey, at least he could still hit, right?

After two seasons of good hitting and poor fielding, Kent finally had a letdown at the plate in 1995.  And once he started to struggle as a hitter, all of his other flaws became that much more evident.  In 1994, Kent was one of the best hitters in baseball with runners in scoring position, posting a .385 average (40-for-104) in those situations.  Just a year later, he was one of the worst, batting a miserable .199 (27-for-136) in those pressure-packed at-bats.

As a result, Kent saw drops in his overall batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.  He also had fewer doubles, triples and RBIs despite playing in 18 more games than he did in 1994.  Not by coincidence, fans finally started to notice that he couldn't play a lick at second base (even though he made only ten errors in 1995) and started too rain boos on Kent from every level at Shea Stadium.  The Mets also took notice and by 1996, Kent was the team's starting third baseman.

Jeff Kent's bubble had already burst at second base.  In 1996, his career as a Met popped as well.

The 1995 Mets finished the season strongly, going a league-best 34-18 over their last 52 games.  But the 1996 squad struggled out of the gate, losing ten of their first 14 games.  By mid-May, the Mets were already facing a double-digit deficit in the NL East standings.  Despite the career years being posted by players such as Todd Hundley, Bernard Gilkey and Lance Johnson, the Mets fell out of playoff contention before the All-Star Break.  Although most of the team's struggles were caused by the failures of the much-hyped Generation K pitching triumvirate, Jeff Kent received some of the blame as well.

Through early June, Kent was hitting .257 and his on-base percentage was hovering around .300.  Although Kent had hit 20+ home runs in two of his previous three seasons, he had only managed five round-trippers in his first 58 games and had a low RBI total (22) through June 7.  And this was from a player who spent most of May and June hitting fourth or fifth in the lineup.  Kent also did not adjust very well to his new position, committing 21 errors at the hot corner in only 89 games.  (Houston's Sean Berry led all National League third basemen with 22 errors, but he played 43 more games at the position than Kent.)

By the All-Star Break, it was clear that the Mets were going to be sellers instead of buyers at the trade deadline.  It was also clear that Jeff Kent had worn out his welcome in New York.  He was a good hitter, but was not very patient at the plate.  In four-plus seasons as a Met, Kent drew a mere 110 walks and struck out 346 times.  That and his inability to handle the media, his teammates and the city made it easy for the Mets to part ways with Kent, which they did on July 29 when they sent him and Jose Vizcaino to Cleveland for three-time All-Star Carlos Baerga and veteran infielder Alvaro Espinoza.

Espinoza played well as a Met, batting .306 in 48 games before signing with the Seattle Mariners as a free agent in 1997.  But Baerga, who averaged 19 HR and 97 RBIs as an Indian from 1992 to 1995, was a disappointment in New York, managing a total of 18 HR and 116 RBIs in 2½ seasons as a Met.  Jeff Kent managed to do a heck of a lot more.

After playing in 39 games with the Indians and getting his first taste of the postseason (Kent went 1-for-8 in Cleveland's four-game ALDS loss to the Baltimore Orioles), Kent was traded to the San Francisco Giants in a six-player deal that netted Cleveland perennial All-Star and Gold Glove winner Matt Williams.  With the Mets, Kent hit between guys like Carl Everett, Rico Brogna and Joe Orsulak.  As a Giant, Kent hit behind Barry Bonds and his .446 on-base percentage and in front of J.T. Snow and his career-high 28 HR and 104 RBIs.  Needless to say, Kent blossomed as a hitter in his new environment.

In 1997, Kent set career highs across the board, slamming 29 homers and driving in 121 runs.  He also collected 38 doubles and scored 90 runs.  Kent accomplished this despite a .250 batting average and 133 strikeouts.  By 1998, low batting averages and high strikeout rates had become a thing of the past.

In his second year with the Giants, Kent's power numbers continued to impress (37 doubles, 31 HR, 128 RBI).  But he had a marked improvement as a hitter, raising his batting average 47 points to .297, while striking out 23 fewer times than he did in 1997.  One year later, Kent became an All-Star for the first time, finishing the year with his third consecutive 100-RBI season and his first 40-double campaign.

Going into the 2000 season, Jeff Kent had already completed three phenomenal years in San Francisco.  Any one of those seasons could have been considered a career year for most players, especially for a middle infielder.  But the 1997 to 1999 campaigns were just a springboard for what Kent achieved in 2000.

Kent finished the year with a .334 batting average and .424 on-base percentage.  He also led the National League with 81 extra-base hits, collecting 41 doubles, seven triples and 33 home runs, while scoring 114 runs and driving in 125.  For his efforts, Kent was voted the National League's Most Valuable Player and earned his first Silver Slugger Award as the Giants went on to win the NL West crown with a league-best 97 wins.  Kent was in the playoffs for the third time in five seasons, but this time he was going to be facing the Mets.

After dropping the first game to the Giants in San Francisco, the Mets came back to win the next three games to take the NLDS in four games.  New York held the Giants to a .205 batting average in the series, but had a tough time figuring out Jeff Kent.  Kent batted .375 in the NLDS, leading the Giants with six hits and three runs scored.  He also produced the only hit in Bobby Jones' series-clinching one-hit shutout.

It was more of the same for Kent in 2001 (.298, 49 doubles, 22 HR, 106 RBI) and 2002 (.313, 42 doubles, 37 HR, 108 RBI).  In the latter season, Kent finally earned his first trip to the World Series, a hard-fought seven-game loss to the Anaheim Angels.  Kent hit three home runs in the Fall Classic.  He also scored six runs and led the team with seven runs batted in.  But Kent and teammate Barry Bonds (.471, four homers) couldn't prevent the Angels from taking Games 6 and 7, sending the Giants home without a World Series title.  Kent had fallen short of his goal to win a championship and was not going to get another chance to reach that goal in San Francisco.

Although Kent had had six incredibly productive seasons in San Francisco, the same problems that got him shipped out of New York in 1996 caused the Giants to let him walk as a free agent.  First, Kent lied to the team about a wrist injury he suffered in spring training, claiming it was caused while he was washing his truck when in reality, it happened while he was riding his motorcycle.  Second, he got into a dugout scuffle with Barry Bonds, who was the face of the franchise at the time.  Both incidents contributed greatly in the Giants' decision not to re-sign Kent.  Two months after Kent watched the Angels celebrate their World Series title, he signed a two-year, $18.2 million contract to play for the Houston Astros.

Injuries caused Kent to miss a month of action prior to the All-Star Break in 2003.  But he was still quite productive when he was healthy enough to play.  He finished his first year in Houston with a .297 average, 39 doubles, 22 homers and 93 RBIs.  However, the month he missed due to tendinitis in his left wrist caused him to finish under 100 RBIs for the first time since 1996.  It also dealt a serious blow to the Astros' playoff hopes.  Houston went 12-11 during Kent's time on the disabled list.  The team was 13 games over .500 when Kent was able to start.  Kent's injury was a major reason why the Astros failed to make the playoffs in 2003, as Houston finished one game behind the Chicago Cubs for the National League Central division title.

Kent started a new triple digit RBI streak in 2004, batting .289 with 27 HR and 107 RBIs for the Astros.  But this time Kent did not spend any time on the disabled list.  And when Houston needed a miracle finish to avoid falling short of the playoffs for a second straight season, Kent carried them to the promised land.

Former Mets Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino celebrate while Met-hating umpire Angel Hernandez looks on.  Shoot me now.

Going into the final week of the regular season, Houston's record stood at 85-70.  They were in third place in the National League wild card race, two games behind the Giants and 2½ games behind the Cubs.  But the Astros went on a tear, winning their last seven games to finish one game ahead of the Giants and three games in front of Chicago. 

Although Houston had MVP candidates Lance Berkman (.308, 1 HR, 4 RBI during the season-ending seven-game winning streak) and Carlos Beltran (.267, 0 HR, 2 RBI during the streak), it was Jeff Kent's bat that propelled the team during its run to the wild card.  Kent hit .444 (12-for-27) during the season's final week.  He slammed four homers (three of which gave Houston the lead), drove in eight runs and scored eight times.  Kent's RBI single in the regular season finale proved to be the winning run in the Astros' wild card-clinching victory.

Houston fell one win short of their first World Series appearance, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS.  But Kent did all he could to help the team make it to a seventh game, producing five extra-base hits (including a walk-off homer in Game 5) and seven RBIs in the series.  Once again, Kent bolted for a new team as soon as his contract expired, this time ending up in Los Angeles.

Kent had a productive first season as a Dodger in 2005, batting .289 with 36 doubles, 29 homers and 105 RBIs in 149 games.   But that would be the 37-year-old Kent's last great year in the major leagues.

In 2006, Kent had his least productive season since his final year in New York, collecting only 14 HR and 68 RBIs, while batting .292.  When Kent posted those exact numbers for the Mets in 1994, they were considered to be outstanding.  But they were considered subpar for a player who had already produced numerous 30 HR, 100 RBI seasons.  The only thing that wasn't subpar for Kent in 2006 was his performance in the postseason.  Just as he had done six years earlier as a member of the Giants, Kent took apart Mets pitching in the NLDS, batting .615 (8-for-13) in the series.  But once again, his exploits at the plate were not enough to defeat his former team, as the Mets swept Los Angeles to advance to the NLCS.  Kent did, however, take part in one of the most bizarre plays in the series in Game 1, when he and teammate J.D. Drew were both tagged out at home on the same play by Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca.

"Just your routine double play."

Kent played two more injury-riddled seasons in Los Angeles, averaging 16 HR and 69 RBIs in 2007 and 2008, before playing his final game in the big leagues in (you guessed it) a postseason loss.  The Dodgers advanced to the NLCS in 2008, but fell to the eventual World Series champion Phillies in five games.  Kent ended his career by going 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in the NLCS loss.

Jeff Kent was never supposed to accomplish much in the major leagues.  If he had, he wouldn't have been bypassed by every team until the Blue Jays selected him in the 20th round of the 1992 amateur draft.  But he proved the naysayers wrong, becoming one of the best hitting second basemen of all time.

Kent finished his 17-year career with 2,461 hits, which included 560 doubles and 377 home runs.  Kent's 351 homers as a second baseman (he hit 26 at other positions) make him the all-time home run leader at the position.  He also scored 1,320 runs and collected 1,518 RBIs.  Kent was a five-time All-Star, won four Silver Slugger Awards and received MVP votes in seven different seasons, which includes four top ten finishes and the 2002 National League MVP Award.

During a nine-year stretch from 1997 to 2005, Kent was one of the most productive hitters in baseball.  An average Kent season in his near-decade run of excellence consisted of a .296 batting average, 40 doubles, 28 home runs and 110 RBIs.  Kent also made the playoffs seven times in his career and excelled against the Mets in two postseason meetings, batting .483 (14-for-29) in the 2000 and 2006 Division Series versus New York. 

Finally, as a member of the San Francisco Giants, Kent put up some of the best power numbers in the franchise's long and storied history.  On a team that can claim Mel Ott, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Matt Williams and Barry Bonds, to name a few, Jeff Kent's name can be found on the team's all-time home run list (175 - 10th all-time in Giants history) and slugging percentage (.535 - tied for 5th with Orlando Cepeda).

Richie Hebner
In many ways, Jeff Kent was like a modern-day Richie Hebner.  Both players were frequent postseason participants, with Hebner's teams making the playoffs eight times and Kent appearing in seven postseasons.  Both players were also very vocal about their displeasure with the Mets and the city they played in.  But there was one major difference between Kent and Hebner.

Richie Hebner came to New York at the tail end of his career, after having played over a decade in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, winning multiple division titles with each team.  Jeff Kent became a Met during his rookie season in the major leagues, then went on to become one of the greatest hitting second basemen of all-time after he left the city he never cared for.

Had Jeff Kent never left New York, perhaps Edgardo Alfonzo wouldn't have become the legendary Met he became.  Perhaps the Mets wouldn't have signed Robin Ventura, who was so instrumental during the team's run to the 1999 NLCS and 2000 World Series.  Perhaps Mets history would have looked a lot different.  (Just think - had Kent not carried the Astros on his back during the final week of the 2004 regular season, then Carlos Beltran might never have reached the postseason that year and would not have gotten a chance to parlay a record-setting playoff performance into a nine-figure deal with the Mets.)

But Kent did leave New York.  And he became a superstar in San Francisco.

Sometimes Mets fans cringe when they think of great players the team let get away.  But in Jeff Kent's case, fans would have cringed had he stayed in New York.  Although Kent had a Hall of Fame-caliber career after he skipped town, his departure was probably the best thing that could have happened to both him and the Mets.  This is one Met that should have gotten away and did.  And everyone involved ended up better because of it.

Note:  The Mets That Got Away is a thirteen-part weekly series that spotlights those Mets players who established themselves as major leaguers in New York, only to become stars after leaving town.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 7, 2013: Nolan Ryan
January 14, 2013: Melvin Mora  
January 21, 2013: Kevin Mitchell 
January 28, 2013: Amos Otis
February 4, 2013: Jeff Reardon
February 11, 2013: Lenny Dykstra

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Kid Is Gone, Long Live The Kid

One year ago today, Gary Carter lost his battle with brain cancer at the young age of 57.  Carter's loss was felt throughout the Mets community, with tributes ranging from t-shirts to a home plate candlelight vigil to commemorative patches on the team's jerseys and the outfield wall at Citi Field.

Carter was a leader both on and off the field, despite his relative short time as a Met.  His five years with the team produced two division titles, one World Series championship and a plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame.  Since Carter played his last game for the Mets in 1989, only Todd Hundley and Mike Piazza have spent at least five seasons as the Mets' No. 1 catcher.  And since Mike Piazza waved goodbye to the Shea Stadium crowd in 2005, the Mets have played musical chairs at the catcher's position, employing four different Opening Day backstops and 17 catchers overall.

Needless to say, there hasn't been much stability at a position that has historically been one of the most stable for the Mets.  But the new kid in town might change that.

Travis d'Arnaud was the 37th overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft.  After four minor league seasons, d'Arnaud is poised to make his major league debut for the Mets in 2013.  When he does, it will be as the team's No. 1 catcher, a position he hopes to hold for as long as Gary Carter did, if not longer.

Gary Carter was the 53rd overall pick in the 1972 amateur draft.  Although he only hit .262 in parts of three minor league seasons, Carter was called up to the struggling Expos in 1974 after displaying outstanding power at the Triple-A level (23 HR, 83 RBI in 135 games).  He also showed tremendous arm strength, was an excellent caller of games, and was able to effectively handle his pitching staff at a very young age.  Sounds an awful lot like what the experts are saying about Travis d'Arnaud today.

Travis d'Arnaud can look up to Gary Carter for a player whose career he'd like to emulate.

When Gary Carter was a Met, he gave the team everything they were looking for in a starting catcher.  He was a field manager.  He was a mentor to his pitchers.  He studied the game.  He came through when the team needed him.

In 1984, the Mets had six pitchers who made at least ten starts.  Of those six, only Dwight Gooden had an ERA under 3.50.  In 1985, when Carter played his first year in New York, the Mets had five pitchers make at least ten starts.  All five of them finished the year with an ERA under 3.50.  Clearly, their collective improvement was a result of having a great catcher behind the plate.  And of course, having a catcher who could produce a 30 HR, 100 RBI campaign - as Carter did in 1985 - didn't hurt either.

Travis d'Arnaud has the potential to be a solid hitter in the major leagues - one who can produce many runs for his pitchers to work with.  Barring any setbacks, he should be a Met at some point in 2013.  When he does make the team, he'll be catching the likes of Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese and quite possibly Zack Wheeler.  All three pitchers are young and all three pitchers will need a catcher whose presence behind the plate will make them better on the mound.

For all the wonderful things Gary Carter did as a batter, it was his contribution as a molder of a young pitching staff that helped fuel the team to a World Series championship.  Like Carter before him, Travis d'Arnaud has a chance to be a special hitter in the big leagues.  But if he can replicate what Gary Carter did behind the plate, then the Mets have a chance to become a special team.

The Kid left us one year ago today.  But he also left the new kid a blueprint for how to help the team get back to a level of success it hasn't experienced in over a quarter century.  Good pitchers produce championships.  Good catchers produce good pitchers.  It worked for Gary Carter.  It can work for Travis d'Arnaud.  Long live the new kid.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Heartbreaking Transactions: A Mets Valentine's Day Special

Mets chief cook and bottle washer Fred Wilpon has announced to the world that the team is no longer in debt and can spend on free agents if there are good players to be had.  Papa Smirk made the announcement yesterday as pitchers and catchers have been trickling in to training camp in Port St. Lucie.

The news was meant to coincide with the comments made by manager Terry Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson on the state of the team.  However, at Studious Metsimus, we know better than that.  We know that Wilpon wanted to make the announcement in time for Valentine’s Day, a day known for spending money on unnecessary gifts, an intense outpouring of love, and a famous massacre.  And who knows more about spending money on unnecessary things (Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, Jason Bay), unconditional love (Sandy Koufax) and massacres (damn you, M. Donald Grant!) than the Mets?

In honor of Papa Smirk’s Valentine’s Day announcement, let’s take a look at what the Mets have done over the years when they’ve spent money for players they thought fans would love, only to see them revolt when those players failed to live up to expectations:

I'm in the mood for love...

In the 1970s, the Mets boasted wonderful starting pitching and a woeful offense.  Throughout the decade, the Mets tried to acquire a top slugger.  Joe Foy and Jim Fregosi were supposed to improve the offense.  Instead, they became answers to trivia questions about the worst trades in Mets history.  The closest they ever came to acquiring a top hitting talent was when they traded for Rusty Staub in 1972.  Of course, after the 1975 season, one-month wonder Mike Vail pushed the team to trade Staub to Detroit for Mickey “The Refrigerator” Lolich.  One can only imagine that if Twitter had existed in the mid-1970s, that deal would have been referred to as the #LOL-ich trade.  Have another donut, Mickey.

So the 1970s didn’t quite work out with regards to trading for a top hitter.  But once Frank Cashen came on board with his pedigree for winning (Baltimore won several American League pennants under his watch), it was assumed that the Mets would finally sign a premier slugger to give them a legitimate power threat in the lineup.  They thought they added that punch when they signed former home run champion George Foster to a five-year, $10 million deal in 1982.  A .300, 30 HR, 100 RBI season was commonplace for Foster in Cincinnati.  As a Met, he never hit .300, never hit 30 HR and never drove in 100 runs in a season.  Foster was as punchless at the plate as he was on the field.  The leftfielder refused to participate in a bench-clearing brawl against his former team in Cincinnati, citing that it would be a bad example for kids.  This, of course, from the same man who thought “Get Metsmerized” would be a hit rap album.

"I'm George Foster and I'm here to say - if there's a fight, on the bench I'll stay."

Cashen did well after learning from the George Foster fiasco.  But his replacement did not.  After Cashen’s departure in the early 1990s, the Mets tried to put together the best team money could buy, signing former All-Stars like Eddie Murray and Bret Saberhagen, as well as manager Jeff Torborg.  They also brought in the Bronx’s most famous tour guide, Bobby Bonilla.  Just as the Mets made Foster the highest paid player in baseball in 1982, they did the same one decade later for Bonilla.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Bonilla spent his hard(ly)-earned money on a wonderful pair of earplugs in four so-so seasons with the Mets.  Bonilla actually did reach the 30-HR mark that eluded Foster, but he also surpassed the ‘80s “slugger” in boos and phone calls placed to the official scorer.  Bonilla should have just stuck to being a tour guide to authors and reporters.  At least he was pretty good at that.

Sometime between being picked before Roger Clemens and Lenny Dysktra in the 1981 June amateur draft and being accused of sexual misbehavior as an ESPN baseball analyst, Steve Phillips was the Mets general manager.  Phillips continued the once-a-decade tradition of trying to upgrade the offense in a year ending in the number “2”, signing and/or trading for Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz, Roger Cedeño, Shawn Estes, Jeff D’Amico and Pedro Astacio.  Had Stifler’s mom been available, he probably would have made a run at her, too.  (Rumor has it that she was already locked up in a deal with a relative of former Met phenom Sidd Finch.)  Phillips eventually took care of his sexual frustration when he became ESPN’s resident lothario.  His class of 2002 gave Mets fans a different kind of frustration.

Finally, Omar Minaya didn’t wait until a year ending in “2”, acquiring Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Orlando “The Dookie” Hernandez, Duaner Sanchez, Roberto Hernandez, Oliver Perez, Guillermo Mota, Luis Castillo, Julio Franco, Moises Alou, Johan Santana (see a pattern forming here?) and honorary “Los Mets” players Paul Lo Duca, Billy Wagner and Jason Bay.  Under Minaya, the team had what can now be called a fluke season in 2006, claiming the NL East division crown with a league-best 97 wins.  Unfortunately, the 83-win Cardinals led the National League in World Series championships that year with one.  After two late-season collapses by the rapidly aging team in 2007 and 2008 and two injury-riddled sub-.500 campaigns in 2009 and 2010, Minaya was relieved of his duties.  He can now be seen signing players left and right on Metstradmus’ Facebook page and Twitter account.

For many years, the Mets were content to toss money at players, hoping they would produce in Flushing the way they produced with their former teams.  But for every player that actually does well after coming to New York (we miss you, R.A. Dickey), there are a handful of players that don’t (Vincenzo Grucci – you may know his as Vince Coleman – comes to mind).

According to Fred Wilpon, the team now has money to spend, which it will most likely do in 2014.  Wilpon made this announcement as a pre-Valentine’s Day gift to fans who have been forced to sit through four straight seasons of fourth place finishes.  We’ll see if Wilpon really does have money to spend or if he was just yanking our chains to get us to come back to Citi Field for something other than Pat LaFrieda steaks.  If we find out that he cut back on Valentine’s Day flowers and chocolates for high school sweetheart Sandy Koufax, then perhaps this time we might have to believe him.

Smooch, there it is!