I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The Mets are putting together their best rotation since they hyped Jason Isringhausen-Bill Pulsipher-Paul Wilson of the mid-’90s, and they did it the old-fashioned way: they traded for it. The Giants sent Zack Wheeler in the Carlos Beltran rental, and the Blue Jays contributed Noah Syndergaard in exchange for R.A. Dickey. As if catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud wasn’t enough. When general manager Alex Anthopolous is dismissed in Toronto, the Dickey trade will be why. Syndergaard is 6-6, 21 years old and already a veteran of AA. He’s fanned 329 in 293.2 and four for every batter he’s walked; his career ERA is 2.64. For comparison’s sake, Matt Harvey fanned a little less than three minor-league batters for every one he walked, and his minor-league ERA was .84 of a run higher. The Mets are best remembered for trading Nolan Ryan, but they also shaped some of their best staffs by dealing for prospects Ron Darling (Lee Mazzilli) and David Cone (Ed Hearn). That may not make up for Ryan, but Syndergaard will help reduce the imbalance.
Trivia:Who were the nine starters for the Mets on Opening Day 1962 in their very first game? Bonus points if you can name the three relievers and two pinch-hitters they used in that first game. And which Met who played that day remained a Met the longest, without leaving. Answer below.
What he said: Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, on being sent to AAA: “I always knew there was a possibility that I would be going to the Minors. But I definitely am shocked at this decision.” What he meant: “I thought the Mets were the minors.”
Outlook: The Mets got better by not getting worse in 2013, winning the same 74 games they won in 2012 and watching the Phillies slide right by, from 81 wins to 73. Patience pays off if your opponents are worse.
Unfortunately, the Mets haven’t improved their win total since going from 70 to 79 in 2010; since then it’s been 77-74-74, the Mets drifting like litter in the East River.
It’s hard to be completely confident in what the Mets are doing when they add an overweight, PED-suspended, soon-to-be 41 year old to the rotation (can there be a better role model for their young starters?), the Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd of relievers to their pitching staff and publicly rebuke 25% of their starting lineup.
And yet the Mets have acquired some potentially excellent pieces over the last few years as they’ve maintained status quo in the standings: Harvey, Wheeler, Syndergaard and Rafael Montero in the rotation; d’Arnaud behind the plate, Wilmer Flores wherever he can do the least damage in the infield.
The farm system was ranked sixth this winter by ESPN’s Keith Law, and the Mets were astute enough to sign Marlon Byrd, ply 21 homers out of him and exchange him for 20-year-old second baseman Dilson Herrera. That’s an organization that’s going places.
Then they pay Dice-K $100,000 to send him to the minors and, general manager Sandy Alderson said the goal is 90 wins and you wonder if every day is April Fool’s Day.
The Mets have spent parts of the last couple years deriding first baseman Ike Davis for his lack of production, outfielder Juan Lagares for his flamboyance and shortstop Ruben Tejada for his attitude. And yet all three have apparently won jobs for 2014 with the parent club.
That’s a whole lot of tough love the Mets have dished out. And as in parenting, it will take a few years to be able to tell if it worked.
Trivia answer: The nine starters for the Mets in their first game on April 11, 1962 were, in order: Richie Ashburn, center field; Felix Mantilla, shortstop; Charlie Neal, second base; Frank Thomas, left field; Gus Bell, right field; Gil Hodges, first base; Don Zimmer, third base; Hobie Landrith, catcher; Roger Craig pitcher. Craig was relieved by Bob Moorhead, Herb Moford and Clem Labine. Pinch-hitters were Ed Bouchee and Jim Marshall. The 1962 opening day Met who remained a Met the longest gets an asterisk. It’s Frank Thomas, who hit 52 homers as a Met, for longest consecutive service before being traded to the Phillies on Aug. 7, 1964 (his broken thumb adversely affected the pennant race). Moorhead gets an asterisk, in that he remained in the organization but did not pitch for the Mets in ’63 and ’64, but did in ’65. Hodges managed the Senators from ’63-67 but was the Mets manager from ’68-’71 and until his death at spring training 1972.
Team song: Jimmy Buffet: Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes