While I was at the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) Dinner last night, many players and personnel stood at the podium, one after the other, and gave fantastic touching speeches. One of those, was by the magnificent Mets GM, Sandy Alderson. Sandy spoke in depth about the leaders and good guys on his team, thus presenting R.A. Dickey with the Arthur and Milton Richman "You Gotta Have a Heart Award" Award. Sandy and his presence really did light up the whole room though. And as he spoke about the Mets past and present, it inspired me to write about the quick turn-around that the Mets have already endured.
Not too long ago, the Mets were a laughing stock. The Amazin's were the first that came to the mind of many, when the terms "joke," "overpaid," "choke," and "horrible" were thrown around. Year after year the Mets would spend a boatload of money on free agents and make claims trying to excite the fans and at the same time "scaring" the Phillies. Obviously it backfired on the Mets. The question has always been, how can the Mets get back to those days of bees, shining orange and blue opposed to just plain orange and blue, and simply heading in the right direction.
2006 was a revelation. Everything went right for the Mets then. They had an exciting center fielder in Carlos Beltran who was in the second year of his contract. They had a tremendous young left side of the infield in David Wright and Jose Reyes. They had Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green, two veterans who made a big impact. They also had a pitching staff that knew a lot about winning; Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, Pedro Martinez, and Steve Trachsel. Those four combined for 5 Cy Young's and 6 World Series Championships. The Mets stellar season in Queens that year was good enough for the Mets to eventually be in the NLCS.
Although things didn't go as planned in the NLCS for the Mets, they certainly were able to hang their hats on something. Many things actually. They were able to find their future shortstop and third-baseman in Reyes and Wright. They won 97 games in a division that wasn't exactly a wash. But most of all, they were not an embarrassment. You couldn't look at the Mets and make jokes such as the ones made in years the forthcoming years after '06 such as 2007 al the way to 2010.
Speaking of 2007-2010, I don't even know where to start. The Omar Minaya and Wilpon Mets were quick to go down the drain from their almost-triumphant campaign in '06. It started off in early 2007, when Carlos Beltran made some comments that angered the Philly fans, players, and in retrospect, Mets fans. Of course you want to have confidence in your guys. As a player, you need to be a leader, just as long as it doesn't backfire on you -- well it did.
By early August, it seemed as the Mets were able to back up their center fielder. The Mets were on their way becoming back to back division winners, and hopefully world champions at last. The '85 Mets were certainly in the background, as it the Mets hadn't come close to winning the World Series until 2006. But when the later part of the '07 season arrived, the embarrassment came to fruition. A big time whole team slump resulted in a Philadelphia Phillies late season run, causing a final Kevin Gregg pitch which ended the season for the Mets. In other words, they choked. The "boobirds" came alive and unfortunately, would last for another few seasons.
2008 came around, and the Mets made a fantastic move during Spring Training. They outbid the Yankees and Red Sox for at the time, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Johan Santana. They continued to deplete their farm system, but got an ace in return. They traded Phillip Humber, Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, and Kevin Mulvey for the Twins ace. Not only that, but they quickly cashed in their chips and signed Johan to a six-year/$137.5MM deal including a club option for the 2012 season. Ironically enough, this kept the snowball rolling downhill.
The 2008 Mets got off to a hot start like the '07 ones. Hovering around 1st place until the Phillies late season surge, the Mets were one of the more impressive teams in baseball for a stint. But uh-oh, the embarrassment fairy came back to haunt them. Some pretty lousy feats by the Mets occured, involving some blow-ups at Citizens Bank Park, and of course, a last day battle with the Marlins, again, in order to secure the Mets a post-season spot. That year, the surprise Brewers were tremendous down the stretch, such as the '07 Phillies were. Ryan Braun was on a tear. But of course, the Amazin's were certainly not at the wrong time. Shea Stadium didn't treat the Mets well in their final week at the park. Despite pitching a two-hit complete game shutout, Santana would be disappointed the following day. All the Mets needed that sundaywas a win, to either win the wild card, or force a one-game playoff with the Brewers to decide the wild card. Well, thanks to Dan Uggla and Wes Hemls' back to back home runs in the 7th inning, Cameron Maybin's final putout signified the end of the Shea Stadium era and of course, the Mets season.
But the excitement of Citi Field was there. Another year of the core-four, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Delgado would mean magical things would happen during the first year of the Citi Field era right? Obviously you know what happened. During the off-season, Omar Minaya's dreams of the Los Mets occured, but not in winning fashion. Francisco Rodriguez and Oliver Perez were inked to three-year deals. Minaya also traded six prospects for a horrible season of J.J. Putz.
Well, despite the greenest Citi Field grass you will ever see, the Mets, who were picked by some to not only break free of the embarrassment fairy, didn't come close. In fact, they went backward. In '08, the core-four each played 159+ games. In 2009, David Wright led the quad in games played, at 145. But it wasn't so much the fact that they missed time, it was the trickle down effect, causing the "nine little indians" to die off in Hollywood fashion. Of course, that didn't really happen, but they hit the DL, one after the other. Even J.J. Putz, who was one of the prize acquisitions of the off-season, scared the "bees" away withhis wildness and an eventual season-ending injury. The same thing happened to almost every Met you can imagine. Delgado, Beltran, Santana, Reyes, and Schnieder all dropped like flies. Furthermore, Oliver Perez was arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in '09. It wasn't until Daniel Murphy and Angel Pagan stepped up to provide as the saviors, and of course scaring off the embarrassment fairy, but only because there was simply nothing else to be embarrassed about.
The Omar Minaya era would only last for another year after that. Minaya signed Jason Bay to a four-year deal during the '09-'10 off-season. Minaya wasn't done though. He was quick to trade Brian Stokes, a good reliever at the time, for Gary Matthews Jr. Sarge Jr. was dreadful as a Met during his stint. The outfielder was quick to be release shortly after the 2010 season was underway. However, I could ramble about all of the laughable things for the Mets in 2010, especially another encounter with the embarrassment fairy, but the 2010 season seemed more like a building block for future success. Guys like Ike Davis brought more Mets fans to beautiful Citi Field. Bobby Parnell and Jennry Mejia impressed more and more Mets fans. And a breakout season of Angel Pagan generated buzz that could eventually mean success in Queens. However, Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran, missed time with injury and were extremely unproductive during their time on the field. Johan Santana missed the last month of the season with an elbow injury, Luis Castillo was one of the worst players in the game. Francisco Rodriguez also had his encounter withthe feds, getting arrested for a clubhouse fight with his girlfriends father.
But even with an 80-82 finish, the Mets now knew how to take the embarrassment fairy by the throat and ship him/her to a place quite far from Citi Field. There is further confidence that he/she will not return anytime soon.
And I think the confidence is here. Ever since the Sandy Alderson era occured, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi came aboard. As did an influx of possible comeback candidates, as well as simple excitement about the future. Taylor Bucholz, Chris Capuano, Chris Young, Ronny Paulino, Willie Harris, Brad Emaus, Pedro Beato, Scott Hairston, Tim Byrdak, Taylor Tankersley, and D.J. Carrasco were all brought in this off-season Some through the Rule 5 Draft, some on minor league deals, few on Major League deals. But all represent low-risk high-upside talent. The majority (and we can rarely ever say this) like the Mets moves this off-season. These acquisitions are encouraging simply because if they all go wrong, who cares? It won't hurt the future of the Mets. But if they all perform to expected standards, they all benefit the Mets for little, even minimal cost to say the least.
Finally, the bees are flying around the the parking lot of Citi Field. The grass is ever so green. The embarrassment fairy is long gone. And the Mets are expected to look a lot better in their blue and orange uniforms than they ever did since 2006. The days of horrible contracts, win-now pressure, and last day chokes are behind them. The Mets can finally play baseball the right way at Citi Field.
Sandy Aldersonhas a lot to do with this. As he was presenting the award to R.A. Dickey, not only myself, but many others in the room were able to sense confidence and trust in the Mets. It almost felt like they were a team all in it to win together for the first time since '06. It seemed as if Sandy, could forsee the Mets future and see nothing but positive encounters in the Mets future. It just seemed as if the Mets family was in good hands.
In other words, not only do "you gotta have heart," "You gotta believe!"