Hindsight alert: The Mets should’ve held onto Marco Scutaro. Or they shouldn’t have let him go so soon. Certainly not for so little, which is to say for absolutely nothing.
As sketchy as my recollections of Scutaro’s 75 games hitting .216 in a Mets uniform are, I do recall clearly his beginning and his end. He arrived as an anecdote to which I’ve already made reference once this postseason, but it was so enjoyable, let’s go there again.
Scutaro was called up to the Mets in the about-to-be-wretched summer of 2002. He introduced himself to his new manager, Bobby Valentine, while in the team hotel in Cincinnati. And Valentine told him, hi, good to meet ya, kid…because Valentine had no idea who he was, communication not being a hallmark of the Bobby V-Steve Phillips relationship.
When the manager doesn’t know Marco from Adam, it’s not a good sign for Marco. But the 26-year-old rookie got a big hit early (a pinch-triple that drove in two runs against Montreal) and seemed as good an addition to the ’02 Mets as anybody. Which was a sad commentary in a year when the Mets had added Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn, but that’s another story.
Marco became one of those frequent-flier mileage collectors on the Norfolk-to-LaGuardia route. He didn’t impress Bobby, who famously stuck him in the outfield just long enough for a ball to find an out-of-position infielder, and Art Howe had no problem alternately sending him down and ignoring him in 2003. Still, those Mets, a 66-95 juggernaut, could use all the spit and vinegar they could muster, so I figured scrappy Scutaro would be good for a long look in 2004. The Mets had been looking long at Joe McEwing since 2000. Scutaro seemed at least as plausible an option, like a McEwing with talent.
Then, to my proportional shock and surprise (because, let’s face it, how shocked and surprised are you going to get about a backup infielder?), I read in October of 2003 that the A’s had picked up Scutaro and outfielder Matt Watson off waivers. “The Mets let Scutaro go for nothing?” was my reaction, if only to myself. “I thought they loved guys like him. They’ve loved Super Joe for four seasons!”
In the midst of the ’03 postseason, the one in which the Yankees and Red Sox were playing seven games for the American League pennant while Pedro Martinez was having enough of Don Zimmer’s lovable gnome act, the Scutaro-Watson Waiver Transaction Story didn’t gain much traction in the media. “Neither player figured in New York’s plans next season,” was how an mlb.com report summarily dismissed its significance. And soon enough, GM Jim Duquette and whoever pulled the strings above him were on to bigger and better capers, like signing Kaz Matsui to play short and shifting Jose Reyes to second.
Anyway, life went on, as did Scutaro, carving a niche for himself out in Oakland, cresting with his six-RBI performance in the 2006 ALDS I assume none of us watched. Stays in Toronto, Boston and Colorado would follow, as a solid reserve player grew into a solid starting shortstop for a couple of years. In late July of this year, the hapless Rockies moved him to the aspirational Giants.
And Marco Scutaro wasn’t Super Joe anymore. He was Superman, batting .362, taking over second base and pushing San Francisco toward a division title. Then he was a whole other brand of superheroic, absorbing a punishing slide from Matt Holliday in the NLCS, picking himself up, dusting himself off and hitting .500 to win MVP honors for the seven-game series. San Fran may or may not have held off the Dodgers without Marco. With him, they are in the World Series tonight.
You know those small trades nobody much notices that three months later can be identified as turning points in the life of a franchise? That’s what Charlie Culberson for Marco Scutaro was for the Giants.
The Mets exposing him to waivers in 2003? It seemed strange but it didn’t feel overly portentous. The club improved every season for the next three seasons, which could lead one to conclude the only thing holding the Mets back in 2002 and 2003 was the recurring presence of that darn Marco Scutaro…but that may be a stretch.
It is a stretch, of course. Players are overlooked and undervalued all the time in this game, especially in hindsight. Scutaro was a Met in the first place because both Cleveland and Milwaukee gave up on him as a minor leaguer. He seemed worth holding onto nine years ago but not out of any great vision that someday he’d be setting the playoffs on fire. I can assure you I’ve given his career more thought in the last week than I have at any time in the past decade, so I’m willing to forgive Duquette his transaction transgression. Besides, the Mets were seeking a potential replacement for their then-interim GM at the very moment Scutaro was snatched away by Billy Beane. What’s major league personnel evaluation when there’s a distraction at hand? True, Beane was just coming off a five-game division series loss to Boston and had been in the midst of the Moneyball controversy all season, but some organizations are more equipped than others to handle distractions.
It may be 98% hindsight at this point, yet nevertheless, it’s kind of retroactively irritating that we had a pretty decent player in our midst and let him go for no particular reason, and with no compensation coming back our way. Never mind the 2012 heroics for the Giants. Scutaro, my insightful friend Rob Emproto contends, has been one of the past decade’s handful of perennially useful utilitymen, along with Ty Wigginton and Jeff Keppinger (the former traded by the Mets for the latter, though that deal was Kris/Anna Benson-centric), “and we let all three slip through our fingers while having a need for this exact type of player the whole time. To me, this was a key problem of the pre-Madoff Mets: they saw what players couldn’t do, not what they could do. They invested almost as much in Kaz Matsui and Luis Castillo alone as they would have had they kept all three of those guys for ten years.”
Hindsight indicates Rob may be onto something. The more prevalent Mets fan fatalism, however, can just as soon conjure a scenario in which we passed on Kaz and Luis and they excelled at our expense while three stiffs named Wigginton, Keppinger and Scutaro cluttered up our roster.
Someday I’ll use the powers of hindsight to conjure a scenario in which things work out for the Mets. It’s just so hard to imagine is all.