Greg is inputting even more data into the FAFIF Contest-a-Tron 2012 — you should see the smoke coming out of that poor machine. Contest coming soon — in the meantime, here’s the eighth go-round for a Faith & Fear tradition….
Jason Bay is gone, but R.A. Dickey still might be going. That’s how it goes these days in Met-land. It’s possible — you might even say likely — that David Wright will be at his position come Opening Day 2013 with a big new contract and what’s essentially a lifetime lease on being a Met. But it’s possible — you might even say likely — that Dickey might be toeing the rubber somewhere else, Cy Young Award notwithstanding, a victim of uncertain finances and mileage and track record.
And as for whom Wright will turn and see in the outfield, well, I have no earthly idea. It’ll be Someone Else, but when your general manager makes jokes about getting someone out of a cardboard box, the heart does not leap in anticipation. (Besides, in these days of Wilpon austerity cardboard is expensive. Your next right fielder may arrive in a paper bag kept shielded from hurricanes and Nor’easters in hopes that it will last.)
But on to happier things, or at least more diverting ones: It’s time to welcome the THB Class of 2012.
Background: I have a trio of binders, long ago dubbed The Holy Books (THB) by Greg, that contain a baseball card for every Met on the all-time roster. They’re ordered by year, with a card for each player who made his Met debut: Tom Seaver is Class of ’67, Mike Piazza is Class of ’98, Jose Reyes is Class of ’03, etc. There are extra pages for the rosters of the two World Series winners, including managers, and one for the 1961 Expansion Draft. That includes the infamous Lee Walls, the only THB resident who neither played for nor managed the Mets.
If a player gets a Topps card as a Met, I use that unless it’s truly horrible — Topps was here a decade before there were Mets, so they get to be the card of record. No Mets card by Topps? Then I look for a minor-league card, a non-Topps Mets card, a Topps non-Mets card, or anything else. Topps had a baseball-card monopoly until 1981, and minor-league cards only really began in the mid-1970s, so cup-of-coffee guys from before ’75 or so are tough. Companies such as TCMA and Renata Galasso made odd sets with players from the 1960s — the likes of Jim Bethke, Bob Moorhead and Dave Eilers are immortalized through their efforts. And a card dealer named Larry Fritsch put out sets of “One Year Winners” spotlighting blink-and-you-missed-them guys such as Ted Schreiber and Joe Moock.
Then there are the legendary Lost Nine — guys who never got a regulation-sized, acceptable card from anybody. Brian Ostrosser got a 1975 minor-league card that looks like a bad Xerox. Leon Brown has a terrible 1975 minor-league card and an oversized Omaha Royals card put out as a promotional set by the police department. Tommy Moore got a 1990 Senior League card as a 42-year-old with the Bradenton Explorers. Then we have Al Schmelz, Francisco Estrada, Lute Barnes, Bob Rauch, Greg Harts and Rich Puig. They have no cards whatsoever — the oddball 1991 Nobody Beats the Wiz cards are too undersized to work. The Lost Nine are represented in THB by DIY cards I Photoshopped and had printed on cardstock, because I am insane.
During the season I scrutinize new card sets in hopes of finding a) better cards of established Mets; b) cards to stockpile for prospects who might make the Show; and most importantly c) a card for each new big-league Met. At season’s end, the new guys get added to the binders, to be studied now and then until February. When it’s time to pull old Topps cards of the spring-training invitees and start the cycle again.
Robert Carson: Soft-bodied, hard-throwing lefty won accolades for having a good arm, along with warnings that he was way too young for the duties he was being asked to shoulder. That scouting report proved more or less accurate, though the sample size was awfully small. Am I way too pessimistic for noting that guys who arrive being talked about in this way generally wind up with careers that last a year or two at most? No, I’m just a Mets fan. But seriously: Somewhere Joe Vitko and Juan Castillo and Jerrod Riggan are nodding. Carson goes into The Holy Books with a 2010 St. Lucie Mets card that I sought out and bought in a fit of overenthusiasm when it looked like he might be a 2011 callup.
Ronny Cedeno: Decent backup infielder who wore goofy shoes. He arrived and was praised for having changed his approach at the plate from something best summarized as OHMYGODIGOTTASWINGATTHAT to hunting for strikes as preached by Dave Hudgens. Which is praiseworthy, as most big leaguers are incapable of such change by the time they’re veterans, if not before. That said, Cedeno probably won’t be back, as there are a lot of players who can do what he does without costing more money or requiring a long-term commitment. That sounds faintly insulting, but it isn’t meant to be — it’s the reality of backup infielders. And it’s progress that the Alderson regime seems to understand this: Alex Cora got Omarpalooza contract options and became a dead spot on a dead roster; Ronny Cedeno probably gets a new address. 2011 Topps card in which Ronny is a Pirate, and somehow not wearing black shoes with yellow laces. Disappointing of him.
Josh Edgin: Was having a wonderful rookie year until Ryan Howard showed up at the end there and made it numerically less wonderful. Still a pretty good first campaign that bodes well for the future. Edgin’s an interesting story — on the day he was drafted in 2010 he was drilling sewage pipes under South Carolina wetlands and expecting to do the same for a long time, possibly forever. With a little luck Edgin will never again have to consider that as a career — seriously, it sounds awful — but will remember that it was a near thing, and so be less likely to have gobs of money turn him into a jerk and/or idiot. 2012 Topps Update card in which he’s wearing the now all-but-obsolete black Mets top. Hey, that’s also further than he expected to get.
Jack Egbert: I wrote down that he was a 2012 Met. Beyond that, ya got me. I’d say this happens more and more quickly as I slide into old age, but I do remember Dale Thayer. 2012 Bisons card.
Jeurys Familia: Long-awaited prospect finally arrived, demonstrated a live arm and a definite need for another pitch, and sparked a mild panic about how to pronounce his name. Best I could tell it was “Hey-yoor-EES,” but no one ever seemed to provide a definitive answer. (Seriously, this bothered me.) Hopefully we have reason to find out in the future. 2012 Topps Prospects card on which he looks determined underneath a B-Mets cap.
Frank Francisco: Well, he was a stand-up guy in post-debacle interviews. And though he did throw a chair at fans a long time ago, he didn’t slug anyone under the stands or otherwise embarrass himself. Off the field, I mean. On the field, he was a disaster. How this even possible? Did Sandy Alderson once throw his arms heavenward and mock the idea of bullpens while signing the deed to an Indian burial ground over to someone who wanted to build a porno theater on the site? 2012 Topps card.
Justin Hampson: Pitched decently enough as the Mets tried to find a reliable left-handed reliever to use as an alternative to having Tim Byrdak’s arm fall off, a quest that ended with Tim Byrdak’s arm falling off. Opted for free agency after the season. He’ll show up on the mound for a third of inning in 2014 as a Giant or Royal and someone will remind you he was once a Met. 2012 Bisons card.
Matt Harvey: Arrived and was immediately superb, reminding us that while we all love smart pitchers who change speeds and hit spots, there’s something extra-special about a power pitcher with natural swing-and-miss stuff. Harvey was better than advertised, and brought a welcome Seaveresque pissiness to his craft, fuming about things that went wrong instead of accepting praise for things that went right. It’s tremendously exciting to think about getting to watch him for a full year. 2012 Topps Update card.
Jeremy Hefner: The opposite of Harvey, almost literally — the Mets switched Hefner in for Harvey on a storm-plagued night where the game was iffy, which made me wonder if they were going to make him stand atop a metal mast in the parking lot to warn Harvey if he saw lightning. On the mound, Hefner was your basic everything-needs-to-go-right ham-and-egger; off the mound, he was a quiet, religious guy who was terribly nervous about being interviewed by Kevin Burkhardt. Still, he supplied one of the year’s nicer morals about perseverance: He was visibly shaken after retiring no one in a 16-1 shellacking by the Phillies, then went out five days later to limit the Pirates to three hits and no runs over seven innings. That’s worth remembering, and rooting for. 2012 Topps Update card.
Rob Johnson: Backup catcher who threw a scoreless inning on a horrible night in Toronto that began with Jon Niese approaching his job with the level of interest normally seen in a DMV clerk. Let the record show that in Niese’s next start, Johnson quarterbacked him through a very good performance against the Pirates, and Niese was mostly pretty good after that. That’s got to count for something, right? Well, that and having struck out Eric Thames. We’re not mentioning Johnson’s hitting, because he couldn’t. 2012 Bisons card.
Fred Lewis: Quadruple-A player who was rewarded for a nice year at Buffalo by being allowed to do absolutely nothing in September as part of a dismal outfield in which not even he has a future. Next! 2011 Topps card on which he’s a Cincinnati Red.
Zach Lutz: His father’s name is Yogi, swear to God. Yogi Lutz. Say it again, because it’s awesome: Yogi Lutz. 2012 Bisons card.
Collin McHugh: Extremely talented blogger whose writings about the joy, pain and anxiety of being a minor-leaguer became required reading even before he got the call to the big club. Made his debut against the Rockies and it was a dandy: McHugh struck out nine while allowing two hits and a walk over seven. (The Mets lost, 1-0.) Unfortunately, McHugh made seven more appearances and they were all awful — he was scored upon in every one. A guy anyone with a heart roots for; hopefully what we saw was a pitcher who’d thrown too many innings and can turn into a Dillon Gee type. 2012 Topps Heritage Minor Leaguers card in which he’s a B-Met.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis: A fleet-footed, capable center fielder with the best mullet seen on a ballfield in years, Nieuwenhuis beat Heath Bell in late April and was immediately elevated to folk-hero status. Unfortunately, he soon started amassing strikeouts in bushels, looking utterly baffled at the plate, and ended the year sidelined with a bad foot. My kid insisted early on that he would become an All-Star, then doubled down and said he could be a Hall of Famer. Obviously I hope he’s right. 2012 card: Well, he didn’t get a regular Topps card, but he did mysteriously get a horizontal Topps Chrome card, which I would have no truck with, and so I paid not very much money for a vertical Topps Chrome alternate card (doubly mysterious) that was autographed. None of you cared enough to read all that, even if you’re also a Nieuwenhuis. Sorry. Let’s move on.
Garrett Olson: Made his Mets debut against the Marlins in August. Threw 20 pitches. Walked one guy, gave up three hits and four runs. Was never seen again and will presumably bear a 108.00 Mets ERA forevermore. But hey, he got Nick Green to pop out to first in foul territory. SUCK IT, NICK GREEN! 2012 Bisons card.
Omar Quintanilla: Pressed into service at shortstop when Ruben Tejada, Ronny Cedeno and Justin Turner all wound up on the disabled list. This was clearly a bad idea, but soon proved not quite as bad an idea as letting Jordany Valdespin near the position. And, as it turned out, Quintanilla did OK. Not OK as in “who was that Reyes guy, anyway?” but OK as in “that wasn’t nearly the disaster I’d penciled in.” The Mets then sold Captain Q to the Orioles because they needed his roster spot for Jason Bay. Ouch. 2012 Bisons card.
Elvin Ramirez: When things aren’t going well bullpen-wise, everybody starts scanning the minor-league stats and appointing obvious saviors. So it was that Elvin Ramirez became the answer for Mets fans in late May and early June: Hey, he was young, had a good fastball, was doing well at Buffalo and most importantly was not one of the relievers whose name inspired swearing and throwing things by then. Once called up, Ramirez was as bad as everybody else — first he walked guys, then he found out that what worked in Triple-A didn’t work in MLB. Off he went, defrocked and unwanted. He showed up again in July, though, and actually pitched pretty decently. He needs better control and another pitch, but you could easily say that about 150 guys at Triple-A. We’ll see. Has a 2008 Bowman Chrome Prospects card I can’t believe I remembered I owned; I think the photo was snapped in Little League.
Ramon Ramirez: Yes, we traded Angel Pagan for Andres Torres and another guy — Ramon Ramirez, who seemed like a pretty decent pitcher, actually. My being happy about him lasted all of zero regular-season appearances — he was shaky on Opening Day, though he got the win, then reliably awful. Middle relief is a funny thing — Ramirez had been pretty good before 2012, and he’ll probably be pretty good after 2012, and if you ask him years from now he won’t have any more idea what the hell happened in 2012 than you do. 2012 Topps Update card in which he looks like he just threw a ball wide of the plate. Safe assumption.
Jon Rauch: Gigantic, profusely tattooed reliever was superb on Twitter, where he administered much-needed public shamings by retweeting the vile tweets people aimed his way after bad performances. Let’s stop for a minute and note that when Greg and I started this blog, that last sentence would have made absolutely no sense. Unfortunately, for agonizing stretches of the year Rauch was better on Twitter than he was on the mound. The more I think about it, the more I think the Alderson Indian Burial Ground hypothesis needs investigation. Rauch goes into The Holy Books with a 2011 Topps Update card in which he’s a Blue Jay photographed from far away in a nearly empty stadium. Manny Acosta, Miguel Batista, Tim Byrdak, Josh Edgin, Jeremy Hefner and Ramon Ramirez were pitchers who got 2012 Topps Update cards, but not Rauch. Weird.
Vinny Rottino: Did almost nothing for the Mets in an extended stretch of 25th guy duty, then turned up on the Indians’ roster in August. Considering Rottino had 36 big-league at-bats going into 2012, that’s a pretty decent year for him. Perspective, please: I’d kill for the year he had, and probably so would you. 2012 Bisons card.
Kelly Shoppach: Generated early excitement after arriving from the Red Sox for Pedro Beato, which can be attributed to a) a flurry of home runs and b) his not being Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas or Rob Johnson. But mostly was quietly awful, meaning he fit in with his colleagues behind the dish. Might be viable as the lefty half of a platoon. I said that with even less excitement than you imagined while reading it. 2012 Topps Update card on which he’s still a Red Sock.
Andres Torres: There’s usually one player I decide is the Mets’ Jonah, the cursed wearer of the blue and orange upon whom all the team’s faults deserve to be laid. (Previous Jonahs: Jose Vizcaino, Shawn Green, Luis Castillo, Alex Cora, Danny Graves … oh, there are too many to recall.) This year it was Torres, who certainly filled the role ably, not hitting much and periodically doing bafflingly stupid things. In short, he pretty much did what we were tired of watching Angel Pagan do, which is why nobody much minded the Pagan-for-Torres swap when it was made. Except Pagan had a very good 2012, and Torres’s career year was 2010 and so will forever go on the San Francisco Giants’ ledger. Enormous sigh. Let’s just say that I never want to see Andres Torres again, and will brook no argument on this point, because everything was his fault. 2012 Topps Team Set card in which his uniform is Photoshopped into Mets garb. His number should be 666, not 56.
Jordany Valdespin: Rorschach test players are fun. Is Jordany Valdespin an exciting, emotional player with speed and pop who deserves every chance to make the Mets more interesting, or is Jordany Valdespin a head case whose numbnuts episodes will get less and less enchanting as pitchers carve him up and he fails to adjust? I don’t know and neither do you. What I do know is that I will always remember Valdespin’s first career hit, a three-run homer off the loathsome Jonathan Papelbon, and I never want to see him playing shortstop again. Valdespin, to his credit, did draw more walks as the year progressed. (No really, he did.) Maybe there’s something there, or maybe he’ll be the name you mention a beat after your buddy says “Lastings Milledge” with a sad shake of his head.