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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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By Now He's an O.G.

That’s the way the baseball season works — you get snowed out in a somewhat farcical early-spring trip, the makeup date gets stuck on the calendar so far off that it might as well be science fiction, and then the makeup date comes around after all, leaving you mildly surprised to realize the season has shrunk to a relatively short engagement.

The Mets picked up in Minnesota right where they left off, beating a rather horrible Twins team in their beautiful and thankfully snow-free ballgame for a three-game sweep interrupted by two-thirds of a season. Dillon Gee was superb again, Travis d’Arnaud kept getting on base despite not getting hits (just call him the Anti-Francoeur) and best of all Juan Lagares ran down everything in the outfield.

And I do mean everything. If you were a Twin, you couldn’t hit it into the gap without Lagares overhauling it like a cheetah on a motorcycle. You couldn’t hit it onto the warning track without Lagares aiming first his shades and then his glove skyward to snag it. You couldn’t hit it to the fence without Lagares being there, ball rattling around in the glove and body rattling against the fence. I’m surprised there wasn’t a hold on traffic into Minneapolis-St. Paul because of a Mets centerfielder pawing at the noses of jets that dared fly too low.

We’ve talked before about Gee, how earlier this season it looked like he’d be shunted aside, only to have him convincingly reassert his case to be a mainstay of the Mets’ rotation. Looking ahead to 2014, that side of the Mets is in very good shape indeed: Matt Harvey is Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler is growing with each start, Jon Niese looks gratifyingly like the pitcher he was after his post-Toronto scolding in 2012, and Gee has shaken off the rust of surgery and stands alongside them. For a fifth slot, you can try Jeremy Hefner (assuming he isn’t felled by Tommy John surgery), Jenrry Mejia (assuming that bone spur is shaved successfully), or mix and match until Noah Syndergaard or Rafael Montero are ready for their hotly anticipated debuts. As baseball problems go, finding a fifth starter for half a season isn’t one to keep you up at night.

All to the good, until you naturally contrast the glittering rotation with the Mets’ rather dingy offense. But I suspect the contrast is more about luck than planning.

Before the season, the best-case scenario for the Mets involved the young pitchers developing and a trio of hitters — Lucas Duda, Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada — making strides to build on successful campaigns. The young pitchers have passed that test with high marks.┬áThe hitters, though, have flunked it.

Before he got hurt Duda was successful at getting on base but at little else, and both he and the Mets seem to have accepted that it’s cruel to him and his pitchers to put him in the outfield.

Davis’s recent rebound has been welcome, but that’s grading on the curve. Ike has shown little power and his defense has regressed, making him resemble the pre-injury Duda to a disturbing degree.

As for Tejada, he came to camp out of shape and now occupies the Met doghouse, which he might escape only because Omar Quintanilla has shown pretty conclusively that he’s not an everyday starter.

Nobody assumed those three players were going to be stars, but it wasn’t unreasonable to imagine all three developing into solid complementary players.

If that had happened, where would we be?

David Wright would still be the Mets’ lone superstar, but his reliable complement wouldn’t begin and end with Daniel Murphy. Alongside Murph you’d have Duda, Tejada and Davis, with Lagares’s unexpected claim on center field and Marlon Byrd’s one-year cameo coming as very nice surprises and d’Arnaud ready for his big-league audition. In which case the lineup would look pretty impressive, and the Mets might be in the wild-card hunt, with our fantasies of 1973 redux involving more than a late charge to a mediocre record.

None of that happened, but I don’t think that’s the failure of a plan so much as it’s baseball happenstance. Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t. It’s fortunate that so far the young pitchers have developed about as well as anyone could have expected. It’s unfortunate that the relatively young hitters have come in near the bottom of expectations. The conclusion I draw? It’s that life is uncertain.

With d’Arnaud up and innings limits looming for the Mets’ Triple-A hurlers, there’s not a whole lot left to find out about this edition of the club. We want to see Wheeler keep learning his craft, for d’Arnaud to get a hit and learn a pitching staff, and to get a better read on Wilmer Flores. Beyond that, though, there’s not much beyond a cameo (with more crabbing about uniform lettering) for Matt den Dekker, which means soon we’ll be having debates about nearly half of the 2014 starting nine:

  • Where do the Mets get two outfielders to flank Lagares?
  • Who’s going to play short?
  • Can you cobble together a decent first baseman from some combination of Davis, Duda, Flores and Josh Satin?

It’s a lot. But at least we can stop worrying about Dillon Gee.

11 comments to By Now He’s an O.G.

  • Er…wouldn’t a cheetah on a motorcycle be about as fast as a turtle on a motorcycle?

  • Andee

    Outfielders to flank Lagares (and MdD if he’s going to be the lefty half of a CF platoon)? I’m guessing that a trade is going to have to happen, at least one; they’ve got plenty of attractive chips to deal now that they didn’t a year ago. But don’t discount the idea of Sandy finding someone else in the dumpster. Or Puello or Vaughn making the jump. Or even Jeff deciding to back up the money truck for Choo. Who was thinking of Marlon Byrd a year ago?

  • BlackCountryMet

    I’ve had trips to two series this season, Minnesota in April and SF Giants in July. After yesterday, that’s 2 sweeps. Not bad when I started 0-5!! I still see Gee as no more than a 4th starter, to me he has a noticeable downturn from the 6th inning onwards. However, there are good signs pitching wise and as common wisdom indicates that bats are easier to find than pitching, the light at the end of the tunnel has started to burn brighter. An offensively minded right fielder and a more reliable 1st baseman(am not convinced by Ikes current resurence) and we could be decent next season

  • Dave

    I have no desire to see any combination at any position that includes Davis or Duda. Put Flores at 1B today and every day thereafter and see what he can do. Less athletic guys than he have managed there. Davis’ and Duda’s transformations into bases on balls savants helps the team about as much as their ability to shoot free throws. The only thing either one had to do in 2013 was play better than they did in 2012. Both failed. Non-tender both and move on.

    • Steve D

      You are making great sense to me. If the guy can play third, he can easily learn first. It would be a huge upgrade to 27 RBI at first, No team can win with that.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    It’s worth a shot to sign Byrd for another year (or even two if that’s what he’s asking for). He seems to like it here, and yes, he’s old, but it looks like he’s in good enough shape to not suddenly lose it at 35. Even if he does decline and someone else gradually takes over during the next 2 years, it’d be nice to have him “looming” on the bench (as Gary would say) in the late innings.

    And why aren’t they shopping Duda to an American league team where he belongs.

    • I have no objection to re-signing Byrd, except I think between his excellent 2013 and the likelihood that this is his last real contract he’s going to want a lot more money than the Mets are going to want to give him, seeing how there’s no guarantee whatsoever that he can be that productive again. Neither side will be wrong, but they won’t be a good fit.

      Which is why the Mets really should have traded him, but that’s another post.

  • Marlon Byrd 2013 is Scott Hairston 2012. Sign at your own risk.

  • […] figure out how to fill a ton of holes in the offense to match their solid young starting pitching. That’s a product of the failure of Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada to develop into complementary players, as it looked like […]