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The Gang’s All Here

The first week of the season is hard because you’re either transported by ecstasy or mired in despair: We know on an intellectual level that you can’t extrapolate from a small sample size, but after an empty winter the heart is in charge and the head is sidelined. After the Nats’ series I knew we wouldn’t actually go 0-162, but it sure felt that way. After the first two games of the Reds’ series I understood that 159-3 wasn’t realistic either, but every viewing of Ike’s romp [1] around the bases made me wonder if it wasn’t possible. This is the time when you can rattle off the score of every game and you’ve got a list of Mets you’re ready to send on to Cooperstown and another list you’d send either to the instructional league — or home.

Pretty soon this part of the season is over — the ABs blur and then the games and the series and finally even the months. For me, the day that process really begins is when the last player from the initial roster makes his season debut. Which happened today, when Jonathon Niese took the mound on a gorgeous spring day at Citi Field.

That initial roster has already seen its share of audibles. Bobby Parnell [2]‘s 2014 will consist of a single inning — he’s having Tommy John surgery. [3] Chris Young [4] was barely around longer than Parnell when his quad started barking at him, removing him from his first game and then from the roster. Wilmer Flores [5] has come and gone, sent away from the bright lights to try positions he may or may not be able to play. Nobody particularly wanted Kyle Farnsworth [6] to arrive, but he’s done so anyway and (so far) committed nary a misdeed.

This won’t be the roster in September, of course, or even in June. Some of the relievers won’t last — the prototypical early-season reliever I always think of, for whatever reason, is Mike Matthews [7], whose Mets career ended in late April 2005 after six outings and a 10.80 ERA. Matthews lasted another couple of weeks at Norfolk, somehow managing to do even worse, before his career ended, leaving nothing in my memory but a Cardinals card in The Holy Books. Some current unlucky Met — Farnsworth? Scott Rice [8]? Carlos Torres [9]? — will suffer a similar fate in relatively short order.

The bench will be shaken up, too — backup shortstops and fifth outfielders are advised to rent, not buy. Guys will get hurt. Other guys will get traded. And there will be new arrivals, including guys who might already be here if not for contract considerations around arbitration and free agency. We’re still getting used to this aspect of roster management, but we’re familiar enough with it to realize that it’s actually the most cynical teams who burn promising young players’ service time early. The Marlins, for instance, promoted Jose Fernandez [10] early not because they care about their fans but because they so obviously don’t — Fernandez’s service time is a theoretical concern, because he’ll be packed off to some other franchise before it matters. Rafael Montero [11] and Noah Syndergaard [12] will be here a little later than we want them but soon enough, with ripple effects up and down the roster.

As for Niese, he pitched the kind of game that can be honestly described as a moral victory — yes, the Mets lost [13] thanks to some combination of Alfredo Simon [14]‘s good pitching and their own anemic offense, but Niese looked reasonably sharp and best of all healthy. That would be tepid praise in September, but in April it matters. He’ll take the ball in another five days, which counts as progress. So does the fact that the gang’s all here — well, the first iteration of the gang, at least. Now it’s time to see where they take us.