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Omar Bagels

I keep a long list of phrases and ideas that I think might eventually come in handy in the writing of a team-specific baseball blog. Some I act on ASAP. Some I circle back to after a few weeks. Some linger unused until they’re too obscure or irrelevant to make much sense in a contemporary setting. For example, even what I consider my sharpest “Moises Alou sure is brittle” zinger from 2008 requires context that is no longer available on this platform.

Moises Alou looked out the window during the rain delay and he had to be moved to the 60-day DL.

See? Doesn’t really have the zing it would have had when Moises was playing. Or was supposed to be playing.

Here’s a pair of words I’ve been scrolling past for a quite a while: Omar bagels. So future anthropologists aren’t left to ponder the mysteries of such an otherwise inscrutable expression, I will explain. Omar bagels refers to the following colorful quote encapsulating alleged remarks offered as advice to the speaker:

“All I kept on hearing in the streets of New York when you get bagels in the morning was, ‘Omar, please address the bullpen.’ Well, to all you Mets fans, we’ve addressed the bullpen.”

Never mind the person disagreement between “I kept hearing” and “you get bagels” — and, for that matter, the past/present conflict (“kept” vs. “get”). Embedded in this rather self-serving anecdote like so many sesame seeds is real news [1] about what was then the most beleaguered of beleaguered Met units [2], the team’s relief corps. Just how did Omar Minaya, general manager of the New York Mets when he related the above tidbit on December 11, 2008, “address the bullpen”?

Apparently by clearing his throat and telling them to keep on sucking.

Actually, Minaya meant “address” as in directing efforts toward solving a problem. The problem was the Mets’ bullpen sucked to legendary proportions down the stretch in 2008. In bagel terms, the pitchers Omar provided Jerry Manuel to choose among were almost uniformly stale to the point of moldy or frighteningly underdone. At the close of business that season, he put aside the Pedro Feliciano bagel (you could never slather too many innings onto its left half) and otherwise mostly emptied the bin [3]. Then he heated up the hot stove to bake a new batch.

Bagels in New York are the best bagels in the world, it is said, because of the water. The bullpen in Flushing was the worst bullpen in the world because no matter how Omar Minaya tried, he could never quite obtain the proper ingredients. But he did try. That December, he spent and traded his way to a bullpen transformation. He threw a couple of hot, steaming brown paper bags filled with cash at Frankie Rodriguez and then swapped out what he considered some spare lox to bring us, from Seattle by way of Cleveland or something like that, J.J. Putz and Sean Green. (Oh, and utility dude Jeremy Reed, whose throw past home plate [4] at Dodger Stadium is still sailing.)

Long story short from a trade that encompassed three teams and a dozen players: the bullpen continued to suck in 2009 in a fashion reminiscent of 2008. Rodriguez wasn’t so bad (on the mound) for a while but he’d implode like most overpriced closers before his number was called for the last time. Still, K-Rod cost only money back when it was assumed the Mets had it. Putz and Green were the stuff of a blockbuster winter meetings acquisition, one of those exercises in which you had to give up something to get something.

The Mets got nothing. Nothing healthy [5] in Putz’s case and nothing that delivered on its reported promise where Green was concerned. The 2009 Mets bullpen didn’t break as many hearts as 2008’s because there was little left to shatter. A touch of quality relief pitching might have kept Shea alive a week or two longer. In Citi Field’s first foreboding year, the only thing that would have saved the season was a shaman with a medical degree.

I wouldn’t have thought of Putz or Green or “Omar bagels” had Thursday’s ALDS action not included the Angels, Royals and Tigers, and even then I’d probably have left the lot of them in my subconscious had I not encountered this postseason note of postseason notes [6] from USA Today’s Ted Berg:

Three guys the Mets traded for JJ Putz have played in postseason games today.

OK, I thought after I removed my right palm from my forehead, I know I just saw Joe Smith enter on the side of the Angels. Smith was a budding submariner who Omar had to include in order to bring back the bounty that was Putz and Green. He was 24 then and still seeking consistency. In a stretch run in which every reliever was culpable, you couldn’t avoid fuming at Smith a bit, but unlike the Scott Schoeneweises and Ricardo Rincons, he wasn’t at the end of his line. Why, by 2013, he’d be helping Cleveland to the American League Wild Card game. I liked young pup Smith as a latter-day Jeff Innis but I will admit to not crying myself a river upon his departure.

Kansas City’s starter Thursday was Jason Vargas. I saw Vargas muddle through a rare starting assignment against the Cubs in 2007. It turned into one of the best games I ever attended [7], but its glorious outcome had nothing to do with Vargas. I didn’t care that he was traded, either, even after he moved on and made something of himself. As with Smith, I accepted long ago that sometimes Mets you’re not projecting as stalwarts might get their acts together down the road. To be noble about it, those are simply the fortunes of the game.

But three Mets who were traded for Putz played yesterday? Was our old friend Ted certain? He wouldn’t have tweeted it if he wasn’t, but who was I missing from that trade?

Not Endy Chavez, who almost made the playoffs with the Mariners (and who — unlike Wright, Reyes, et al — did return to the postseason post-2006, first with the Rangers and then with the Orioles).

Not Mike Carp, who joined the ranks of Halloween Hindsight Haunters [8] last October when the former Met minor leaguer who was never a Met major leaguer appeared in the World Series as a Boston Red Sock.

Not Aaron Heilman, for crissake [9]

I looked up the three-sided trade in question to refresh my memory. Besides Smith, Vargas, Chavez, Carp and Heilman, we dispatched two other players, each of them just kids in December 2008: righthanded pitcher Maikel Cleto — most recently a White Sock, earlier a Cardinal who never made one of their many postseason rosters but presumably received a playoff share and maybe a World Series ring between 2011 and 2013 — and Ezequiel Carrera.

Ezequiel Carrera? The Tiger? Maybe not “the Tiger” in the Al Kaline sense, but the guy whose name I heard as Baltimore’s rout of Detroit [10] was about to go final? The guy who walked to load the bases before the O’s nine-run lead went into the books?

Yes, that Ezequiel Carrera. We had him between 2005 and 2008. He climbed as high as St. Lucie before being tossed into that very same Putz-getting package. And now he was one-third of Ted’s trivial trio. They were players the Mets organization had under contract as a season ended crushingly close to a playoff spot. They were traded. They were in the playoffs in 2014. The Mets haven’t been in those things since 2006. They haven’t even been crushingly close. They looked good winning their 78th and 79th games last weekend and we were beside ourselves with joy. That’s how long it’s been. Maybe not Royals long (and the Royals do go long [11]) but long enough.

If the Mets had never traded Joe Smith, Jason Vargas, Ezequiel Carrera, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp, Aaron Heilman and Maikel Cleto, does history change for us? I’m somewhere between “how the hell would I know?” and “probably not” on that fleetingly burning question. It definitely wouldn’t have hurt to have kept Smith around. Vargas has endured as league-average, but he has endured. When they said “Carrera” on TBS, I wasn’t sure they hadn’t said “Cabrera,” so I won’t overstate his theoretical impact. And, honestly, I’m not itching to undo any trade that dispensed with Heilman.

Still, the Mets gave up seven players in one deal. Five of them have since participated in at least one postseason. Three of them were busy doing so yesterday.

Omar Minaya works for the Padres now. They seem to have a pretty solid bullpen, but I’ll bet he can’t find a decent bagel anywhere in San Diego.