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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
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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Summer of Cespedes

Happy days in the hazy summer
Happy days being with each other
We’re gonna take a break by the rolling sea
The perfect summer, just you and me
—Chris Difford & Glen Tilbrook, “Happy Days,” 2015

Several players pushed the New York Mets to the brink of a breakthrough in 2015, but one more than any other was the reason they broke on through to the other side. For definitively opening the doors that allowed the Mets to gallop in the direction of the World Series, Faith and Fear in Flushing chooses Yoenis Cespedes as its Most Valuable Met of 2015.

I suppose this could be considered a controversial choice if one were to assume an award I made up on the spur of the moment ten years ago could inspire controversy. The arguable element would be the relatively brief tenure Cespedes had as a 2015 Met, never mind as a Met in general (probably). We’re bestowing the honor based on what he meant over 57 regular-season and 14 postseason games, admittedly a slight body of work.

But, oh, what a beautiful body.

There’d have been no contender to transform into a champion had it not been for the work of those who preceded Cespedes to the Metropolitan forefront. They deserve acknowledgement in any discussion of Mets who were most valuable.

• Curtis Granderson grew increasingly reliable as 2015 progressed and was the team’s best player as it vied for a world title.

• When all the Mets had was their pitching, no pitcher meant more to their ability to stick close to the Nationals than Jacob deGrom.

• Jeurys Familia greatly diminished the anxieties we associated with ninth-inning leads for an eternity.

• Matt Harvey returned from a prolonged absence, almost seamlessly resumed his place among baseball’s elite starters (innings-limit kerfuffle notwithstanding) and elevated the Mets’ rotation from promising to formidable to practically unmatched.

• Daniel Murphy owned a stretch of October in a fashion no batter before him had.

• Wilmer Flores signed his name across the heart of a glorious season when he hit its signature home run.

Each one of them, a Met from Opening Day to Closing Night, made an indelible let alone valuable contribution to perhaps the best Met year in almost three decades.

Yet quality overwhelmed quantity in selecting Cespedes as our MVM. Rarely can a Met be said to have changed everything for the better in an instant. Yoenis did. On the last morning Cespedes woke up as a Detroit Tiger, the Mets were two games over .500 and three games out of first place. Within four weeks, the Mets were fifteen above the break-even mark and six-and-a-half ahead of second-place Washington.

It was no coincidence. Cespedes’s presence and performance reconfigured a team that had been struggling to score runs for months to a team that scored eight or more runs eight separate times in those first four weeks. He made everybody around him better, starting with his first night in the lineup, August 1, when Nationals manager Matt Williams intentionally walked Cespedes to get to Lucas Duda in a critical situation. Duda had already homered twice that Saturday night, but the notion of facing Cespedes worried Williams more. There’s no telling what Yoenis would have done against Matt Thornton with Curtis Granderson on second and one out, but we know that Duda lashed a double, gave the Mets a 3-2 lead that turned into the second win in that showdown series. The Mets swept the Nats the next night and the N.L. East was never the same.

You hadn’t seen that kind of protection pay off since My Bodyguard.

Donn Clendenon was, for 45 years, the blue and orange standard for in-season impact acquisitions. Clendenon came to the Mets from Montreal on June 15, 1969. On October 16, 1969, he was accepting the World Series MVP award. It’s impossible to imagine the Mets coming of age in four months without the contribution of Clendenon. He was the righty bat Gil Hodges needed to platoon with Ed Kranepool at first. He was a veteran voice on a youthful team. He was an essential element of a budding world champion. His production in 72 regular-season games as a 1969 Met — 12 HR, 37 RBI — was contextually solid if not statistically spectacular. Clendenon deserves the reverence in which he is held these many decades later.

Yet all told, Yoenis Cespedes was the approximate equivalent of four, maybe five Donn Clendenons. We have a new example to throw at future GMs when trading deadlines roll around in seasons to come. “What we really need,” we will insist to one another, “is another Cespedes.”

The 2015 Mets had nobody like Cespedes before Sandy Alderson poached him from the Tigers on July 31. The Mets in 54 years of existence never had anybody like the Cespedes who went on the tear of tears almost immediately. In 41 games, Yoenis belted 17 home runs, drove in 42 runs and batted .309. His OPS required four digits: 1.048. By no coincidence, the Mets won almost three of every four games they played and put the division away. In the single most important September series they played in this century — September 7-9 in Washington — Peerless Yo from near Manzanillo was beyond scalding: three doubles, two homers, seven ribbies and game-altering swings in the second (three-run double that drew the Mets from 7-3 to 7-6 in the seventh) and third (two-run homer that sent the Mets ahead, 5-3 in the eighth) games.

Plus there was the style, which only sometimes made an impression in the box score but always got your attention. The neon compression sleeve that dazzled clear up to Promenade. The parakeet that seemed born to be his wingman. The custom tune (“Cespedes!”) to which he strolled to the plate at Citi Field. The cannon of an arm, which yielded a memorable 8-5 assist, when he threw Sean Rodriguez of the Pirates the hell out at third. The follow-through down to one knee that evoked images of Willie Mays in the batter’s box. The steal of third on the night he launched three home runs in Denver because you can never have too many runs at Coors Field. The sense of inevitability his bat brought to bear when the Mets absolutely, positively had to win nearly every night. Cespedes started twelve games between September 1 and September 14; he homered in nine of them.

By then, the Mets’ lead over the Nationals had risen to 9½ and their Magic Number to clinch the East had dwindled to 10. Yoenis Cespedes was acquired to make a difference in the franchise’s first pennant race in seven years, and he made all the difference.

Good thing he was so effective so soon, because beginning September 15, his mojo started wearing off. The man had been all mojo all the time for more than six weeks. Then he was hit on the hip by a Tom Koehler pitch and he wasn’t quite the same in form or result. He absorbed another blow late in the year, this one off his fingers from Justin De Fratus. By then, the mojo was a memory. The division that fell so easily to the Mets was already clinched and the concern was whether Cespedes was going to be all right for the playoffs…the playoffs that probably wouldn’t have materialized without him.

Physically, he was fine in the postseason. Occasionally, he made you remember how he injected the summer with an adrenaline shot straight outta Pulp Fiction. There was a home run he catapulted into the Left Field Landing against the Dodgers. There was a key run he swiped against the Cubs. But the Yoenis of autumn was a more mortal creature. The regular-season shortcomings that were almost charming in that at least they proved he was human — blips in which he didn’t field crisply or resist pitches patiently or run to first urgently — came to define his game. The World Series was a nightmare for Cespedes: dismal defense that put the Mets behind immediately in Game One; horrid basepath judgment that snuffed out the Mets’ hopes in Game Four; a debilitating foul ball off his leg in Game Five, which is one of those things that could happen to anybody, but it was accompanied by a foolish insistence on staying in to (futilely) finish his at-bat when he could barely walk. A Kirk Gibson moment it wasn’t. Cespedes had to leave, and without him, the Mets went down to their final defeat of the year.

Yoenis couldn’t have been less valuable in the World Series. And the Mets wouldn’t have landed anywhere near it without him.

Intermittently, our summer guest made polite noises about wanting to remain a Met for the long term. It was an alluring idea when everything was going great, but when Yoenis’s flaws started to obscure his talents, it was easy to envision recurring statements circa 2018 along the lines of “once Cespedes’s contract is off the books, maybe the Mets can fill some of their gaping holes.” That was if you dared to envision the Mets digging deep (or Yoenis offering an adopted-hometown discount) to extend his stay. The club showed no inclination to pay a player of Cespedes’s caliber before they picked up the final months of his old deal and they’ve given no indication they are of a mindset or in a position to commence doing so now.

The remainder of the offseason will confirm what seemed likely from the end of July to the dawn of November, that Yoenis Cespedes was a loaner vehicle. It was kind of a shame when we realized we almost certainly couldn’t keep him, but in retrospect, it was shocking we were handed the keys at all. What a sweet ride he gave us.

FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS MOST VALUABLE METS
2005: Pedro Martinez
2006: Carlos Beltran
2007: David Wright
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Pedro Feliciano
2010: R.A. Dickey
2011: Jose Reyes
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee and LaTroy Hawkins
2014: Jacob deGrom

Still to come: The Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2015.

15 comments to Summer of Cespedes

  • open the gates

    All due respect, but that’s gotta be your easiest MVM selection ever, with the possible exception of Dickey 2012. Couldn’t be anyone else.

    • The committee knew in its heart that the award was Cespedes’s by the end of August, but had to conduct due diligence. It was very happy to have a winning team and thus a bounty of plausible candidates as opposed to, say, 2009, when Pedro Feliciano won essentially for showing up.

  • 9th string catcher

    I love Cespedes, but – I can’t see the Mets getting anywhere without Familia. I don’t think they even trade for Ces if they don’t have him finishing out nail biters all year long.

  • Dave

    The best thing about this selection is that Greg immediately has to acknowledge all of the others for whom a very valid argument could be made. As frustrating as it was to watch Yo turn back into a pumpkin after 6 weeks as a superhero, without him, football season would’ve held our attention much sooner. The right man for the title this year.

    Cy Young award winner Noah Syndergaard for MVM 2016 though.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    Cespedes has to be the MVM because the Mets don’t make the postseason without him. He had 6 great weeks when he first arrived. Unfortunately, from September 15 to the end of the postseason, his OPS was under .600. In some ways, it reminds me of Willie McCovey winning the NL ROY award in 1959, despite the fact that he did not make his debut until July 31. He hit .391 through the end of August, and “cooled off” in September, batting only .305 for the month, yet he was a unanimous choice for the award despite playing in only 52 games.

    My prediction for 2016 MVM: Michael Conforto.

  • Syndergaard-Conforto co-MVM 2016

  • Lenny65

    Hard to argue this. It was maybe the greatest single run I’ve ever seen a Met have at the plate (regular season). I remember Carter came on like a monster in the late summer of 1985, Straw and Hojo went off on a few tears, Piazza too. But for that six week span Cespedes was just insane,he turned a division “race” into a rout.

    Good case for Familia though. Not only a brilliant season but the first Mets closer in a LONG time that actually inspires confidence as opposed to dread. There’s something about him, that assassin’s mentality on the mound, it’s been a real treat to watch him take the job and seize the day, so to speak.

  • Meticated

    I read this article in vocativ, and it makes me nauseous when the owners of the Mets blatantly lie to the loyal hard working fans ,to whom a dollar earned requires our dedication and our sweat. The lords of the manor deem us underserving of their fidelity and simple committment to success. Like chattel who can be herded into the pens..we are assumed to be blind , deaf and dumb to their onerous manipulation of our devotion. We see what you are up to in your ivory tower, and ultimately we will be victorious in spite of you. Our loyalty to each other and baseball will long endure, even when you are a faded bad taste in our collective mouths.

  • Kevin From Flushing

    Although he was quiet in October, his bomb and subsequent bat flip against the Dodgers will be shown in Met highlight reels forever and a day, and that’s a pretty fair representative of the 2015 season (particularly coupled with images of our pitching staff striking out the league and Murphtober). Whether it was a coincidence or not, it was simply unreal to watch his presence transform the offense ENTIRELY. I don’t think we’ll ever see such a drastic swing again, pun intended. Our starting staff, our closer, and our right fielder were the foundation of a feel-good 82 win season, one imagines–but Cespy was that linchpin that got us to 90 wins and over the regular season hump. Well worth your praise, Greg.

    He may not be the love of our lives, but he’ll be that wonderful summer fling we all think back on fondly as we grow old.

  • I feel Grandy was the MVP because if he didn’t carry the team offensively thru the mid season and keep us close I don’t think we even go out and get Cespedes at the trade deadline. You do make a great case for Cespy though, and everything you say is true (about w/o him we don’t get to the post).

    Merry Christmas Greg and Jason! :)

    • Eric

      Merry Christmas, all. Murphy’s HR off Greinke in DS game 5 was my early Christmas present.

      I accept Greg’s pick of Cespedes for 2015 MVM. It’s justified. But I agree with you that my pick for 2015 MVM would be Granderson for his all-around, start-to-finish season’s competence at the plate, on base, and in the field. He was moved up to lead-off and delivered. Imagine a reliable, productive, professional veteran ball player, and the picture is Granderson. Not to mention the PR genius of the Duda instagram.

  • Eric

    Daniel Murphy is joining the Nationals, reportedly for 3 years, 37.5 million dollars. Nats lose their 1st round pick and the Mets receive a compensation pick. I expect them to add a pitcher, maybe Harvey’s eventual replacement, after trading so many arms last season.

    I had hoped Murphy would go to the AL where he could transition to DH, or at least change divisions. Murphy joining the Nats, instead, stings. I expect he’ll do some damage to the Mets.

    Even as a Nat, Murphy should be welcomed with cheers and thanked when he visits. There was no love-hate with Murphy. Love-groan, for sure, but not love-hate. He’ll always be a Met and he went out with a bang.

  • […] Cespedes: Considering he was very recently named Most Valuable Met of 2015 by Faith and Fear in Flushing, he should get the largest share. I’m putting him down for […]