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Welcome, THB Class of 2016!

The Baseball Equinox is behind us [1], meaning we’re closer to 2017 Mets baseball than we are to the 2016 variety — a comforting thought with the teeth of winter pearly and bared. But we still have 2016 Mets business to attend to, namely the offering of formal greetings to those who joined the orange-and-blue ranks in the season that most recently was.

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 in order of matriculation: Tom Seaver is Class of ’67, Mike Piazza is Class of ’98, Noah Syndergaard is Class of ’15, etc. There are extra pages for the rosters of the two World Series winners, the managers, and one for the 1961 Expansion Draft. That page begins with Hobie Landrith and ends with the infamous Lee Walls [2], the only THB resident who neither played for the Mets, managed the Mets, or qualified as a Met ghost.

If a player gets a Topps card as a Met, I use it 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. That means I spend the season scrutinizing 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 the end of the year I go through the stockpile and subtract the maybe somedays who became nopes. (Circle of Life, y’all.) Eventually that yields this column, previous versions of which can be found here [3]here [4]here [5]here [6]here [7]here [8]here [9]here [10]here [11], here [12] and here [13].)

Your 2016 THB Mets! [14]

Your 2016 THB Mets!

Enough with the throat-clearing. Here are your 2016 Mets, in order of matriculation:

Neil Walker: Replaced Daniel Murphy after Murph’s unexpected star turn in improv productions of “Damn Dodgers” and “Damn Cubs,” inevitably followed by the bringdown sequel that was “Damn Royals.” Y’know, for the first couple of weeks it looked like the jury was out on whether the Mets or Nats had got the better of their second-base switcheroo. But Murph kept up his MVP form while Neil returned to Earth and landed on the DL, felled by scary-sounding back surgery. Still, a good player and a decent soul who’ll be back for another go-round in 2017 because of a qualifying offer. Photoshopped Topps team-set card.

Asdrubal Cabrera: We were all wrong! And we loved it! Arrived with more warning symbols than the scary humming equipment caged in the basement — too old, can’t hit, no range — and made an excellent case to be the Mets’ MVP, carrying the team back into contention late in the year despite playing on one leg. His season’s exclamation mark was his thrilling extra-innings walk-off against the Phillies, a bit of punctuation punctuated by a bat hurl and arms shot skyward. Moments like that are why we keep watching years of 8-1 embarrassments, because you never know when … oh, just go watch it again [15]. Serviceable Photoshopped Topps team-set card.

Alejandro De Aza: The best .205 hitter in baseball? Jaw-droppingly useless in the early going, when we speculated if the Mets were the victims of a truly odd hoax in which the same underwhelming guy kept showing up in Port St. Lucie in various disguises: was that De Aza, John Mayberry Jr. or Chris Young? With the Mets showing no inclination to send De Aza packing we all glumly accepted his presence … and he started getting hits that actually mattered, not all the time but often enough that we noticed, while filling in tolerably for the injured Yoenis Cespedes. If there’s a scale measuring Fan Reaction to That Guy Grabbing a Bat, De Aza managed to climb from Snarling Disgust to Apathy to Half-Willing Shoulder Shrug to Somehow I’m OK With This. You shouldn’t hit .205 for a whole season, but if you must, do it the De Aza way. Dopey Topps Heritage card, because the update set stuck him with a soul-killing horizontal. (WHICH THEY ALSO DID FOR WALKER AND CABRERA, AUGGGGHHHH STOP IT TOPPS STOP IT STOP IT.)

Jim Henderson: Returned from two years of shoulder woes and looked pretty good in the early weeks … good enough that Terry Collins treated him like a shiny new toy and re-destroyed his arm. Sigh. Topps Heritage card in which he looks like he knows that bright light ahead is, in fact, a train.

Antonio Bastardo: Arrived via what looked like a sensible two-year deal for a lefty reliever who’d been pretty good in Pittsburgh. And he was decent enough at first: witness his Houdini escape from bases loaded, none out in San Diego. But that was Bastardo’s World Series — after that he was so bad that we would have endorsed his being traded for Ramon Ramirez, Rich Rodriguez or a mad scientist’s failed experiment comingling tissue from Ramon Ramirez and Rich Rodriguez. This ended when the Mets sent Bastardo back to Pittsburgh … in return for addition-by-subtraction poster child Jon Niese. RECORD SCRATCH. Yes, Virginia, there is a less-desirable outcome than dumping a squishy, quivering mound of comingled tissue that was once Ramon Ramirez and Rich Rodriguez on the floor of a major-league clubhouse. Anyway, 2015 Topps card as a Phillie. Addendum re Niese: it’s not really fair to pin this on Bastardo, but in 2016 Topps gave the pride of Truculence, Ohio a) a Series 1 card as a Met b) a Photoshopped Pirates team set card and c) a redundant Update card as a Met. All of which my OCD required me to buy. Good God do I hate Jon Niese.

Rene Rivera: Being a Mets backup catcher is an interesting gig: you come out of nowhere, get a few big hits, are talked up as a replacement for the perpetually confounding Travis d’Arnaud, are a bystander as people point out such an idea is insane, and then get replaced by an essentially identical guy. Rivera broke the mold a bit, though, in ways both new- and old-school. He was a terrific pitch framer, a once-neglected skill that’s now been mainstreamed in front-office thinking, and he was a highly visible pitcher whisperer, ably talking balky hurlers through tough times with generally good results. Unexpected Topps Update card that saved him from a misspelled 51s card.

Matt Reynolds: In 2015 Reynolds made his bid for the kind of baseball immortality that nobody wants. He was added to the postseason roster but never appeared, making him provisionally the 10th Mets ghost in club history, the third to never appear in a big-league game for anyone else, and the first to achieve the additionally galling status of postseason ghost. Reynolds’ time in limbo proved brief, however, as he got the call in May 2016 and acquitted himself fairly well, playing multiple infield positions tolerably and getting some big hits. His best day by far came when he was summoned to Cincinnati, arrived after a sleepless all-night odyssey and responded with three hits, one of them a home run. That’s just a bit better than being a ghost. Bog-standard Topps card. He’ll take it.

Ty Kelly: Looking like an extra beamed in from an old Jimmy Cagney movie, Kelly arrived after the 2015 season with four previous organizations on his CV and one notable skill: the inclination to take a walk. That fit the Mets’ philosophy, and they sent Ty to Las Vegas, where he led the league in batting in the early going. That earned him a call to the big leagues, where the results were about what you’d expect from a rookie struggling with minimal playing time. Kelly took some walks, got a couple of big hits, but mostly sat on the bench. But hey, he made it, didn’t he? My cap is tipped. Yours should be too. Las Vegas 51s card.

James Loney: A flashpoint for Mets fans, who variously saw Loney as an empty hitter with head-scratchingly nonexistent range at first or a solid veteran bat with good hands. Seriously, blood was shed over this: we’ll always remember where we were when the James Loney Riot spilled out of the Mets Clubhouse store and into Bryant Park, necessitating Governor Cuomo calling out the National Guard and the Mets hustling in Rusty Staub to recreate his ’73 appeal for peace in our time. (Or maybe people were just shitty to each other on Twitter, but you remember it your way and I’ll remember it mine.) My take? Loney was better than either Eric Campbell or parking Lucas Duda out there strapped to a hand truck in a full-body cast. Still, points for his homer against the Phils on wild-card-clinching day and his not particularly restrained reaction. Inexplicably missing from Topps Update, so stuck with a subpar Topps Heritage card.

Brandon Nimmo: Sandy Alderson’s first draft pick arrived from the nontraditional baseball climes of Wyoming with a smile as wide as his home state. So far, Nimmo’s pattern has been to struggle at each new baseball level and then shine. It’s not clear where his playing time will come from in 2017, but it’s also a baseball truism that you usually wind up needing more outfielders and starting pitchers than you think. Should that be the case, here’s hoping Nimmo sticks to his pattern — or at least keeps smiling. Topps Update card in which he’s … wait for it … smiling.

Seth Lugo: Not so long ago Jacob deGrom — a pitcher our blog had mentioned exactly zero times during his minor-league career — arrived in New York and became a big star. It’s horribly unfair to start talking about Seth Lugo that way but also hard to resist, because Lugo was so unheralded that he made deGrom seem like Paul Wilson. That’s what happens when you’re the 1,032nd player taken in the draft and pitched for Centenary College. Anyway, although he was essentially Plan H for the Mets in terms of starting pitchers, Lugo arrived in July and rode a terrific curve to a significant role down the stretch. In some alternate universe the Mets are World Series champs and “Seth Lugo” is the new “Hey, y’never know.” This universe is different, but Seth Lugo still had a really good year. 51s card, for now.

Justin Ruggiano: Hit a grand slam off Madison Bumgarner in 2016. Did you hit a grand slam off Madison Bumgarner in 2016? 2015 Topps card as a Mariner.

Jay Bruce: What the actual fuck? It’s been a while, so I should just … no, I was right the first time. What the actual fuck? The Mets had a sound second-base plan in which Neil Walker would hold the fort while Dilson Herrera got a little extra seasoning instead of enduring a year answering questions about not being Daniel Murphy, then blew it up to acquire the kind of defensively challenged corner outfielder they already had too many of. Bruce then rewarded Sandy & Co. by playing like a wide-eyed rookie dropped into the center of a minefield and told to run sprints. Seemed like a nice fella, and his mild late-season resurgence was a relief, but what the actual fuck? Topps Update card.

T. J. Rivera: Murph, is that you? Rivera came up and hit a bunch, proved disinclined to take a walk, looked better than one would have expected in the field and played with a certain intangible but welcome moxie. Not a bad start. 51s card.

Gabriel Ynoa: Maybe the least memorable Met of the campaign. He pitched, which you need guys to do. Might pitch a lot more or might be the guy you miss on quizzes about 2016 Mets years from now. 51s card.

Josh Smoker: What’s in a name, anyway? Did Josh Smoker’s parents look down at him wriggling adorably in his cradle and say, “Josh is totally gonna come into baseball games late throwing fastballs?” (If this happened, by the way, it was when I was 20 years old. Please excuse me while I stick my head in the oven.) Smoker fanned a bunch of guys, but another bunch of guys hit prodigious home runs off of him. Still, perspective: Smoker flamed out as a Nats prospect and sank all the way to the indy-ball ash heap before beginning a phoenix-like resurrection that culminated with throwing heat for a big-league club. Light a cigar, Josh! Latest in our string of 51s cards.

Robert Gsellman: Forget the GEICO caveman, Gsellman was the real Jacob deGrom barroom fakeout. Though what got stuck in my head was that deGrom was Snoopy and Gsellman was Spike. I think this is funny and am going to keep referencing it until someone takes pity on me and acknowledges it as genius, or at least a good try. Anyway, Gsellman arrived as emergency relief after Jon Niese blew out his knee in St. Louis, pitched bravely in a game the Mets won, and proved gutsy and dependable during the unlikely run to a 163rd game. Good things sometimes do happen to the Mets. Some ancient Bowman card in which he has short hair and so could be anybody.

Fernando Salas: Most years feature a late-season deal or two in which a reliever shows up and is asked to haul sandbags to the riverbank posthaste. Sometimes this works out pretty well — Addison Reed, for instance. Sometimes it works out less than well — remember Reed’s THB 2015 colleagues Eric O’Flaherty and Tim Stauffer? With Salas it worked out pretty well. Between small sample sizes and the spaghetti-at-a-wall essence of middle relievers, you should conclude absolutely nothing from this. 2015 Topps card as an Angel.

Gavin Cecchini: The last guy standing at the dugout rail, Cecchini had two lonely at-bats in two weeks before being inserted in the 5th inning of a farcical 10-0 bombardment inflicted on the forces of good by the Phillies. If you were still watching, Cecchini collected a pair of doubles and was in the thick of everything as the Mets lost the damn thing, 10-9, but still left us feeling like they’d won something. Way to go, kid. 2016 Bowman card.