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The New Old Mets

The deal came together with startling speed – in far less time than even one of today’s foot-on-the-accelerator news cycles, Jose Bautista [1] went from possible New York Mets target to likely signee to announced acquisition to standing on the field wearing No. 11.

No day or two to get his affairs in order, no needing to find a flight from wherever – he arrived with the speed of the delivery order that leaves you wondering if the guy was circling the block with a miniaturized kitchen between the handlebars of his bike, waiting impatiently for you to figure out that yeah, you were getting the General Tso’s this time too.

All of this is ignoring the question of whether or not Jose Bautista [1], New York Met, is in fact a good idea.

The Braves had no use for Bautista, calling him up for a fortnight’s look-see and deciding that they could do better with what they had – a similar decision to the one they made about another superannuated Met, Adrian Gonzalez [2]. One might make a joke about not being good enough to make the Braves, except have you seen the standings lately? Maybe the Braves were the first ones to get the memo about the value of what they have.

Bautista’s a new old Met in multiple ways – because fans of a certain vintage will recall that he was once technically Met property, laundered by the team on July 30, 2004 on his way from the Royals back to his original employer, the Pirates, as part of the deal that brought back Kris Benson [3] and Jeff Keppinger [4] but somehow not a title.

There’s a lot of that on the field these days. Jay Bruce [5] is a recidivist Met. So is Jason Vargas [6], who gets the added currency of having been a Shea Met. Ditto for Jose Reyes [7], Bautista’s fellow Jose and fellow former Blue Jay. (I’m probably forgetting one or two. Sorry — frantically typing in the airport on very little sleep.)

Reyes remembers Bautista from his glory days north of the border, when Bautista was a feared home-run hitter and playoff hero, the man whose joyous lumber launch sparked a brief inferno of bat-flip hot takes. (Between Bautista, Yoenis Cespedes [8] and Asdrubal Cabrera [9], the Mets can lay claim to three stalwarts of the genre.)

So does Bautista have anything left? Well, for the short-term he’s a hard-to-argue-with shrug, a chance at counteracting left-handed pitching and filling in for Cespedes and Todd Frazier [10], Yo’s counterpart in the very Metsian club of Guys Who Will Be Missing Longer Than First Thought.

And he’d certainly seem to have more left than his aforementioned fellow Jose. Which is where I got a little annoyed.

Bautista replacing Reyes on the roster would have been a lottery ticket with a side of sweet relief, as Reyes continues to make us painfully aware on a daily basis that he is no longer even a shadow of what he was. He’s dreadful at third, not much better at short, punchless and inept at the plate and nothing special on the bases. Given all that, unless his mentorship of Amed Rosario [11] includes necessary life-saving instruction in the body’s normally autonomic systems, it’s difficult to see what anybody’s getting out of the deal.

But no, Reyes remained and Bautista took the place of Phillip Evans [12], who honestly would probably be the wisest of the three players to employ on a semi-regular basis. Which leads me to a recent criticism of the Mets from baseball analyst Joe Sheehan, plucked from his very smart newsletter. To paraphrase. Sheehan noted that the Mets have had some recent success in developing young talent but seem determined not to trust it: Dom Smith is trying to stay thin in Triple-A and Brandon Nimmo [13] is fighting for playing time while their at-bats go to Gonzalez and Bruce. Why not throw Evans into that mix for good measure?

Anyway, Bautista doubled in his first Mets AB, which could be a good sign or could prove he’s recycling Jose Lobaton [14]’s material, but didn’t do much else Tuesday night. He had plenty of company in that, as the Mets were stymied by Caleb Smith [15].

Smith threw one of those easy oh-fors at the Mets lineup, looking ordinary while mowing down hitter after hitter with a well-placed and well-chosen mix of pitches. His opponent, a newly unhirsute Zack Wheeler [16], had one of his more encouraging outings, walking no one and working six innings.

But encouraging isn’t the same as a win. Wheeler was undone by the second inning, in which everybody had a part: Wheeler gave up several rockets, but Reyes muffed a Smith bunt and another run came in on a perfectly placed Luis Sojo [17] special up the middle by J.T. Realmuto [18]. That gave the Marlins a 3-0 lead that proved more than enough, particularly when AJ Ramos [19]’s relief work looked more like the Ramos who’s had us bracing for impact this year.

Look, you’re gonna lose baseball games [20] – a good 60 of them are ticketed for that column even in pinch-me campaigns. Day One of the Bautista regime isn’t a fair referendum on him, or anybody else. It takes longer than that to form a judgment. But judgments do arrive. And sometimes, like Met injuries, they linger far longer than one would think necessary.