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Mets of the 2010s: 80-71

Welcome to the third chapter of Faith and Fear’s countdown of The Top 100 Mets of the 2010s. An introduction to the series is available here [1]; you can read the most recent installment here [2]. These are the more or less best Mets we rooted for as Mets fans these past ten years. Since a decade is coming to a close, we thought it would be fun to round them up and recall a little something about them.
[3]
80. COLLIN COWGILL, 2013
Coming out of the what outfield? winter of Sandy Alderson’s ill-concealed discontent, the Mets were entering the 2013 season with an assortment of options that made Abbott & Costello’s lineup look like known quantities. Who was in center? No, it was Collin Cowgill, late of Arizona and Oakland and reminiscent of, at least according to Spring Training buzz [4], Lenny Dykstra. Several inches shy of six feet, Collin had the height to compare. By the time Opening Day was over, he also had the memorable home run, in his case a grand slam to ice the Mets’ win over the Padres. Granted, it wasn’t up there with the walkoff wallop Dykstra launched to beat the Astros in 1986’s NLCS Game Three, but power from an unexpected source will make anybody an instant fan favorite. For Cowgill, the favor didn’t last; he batted .180 in 23 games and was dealt to the Angels in June. But no Mets fan around for the rest of the 2010s would hear his name and ask, “Who?” One swing is sometimes all it takes.

79. FRANK FRANCISCO, 2012-2013
The cult of the closer had a perfectly logical avatar to carry its faith forward in Flushing when Frank Francisco, an American League relief pitcher with credentials, was signed for $12 million by Sandy Alderson to pitch ninth innings in 2012 and 2013. Francisco, who’d totaled as many 25 saves in a season for Texas, did what he was asked to do right away, preserving wins in the Mets’ first three games of the year. The club was 3-0, their closer was 3-for-3 in save opportunities and…well, neither entity could quite keep up the blistering pace. Still, Francisco compiled 23 saves (in spite of a 5.53 ERA) and backed up a bit of bizarre Subway Series bluster — “I can’t wait to strike out those chickens” — by throwing a scoreless ninth to end a Citi Field victory over the Yankees on June 22. A lingering elbow injury accompanied by a suspiciously lengthy rehabilitation period sidelined him until September in 2013. Frank notched his one and only save of the year on the last day of the season, closing the books on the last instance in the 2010s that the Mets would entrust their fate to a pricey free agent closer.

78. TYLER CLIPPARD, 2015
Fortification of the back end of the bullpen is the goal of any contender, and the Mets fortified what they hoped would be their fortress of solitude in July of 2015 by trading for veteran righty Tyler Clippard. Handed primarily eighth innings, Clippard tended to protect them very well as the Mets commenced to lap one of his former teams, the Nationals, in the race for first place in the NL East. Chalking up eight holds plus a save in his first twenty-four Met appearances certainly helped clear a path to a division title. The last New York stats Tyler posted, however, are the ones that resonate: two walks in a third-of-an-inning versus Kansas City in the eighth inning of Game Four of the World Series, both of which became earned runs on his ledger and a dagger of loss for both him and the Mets.

77. CHRIS CAPUANO, 2011
Chris Capuano was probably miscast as a 2011 Met, though that was through no fault of his own. A veteran lefty of the sort any contending team would desire down the stretch, the Mets never got around to converting Capuano into prospects as their season went south. Chris made the best of his static situation, most notably on a Friday night in late August at Citi Field when he thoroughly shut down the Braves, one of the clubs that could have used a guy like him: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 13 SO for a 6-0 whitewashing on the eve of Hurricane Irene storming the Metropolitan Area. Capuano’s Game Score, a metric that measures an outing’s dominance, was the highest for any Met starter since David Cone struck out 19 on the last day of 1991. A little over a month after Atlanta succumbed to Chris, the Braves would complete a colossal collapse, blowing their once-comfortable Wild Card lead to the Cardinals and missing the playoffs by a single game. They surely could have used a guy like Capuano…or benefited from him being on a mound somewhere else on August 26.

76. MARCUS STROMAN, 2019
Were the heretofore comatose Mets serious about making a run in 2019? They must have been, because on July 28, the contenders-come-lately swooped in ahead of other more logical trading partners, threw prospects to the wind, and worked out a swap with Toronto for Marcus Stroman, a Long Island kid who salivated at the chance to pitch with something on the line for a New York team. It may not have been the New York team Marcus expected to be joining, but the energetic righty acclimated quickly to his new surroundings, emitting excitement and occasionally flashing the form that earned him a spot on the AL All-Star squad a few weeks earlier. Becoming the first Met to pitch regularly with a single digit on his back (7), Stroman straddled the line between erratic and effective for a spell before settling in as a valuable member of a rotation striving to keep an unlikely Wild Card bid alive.

75. JASON BAY, 2010-2012
Signing Jason Bay didn’t seem like a terrible idea. The left fielder, 31, established a stellar track record with Pittsburgh and Boston, capturing the Rookie of the Year award in 2004, making three All-Star teams in a five-season span, and belting 36 home runs in 2009 while playing his home games in a park whose left field wall is known as the Green Monster. Coming to Citi Field for four years, starting in 2010, shouldn’t have proved daunting, even if almost no 2009 Met managed to hit balls out of its uncozy confines in its inaugural year. Plus Bay could claim Met roots of a sort, having shuffled through New York’s minor league system in 2002, playing alongside the up-and-coming Jose Reyes at Binghamton. There was no reason Bay on the Mets shouldn’t have worked. Yet it didn’t very much. Part of it was bad luck born of hustle. Bay ran into walls of all sizes in pursuit of catches, and staying in one piece proved a challenge. His persistent slump of 2010 and 2011 devolved into a nightmare .165 batting average in 2012. There was residual pop in his bat, most notably the night in Detroit when Jason belted the grand slam that broke a Mets four-run homer drought that had stretched nearly 300 games (Carlos Beltran added his own grand slam the very next inning; go figure). Bay’s pro’s pro aura rarely diminished, but it couldn’t obscure a bat that just wasn’t getting around like it used to. The Mets ate the last year of his contract.

74. JEREMY HEFNER, 2012-2013
From the out-of-nowhere files came the case of Jeremy Hefner, a righty who’d spent five seasons in the San Diego chain, never advancing beyond Triple-A before the Mets picked him up in the offseason prior to 2012. His major league debut was on the nose for an afterthought of a pitcher, as he was called up to serve as the first “26th man” mandated by MLB for use in a makeup doubleheader. His second start, on May 29, was auspicious at the plate (a home run off Joe Blanton) and quality on the mound (6 IP, 3 ER for his first win). Jeremy gave Terry Collins 36 starts over two years, intermittently shining — he carried a shutout into the ninth inning the last time the Mets played the Astros in a National League game — and generally hanging tough, at least until his right arm required not one but two rounds of Tommy John surgery. Hefner’s Met pitching career ended shy of a comeback, but a uniform awaits him in Flushing in 2020, as the new pitching coach for his old team.

73. TIM BYRDAK, 2011-2013
No bullpen that is called upon multiple times a night can persist without a pitcher the caliber of Tim Byrdak. Having been through the wars since 1994 (including a four-year tour of the minors after having already spent parts of three seasons with the Royals), Byrdak joined the Mets in 2011 and became the lefty specialist Terry Collins couldn’t get enough of: 72 appearances in ’11, another 56 in ’12. Though Tim was new to New York, his experience at many prior rodeos made him the bullpen spokesman of record during a couple of fairly lean seasons. He seemed to relish his elder statesman role, never more than when he decided what the clubhouse really needed was a live chicken in the aftermath of the poultry-inflected jibe Frank Francisco directed at the Yankees. Byrdak named the temporary pet Little Jerry Seinfeld, an homage to the cockfighting episode of Seinfeld, before the bird moved on to a more suitable home [5]. A shoulder injury curtailed Byrdak’s 2012, but he fought to return to pitching in September 2013, determined to put in every last day until he qualified for MLB’s Lifetime Pass, a gold card that entitles a player lifetime admission to any ballgame. The catch was a player qualifies only if he’s lasted eight years as a major leaguer. Byrdak, pushing 40, made it back to the Mets, pitched in the final eight games of his career and surely earned his free pass [6].

72. ROBINSON CANO, 2019
71. EDWIN DIAZ, 2019

It was a matter of debate whether the December 2018 headline-grabbing deal the Mets made with Seattle would be known as the Robinson Cano Trade, the Edwin Diaz Trade or, ultimately, the Jarred Kelenic Trade. The back pages in New York were initially all about Cano, a potentially Hall of Fame-bound second baseman returning to the city where he established himself as a superstar. The smart money said that absorbing the 36-year-old’s megacontract was worth it because the real prize was Diaz, a closer who had just completed dazzling the American League to the tune of 57 mostly unhittable saves. At 24, the righty projected as the centerpiece of what had to be an improved Mets bullpen. Sure enough, Edwin pitched to his burgeoning reputation as the 2019 season got underway, recording save after save and inspiring calls for his entrance into games prior to their ninth innings. What nobody saw coming was Diaz’s penchant for the home run ball undoing his spate of good work, isolating his 26 saves from the sense of foreboding that surrounded the mere sight of him stirring in the pen. As for Cano, he was definitely old, definitely prone to the gentle jog to first on grounders to second and definitely the object of growing derision as 2019 went down the tubes. Then a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion: Cano got ridiculously hot (a three-homer explosion one night versus San Diego; a five-game OPS of 1.445 that was derailed only by a trip to the IL) and the Mets caught fire. His younger, more consistently productive teammates continually vouched for how much Robbie’s leadership meant to them, maybe yielding hope that former top Met prospect Kelenic, whenever the 20-year-old outfielder reaches the majors, won’t totally turn the erstwhile Mariners into latter-day synonyms for Foy and Fregosi.