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Welcome, THB Class of 2019!

Another year in the books! Another decade in the books! And another class of matriculating Mets to welcome to The Holy Books!

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 arrival in a big-league game: 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, ghosts, and one for the 1961 Expansion Draft. That page begins with Hobie Landrith and ends with the infamous Lee Walls [1], the only THB resident who neither played for the Mets, managed the Mets, or got stuck with the dubious status of Met ghost.

THB cards from 2019 [2]If a player gets a Topps card as a Met, I use it unless it’s a 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. (I now have several stacks of nopes — tough business, baseball.) 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]here [13]here [14]here [15] and here [16].)

Enough preamble, let’s get to the amble:

Pete Alonso: Because of the way this feature works, guys get assessed for what they did in their first Mets season, even if that season is relatively brief. Which can leave their THB welcome bios a little scanty, compared with their later biographies. (Though, perspective: If you manage to be a merely interesting Met we’ll devote ~20,000 words to you in a given season. It’s what we do.) Go through previous iterations of this column and you’ll find entries for Dom Smith, Amed Rosario and even Matt Harvey that don’t give much of a hint about what’s to come. Alonso probably deserved a cameo in 2018, and at the time I was bummed that he didn’t get one — and I’m still a little bit bummed, because that meant his career never overlapped with David Wright’s. But the silver lining is we get to give him a full accounting now, instead of a couple of lines about how he’s big and smiley and well, we’ll see. By waiting another calendar year, Alonso became the first to Metriculate in ’19; by doing what he did, he stormed his way to first in our hearts. He collected his first hit in Washington on Opening Day, his first homer in Miami in Game 4, and was off and slugging after that. He smashed the club home-run record by a cool 12 (53 to the seemingly impregnable 41 that had belonged to Carlos Beltran and Todd Hundley), won the All-Star Game Home Run Derby (though Vlad Guerrero Jr. prevailed in its equivalent of the popular vote), won the MLB homer crown (no asterisk required), garnered Rookie of the Year honors, proved far more able in the field than we’d been warned to expect, and was the clear club leader in fan relations, down to stripped-off uniforms, shirt-worthy acronyms, and so much besides. But you know all this already. And that’s the greatest thing of all — a rookie we hoped might hit a few long balls and contribute more runs on offense than he took away on defense put together a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming rocket ride of a season that ended with me saying of his many accomplishments, “But you know all this already.” 2019 Topps Series 2 card in which he’s wearing a dumb blue top. Not to worry; he’ll get a lot more.

Robinson Cano: Hall of Famer as a Yankee, solid player turned PED suspect as a Mariner, Cano came back to New York along with Edwin Diaz (about whom a whole lot more in a bit) in exchange for a mega-prospect (Jarred Kelenic), a useful prospect (Justin Dunn), a lottery ticket (Gerson Bautista), a misfit toy (Jay Bruce) and a guy we never wanted to see again (Anthony Swarzak). It was an odd trade, given the years and dollars left on Cano’s contract and the fact that it pushed Jeff McNeil out of a position he’d more than earned, but there we were. Cano then had an interesting year. He was hurt, he loafed and was kinda sorta not really called out for it in one of Mickey Callaway’s many instances of stepping on his own dick while doing something not particularly complicated, he got raging hot… it was a lot, let’s leave it at that. Cano did get credit for mentoring Amed Rosario during what turned out to be his breakout season, an unquantifiable thing that’s been a storyline in a couple of recent Mets seasons and ought to be thought about more. Still, Cano will be around for four more years at $24 million per, and not one of those seasons is likely to be anything close to a bargain. 2019 Topps team set card in which he’s wearing a Photoshopped Mets jersey. (He got a 2019 Update card, but it was a horizontal, and by now I don’t need to tell you that horizontal cards lead to devil worship, blindness and death.)

Wilson Ramos: We knew about Ramos already, based on him being built like a brick shithouse (I think Noel Coward coined that term) and beating said house’s usual contents out of us far too often as a National. But seeing him every day gave me a new appreciation for him. No, he’s not a great catcher — there were raise-an-eyebrow ERA stats and mild battery controversies and lectures about pitch-framing — but he was such a potent hitter that we usually forgave all that. Plus there was an additional something about Ramos — a glimmer in the eye and an angle at the corners of the mouth that suggested a sense of irony and wise detachment from the ebb and flow of a pitiless, punishing sport. Ramos put together an astonishing 26-game hitting streak during the summer, tying for the second-longest in club history. Twenty-six games! For a 32-year-old catcher! Who has to run at top speed to have a tectonic plate not outdrift him! In the summer! And he didn’t even start in four of those games! And in his last AB he saw nine pitches and was only out because Howie Kendrick made a gorgeous diving stop! 2019 Series 2 card.

Keon Broxton: His floor was “lithe, defense-first fourth outfielder,” while his ceiling was “breakout star.” Alas, the Mets haven’t had luck with this particular player profile for a very long time. Broxton got irregular playing time and didn’t do much with it, which is a familiar Rorschach pattern of failure for players with his profile, and in early May the Mets let him go. He didn’t stick with the Orioles either (ouch), wound up in Seattle and in December came back to the Brewers. And you think you had a complicated year. 2019 Series 2 card, issued after he was already gone.

Edwin Diaz: OK, actually Edwin Diaz had a really complicated year. Arriving after serving as the Mariners’ lights-out closer, the man they call “Sugar” had a pretty good first month as a Met — arriving for work at Citi Field on April 29, he had eight saves to his credit, an ERA of 0.84, and had fanned 20 in 10 2/3 innings. That afternoon, Diaz was brought into a tie game in the 9th and gave up a game-killing homer to Jesse Winkler. Two days later, he was beaten in the same situation by Jose Iglesias. There was a meltdown out in Los Angeles, a gag job against the Cardinals, a disaster in Philadelphia … on and on it went, capped by Kurt Suzuki’s walkoff in D.C. in early September. The Mets had been 806-0 in their less-than-storied history when entering the ninth with a lead of at least six runs; after that one, they were 806-1 and you were entitled to never believe anything again. Calling Diaz’s season a disaster profoundly understates the case; it was a disaster that simultaneously spat in the face of a mathematician’s cool logic, an emo poet’s talent for mordant reflection, and an innocent child’s yearning for reassurance that the universe is not ice-cold and murderous. Every time Edwin Diaz threw a slider in an important spot, it was not just hit but hit out of a ballpark. And yet … he continued to strike out hitters at an elite rate. The ball may be different in 2020, which might help. Or Diaz could simply see his luck regress to the mean, which might help a lot more. Do you feel lucky, Mets fan punk? Well do ya? 2019 Update card in which he’s pumping his fist. Guess it was shot in April.

J.D. Davis: He can’t play third base. Despite working his butt off, he can only kind of play left, and that’s if you squint a lot and have rosary beads close at hand. What he can definitely do is hit. Jonathan Gregory Davis — the “J.D.” is a back-formation from his initials — was an odd man out with the Astros, picked up by Brodie van Wagenen in the best trade of his tenure so far. Davis slugged 22 homers, was money at home and in the second half, and became Pete Alonso’s sidekick in everyone’s favorite buddy comedy of the year. The Polar Bear dubbed Davis “the Sun Bear” (as Greg noted, “the Solar Bear” was just sitting there), and Davis was the Met I was most likely to confuse with an adorably insane cartoon character. There was his sleeveless, drenched WWE-style postgame interview [17] after beating the Indians, but my favorite moment was his heckle of the Cubs after another Alonso homer. Davis has a lot of talents, but heckling isn’t one of them: He has a voice that doesn’t travel, coming out pinched and reedy instead of deep and booming. “Whaddya gonna throw ‘im?” Davis screeched at the Cubs from the dugout as Alonso circled the bases. “WHAT NOW?!” Four months later, it’s still making me laugh [18]. Given their glut of outfielders and Davis’s limitations, the Mets might be better off trading Davis for much-needed parts, but I hope they don’t, because it really might break my heart. 2019 Series 2 card in a stupid blue top.

Justin Wilson: The unassuming-looking Wilson arrived as a 31-year-old pitching for his fifth organization and had a 4.82 ERA in early May when he went on the IL with a stubbornly sore elbow. Nearly two months later, I was sitting a couple of rows from the bullpen mound in the Staten Island stands and noticed the Cyclone warming up about eight feet away had fancy personalized cleats. The answer to this mystery: It was Wilson, whom I not just hadn’t recognized but also hadn’t thought of since he vanished. A couple of days later, Wilson was back with the Mets and was one of their most dependable relievers for the rest of the year. Middle relievers, man. Go figure. 2019 card from the resurrected Topps Total brand.

Luis Avilan: A lefty specialist, Avilan was sent out against righties early in the season, which didn’t go well. Imagine that! He then got hurt and was out from early May through early July with elbow tightness. (No, I didn’t copy and paste this from Justin Wilson’s entry.) When he returned, he faced mostly lefties, and things got much better. Imagine that! For the year, Avilan held lefties to a .102 average, but was battered by righties at a .373 clip. The three-batter minimum may play havoc with his career next year, but then the same was true about working for Mickey Callaway. It’s true Carlos Beltran has no record as a manager, but his lifetime NBMC percentage — that’s a new stat called “Not Being Mickey Callaway” — is 1.000. 2016 Topps card from back when he was a Dodger.

Ryan O’Rourke: Appeared twice in early May, pitched 1.1 innings, was sent down, recalled again at the end of the month, but optioned before appearing in another game because the Mets needed a spot for Aaron Altherr. Did they really, though? 2019 Syracuse Mets card. It’s very orange.

Adeiny Hechavarria: I already disliked Hechavarria for being an annoying, sporadically good Marlin, and huffed and puffed when the Mets signed him as infield depth for 2019. But hey, maybe he wouldn’t be called up? The Mets called him up at the beginning of May to avoid losing him because of an opt-out clause in his contract, a move I excoriated at length, decrying Hechavarria as the kind of Proven Veteran™ who only gets a roster spot from teams that have no strategy except avoiding criticism from crusty old baseball lifers who also have no strategy. Which wasn’t incorrect, really, except Hechavarria played pretty well for a brief stretch. In such situations I always say I’m glad to be wrong, but I was glad with a big seething asterisk. With Robinson Cano back on the active roster, Hechavarria rode the bench and was ineffective in a part-time role. The Mets designated him for assignment shortly before a $1 million option would have kicked in, which was simultaneously a sound baseball move and typically cheapjack Wilponian shit. Hechavarria wound up as a Brave, hit .328 for them, and thanked God for delivering him from the Mets. Oh but wait: He then singlehandedly tried to ruin Closing Day, connecting for a home run in the ninth off Paul Sewald to tie the game at 4-4 and then hitting another one in the 11th off Walker Lockett to give the bad guys a 5-4 lead. Dom Smith saved us from the Adeinypocalypse, thank God, and my last look at Hechavarria was while his team was being destroyed by the Cardinals in one of baseball’s all-time postseason beatdowns. He didn’t play, but I made sure I caught a glimpse of him, because I am in fact that petty. He’s now a free agent, hopefully bound for a league in Korea, Antarctica or on Mars. Go away, Adeiny Hechavarria. Go away forever. 2019 Topps Total card as a Met, which I wish didn’t exist.

Wilmer Font: Baseball wouldn’t work without ham-and-eggers like Font, guys who eat innings and keep getting looks because a) there’s talent there and someone always thinks they’ll be the one to unlock it and b) somebody’s got to take the ball. But while baseball needs a steady supply of Wilmer Fonts, something’s gone wrong if one of them is on your roster for more than a couple of weeks. The Mets acquired Font from the Rays in May and sold him to the Blue Jays in July; a couple of years from now he’ll show up in another uniform during the fourth inning of some snoozy game and you’ll cock your head, say “oh yeah, him” and the person next to you won’t remember. 2019 Topps card as a Ray.

Rajai Davis: On Nov. 2, 2016, the Cubs were up 6-4 on the Indians in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, with two outs and a runner on second. The Cubs hadn’t won the Series since 1908; the Indians hadn’t won since 1948. Facing Chicago’s Aroldis Chapman was Cleveland journeyman Rajai Davis, with 55 homers to his name over an 11-year career. Davis hit Chapman’s seventh pitch over the left-field wall, tying the game and unleashing bedlam at Progressive Field. Unfortunately, the Cubs won in the 10th, which always make me wonder how Clevelanders view Rajai Davis. He’s a hero, obviously, but how much of a hero? Will he never have to buy a drink in that town? You’d think … except the Indians didn’t win. So, I dunno, maybe he’ll never have to buy a first drink in that town? Anyway, Davis became a Met on May 22, arriving when the team finally figured out Brandon Nimmo was actually hurt. In his first Mets AB, Davis clubbed a three-run homer in the eighth inning off the Nationals’ Sean Doolittle, the exclamation point on a four-game sweep. (To get in uniform, he had to take a $243 Uber ride from Pennsylvania.) Then, in September, Davis hit a bases-clearing double off the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu to break a scoreless eighth-inning tie, keeping the Mets’ season alive. He didn’t do much in between, but with moments like those two, he didn’t have to. 2019 Topps Total card.

Aaron Altherr: Two days after Rajai Davis homered in his first at-bat as a Met, Aaron Altherr did the same thing, launching a sixth-inning homer to give New York a brief-lived 7-6 lead over the Tigers. He did almost nothing else of note, so any expensive Uber rides he took weren’t deemed newsworthy, and he wound up with an .082 batting average for the year. 2018 Topps Heritage card as a Phillie.

Hector Santiago: He spent nearly a month as a Met, most of it during June when everyone paid to pitch baseballs for a living was hurt. You’d think I’d remember a guy who was on our roster for a month, but I didn’t. Googling revealed he was the winning pitcher in the Tomas Nido game. Ah. That I remember — I was in a Thai restaurant with friends, peeking down at Gameday on my phone, which was tucked between my knees. That made me remember that Santiago did his best to lose the game he won, throwing about a billion balls and perilously few strikes and somehow escaping getting eaten (figuratively) by Tigers. Honestly, I was better off not remembering him. 2019 Syracuse card.

Brooks Pounders: Baseball is reliably hilarious, in ways both unexpected and thoroughly expected. If I told you there was a pitcher named Brooks Pounders and asked you to come up with a capsule biography, you’d probably decide he was a hefty middle reliever with a dog’s breakfast career spread over multiple organizations. And you’d be right! The joke within a joke is while Pounders appeared in seven games with the Mets and racked up a 6.14 ERA, he only gave up a run in one of those appearances, a 13-7 disaster against the Phillies where no pitcher covered himself in glory. Still pretty funny. 2017 Topps Update card.

Stephen Nogosek: As the 2017 season crumbled into wreckage, the Mets traded away pretty much every player someone wanted, which was understandable. What was less understandable was that in every deal, the Mets got the same underwhelming thing back — a right-handed minor-league reliever considered a lottery ticket by scouts. Exit Lucas Duda, Addison Reed, Jay Bruce, Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson; enter Drew Smith, Gerson Bautista, Jamie Callahan, Stephen Nogosek, Ryder Ryan, Eric Hanhold and Jacob Rhame. It’s only a mild oversimplification to say the Mets acquired the same pitcher with seven different names, like they’d been dropped into a straight-to-video knockoff of Highlander in which the immortal hero’s bad at swordfighting. Nogosek pitched effectively in the minors last year, so maybe he’ll be the wheat amid the chaff, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m also not looking forward to seeing Ryder Ryan come up this July and surrender four earned runs in 1 1/3 on a getaway day in Cincinnati. 2018 St. Lucie card in which Nogosek’s sporting an ill-advised mustache. That card probably cost me $5 on eBay. Stupid Mets.

Walker Lockett: I hated Tommy Milone. Actively detested him and would writhe around on the couch in torment when he was on my TV. I just felt sorry for Walker Lockett … and for myself, and for all the rest of us. Why does God allow such things to happen? 2017 El Paso Chihuahuas card. Yes, that is an actual professional baseball team. Why does God allow such things to happen?

Chris Mazza: We make fun of interchangeable middle relievers and one-and-done spot starters, and it’s an acceptable coping mechanism for staying sane as fans — so long as we remember that even the least of these guys is a world-class athlete who’s spent years and years working his ass off doing something incredibly hard for a lot less money than we think. Mazza turned 29 about two months before the Mets made him a minor-league Rule V draftee in December 2018. He’d been released by the Twins in 2015, by the Marlins in 2018, and if you thought his future looked bright, you were either a family member or a truly incurable optimist. But Mazza proved useful in Binghamton, got the call to Syracuse and did OK, and in late June he found himself in the big leagues, wearing blue and orange striped stirrups he bought himself on Amazon. So how’d it go? He was in line for his first big-league win during a grim Verdun of a game against the Giants in July — 1-2-3 15th inning, on long side after a Pete Alonso homer — but imploded in the 16th, facing five batters and retiring none of them in one of the season’s more frustrating losses. But the story isn’t done yet! Did you know Chris Mazza threw the last pitch for the Mets in the 2010s? He relieved Walker Lockett on Closing Day, got Francisco Cervelli to ground into a double play with the only pitch he threw, and was the pitcher of record when Dom Smith sent us all home happy. That’s a big-league victory, in so many ways. He’s now 30 years old and Red Sox property; Godspeed, Chris Mazza. An old Jacksonville Suns card. Their unis were better in the days of Amos Otis and Gary Gentry, trust me.

Marcus Stroman: If you want to understand the depths of Mets-fan trauma, the team’s acquisition of Marcus Stroman in July could be Exhibit A. At first glance, Stroman’s surprise acquisition should have been great news, bolstering an already-strong starting corps with the team fighting for a wild-card berth. Except it was widely assumed Stroman’s acquisition was the prelude to the team dealing away Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard with an eye on future salary obligations, which would not have been great news. And that scenario only seemed more likely after the Mets trumpeted Stroman’s Long Island roots and high-school rivalry with Steven Matz — among their other fine qualities, the Wilpons are deeply parochial, the kind of people who think a feel-good local story will mesmerize fans and keep them from asking pesky questions about payroll. As it turned out, the Mets traded neither Wheeler nor Syndergaard, fell short of the wild card, but then let Wheeler become a Phillie without stirring from their slumber, so you tell me what the plan was, assuming there ever was one. The silver lining at the center of all that was Stroman himself, an undersized, overamped bulldog of a pitcher, demonstrative on the mound and in the dugout. It was a pleasure to watch him in 2019; it’s a pleasure to think that there’s more to come. 2019 Topps Heritage card, as a Blue Jay.

Donnie Hart: Threw nine pitches in one inning for the Mets, recording three groundouts near the tail end of a blowout win over the Pirates. That was in August, on a night I had duties at a sci-fi con in Tampa, Fla. I missed that part of the game and so in all likelihood missed Donnie Hart’s entire Mets career. First Met I’ve completely missed since I moved to New York in 1995? It’s possible. Thanks to the magic of the MLB.tv archives I could go relive the Donnie Hart era in all its glory, but I think it’s more poignant and poetic to leave things the way they are. 2017 Topps Chrome card as an Oriole — autographed, no less.

Joe Panik: A San Francisco Giant legend, Panik was born in Yonkers and went to St. John’s, playing in the exhibition game against Georgetown that christened Citi Field back in 2009. (Panik went 2-for-4; I was there but won’t pretend I remember him.) Given all that, a homecoming was inevitable once it became clear that Panik no longer had a place with the Giants. With Robinson Cano on the shelf, Adeiny Hechavarria and his impending $1 million option were subtracted, Panik was added, and on we went. Panik started out with a hot couple of weeks, cooled off after that, and all in all was perfectly serviceable before becoming a free agent at season’s end. Honestly, Joe Panik not being Adeiny Hechavarria would have been enough for me. I hate that guy. 2019 Topps Heritage card, as a Giant.

Brad Brach: The Cubs signed Brach before 2019, and it looked like a good move — Brach had proven reliable with the Padres, Orioles and Braves. But it all went to hell in Chicago, and the Cubs released Brach and his 6.43 ERA at the beginning of August. The Mets figured out he’d been tipping his change-up and fixed the problem; even before then, Brach endeared himself to us by revealing that he’d attended a 2015 World Series game, not as a laminated-thing-around-the-neck MLB guy but because he’d grown up in Freehold as a huge Mets fan. (I will not be taking questions about parochialism and/or hypocrisy at this time, thank you.) Emily noted that neither “Brad” nor “Brach” exactly rolled off the tongue while cheering from the couch, so she invoked him by his full name, which turned into “Breadbox” within a homestead or two. Worked for me. Breadbox will be back in 2020, hopefully remaining rubber-armed and useful. Yet another 2019 Heritage card, as a Cub.

Sam Haggerty: Looking for a path to the big leagues when you’re not considered a front-line prospect? Your best bet is to be a good defensive catcher; if you’re not, raw speed is a good Plan B. Haggerty got the call in September after spending most of the season at Double-A, with a video of Syracuse manager Tony DeFrancesco delivering the news going mildly viral. Used mostly as a pinch-runner, he scored two runs and was hitless in four ABs. The first of them was a nice September moment, with the entire team paying avid attention from the dugout and the Citi Field crowd cheering him on. The Mets released Haggerty this week, but whatever else he does in life, he’ll always be a major leaguer and that’s awesome. 2019 Rumble Ponies card.

Jed Lowrie: He lives! A truly star-crossed acquisition, Lowrie came aboard as a useful veteran expected to log time at multiple infield positions, but came down with a sore knee in February and then shit got weird. There was talk of him returning in May, but there was a hamstring problem, Brodie Van Wagenen poked his head up momentarily to babble about kinetic chains, other body parts malfunctioned in ways no one seemed inclined to explain, and eventually we all shrugged and forgot about Jed Lowrie. I wonder, idly, if 2020 spring training will bring an article that recounts his odd lost season, and if that article will reveal that there was something wrong nobody wanted to talk about, or merely detail a perfect storm of physical woes. Whatever the case, Lowrie came to the plate as a Brooklyn Cyclone in the New York-Penn League playoffs and I reacted like I’d seen a UFO. He then made a miraculous return to the big-league roster in September … and went hitless in eight thoroughly unmemorable plate appearances. 2019 Topps Heritage card in which he’s a Met but looks like he’s holding very still out of fright. Honestly, it’s perfect; perhaps it’s even the moment when whatever happened to him happened.