Well, that’s a relief…
With Cespedes on board, the Mets cruised to their first NL East title since 2006. But not without getting some extra relief help first. Eric O’Flaherty got the first shot, but that didn’t work out so well. Next came Addison Reed, who has earned a spot on the postseason roster. Barring an emergency postseason call-up, the 2015 list wraps up with Tim Stauffer, who was picked up to bolster the AAA staff. As usual, the “throw a bunch of relievers against the wall and see who sticks” method of bullpen construction doesn’t yield the best results, but at least the Mets had some time to experiment in games that didn’t really matter.
Lefty LOOGys, Righty Bats
Ignoring the shortstop position, the Mets were in the market for two types of players coming into the 2015 season: right-handed corner outfielders and left-handed relief pitchers. The former came together quickly in the form of Michael Cuddyer and John Mayberry Jr., but the latter was looking a bit shaky as spring training entered its final week. Then, in the span of an afternoon, the Mets turned Matt den Dekker and Cory Mazzoni into lefties Jerry Blevins and Alex Torres. All three made the Opening Day roster, but early results are mixed. Gilmartin’s ability to get Freddie Freeman out though could be a big point in his favor.
Them’s the breaks
It didn’t take long for the season to start wearing down this team. While Daniel Murphy made it into the Opening Day lineup despite a spring training hamstring injury (which seemed to still be bothering him weeks later), a hamstring injury would put David Wright on the DL just a few games into the season. Eric Campbell should have been there to replace Wright, but the Mets were playing with a short bench and opted for Anthony Recker at third for one inning until Campbell could be recalled. Daniel Muno was then called up to make his major league debut as the backup to backup-turned-starter Campbell (and, inexplicably, as the ineffective DH in one game against the Yankees) before sanity took over and Daniel Murphy moved to third to make room for Dilson Herrera’s return. When fractures sent Jerry Blevins and Travis d’Arnaud to the DL, Kevin Plawecki and Hansel Robles were called up as replacements. Jack Leathersich also got a brief look in the pen before Johnny Monell was called up to back up the bench as the reserve roles remained in flux. And then the starting rotation got in on the action with Dillon Gee going on the DL with a groin injury, opening a door for Noah Syndergaard. In years past, the team might have tried to go day-to-day with a minor injury to a starter, but the combination of top MLB-ready pitching talent in AAA and a dwindling division lead made this a no-brainer.
With the AAA well running dry and the division lead no more than a fading memory, the Mets needed help. Badly. On July 23, they made history as only the second team in the modern era (and the first that was actually trying to win games) to field a lineup with the number 4 and 5 spots occupied by sub-.180 batters. These are guys who shouldn’t even be on the bench in the majors, yet for the Mets, they were starters. The next day, Michael Cuddyer, who had been injured for the past month, finally went on the DL, opening a spot for, um, someone? When a trade failed to materialize, that someone became 2014 1st round draft pick Michael Conforto, the first position player in Mets history to be called up the year after being drafted and the 1,000th Mets player. With that bit of trivia out of the way, it was time for some new talent from outside the organization. Which was next on the agenda for that busy day…
Deadline Deals and Highlight Reels
If you thought a rookie straight out of AA would send the Mets into the postseason, you obviously haven’t been following the Mets. Luckily, the front office had much more in the works. Shortly after calling up Conforto, they announced the acquisition of Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe from Atlanta for minor league pitchers John Gant and Rob Whalen. The Mets finally dealt from their pitching depth to bring in legitimate major league players. Whalen in particular was hard to let go of, until you look at some of the team’s recent lineups. Getting a couple of average MLB players, even as rentals, was well worth it.
Just a few days later, two more moves changed the shape of the Mets bullpen. First, it was announced that Jenrry Mejia tested positive for two more banned substances while serving his suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. Just another case of Jenrry being Manny, I guess. Getting additional bullpen help was already a good idea when Mejia was only out for the postseason, but it became essential when his Mets career effectively ended. That same day, the Mets announced that they had acquired reliever Tyler Clippard for minor league pitcher Casey Meisner. This one stung a bit more, but with Mejia getting kicked to the curb and Alex Torres still getting innings, something had to be done.
In one of their busiest trade deadlines in recent memory, the Mets brought in two utility players and a high-leverage reliever. They were just one big bat away from being a legitimate playoff contender. One of the more intriguing names on the market was former Met Carlos Gomez, who headlined the Johan Santana trade. Now a star with the struggling Brewers, he was sure to be moved. So it came as no surprise when he started to be linked to serious negotions with the Mets the day after the Clippard deal. Details emerged nearly in real time on Twitter until the final terms were known: Carlos Gomez for Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores. The deal was done, pending physical. Word got to Flores while he was in the middle of a game, mysteriously not pulled from the field as is typical for a player being traded. Flores was in tears receiving standing ovations from the crowd as the world watched with morbid fascination. After the game, it was announced that there was no trade and Carlos Gomez would not be a Met. Apparently the Mets weren’t convinced that Gomez was being entirely truthful about his hips and that scuttled the deal, much to the relief of Flores and Wheeler. But the Mets still needed a bat.
This one went down to the wire, in more ways than one. In the hours leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline, the Mets were still working multiple deals. After the deal with the Brewers fell through, talks with the Reds didn’t fare much better. Finally, a name emerged: Yoenis Cespedes. The 2013 Hume Run Derby champion was one of the big names left on the board but would be costly and was almost certainly just a rental. With just 13 minutes left on the clock, the deal was done. For real this time. The cost would be Michael Fulmer and Louis Cessa. Fulmer would be the biggest prospect traded by the Mets, next on the list of pitching prospects after Syndergaard and Matz. It was a steep price, but a necessary one to shore up an underperforming outfield. Cespedes was an immediate game-changer.
Or was he? Even though he was only in Baltimore, the Mets didn’t activate Cespedes until the following day. It seemed like a senseless delay, especially if the game was close in the late innings when he could have been ready to go. But this night did not belong to Yoenis Cespedes. Wilmer Flores was still a Met. Wilmer Flores made a spectacular diving catch early in the game. Wilmer Flores drove in the team’s first run. And it was Wilmer Flores who, in the 12th inning, hit a walkoff home run to cap a crazy week of Mets baseball. Long after everyone the Mets traded for is gone, Wilmer Flores will still be getting standing ovations in Queens.