What’s in the cardboard for the 2014 Mets
Another offseason is coming to an end, so it’s time to take a look at what it all means for card collecting. 2014 was supposed to be the year Sandy Alderson’s plan came together, but significant gaps and questions put that in jeopardy even before Matt Harvey was lost for the season. In terms of cards, the lack of notable veterans has left most sets a mix of David Wright and various prospects and young stars. Are there enough new veterans and rising stars to give the Mets respectable representation in this year’s products? Or, like the master plan, will it take another year for everything to fall into place?
Alderson’s big trade of 2013 sent Marlon Byrd and John Buck to Pittsburgh for infielder Dilson Herrera and MLB-ready reliever Vic Black. Byrd and Buck went on to the postseason and, as expected, didn’t return to the Mets. Buck was no longer necessary with the arrival of Travis d’Arnaud, but Byrd was the Mets’ top outfielder offensively.
The non-tender deadline gave us another batch of departures. Jordany Valdespin, Omar Quintanilla, and Scott Atchison were cut as expected, with Justin Turner and the injured Jeremy Hefner joining them unexpectedly. Hefner and Quintanilla were re-signed, Jordany Valdespin gave in to destiny and signed with the Marlins, Scott Atchison signed with the Indians, and Justin Turner joined teammate Mike Baxter with the Dodgers.
On top of that, oft-injured pitchers Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum also landed elsewhere, Santana with the Orioles and Marcum with the Indians. Santana missed all of 2013 after his second shoulder surgery and Marcum saw his season end early after a shoulder surgery of his own.
As mentioned before, the Mets bolstered the ranks of their top 20 prospects with the acquisition of Dilson Herrera and Vic Black from the Pirates in August. Black should get a good amount of work as a late-inning reliever this year while Herrera is still a few years out. Not a bad return for a few weeks of a couple of players who wouldn’t be back this year anyway.
And here are the big offseason acquisitions. If nothing else, these guys bring a veteran presence in cardboard dating back to the late ’90s. More on that later.
The last few months have given us plenty of new autographs. Bowman Sterling closed out 2013 with the first autographs from L.J. Mazzilli. Panini Elite Extra Edition started 2014 with the first autographs from Jared King and Akeel Morris, plus the first live autographs from Rainy Lara. Last month’s 2014 Donruss was largely a bust but did give us Andrew Brown’s first autographs. Notably absent is Juan Lagares, who should be in line for a lot of attention after his performance in 2013.
Autographs are also plentiful further up in the system. Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero should get called up sometime in 2014 and will hopefully get some more autographs along the way. Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores are the first of the top Mets prospects with autographs in 2014 products.
Notable autographs in upcoming products include the first from Dallas Green and Frank Lary in 2014 Topps Heritage (though not as Mets) and the first from Jeremy Hefner in 2014 Topps Gypsy Queen. More will hopefully follow in 2014 Bowman and 2014 Topps Archives, though the lack of Mets autographs in Heritage is troubling.
One of the big surpises so far this year was the pair of Rookie pinstripe jersey cards in 2013 Panini America’s Pastime. These (along with camo patch variants) are the first memorabilia cards from Juan Lagares and Scott Rice and mark the first time that multiple current Mets have had Mets pinstripe jersey cards in the same year since 2009. Travis d’Arnaud was the first 2014 Rookie with his first MLB-worn material in 2014 Topps Series 1 and 2014 Topps Tribute. It’s a good start after some pretty rough years, but there’s still more ground to cover.
2014 Donruss has given us the first oddity of the year in the form of pinstripe jersey cards from Ike Davis, Dillon Gee, and Jon Niese. Their Game Gear cards all contain a type of pinstripe only seen at the MLB level back in the ’90s. This would mean that they could only be from the 1993 throwback home jersey worn on the road in Colorado on April 16, 2013.
Leaf had a couple surprises of its own in 2013 Leaf Trinity. In addition to autographs from Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, Dominic Smith, and Domingo Tapia, Leaf released autographed cards with memorabilia from Smith and Tapia. These all included piping or patches, a rarity for minor league players.
At the big league level, Travis d’Arnaud had his first autographed patch cards in the Strata insert set in 2014 Topps Series 1. Numbered to just 25 (and released as redemptions), these are not easy to get a hold of. Hopefully we’ll see more from him later in the year.
Playing Pepper 2014: New York Mets
Like last year, Daniel Shoptaw from C70 At the Bat polled the Mets blog community to get a picture of where the team stands as of spring training. Also like last year, I offered up my unique insight that may or may not be particularly insightful.
1) How would you grade the offseason?
It’s hard to go much higher than a B considering that the team still has some big holes and big questions, but the moves the team made should be at least enough for a B, so… It’s another year in a holding pattern, so a B it is. The outfield needed an overhaul, which it got in the form of Curtis Granderson and, to a lesser extent, the other Chris Young. The rotation needed a veteran and some Mejia insurance, which Bartolo Colon, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and John Lannan should provide. The bullpen has a few cheap new options, which is probably the best that could be expected. First base is still unresolved and shortstop… No shortstop solution equals a B.
In a different light though, this offseason earned an A for filling some of the Mets’ most glaring holes: All-Star memorabilia. Since All-Star workout jerseys started getting sold into tiny cardboard prisons in 2000, the Mets have had a representative from each AL All-Star team no later than the following spring each year. Sometimes it was a former player stepping up with a new team (Jason Isringhausen ’00, Melvin Mora ’05, Ty Wigginton ’10), other times it was a big-name offseason acquisition (Johan Santana ’07, Francisco Rodriguez ’08, Jason Bay ’09). This ended with the start of the Alderson regime. With no big free agent signings and an emphasis on building the farm system, there were no former or future Mets to be found on the AL All-Star Roster. It looked like 2013 would turn things around with both Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey in Toronto, but that didn’t quite work out.
That all changed with this past offseason. In the span of a few days, Sandy Alderson checked off the 2011 (Curtis Granderson), 2012 (also CG), and 2013 (Bartolo Colon) AL All-Star teams and threw in the first Met from the 2005 Futures Game USA team (Chris Young) for good measure. Later, the signing of Jose Valverde to a minor league deal added a possible second 2011 AL All-Star. A bounceback season from Reyes and/or Dickey could put us back on track to have a Met on every AL All-Star team.
2) Can Zack Wheeler step up and fill the gap left by Matt Harvey’s surgery?
Yeah, about that… Over the years (well, two of them at least), I have identified two predictors of doom that can be found in cardboard. From 2010 to 2013, only one player each year appeared with the Mets and had a Mets pinstripe jersey card released in the same year. None of the first three played a game with the Mets in the following year. The fourth is Zack Wheeler. In 2013, I noticed that a lot of Mets pitchers who signed a lot of autographs that year suffered from arm injuries. Zack Wheeler was one of the few who has, so far, remained injury free. Does this mean Zack Wheeler is now cursed and has no chance of throwing a pitch in 2014? Of course not. But with the run of injuries Mets pitchers suffered in 2013, nothing is certain.
Seriously though, you can’t really look at it is having a gap to be filled. With or without Harvey, the rotation needs five pitchers to start with and some depth to fill in as needed. The Colon signing added a much-needed veteran and 200 innings from Wheeler would certainly help, as would strong seasons from Jon Niese and Dillon Gee. That just leaves the #5 spot, which has some decent (and cheap) options that could also provide depth later in the season. Add in possible appearances by Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and/or Jacob deGrom in the second half and the Mets might just have a legitimate group of starting pitchers to work with while Harvey rehabs.
3) Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?
I’m not really intrigued by it, but the one everyone seems to be interested in is who will be batting leadoff. “Leadoff Hitter” isn’t really a position, but you wouldn’t know that from the reporting these days. Eric Young Jr., the reigning NL stolen base champ, is the favorite for the job, but he’s a 4th outfielder at best. Do the Mets demote Juan Lagares to give EY a starting job to put him (and his mediocre OBP) at the top of the order? Or do they keep EY as a potent weapon off the bench and pick a leadoff hitter from the remaining options? This is the classic case of logic (EY’s value is highest as a bench player) vs. emotion (stolen bases!).
4) What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?
That would be Travis d’Arnaud. Wilmer Flores will probably start the season in AAA and there’s little chance of seeing any of the big pitching prospects until late June or July. That puts d’Arnaud in the rare position of spending a full season with Rookie eligibility. He has already shown that he is ready behind the plate, but he didn’t impress much with the bat in his brief stint in the majors last year. If his bat comes around (and if he can put injury questions to rest), he could provide significant value at a position that hasn’t produced much for the Mets in recent years.
5) What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?
I’ll go out on a limb and go with 80-82, 3rd place in the NL East. As with last year, this will depend more on how the other teams in the division perform than how the Mets perform. Will the Phillies continue to falter? Is the Marlins’ emergence still another year away? Did the Braves and Nationals make the right moves to stay at the top of the NL East? If everything breaks right, the Mets could stay relevant past the All-Star break. If not, well, pick any recent year to see the result. I’m not quite sold on 90 wins, but 80 is still in play. Of course, so is 70.
6) Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?
Sigh. Will Matt Harvey’s rehab be televised?