The All-Star Break is finally upon us, and the New York Mets find themselves in a very respectable position. Predicted to finish in the cellar of the NL East at season’s start, Terry Collins and company have put together a surprising first half in 2012, going into the break just 4.5 games out of first place and in strong contention for a Wild Card slot.
But even with a 46-40 record, the Mets could have easily done more. The team’s bullpen is once again in shambles, sporting the worst ERA in the league and blowing far more than their fair share of saves. While great against right-handed pitching, the team’s lefty-heavy lineup has gone just 12-21 against southpaw starters. Team defense has gone through fazes in which everyone seems to have dipped their gloves in butter. For these reasons, New York fans are looking forward to what Sandy Alderson will do before the next big milestone of the baseball season, the July 31 Trade Deadline.
Many names have circulated when it comes to shoring up the bullpen, from bringing back the Brewers’ Francisco Rodriguez to the Padres’ Huston Street to Brett Myers of the Astros to Grant Balfour of the A’s. Matt Musico recently posted on Royals closer Jonathan Broxton, and today Rockies catcher Ramon Hernandez came up as a potential right-handed power bat off the bench.
It’s been a couple years since the Mets were buyers in the trade market, and while a blockbuster deal is quite unnecessary, it would be nice to fill some holes and make a second half run for glory. The trouble is there are two sides to every trade. We talk all the time about bringing new guys in, but what about shipping old guys out?
When it comes to a potential Ramon Hernandez deal, Colorado has shown interest in acquiring Justin Turner. My first thought at this prospect was, No, you can’t trade Justin! Not Le Grande Orange Junior! He’s funny and keeps the team loose! Who will be the new pie-in-the-face guy if he goes? In addition to all that, he can play every infield position and can hit in high-pressure situations. Plus, he’s got the best walk-up song of any player on the roster. You find me someone who’s willing to step up to the plate to the tune of Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” and I’ll consider parting with Justin Turner…if you convince me, maybe.
That was obviously not the most pragmatic of reactions when it comes to a potential trade. But it became a real issue when I started responding the same way reading about every other potential trade chip. Whether it was Daniel Murphy (No, not Murph! He’s got one of the best bats on the team!), Kirk Nieuwenhuis (No, not Captain Kirk! He’s such an athlete!), or even Jordany Valdespin (No, not Valdespin! He’s exciting! He plays with passion!), it was a tragedy to think about the Mets without each of them.
As consequence of the season’s length, baseball is the most personal of all the major sports. Because they must play 162 games in a six month window, there is a baseball game on just about every night. If you follow an entire season, you spend just about 90% of your days watching and rooting for the same group of guys. After a time, you start to feel a connection with them. Your baseball team becomes almost like extended family: you live with them, die with them, laugh with them, cry with them. And when you think about the possibility of one of them leaving the team, especially involuntarily through a trade, it’s almost unthinkable, like knowing a family member is never going to come around again.
People get attached to their baseball teams, but it has been especially easy with this New York Met squad of 2012. They play hard every night, never quit, and so far have overcome the odds and expectations to give their fans three months of thrills. This is as likeable a bunch of guys as have ever put on those blue caps with the orange “NY” insignia, and that makes it harder than ever to imagine the team without even one of the bunch. Even Jordany Valdespin, who has been up and down so often this year they’re about to name a stretch of I-80 East after him, has had his great moments (Who could forget that 3-run homer off Papelbon in Philly? As good a first career hit as ever was.), and it’s hard to envision the organization without him.
This feeling of connection with the players is what makes any sort of trade a Catch-22: stay stagnant and you can’t improve the club’s weaknesses, but make trades and you must give up a cherished member of the team. So how do you deal with it? What’s the method for coping with the departure of a member of your baseball family?
Perhaps the best way to look at it is to realize that in baseball, like in life, change is constant. Just as people move in and out of your life every year, baseball rosters turn over after every season. There will be some players on the 2012 edition of the Metropolitan Baseball Club who won’t return in 2013, and some may even be gone even before that. In 25 years’ time, all of them will be gone, and you’ll be telling your kids about the days of David Wright, Ike Davis, and R.A. Dickey as they begin to connect with a whole new set of ballplayers and recoil at the prospect of any of them being traded.
The key to surviving the trade deadline is to remember that things never stay the same forever. It’s all part of a cycle, and that cycle helps to create the generation-spanning fraternity that is a baseball club. Each of these men will be on the New York Mets all-time roster forever, and fans will remember the times when they each sported the orange and blue. But that does not mean it always will be, or should be, easy to say goodbye to guys like Justin Turner.