Published on: 6th July, 2016
by Scott Mandel
Last season, the Mets were struggling in June to score runs. The 2015 season looked to be on the edge of a veritable cliff until Sandy Alderson, the general manager, pulled off a couple of transactions in Kelly Johnson and Jose Uribe that brought energy and professional hitting to a lineup sinking under the weight of minor leaguers in the middle of the lineup.
Fast forward to 2016, when the Mets were once again beginning another long descent into the baseball abyss. The pitching staff, physically and mentally, isn’t what it was last season and the lineup was being patched together by Terry Collins to compensate for serious injuries to three of his big boppers, David Wright, Lucas Duda, and Travis d’Arnaud.
Enter Alderson again.
This time, the general manager worked his magic by acquiring James Loney, whose business card should read “Professional Hitter,” on May 28th. Loney had been playing on the scrap heap known as the Triple A Pacific Coast League, hitting line drives all over the field, just as he’d done for his ten years in the major leagues. He’s continued to swing the bat since joining the Mets, making contact, putting the ball in play, moving runners, and even showing a little home run power.
Alderson followed that up this past week by investing the major league minimum $272,000 of Fred Wilpon’s money to bring back the troubled prodigal son, Jose Reyes, to the organization in which he’d gained his baseball fame, starting in 2003 but now, a 32-year old who many feel has lost most of the skills and athleticism that made him one of the games most dynamic players for a decade.
Reyes was targeted to play third base, mostly, with off-season pickup, Asdrubal Cabrera filling the shortstop role beyond expectations.
Is Alderson a genius? Only time will tell but so far, these acquisitions have not only filled important gaps both in the lineup and the infield, they’ve energized a team that was very close to getting overwhelmed in the National League East by a Washington Nationals team that is firing on all cylinders under Dusty Baker.
Today, against the division-rival Miami Marlins, Reyes, in his second game since being called up from a brief minor league stint, turned back the clock. Collins had to start him at his old shortstop position to replace Cabrera, who was out with an undisclosed illness.
Perhaps it was his comfort with playing the position where he had been an All-Star four times, but Reyes looked and played today like the star he used to be.
In his four times up at the plate, in his familiar leadoff spot, he showed several glimpses of what he could do for this team. In the third inning, he lined a pitch down the left field line, batting righthanded against Marlins starting pitcher, Justin Nicolino. It set the table for Curtis Granderson, now hitting in the more appropriate two-hole, to drive him in with a single to left. Just like old times.
Then, in the fifth, Reyes, against lefty Mike Dunn, lined another double down the left field line. Granderson, seeing more fastballs with the speedy Reyes on base and the dangerous Yoenis Cespedes behind him, served another single into left, putting runners on the corners. Reyes and Granderson were both stranded as Neil Walker struck out and Wilmer Flores (who hit two home runs today) hit into a double play but you could see the kind of havoc Reyes could create for opposing teams with his bat and his speed.
Most telling, Mets fans were brought to their feet in the seventh when Reyes, of all things, made an out. But, it was the kind of out Mets fans remembered from his prime years. Reyes drove a long fly into the gap in right centerfield that had all the makings of a Reyes specialty, a triple. Marlins center fielder, Marcell Ozuna ran it down but it was noticed by everyone in the park what a weapon a healthy, happy Reyes could be. Putting pressure on the defense was his specialty.
You get the sense from talking to Collins he’d much rather have a lineup that could manufacture runs just as easily as it could hit the ball over the wall. But make no mistake about it, the addition of a player of Reyes’ caliber, a leadoff hitter of the highest order, is changing the way the Mets approach the game on the offensive side of the game. As important, it’s going to change how opposing teams position their fielders and pitch to the Mets lineup.
Maybe this Alderson fellow does have a magic touch.