Fact: 2016 has not been my favorite all-around year. I suppose it should come as no surprise that unpleasantness is slowly seeping into baseball. I know, I know: Major League Baseball is a corporation with the singular goal of making money (anyone who says differently has never shared an MLB image on the internet before). Meanwhile, individual franchises’ goals are more nuanced: win, in order to make money. Still, I can’t help it—I’ve always held the Mets to a higher standard. Maybe it’s the underdog vibe that I link to the morally upstanding and hardworking; maybe I was just very successfully indoctrinated as a child. Either way, I’ve been of the opinion that they were at least a smidge above average in the moral realm in which baseball—America’s favorite pastime and longtime role model generator—is undeniably a player.
But this past year or so, the Mets have demonstrated themselves to be unexceptional. Their hero’s welcome of alleged perpetrator of domestic violence Jose Reyes showed blatant disregard for millions of survivors and their allies—even the NFL has done a better job of requiring players to work their way back from such incidents, and that’s saying something. The hand-over-fist money grab in signing Tim Tebow (and the money and favors thrown at him while many minor leaguers are paid less than minimum wage)—while more business than misogynist—is still pretty slimy.
And now there are the rumors that Curtis Granderson may be on the trading block as the Mets seek a reliever in 2016. By itself, this is a totally normal—albeit sad for this fangirl over here—baseball happening. But given the reports on Monday revealed plans to put Reyes in center field for spring training, it feels like a little more than normal. If the Mets were to make this move, it’d be a doubling-down on the very same Reyes-over-Granderson maneuver they put forth when they immediately swapped the lineup upon Reyes’ return in July, and confirmation that the character of their players is of little value to them.
Statistically, Reyes edges out Granderson with a career WARP of 45.2 versus 41.4. He’s also a year and half younger, holds the club record in triples and stolen bases, and had a better 2016 average of .267 (vs. .237). But, Granderson had a better slugging and on-base percentage and 30 home runs, something Reyes was not on track to do even if they had the same number of plate appearances. And even in a down offensive year, Granderson’s work in the outfield was undeniably strong, that head-crunching catch in the wild card game an exemplary testament to both his skill and commitment.
And then there’s the fact that Granderson is one of the sport’s top philanthropists, and continues to ensure the future of baseball by bringing it back to urban areas. His Clemente Award win confirmed what Mets fans have known for a long time—he’s not only the kind of player, but also the kind of human we want on our team. When it comes time to build a contending team, this can’t be everything, but it must not be nothing.
Questions of character and leadership are particularly prescient given the uncertain future of team captain David Wright. As beloved and optimistic as he is, he hasn’t played a full season in years, and nothing about “neck surgery” screams to me that he’ll be back and better than ever in 2017. If and when Wright is injured, the Mets will need a veteran leader to look to—and that man should be Curtis Granderson. And if and when the Mets need a third baseman, it’d be better to have Reyes available for the job.
Of course, a Granderson/Reyes dichotomy is in part a false equivalency—Reyes is already a lock for 2017. Jay Bruce, on the other hand, is up for grabs. I suppose the question here is whether anyone will want him. Bruce managed a pretty depressing .219/.294/.391 over 187 plate appearances with the Mets in 2016. Maybe he was acclimating. Or, as I’m beginning to fear after having done a stint in Cincinnati this summer, maybe he just looked good in comparison to the rest of the Reds. And, since I’ve brought the personal qualities of the other two men into the equation, if ever a player embodied more fully the sentiment “milquetoast” I’ve already forgotten him. Bruce is neither the slugger nor the leader the Mets need. The dogged perusal and signing of Céspedes suggests they already know this, at least with respect to the former.
I imagine some will accuse me of being oversensitive, of reading too much into a simple trade proposal. Maybe so. But given this Monday’s news that Minor League Baseball has formed a PAC in an effort to prevent paying their players more, (e.g. above minimum wage), no one can argue that baseball isn’t political. Whatever happens with respect to Granderson, or the team at large, I can only hope that the Mets will consider the way in which their choices affect their overall leadership, sportsmanship, fans and future generations of players beyond the bottom line.
Meanwhile, if you’ll indulge one last bit of armchair trading from me—if the Orioles, or anyone else, are interested in a mediocre outfielder and a good one, why not a Bruce/Conforto pairing? Collins refuses to put Conforto to good use anyway …
Photo Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports