The 2017 Mets were set in the darkest timeline. No Mets squad won fewer than last year’s 70 since the first year of the otherwise-forgettable Art Howe era in 2003. The only player who didn’t get hurt was a prodigal son who returned to the team but felt little remorse for his faults. The manager and athletic training staff were unceremoniously fired.
But what if 2018 were the brightest timeline? The storybook would feature a first-time manager with a forward-thinking approach, a free agent who signed with his hometown nine for a discount, and a bunch of bold yet optimistic predictions coming true. At the risk of jinxing the National League’s best team to date, so far, so good. So long as we’re dreaming — the 6-1 start *is* a dream, right? — we asked the BP Mets staff to ask and answer some What-ifs? about Flushing’s favorites.
What if spinal stenosis wasn’t a thing?
David Wright was an All-Star in 2013, when he .307/.390/.514, a line that was 54% better than league average. That was his seventh Midsummer Classic appearance in eight years. Then, at age 31, Wright got old in a hurry. He stopped stealing bases, lost 140 points of SLG, and notably lost the ability to put anything behind his throws from third base. The culprit was a degenerative back condition that Wright will have to live with for the rest of his life. But what this question supposes is: What if he didn’t?
Through his first 10 seasons, Wright was a career .301/.382/.506 hitter. His seven-year peak produced 36.2 bWAR, a bit behind the pace produced by the 14 Hall of Fame third basemen. If Wright had hewed to the standard aging curve, he’d have another 15 WAR on his resume and be projected to deliver another 3 wins in 2018. Wright could well have been the next Met inducted into Cooperstown. Now he’ll have to settle for a retired number and a plaque near the Citi Field team store. – Scott D. Simon
What if the Mets were publicly owned?
After decades of PR blunders, wouldn’t it be great if the Mets were publicly owned? Years ago I imagined that the Wilpons would lose so much money from the Bernie Madoff scandal that they would be forced to sell, like the Green Bay Packers’ owners nearly a century ago. Who knows: it may be easier these days to crowdfund a Mets purchase than to find one person to buy out the Wilpons.
But what would a publicly owned team do? Would they refuse to participate in the collusion holding down free agency this offseason? Would fan-owners be asked to fork over more money for a middle reliever to replace Hansel Robles? Would the GM have to listen to #MetsTwitter’s calls to trade everybody? New owners skew towards ambitious moves or Derek Jeter-level fire sales. Maybe broad public ownership would surprise everyone by being too diffuse to make big waves, making it easier for everyone to do their jobs. – Noah Grand
What if Rafael Montero had turned into the pitcher we thought he would when he was a prospect?
It’s easy to write Rafael Montero off as a competent starting pitcher. In fact, you should do exactly that. You should have done that long before the Tommy John surgery. But for a while, he wasn’t bad. He was good. He was supposed to be better than Jacob deGrom. Imagine if Montero had been part of the Five Aces, if that legendary rotation had included one more flamethrower. It’s a weird thought, isn’t it?
Maybe Steven Matz would have been allowed to be hurt. Maybe Matt Harvey doesn’t have to try for nine innings in Game 5. Maybe Chris Flexen gets more time to develop. Prospects don’t always pan out, no matter what teams insist about a second-round draft pick that just doesn’t make signing Jake Arrieta worth it. Montero didn’t pan out. But what if he had? – Kate Feldman
What if the Mets never signed R.A. Dickey to a minor-league contract in 2010?
After throwing 64.1 mediocre innings for the Minnesota Twins in 2009, R.A Dickey signed a minor league contract with an invitation to Mets spring training. The knuckleballer would go on to start 91 games for the Mets, winning a Cy Young award in 2012 on his way to becoming one of the best starting pitchers in the game. In one of Sandy Alderson’s best moves as GM, he traded Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays after the 2012 season for a package of players that included Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud.
Syndergaard has developed into one of the best starting pitchers in the game as a Met, while d’Arnaud has been intermittently healthy and productive. Dickey was never able to repeat the success he had in New York, and the Mets reached the 2015 World Series with Syndergaard on the mound and d’Arnaud behind the plate. Dickey’s success as a Met allowed the organization to build its next contender much sooner than anyone could have hoped. – Alex Rosen
What if the Mets successfully traded Wilmer Flores and Zack Wheeler to the Brewers for Carlos Gomez at the 2015 deadline?
There are so many Butterfly Effects in this multiverse. Chiefly, the Mets would’ve gotten an injury-plagued Carlos Gomez, who had an 85 OPS+ with the Astros in the second half of 2015, instead of Yoenis Cespedes (17 HR in 57 games, 155 OPS+), who supercharged the offense to such a degree that for about a week, the baseball commentariat believed he deserved to win MVP over Bryce Harper. Oh, and he led the Mets to a surprise division title and their first pennant in 15 years, and is now cararguably the Mets’ most dangerous power threat since Mike Piazza (let’s debate the merits of Carlos Beltrán another time).
Then there’s the case of the insane night where Wilmer Flores cried himself into Mets lore. If Sandy Alderson likes what he sees in Gomez’s medicals, Flores gets pulled at the appropriate juncture, sheds no (public) tears and becomes the answer to a Mets trivia question. He never even gets a chance to become one of the most indelible folk heroes in team history two days later. This is probably, not so secretly, the saddest part of this whole dystopia.
There are also the moments within these greater arcs we never get, with broad implications: Is Daniel Murphy still the same, “net negative” Met without his Ruthian postseason? Does Sandy Alderson lose his job? Are Ruben Tejada and Chase Utley friends? Question marks abound.
Admittedly, the team would be minus a Zack Wheeler and plus a Michael Fulmer, which may be the only silver lining Mets fans can enjoy in these other universes. Because what happens when the Carlos Gomez-led Mets inevitably miss the playoffs? Maybe they still sign Céspedes in the offseason and make a similar run in 2016, but who knows? The Mets we know have never been able to put it all together and ride their young, controllable pitching talent to consistent division titles, but at least they had 2015. The Mets affected by this particular butterfly didn’t, and yes, now I’m depressed. – Jordan Rabinowitz
What if the Mets traded Asdrubal Cabrera in 2017?
Though it was clear Amed Rosario was the future Met shortstop from the start, Cabrera still wanted out. Luckily for the red-hot Amazin’s, he has settled in nicely after finally accepting his should-be role of second base. Having hit .280 in his first two seasons with the Mets, Cabrera’s provided much-needed lineup versatility and a switch-hitting bat that has allowed Mickey Calloway to experiment with Cabrera at the 1, 2, 4, and 5 spots in the order. In a lineup with some questions, the 32-year old veteran will be relied on for consistency and play a pivotal role in an already-promising 2018 season. – Tyler Oringer
Photo credit: Tommy Gilligan – USA Today Sports; Photo illustration: Scott D. Simon