Mets grabbed headlines in a variety of ways
From Madoff to Beltran to Reyes, never a dull moment in 2011
NEW YORK -- The Mets certainly have a way of making things memorable, don't they? From the opening days of January to the dawn of a hopeful spring, from midsummer injuries to late-year disappointments, from Jose Reyes to, well, Jose Reyes, the Mets managed to make a sub-.500 season both fascinating and entertaining nearly every step of the way.
So much went on in 2011 that in compiling a list of the year's five most memorable story lines, unforgettable items such as Terry Collins' first season in Flushing and Jason Isringhausen's full-circle comeback didn't even make the cut.
Most of the story lines that did should continue to affect the franchise not only now, but for the foreseeable future as well.
5. "The specter of Bernie Madoff"
The Mets ended 2010 by entering into a $1 billion lawsuit with the trustee seeking to recover funds lost in Bernard Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme. And publicly, at least, that seemed to be the end of it -- until a month later, when owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz suddenly announced that, due to the "uncertainty" of the litigation, they were looking to sell a minority stake in the Mets.
Several suitors jumped on board, and hedge fund manager David Einhorn ultimately won exclusive negotiating rights, allowing the parties to draw up a $200 million deal that included a clear path to majority ownership. But citing irreparable differences, the two sides broke off talks in September, with Wilpon and Katz pursuing a new strategy of selling smaller, $20 million shares to multiple investors.
Though the team hopes to close on the first of those deals in January, this story is far from complete. General manager Sandy Alderson revealed this month that the Mets recently lost $70 million irrespective of the lawsuit, one of the factors squeezing player payroll from $140 million down to less than $100 million. The Madoff trial is set for March 19, meaning 2012 should go a long way toward determining the future financial direction of the Mets.
4. The Ollie and Luis show
It seems like a lifetime ago that Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo were dominating headlines in Flushing, and yet both men were Mets property as recently as March. Determined to draw his own conclusions on the expensive left-hander and second baseman (combined 2011 salary: $18 million), Alderson invited both to camp and let them ostensibly compete for roster spots.
In retrospect, Perez never had a chance -- he reported to Spring Training with a mid-80s fastball, struggled mightily and departed for good on March 21, calling it "best for the team and best for me." Castillo lasted a week longer, inspiring some confidence amidst a weak second-base competition. But he, too, could not make the cut, ultimately losing the job to Rule 5 Draft selection Brad Emaus. Both Perez and Castillo quickly hooked on with other teams, but neither appeared in the Major Leagues.
3. Injuries pile up
As well as the Mets played throughout the first half of the season, their surprising start was not without its ruts. Specifically, a litany of injuries undermined the club's efforts, the worst coming during a mid-May trip to Denver. Shortly after third baseman David Wright revealed that he was playing with pain in his lower back -- but before the Mets diagnosed him with a stress fracture, sidelining him for more than two months -- Wright collided with Ike Davis in a play that resulted in a season-ending bone bruise in the first baseman's left ankle.
More setbacks came later in the summer, with Jose Reyes twice injuring his hamstring and Daniel Murphy sustaining a season-ending MCL tear in his left knee in August. And there was also the season-long plight of Johan Santana, whom the Mets once targeted for an April return. That quickly turned into May, which melted into July, August and September. The Mets finally shut down Santana during his second Minor League rehab stint, also cutting short his instructional league assignment. They hope he will be ready for Opening Day 2012, but the picture remains murky.
2. A star to Milwaukee, and one to San Francisco
From the moment they arrived in Spring Training, Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez and Reyes faced a near-daily barrage of questions regarding their purported availability on the trade market. Then, in the span of half a month, both Beltran and Rodriguez found new homes.
First it was Rodriguez, whose vesting 2012 contract option was a hot topic throughout Spring Training and the first half of the season. The Mets finally shipped their embattled closer to the Brewers on the night of the All-Star Game for two players to be named later -- one of them, Daniel Herrera, arrived in Flushing two months later.
Next it was Beltran, the biggest fish of the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Though the free-agent-to-be Beltran represented nothing more than a rental for contenders, Alderson managed to swap him in late July for Giants pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, who currently ranks among the top young arms in all of baseball.
1. Bienvenido a Miami, Jose
No one in baseball came close to matching the sheer wattage of Reyes over the first three months of the season. With questions surrounding his ability to stay healthy after two consecutive disappointing seasons, Reyes jumped out to the league lead in batting average, hits, multihit games and triples, putting himself on pace for more three-baggers than any player since the Deadball Era. The high point came on June 28, when Reyes went 4-for-4, fell a home run short of the cycle and led the Mets to a 14-3 drubbing of the Tigers.
But four days later, after yet another leadoff single, Reyes sustained the first of two hamstring strains that undermined his season. That he ultimately recovered to win the batting title with a bunt single on the last day of the season -- in a controversial strategy, Reyes removed himself from the game after his first at-bat -- was more a testament to one of the best first halves in franchise history than anything else. Later that day, Reyes discussed what might have been his final act as a Met.
The phone call came two months later, as Alderson was preparing to fly to the Winter Meetings in Dallas. One of the agents for Reyes was on the other end of the line, informing Alderson that his free-agent shortstop had chosen to sign with the division-rival Marlins for six years and $106 million.
The fallout included some memorable quips from Alderson, who wondered aloud if he "should have sent him a box of chocolates," and surprising words from Reyes, who lamented that he did not feel wanted by Alderson nor the Mets. Whatever the emotions, the facts were clear -- after nine years, arguably the most exciting Mets player of all time had chosen to move on.