The Trophies They Deserved

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It’s not hard to realize that the 2016 season didn’t end precisely the way we may have wanted.  Hell, I’m still having trouble believing that it ended at all.  That should sink in eventually.  In the meantime, the search for truth and meaning continues.

However, we’ve got to fill the offseason somehow, not just as a matter of convenience but, at this point, as a matter of mental stability.  A few years ago, say prior to 2013, filling the offseason took a backseat.  There were the Jets and the Rangers and the Knicks, not to mention all the fun one could get up to in winter, which was liable to make you forget about your Mets once in a while, then notice around February 1st that Pitchers and Catchers was only a few weeks away.

I exaggerate, at least in my case: I always knew the countdown to pitchers and catchers, starting as soon as report dates were announced.  But the point remains: killing the offseason, for me, didn’t used to be about just killing the offseason.

But then 2014 happened, and amidst the emergence of Jacob deGrom, the growth of Zack Wheeler, and the offensive contributions of Murph, Lagares, and Duda, among others, we came out of nowhere to finish second.  Now, that doesn’t seem like much.  Then, it was everything.

The 2014 offseason was my favorite and least favorite that I’d ever been through, for the same reason: I couldn’t wait for our guys to get back out there.  And eventually they did, and we all know what happened then.  Which made the 2015 offseason even more raucous and excruciating.

And now here we are, a disappointing loss having ended a miraculous sprint to the finish line.  I’m disappointed, but — I can’t believe I’m typing this non-ironically — not devastated; that we did what we did is nothing short of ridiculous, and around the Mets, ridiculousness is par for the course, but not usually in a positive way.

And what’s more, I’m excited beyond belief.  We’ll be back and we’ll be better in 2017: I truly believe that.  We’ll have our starters, and maybe we’ll have our starters finally healthy for a change; we’ll have Duda, Cabrera, the captain, and Reyes; we’ll have a restored-to-goodness Conforto, Granderson, Bruce, maybe (PLEASE!!!!) Cespedes; we’ll still have Reed and Familia, which even after yesterday should fill you with confidence.  I truly do believe that maybe, just maybe, 2017 can be every bit as good as 2016 and 2015 were and maybe even better.

Maybe.

But in the meantime, I’m hardly ready to let this 2016 team go, seeing as up until about 16 hours ago, they were the team I thought would defy the odds and bring home a championship.  We’ll let them go eventually, but there’s no reason not to hang on to those incredible memories for a few more days.

And while we’re at it, there are a few of these 2016 Mets that stood out even beyond the miracle that was the team as a whole; a few I find deserving of extra recognition.  And so, I’ll get on with why we’re all here: we now begin, without further ado, the presentation of the first annual Shea Bridge Report Awards.

First, an honorable mention to a player who failed to garner any other award, but only because this year featured so many other worthy candidates.  This honorable mention goes to second baseman, Bronx native, un-drafted free agent, T.J. Rivera.

It can’t be easy to come up from Vegas, where anyone — as evidence, see Eric Campbell — can bat .350, and start hitting against big league pitchers, but my word, did T.J. Rivera do it.  It’s not even the .333 average that’s so impressive: it’s the way you get confident when he steps up to the plate.  It’s the confidence you get as you watch that he’s about to hit a line drive somewhere.  And it’s the feeling of hope that we might just have a legitimate offensive player here.

Of course, Rivera’s biggest moment of the season was his home run off Mark Melancon, on an 0-2 pitch, to put us ahead of the Nationals in the top of the 10th after a Familia blown save.  It was the kind of moment that makes a hero.  And it’s the kind of moment that deserves a mention, if nothing else.

On, then, to the David Wright Rookie of the Year award.  The award is so named for two reasons; one, that David Wright was a rookie himself the first year I really started following the Mets, and two, that presumably, David Wright will never himself be eligible for the award, making it a safe bet on both counts.  And while a few worthwhile candidates presented themselves, the choice has been pretty clear for weeks now.  The 2016 Shea Bridge Report David Wright Rookies of the Year are Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

5-2, 2.67.  4-2, 2.42.  I won’t choose one, because both were so instrumental that they seem just about equal.  But either way, it’s just about as clear to me as anything can be that if not for the performances of these two former nobodies, we would never have done as well as we did.

First we lost Harvey, then Matz, then deGrom.  Somewhere in there we heard that Wheeler wouldn’t be back either.  So, we improvised.  We had Thor and Bartolo.  After that, who knew?

Well we did, and now we do.  Out with the assertions that we don’t have the pitching depth we need.  Out with the critiques of our farm system.  And in with the pitchers that, combined, in the home stretch, went 9-4 with a 2.58 E.R.A.

Those out-of-nowhere stars are the kind of players that make championships.  Lugo and Gsvllman didn’t quite take us that far.  But they certainly did all they could.

And speaking of out of nowhere stars, the next award, the Jose Valentin Award for Overachievement, honors those who do exactly that: come out of nowhere to step up, seize the reigns, and power the Mets to a second straight postseason appearance.  We had many, many overachievers in our midst this year, among them the two rookies of the year.  But once again, two players stood out.  The 2016 winners of the Jose Valentin Award for Overachievement: Asdrubal Cabrera and Bartolo Colón.

It’s hard to imagine the season without either of them: Cabrera playing 141 games despite his knee barely holding itself together the last month of the season, and Colón, winning 15 games, and to boot, hitting a freakin’ home run.

First, Cabrera: this was, make no mistake, a career year.  At age 30, against a career triple slash of .269/.329/.419, Cabrera hit .280/.336/.474, for an .810 OPS, the highest of his career.  His 23 home runs were his highest total since 2011.  His defense was solid.  He introduced the platinum blonde craze that seemed to get everything going.  His bat flip after walking us off against the Phillies, of course, is already the stuff of legend.  And again, he did much of this on a knee that could barely hold his weight.

And then there’s Bartolo.  Aside from being the only pitcher on the staff to make every start of the year on schedule, there was the way he did it: the rotundity, the jocularity, and, of course, the surprising success.  15-8, 3.43 E.R.A., 3.4 WAR, a good outing almost every time out.  And then, of course, the home run.

Bartolo Colón hitting a home run may be the highlight of the season, 27-13 run be damned.  Bartolo Colón hitting a home run is the essence of baseball; it’s why we’re all here.  It’s unpredictable, completely earth-shattering, and, of course, more fun than anything that I can possibly think of.

Lugo and Gsellman came in midseason, and helped us out.  Bartolo and Cabrera did it all year.

Our next award, however, goes to another player whose contributions began in midseason.  This is the award for potential — the award for giving fans a glance, sometimes in an unfortunately literal sense, of what we might see a few years from now.

I call it the Future Baseball Hero award.  And the winner of the 2016 Future Baseball Hero award is our very own Brandon Nimmo.

From Nimmo’s first game in the bigs, we noticed something: he couldn’t seem to stop smiling.  He smiled when he approached the plate, whenever the camera was on him in the dugout, as he turned first after a single — almost always.  Right then and there, he put himself in the running for an award.  Everyone loves a smile.

But it’s more than the smile, although I won’t deny the significance of the smile’s contribution: it’s the way he plays.  It’s his sweet lefty swing.  It’s his intimidating presence in the box, and the way he wears a uniform to look like a ballplayer.  To sum up his qualifications for this award, it’s the way he makes it clear, each and every day, how much he loves the game.

What does it take to be a baseball hero?  In the simplest terms, it takes two things: the skills and the attitude.  Well young Brandon, if my eye is any judge, has the skills, and as for the attitude, that much has been clear for a while.  Brandon Nimmo is a Met in the making.  To see his potential come to fruition is just one of many reasons I’m as excited as ever for 2017.

These are all great, just like the players themselves: a playoff team can’t get by with 25 number-ones on the roster.  But you’ve got to have one.

Much consideration went into the selection of the first annual Shea Bridge Report Met of the Year.  The competition fluctuated; all kinds of players were in contention, from Michael Conforto, running near the front of the pack after April, to Yoenis Cespedes, to Steven Matz, and, for a few solid days, to David Wright himself.

But after all of that, this award sorted itself out fairly easily.  There can only be one Met of the Year — and this year, there was one, in the greatest sense of the word.

Your 2016 Shea Bridge Report Met of the Year: Noah Syndergaard.

Syndergaard, the man they call Thor, started the year by throwing six scoreless innings while striking out nine, all to get us a win in Kansas City.  In his second start, he went seven innings; allowed one run; struck out twelve.  The start after that: 7 IP, 1 ER, 8 K.  Every start, it seemed, was six innings plus, ten strikeouts plus, maybe a few runs, although not usually.

All kind of stats can be rattled off to express the sheer greatness of Thor’s year.  10.7 strikeouts per nine innings.  158 ERA+.  A FIP 31 points lower than his E.R.A. (for comparison, Madison Bumgarner had a FIP 50 points HIGHER than his E.R.A., and Max Scherzer’s FIP was 30 points higher than his E.R.A.).  Eleven home runs allowed all season: the league leader in home runs per nine innings (a mere 0.5).  a 14-9 record; a 2.60 E.R.A.  All manor of more obscure accolades…“He’s the first pitcher in the modern era to throw however many innings with so many strikeouts and so few walks.”  I don’t remember the numbers.  They’re damn impressive.

Then there was his start in the wildcard game.  It was one of the biggest games of his life, and Noah threw the game of his life.  He’s working on a postseason résumé that may well be every bit as impressive as Madison Bumgarner’s, one day: in five postseason appearances, he’s 2-1 with a 2.42 E.R.A., and averages 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings.  In the wildcard game, which was almost certainly the biggest game of his career, he was as good as he’s ever been.

And finally, look at his offensive numbers.  Even putting aside the two home runs in Dodger Stadium, which have gone a long way in cementing his image as a veritable behemoth of an opponent, look at his slash from this past season.  .190/.277/.397, a .673 OPS.  Sure, he’s no Ted Williams — but look at the gap between average and OBP.  an 87 point gap, which came down to seven walks in 67 plate appearances.  And each component of that triple slash, by the way, is superior to Madison Bumgarner’s.

But for a Met of the Year, it can’t be just numbers.  With Noah Syndergaard, it wasn’t.  You could feel the energy in the park when he pitched — the foam hammers waving in the air as THOOOOOOOOOOOOOR delivered one bullet after another, culminating, if he got the strikeout, with lightning flashing across the scoreboards and a jolt of energy blasting through the crowd.  If Lugo, Gsellman, and Bartolo were our dependable rotation, Thor was the little something extra — Thor provided the swagger and confidence we needed to first sprint away with the wildcard, and then to walk into a game against the greatest postseason pitcher of the age with supreme confidence.

It may not have worked out.  But it sure was fun to believe we were going to win.  And it sure was a welcome change to actually have a shot.

The 2016 Mets were one of the most complex and interesting teams any of us had ever seen, so honors for seven players don’t come at all close to doing justice to their accomplishments.  If I had the time, and an uncanny sense of irony, I’d honor everyone — from Kevin Plawecki, for his remarkable consistency in grounding out to third, to Gabriel Ynoa, for his innovative facial hair.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that this team wasn’t about one player or the other, but about how each player present, no matter how out of place or overmatched, could work towards an ultimate goal.

Although some helped more than others, everybody certainly contributed.  I award the players I’ve chosen because they exemplified something — whether hard work, common decency, or what it really means to be a New York Met.  But really, they’re all Mets.  They’re all our guys.  Whether awarded or not, they all worked as hard as they could to get to where we ended up, and wanted it just as much as we did.

There should be an award for that.  There isn’t.  But it’s something to keep in mind.

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