If you traveled back in time to 2000 and told high school me that in 13 years the Mets would sign Rick Ankiel, I probably wouldn't have been surprised. I would have figured that Ankiel, then a pitching phenom on his way to finishing second in the National League Rookie of the Year race, would be scoring a big payday with the free-spending Mets in 2013. I would have figured that signing Ankiel would be part of the Mets' reloading to make a playoff push. And I would have also figured that I would read of the news while lounging in my Tribeca penthouse. Obviously, things don't often work out the way you figure.
Instead of signing the pitcher with an electric arm, the Mets signed an outfielder with an anemic on-base percentage, who has struck out in more than half of his plate appearances this season. That Rick Ankiel has logged close to 2,000 major league at-bats is nothing short of amazing. He's a phenomenal athlete, and his perseverance is admirable. But living in 2013, it's hard to figure out what he's doing on the Mets.
General Manager Sandy Alderson stated in an interview with Mike Francesca that he was happy Ankiel became available after the Astros released him to make room for younger players, and that Ankiel will play against right-handed pitchers. The team was so desperate to get him in the lineup just hours after the signing that Ankiel started even though his glove hadn't yet arrived in St. Louis.
So the Mets picked up a player cut by the 10-28 Astros despite the fact that they already had a left-handed hitting outfielder who offers modestly superior offensive production and who, at age 25, may have a long-term future with the team. Or, at least it seemed Jordany Valdespin may have had a future with the Mets before they signed Rick Ankiel. It's hard to see where he fits now.
Valdespin's on-field histrionics may have alienated some of his teammates, and Alderson all but admitted as much saying Valdespin was not "the most popular guy in the clubhouse." But that hardly seems reason enough to give up on him. Even if the team only sees him as a fourth outfielder and pinch hitter, that is all Ankiel has been for years. This season was supposed to be about giving the Mets' young players enough playing time to sink or swim, to figure out their abilities and potential roles as the team geared up for serious contention in 2014. Instead, it appears the Mets have made a conclusion about a promising-if-flawed player after fewer than 300 career at-bats.
That wasn't supposed to happen this season. But you can't often predict the way things will work out.