For most of their history, the Mets have had problems when it comes to the handling of their players. These problems go all the way back to Tom Seaver in the early years of the franchise and continue to this day, with players like Matt Harvey, Jose Reyes, and Yoenis Cespedes being mishandled. These errors by the Mets range from their diagnosis and handling of injures to the way the front office treats the players. This characteristic has been around almost as long as the team and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
One of the earliest examples of the Mets doing wrong by one of their players came at 1977 trading deadline when they dealt Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds. Going into the ‘77 season, Seaver was one of the best pitchers in the sport, racking up three Cy Young Awards and nine All-Star appearances in his first ten seasons. Naturally, he wanted a bit of a raise to bring his salary up to that of the other elite pitchers in the league.
At the time, the Mets had given complete control of the team to Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant rather than the general manager or other members of the front office staff. Grant wouldn’t budge and reports in the media of Seaver being a greedy monster caused Seaver to go around Grant and work directly with the owner and GM. Although an agreement was reached, another negative column pushed Seaver over the edge and he demanded a trade immediately, citing problems with Grant as a main cause. Grant obliged and the “Midnight Massacre” was underway as Seaver was traded to the Reds for a group of players who would never do much for the team.
In 1983, the Mets had a chance at redemption for their prior wrongdoings. Seaver was traded back to the team before the season and had a fairly successful campaign. The team hoped to keep Seaver around until the end of his career and bring him along for their renaissance. But after being left unprotected in the free agent compensation draft, Seaver was out of New York again, as the White Sox picked him up and he was forced to report to his new team.
More recently, the Mets have had their share of problems when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of their player’s injures. In 2008, newly acquired outfielder Ryan Church suffered a concussion after his head collided with the knee of the Braves’ Yunel Escobar. After the collision, Church slid, face first, for another few feet. Rather than putting him on the disabled list and helping him get through his problems, the Mets kept him on the active roster, even letting him pinch hit two days later. After that, they allowed Church to fly with the team from Atlanta all the way to Colorado, which exacerbated his concussion symptoms.
Church was quoted as saying that he “felt his brain swishing around” and dealt with fatigue, dizziness, and pain in his head. The lingering effects of the concussion had Church bouncing back and forth from the disabled list for the rest of the season. After Church left the Mets, manager Jerry Manuel disparaged him in a quote following David Wright’s concussion, when he said that Wright was “a different animal” than Church. That 2008 season would be Church’s last as a full-time player or a productive player as he retired after two mediocre seasons in 2009 and 2010.
Also in 2008, the Mets mistreated and mocked another injured player: All-Star closer Billy Wagner. The pitcher was dealing with problems in his elbow and shoulder during that summer and was placed on the disabled list by the Mets. During a simulated game in his rehab, Wagner cut the session short, complaining of discomfort in his elbow. In response, a team executive called Wagner a wimp, implying that he should pitch through his problems and get back to the team. Eventually, it was revealed that Wagner had a complete tear of his UCL and needed reconstructive surgery on his elbow which would keep him out for almost a full year. Wagner only threw two more innings as a Met before being deal to the Red Sox.
In 2009, it was more of the same for the Mets in how they treated their players. The first victim was new setup man J.J. Putz. Things were rocky from the start, as the Mets didn’t conduct a physical examination of Putz, who had dealt with elbow injures during the prior season. Omar Minaya defending this move by saying that pitchers deal with bone spurs all the time and it wasn’t a big issue. Putz has said that the Mets didn’t even look at the bone spur in his elbow until February. He played through continued discomfort in his elbow for two months before something was done to treat the problem. For a player that they gave up seven pieces to acquire, the team was surprisingly irresponsible when it came to his health. When doctors recommended that Putz have the chips surgically removed from his elbow, the Mets countered with a cortisone shot and told Putz to keep playing and stay quiet about his issues. Eventually, after more lackluster performance, Putz had the surgery which ended up keeping him out for the rest of the season and ended his Mets career.
Sandy Alderson became general manager of the Mets in 2011, and there is almost no move during his time with the Mets that looks more regrettable now than the decision to non-tender Justin Turner in 2013. Turner was coming off of a year as a productive utility player, hitting .280 for a mediocre Mets team that finished the season with 74 wins. He made just $500,000 and probably would not make much more if he returned to the Mets in 2014. But in December of 2013, Alderson called Turner to inform him that he would be let go. He was eventually picked up by the Dodgers, and the rest is history. Fans and the media can go back and forth (and they have) about whether the Mets could have foreseen Turner’s rise into a star player. But what was the most puzzling about the circumstances surrounding the end of his Mets tenure were the leaks from the team about his supposed lack of “focus” and “hustle.” Instead of simply moving on from a player, the Mets had to justify their move by kicking him on the way out and attacking his character.
Kevin Burkhardt, still working for the Mets at the time, reacted incredulously to these rumors on Twitter. He was not alone. Turner has said that he not only rejects these knocks on his play, but he is now motivated by them.
And his new team certainly doesn’t see things the way the Mets do. “He’s a grinder and he’s blue-collar,” Dodgers manger Dave Roberts said of Turner last season. “He’s the glue of our ball club. For me, there is a certain mentality and a focus you have to have each day, and that is what Justin has. When you put him alongside a Chase Utley and a Clayton Kershaw, you’ve got a very stable core.”
”I don’t have that answer for you,” Turner would go on to say about why the Mets operate this way. “I’ve been there for three years. All I can do is say if I was running an organization, in charge of it, I would look at all my players as assets, and want to build them up. So even if I didn’t want them to be on my team, they would have value. But for some reason, I don’t know, that’s not the thought process over there.”
That’s not the thought process over there, indeed. Carlos Beltran is another player that knows this all too well about the Mets. Beltran is arguably one of the best position players to ever wear the orange and blue. And yet the Mets repeatedly threw their star player under the bus, first expressing frustration that Beltran opted to have microfracture surgery for his injured knee and then stirring drama over Beltran’s absence at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where the Mets were visiting wounded soldiers. Beltran had permission for the knee surgery and he missed the Walter Reed outing due to another philanthropic obligation; he was setting up his academy in Puerto Rico. Yet, this didn’t stop the Mets from painting a certain picture of Beltran as a selfish player and a bad teammate, something no one else who has ever played with him during the course of his storied career would ever say about him.
“At the end of the day, [the Mets] tried to put a perception out about me in the papers,” Beltran said to Joel Sherman in a 2014 New York Post article. “It is what it is. I have dealt with it. I cleared the air with the people who mistreated me. I don’t wish anything bad to the Mets organization. That is in the past. I don’t know what they gained from what they did to me. But I know what I gained. It made me a stronger person. Look, if you are a bad guy, you are a bad guy everywhere and the people in the game know it. The people who have played with me know that is not true.”
Even though Beltran may very well don a Mets cap in the Hall of Fame, his legacy in the minds of so many Mets fans is looking at strike three in the 2006 NLCS, despite how well he performed in the playoffs that season and during his entire time as a New York Met. And the Mets did Beltran no favors in defining his Mets legacy before trading him for Zack Wheeler in 2011.
But the Mets have their own legacy of mishandling their players, which lives on today more than ever. Soon after the era of Turner and Beltran ended, the era of Matt Harvey began. We don’t need to rehash Harvey’s entire history as a Met here. It is a dead horse that doesn’t require beating. But from the moment Matt Harvey balked at going past his innings limit in 2015, a hero turned into a villain. He pitched anyway and, much like Carlos Beltran, will be forever remembered for a single unfortunate event in a playoff game, despite everything that preceded it. Before thoracic outlet syndrome made Harvey a shell of what he once was, he was mocked in the press. The Mets went on to attack his character and article after article was written about why his attitude is the reason he failed, rather than a mishandling of his injuries. He was then rather unceremoniously designated for assignment earlier this season.
But the Mets are insisting that Jose Reyes, on the other hand, cannot be unceremoniously designated for assignment, despite his 16 wRC+. Mets officials recently said that they are reluctant to release Jose Reyes, “given Reyes’ roots in the organization” and would like him to receive a “proper sendoff.” They say this at the same time that they continue to mismanage Yoenis Cespedes’ leg injuries and bring up how much money he is making when asked about his return from the disabled list. Jose Reyes’s reputation—tarnished before his return to the Mets—seems to be of much greater concern to the organization than their relationship with their star player, his health, or what is actually best for the team.
The proclivity for throwing their own players—especially star players—under the bus and maligning them in the press is infinitely more frustrating than the ineptitude the Mets have displayed on the field recently. And it has to stop.