“Give us your tired, your poor, your DFA’d, your waivered, your released, your retired, and anyone else who might be able to help the Mets when injuries and ineffectiveness plagues the club.”
No, that’s not what it says on the Statue of Liberty, but it might seem like it’s on a plaque on Brodie Van Wagenen’s desk, as he continues to scavenge ballplayers discarded by other clubs, and for the most part, his adept alertness for depth has already paid dividends.
Add former All-Stars Matt Kemp and Ervin Santana as imports in waiting, signed to minor league deals and warranted when regulars such as Jeff McNeil and Robinson Cano hit the IL. Kemp and Santana may soon join the likes of Carlos Gomez, Rajai Davis, and Aaron Altherr as unlikely contributors to a season already running hot and cold, with highlights and lowlights leading to a club struggling lately to reach and stay above the .500 level.
Some people rescue dogs. Van Wagenen rescues outfielders. But with the rate his primary outfielders have been bloating the IL, his acquisitions have been welcomed relief.
Michael Conforto is on the IL going through concussion protocol but may be back soon. Brandon Nimmo is on the IL suffering from literally a pain in the neck. Jeff McNeil is on the IL with a left hamstring strain.
Kemp, 34, has a career .285 average, 281 home runs, 1,010 RBIs, with 14 seasons in the majors, mostly with the Dodgers, the club that drafted him in 2003. After also playing for the Padres and Braves, the Dodgers traded Kemp to Cincinnati over the winter, along with Yasiel Puig, Kyle Farmer and Alex Wood. In return, the Dodgers received Homer Bailey, Josiah Gray, and Jeter. No, not that Jeter. Minor league prospect Jeter Downs.
Kemp’s career as a Red didn’t last long, just 20 games, where he batted .200. But it was a broken left rib that hastened his release on May 4. It may still take a while to recover from that blow as he rehabs in Port St. Lucie, but when he’s back to full strength – Mets fans hope he doesn’t go horse back riding in the same ditch that claimed Yoenis Cespedes’ season – he may become a valuable asset not too much later in the year.
“(Kemp) obviously still has a pretty high ceiling,” said Mets skipper Mickey Callaway. “We’re going to get him in playing shape and see what we’ve got. He was playing well last couple of years.”
With Los Angeles just last season, Kemp batted .290, with 21 homers and 85 runs batted in and was an All-Star.
Santana, 36, signed with the White Sox during spring training after spending 14 seasons with four other clubs, mostly in the AL and mostly with the Angels and Twins. But his pale hose career never had any South Side success. In three starts, 13.1 innings, Santana gave up 19 hits, six walks, 14 runs, and six home runs, necessitating a Chicago release with a 9.45 ERA and 0-2 record.
So why would Brodie’s Island of Reclamation Ballplayers take on this revival project? Well, for one, he’s less than two years removed from leading the league in complete games – five – and shutouts – three – with Minnesota in 2017, so you know he’s capable of giving length. The two-time All-Star (2008, ‘17) has a career 149-127 record, 4.09 ERA, which is moderately decent in the AL, and you never know how much is left in the tank, so it’s another case of hoping to catch lightning in the proverbial bottle.
Altherr found his genie in the bottle just last night, having launched his Mets career with a pinch-hit home run against the Tigers on Friday. It was the third pinch-hit home run of his career, and he became the 12th Met (and third this season) to hit a home run in their first at-bat as a Met. Robinson Cano debuted with a big fly on Opening Day, and Rajai Davis repeated the feat this past Wednesday against Washington’s Sean Doolittle.
Altherr, who was born in Germany, is already on his third team this month. The 28-year-old outfielder was drafted by Philadelphia in 2009, and was a Phillie his entire six-year career until being waived on May 11. He was picked up by San Francisco but his Giants career lasted all of one game and one at-bat. (What? He didn’t hit a home run with that first swing so the Giants said goodbye?)
Grateful Mets fans will be glad Van Wagenen rescued this waiver claim if he continues to come through in the clutch. For his career, Altherr has 37 home runs and 149 RBIs in 334 games, including his Mets debut.
Altherr wears No. 23, the designation previously occupied by Keon Broxton, who was dispatched – after being DFA’d – to the hapless Baltimore Orioles for International Draft pool money – $500K – which might just be one grade better than Monopoly dollars. If you spend it, they will come. If you don’t, you received nothing.
Rajai Davis took one of the most celebrated Uber rides in recent baseball history when he was summoned from Syracuse on May 22. The club’s AAA affiliate was in Allentown, PA, at the time, but when the boss says we need you in New York, he grabbed the fastest mode of transportation available at the time. He made it to Citi Field after the game started, and practically needed a GPS to find the Mets clubhouse, but he quickly got into uniform in time to hit the aforementioned pinch-hit first Met at-bat longball.
Davis, 38, has been around the game and then some. The Mets are his eighth team in now his 14th season. The Connecticut native was drafted by Pittsburgh in 2001, and has been with the Pirates, Giants, Athletics, Blue Jays, Tigers, Indians and Red Sox, before being rescued by Van Wagenen with a minor league deal last December.
Davis leads all active players with 415 career stolen bases. In 2016, with Cleveland, Davis led the AL in stolen bases with 43. He also helped prolong Game 7 in the 2016 World Series against the Cubs with an eighth-inning, two out, two-run home run that tied the score before the Indians lost the game and Series in the tenth.
It might seem slightly disconcerting to longtime Mets fans to see another outfielder wearing 18, as Davis does, since it was famously worn by Darryl Strawberry for many winning seasons, but if the new No. 18 helps the Mets win a few games with his legs or bat or glove, they’ll feel nostalgic.
The depth chart was a weakness last season, and is paying off this year.
“These guys are stepping up,” said Callaway, “and it’s been really fun.”