Where There’s Smoke

49Long-suffering minor-league reliever Josh Smoker got the call yesterday as the “26th man” on the roster, as dictated by double-header rules but the lefty failed to make an appearance as the Mets split Tuesday’s twinbill with the hated Cardinals.

PiazzaPatchSmoker — a one-time top draft pick whose ascent was interrupted by injuries and a stint in independent ball — headed back to Laguardia following the game  but maintained his spring-training assignment of 49 in his non-appearance.

As you know by now the Mets will officially retire Mike Piazza’s No. 31 in a ceremony on Saturday, and reveal the digit in its new location in the left field corner. The club is also expected to wear ceremonial uni and hat patches for the event as pictured here. Mike looks a bit like a cartoon character here but to be fair his home runs often looked like something out of a fertile imagination themselves.

Finally the MBTN Hall of Fame has a new member.

An outrageous display of awesomeness.

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Here Come the SHaMs!

That’s the Second-Half Mets, who are going to need to be considerably better than their first-half counterparts if they want to turn this year into something.

I’m not saying they can’t do that, and I’m definitely not saying I’m not rooting for it, but based on what we saw in the first half, I have my doubts.

21I’d have felt better had the team managed to pierce the 10-games-over-.500 barrier but we only approached it several times before settling back into that 80-something win pace. Nobody seems to be acknowledging the biggest loss for the club was big Lucas Duda, who allowed guys like Neil Walker to bat 6th or 7th instead of 4th or 5th. Duda is a mysterious creature. Do we even know how he broke his back? Is his return even a possibility? I’m skeptical of a strong back half without him or someone as terrifying.

20I like Walker enough, but he’s not a middle-of-the-order guy and he hasn’t been much of a force since April. The Mets have Flores, Hererra, Reyes, Reynolds and Cecchini as potential middle infielders. The Mets have no doubt gotten the better of the Niese-Walker swap so far but you wonder, with the Pirates potentially losing an infielder (Kang) and the Mets a starting pitcher, whether they’d shake hands, swap apartments again and pretend it never happened. Niese has been awful, but throw in a prospect, Pittsburgh, and maybe you have a deal. While you’re at it, would you be interested in a reunion with Antonio Bastardo?

Michael Conforto plummeted even more dramatically than Walker but appears to be regaining his stroke in AAA. His return to form would be a considerable boost. Jose Reyes’ return seems to have interrupted Brandon Nimmo’s shot at becoming the leadoff hitter we were looking for anyway. Referring to my recent failed campaign to outfit Travis d’Arnaud in a new number an MBTN reader made a clever suggestion that I might support in helping Conforto to a better second half:

 

I’m all for it, Eric.

33They say it’ll all come down to pitching in the end and I agree. Matt Harvey’s loss, while disappointing, isn’t a setback for the club inasmuch as he wasn’t doing nearly enough to help them win when he was out there. Do they trade for a reliable 5th starter type (Niese again!) or trust things to Sean Gilmartin, and Seth Lugo and Logan Verrett? Maybe they aim a little higher and come away with a Jorge De La Rosa or Rich Hill. Maybe the injury to Snydergaard is worse than expected and they unload. I guess we have to wait and see.

Finally, my friend Conor captured this video from the National broadcast over the weekend! Go us!

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And I Approve of this Message

12Hey, have you checked out the new book yet? Here’s a Q&A I did recently about the site, the book, and other stuff with Diane Firstman at her site, Value Over Replacement Grit.

Also my friend Sam from Rising Apple had me on as a guest in his podcast this week. Our chat, with fellow Met historian geeks Mike and Rich, might still be going on but I had to feed the cats.

I’m trying to keep up hopes up over tonight’s game and the the entire season, but Juan Lagares just hit into a double play. Rats.

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Triple Threats

18So it’s a bit of a double tragedy out there tonight. Travis d’Arnaud surrendering his favorite uni number — one he earned while Jose Reyes was drawing gigantic checks from a franchise that traded d’Arnaud away — and the Mets bending over backwards to accommodate a disgraced star when there’s no guarantee he’s anything approaching the No. 7 he once was.

Travis for his part robotically blurted out unconvincing platitudes about Reyes and Peyton Manning, and here is is, wearing his third uni number in as many years. They couldn’t even do the right thing and use this unusual situation to re-introduce No. 8 to the uni-sphere.

d’Arnaud by my count is the 28th guy to wear three or more numbers for the Mets:

Player 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Jeff McKnight 15 5 7 17 18
Kevin Collins 10 19 16 1
Pedro Feliciano 55 39 25 55
Ed Lynch 59 35 34 36
Darrell Sutherland 47 43 45
Cleon Jones 34 12 21
John Stephenson 49 19 12
Jim Hickman 9 27 6
Mike Jorgensen 10 16 22
Hank Webb 42 30 29
Hubie Brooks 62 39 7
Clint Hurdle 33 13 7
Chuck Carr 7 1 27
Kevin Elster 2 21 15
Charlie O’Brien 33 5 22
Ron Darling 44 12 15
Jason Phillips 26 7 23
David Cone 44 17 16
Jae Seo 38 40 26
Roger Craig 38 36 13
Lee Mazzilli 12 16 13
Mike DiFelice 33 6 9
Marlon Anderson 18 23 9
Ramon Martinez 22 26 6
Robinson Cancel 4 40 29
Anderson Hernandez 1 4 11
Omar Quintanilla 6 3 0
Travis d’Arnaud 15 7 18
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When Eight is Enough

7Who knows how it may affect the club’s sudden momentum but the Mets today are expected to officially add Jose Reyes to the roster, suit him in his customary No. 7 jersey (per Adam Rubin), and lead him off tonight versus the Marlins.

No word yet on a corresponding roster move although it seems likelier to me that infielder Matt Reynolds gets sent down than Alejandro De Aza is released. The latter scenario only happens if there’s a true crush on the 40-man roster, and even then, I think they’d look to trade him. Despite appearances, De Aza’s track record and versatility would indicate he’s not completely without value.

Now, onto the important stuff: With Reyes set to take over 7, it triggers yet another uni change for Travis d’Arnaud, whom I’d have advised to stay put. And while it’s possible we’ll see d’Arnaud move back to 15, especially if Reynolds vacates it, I’m proposing a unique solution to a unique problem:

Take No. 8 out of mothballs.

8The Mets haven’t issued No. 8 since 2002 (coach Matt Galante), a decision that coincided with Gary Carter’s election to baseball’s Hall of Fame. We can presume the club withheld it so as to give itself runway to retirement had Carter gone into the Hall “as a Met” and following that, in deference to his illness and tragic death in 2012. (I want to be clear I feel the first distinction is very silly and unworthy of the weight it seems to carry in the retired number debate).

But with both those events now in the rear-view, I think there’s an argument to reintroduce No. 8 when warranted, and now is that time. You have a promising young catcher basically forced into a switch, and there’s a dearth of dignified numbers out there (just 1, 18, 46 and 49). He drives you crazy with the health issues and the slumps but d’Arnaud deep down is a heck of a hitter, I think, and at any rate wouldn’t embarrass the memory of Carter (or Yogi Berra, also a numerical descendant) any more than the second coming of Jose Reyes might insult the first Reyes era. The Mets in fact gave No. 8 time off between Yogi’s stints as a player (1965-72) and a manager (1975-79), but those periods came to an end too.

I supported the Mets’ good taste and sensitivity while they withheld No. 8 then and now, but the time has come to reintroduce it. Give the Kid No. 8!

*

PS — Quick note to acknowledge the arrival and departure of Seth Lugo and the first No. 67 in club history last week! I missed that traveling last week.

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Zimmo!

Pretty big Saturday afternoon for the Mets so far.

9As you know already they have signed Jose Reyes to a minor league deal and expect him to spend a week or so in the minors demonstrating he’s ready to play some third base. Also today they swapped out Michael Conforto for Brandon Nimmo in an exchange of young lefthanded hitting outfielders.

As noted below I felt this was a move just waiting around for the Mets to make for a few weeks now, and figure the worst case scenario is for Nimmo to struggle up here for a few weeks. Not anything Conforto wasn’t doing. Conforto I am certain has a big-league bat and will be back in action shortly at which point the Mets could either send Nimmo back down, trade or release De Aza, or something even more radical. There are no downsides.

Also pleased to note that Nimmo inherits the unoccupied No. 9 jersey, as called below.

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How to Dress Jose Reyes

7So if the reports are accurate maligned former prodigy Jose Reyes could be rejoining the Mets as soon as today. While I’d naturally prefer my guys not to be coming off disciplinary suspensions, and I would hope his equity not put undue pressure on teammates, I can see where the prospect of a proven speedy contact hitter who can play multiple infield positions at a bargain price could help the team. I would hope also that just like Lenny Randle in 1977, the club is sensible enough to keep Reyes on a short behavioral leash while allowing him to do himself the favor of re-establishing a derailed career. If he can play, it’s all good.

No shortage of speculation as to his uniform number is out there, but I cannot see where it is fair or appropriate for Travis d’Arnaud to put aside a personally selected No. 7 to make room for Reyes, particularly with Reyes’ shady recent legal tangles and especially considering the way he left the club in 2009 (2011, thx, Dave). He was right go, don’t get me wrong, but he took off for Miami as though he were stealing second base.

77Question is what then? Back in 2003, when Reyes was a but a Met puppy, the Mets (idiotically, it turned out) signed the Japanese free agent Kaz Matsui to a contract. Matsui wore 7 in Japan and some bright people suggested then they creatively solve the issue by giving Matsui 77. They didn’t. Things would have been different, I tell you.

46So I can see the Mets going that route, maybe. Perhaps, though, presenting Reyes with 77 (or even 07) is too larded with tender forethought to be appropriate for a guy coming off a wife-beating rap. I am coming around to the idea it would be best if Reyes gets a number that sends the message that the Mets aren’t doing Jose Reyes any favors beyond the opportunity to wear a uniform. Any uniform. Give him No. 46. It’ll all be a weird scene anyway.

1Lots of speculation too about unoccupied single digits of 1 and 9 but I’m coming around to suspect those might be held out of the rotation with a purpose. Shortstop prospect Amed Rosario is racing up the ladder and bringing No. 1 with him: You may have seen he debuted with Class AA Binghamton just this week and like of all people Jose Reyes, could be a big-league shortstop by the age of 21. I’m less certain of No. 9’s future but suspect we could see Brandon Nimmo wearing it before long.

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Struggling Sophomores

So it’s come to this.

Swept by the Braves at home, the third-place Mets are expected to, and let’s face it, probably ought to, shake the team up at least a little before the hated Royals arrive for a two-game set starting Tuesday.

26Some of the changes appear obvious. Travis d’Arnaud will return behind the plate and hopefully, he’ll stay healthy. It appears very likely that Kevin Plawecki to Last Vegas will be the corresponding move. No excuse for how poorly he’s hit — wearing 26, Plawecki’s barely any different than the overmatched 22 he was in his rookie year — but thanks in part to d’Arnaud’s fragility Plawecki’s never had that two months in Las Vegas he so obviously needs.

30Will Michael Conforto join him on that plane? It would appear to be a consideration, and one I advocated weeks ago. I have little doubt Conforto can and will be a very good hitter but it’s long past the point where he ought to work out his issues in Las Vegas, even for just a short while.

Top draft pick Brandon Nimmo is having a fabulous year out there by the way, slashing better than 300/400/500 (that’s a positively Fonzerian line), is already on the 40-man roster, and could presumably succeed as a leadoff hitter. That would allow Curtis Granderson to drop in the order and take up at least some of the power slack. Nimmo wears No. 7 in Vegas, but 9 — and 1 — are just sitting around waiting for someone here.

Less likely in my estimation — but inevitable it would seem — will be a reacquaintance with Dilson Hererra. I don’t think that happens unless Neil Walker is hurt, or traded, but I wouldn’t necessarily reject the latter idea. Walker’s a free agent to be and won’t get “Murphy Money” from us, and isn’t on a 40-home-pace any more.

16Finally it takes a special kind of uselessness to be a reserve and yet fail to fit into this lineup but it’s my guess Alejandro De Aza won’t be around for too much longer. Traded? Released?

59The bullpen may also get a rocking, although injuries may determine that as much as performance. Even if Antonio Bastardo were having a good season, which he’s not, his deliberate pace drives me crazy as a fan and he would appear vulnerable but for the expectations that come with his career and contract, and the fact that’s he a left-handed relief pitcher. Hansel Robles, like Conforto and Plawecki, may just need a few weeks in AAA to work things out. Sophomores.

What are your thoughts?

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Talking Baseball

MBTN-bookshelfHey look! METS BY THE NUMBERS is here. It has been completely rewritten and re-engineered, including bios and data on more than 300 new players, with more minute details, a complete history of the uniform, new lists, new rankings, new photos, and more than 80 new pages. It’s hefty, and you can tell it’s an actual copy because David Wright appears on the cover instead of Dwight Gooden in the mockup you’ve seen until now. (Gooden instead appears on the spine, a nice touch).

It officially launches tonight with an event at Word Books (126 Franklin St., Brooklyn) where I will discuss the project in conversation with NBC Sports’ D.J. Short and Greg Prince, author of the excellent AMAZIN AGAIN. We will have books for sale and signatures, plus free beer and Crackerjacks, starting at 7 p.m. Please join us! (Word is easy to find, 2 blocks from the Greenpoint Ave. stop on the G).

62In Mets news, the club staggered to a disappointing series split in Milwaukee which saw still more of the team suffer aches and pains including manager Terry Collins (ill but thankfully appears OK), Neil Walker (bad back), Michael Conforto (wrist) and Jim Henderson (finger). Logan Verrett made a spot start then was sent down to Las Vegas and replaced by Erik Goeddel, who returned in No. 62. As noted, Kelly Johnson arrived and took over Ty Kelly’s No. 55.

Let’s Go Mets!

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Young Men With A Future

Congrats to freshly picked Mets Justin Dunn, Anthony Kay and Peter Alonso, the club’s top three selections in the MLB amateur draft. Photographic evidence from their colleges show them wearing 19, 18 and 20, respectively. The draft continues this afternoon.

55Speaking of new arrivals, Kelly Johnson is expected to join the club in Milwaukee today, but it’s still unclear whose spot he takes on the roster. If it’s Ty Kelly, Johnson could retain the No. 55 he wore in his last go-round with the Mets but it may well be Matt Reynolds, in which case either Kelly, or Kelly, will wind up with their second Mets uni assignment.

64Including coaches and all members of the 40-man roster, available jerseys at the moment include 1, 9, 18, 46, 49, 54, 56, 58, 60, 61 and now 64 — since young pitcher Akeel Morris was sacrificed to Atlanta in the Johnson trade. You might recall Morris was catapulted from Single A to the Mets last summer and got bashed by the Blue Jays in his only appearance.

That incident and the subsequent trade granted Morris entry to an exclusive club of Met pitchers whose career club ERAs exceed their uniform number:

Thanks to my friends at the Ultimate Mets Database and Crane Pool for the background on that stat.

Update: Looks like Ty got whacked and lost his uni number.

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