The rise and fall of Ike Davis' New York Mets
Consider for a moment what has happened to the New York Mets since that June day in 2008 when Ike Davis, who the Mets finally traded last week to the Pittsburgh Pirates, became a member of the organization.
Davis was the team's top draft pick in what was supposed to be a bumper crop of talent. The Mets drafted him with Atlanta's first round pick, which the Mets received, along with another, for allowing Tom Glavine to return home to the Braves.
Between Davis, infielder Reese Havens and hard-throwing right-hander Brad Holt, the Mets looked to be restocking the next generation's team as surely as their 2008 squad barrelled toward a postseason berth.
Willie Randolph had not yet been fired when the Mets picked Davis on June 5. But by the time he signed on June 24, Jerry Manuel had taken over. And as Davis struggled through his first contact with professional pitching in Brooklyn, Manuel's Mets sprinted ahead to a 3.5 game lead with 17 games left, only to blow it as surely as Randolph's Mets had the year before, with a cushion twice as large.
Still, the future seemed limitless. Carlos Delgado hit 38 home runs. Surely he'd hold down the fort at first base until Ike Davis arrived. Carlos Beltran had a stellar year. And that left side of the infield, Jose Reyes and David Wright, were each just 25, and would obviously retire as Mets.
The Mets were heading into a new stadium with a $145 million payroll, a capacity to add liquidity whenever they wished, thanks to their gainful association with Bernie Madoff, and an improved bullpen. By the time Davis figured out how to hit big league pitching, he'd be joining a juggernaut.
Then it all fell apart (and not just because of Madoff).
Delgado hit the disabled list in May 2009 with what the Mets described as a day-to-day injury, and never played again. Beltran suffered a knee injury he ultimately got repaired against the team's wishes, and led to the team anonymously trashing him in the press. Reyes, too, was badmouthed that way by the team, leading to a tearful press conference in which a man who takes as much pleasure in playing baseball as anyone in the game had to declare that he legitimately wanted to play. Even Wright, in an event beyond the team's control, was beaned, and really didn't return to the player he was in 2007 until 2012.
The group Davis was drafted with flamed out. Havens, beset by injuries, is now retired. And Holt stalled out at Triple-A.
Then Davis was installed as the every-day first baseman shortly after the 2010 season began; the Mets discovered their first-base answer on the cheap, Mike Jacobs, wasn't going to cut it. Davis posted a solid rookie season. And a quarter of the way through 2011, he'd managed to post an OPS+ of 156, suggesting he was about to become the star the Mets desperately needed him to be on a team about to jettison Reyes and Beltran.
How high had Davis ascended? Even Fred Wilpon, in the midst of disparaging nearly every great player the Mets had accumulated over the past decade, had nothing but praise for Ike Davis. As Wilpon put it to Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker of Davis: "Good hitter. Shitty team—good hitter."
But that would be it. It's as if Davis, by earning Wilpon's praise, became the victim for Wilpon's famous abdication of responsibility for what happened to the team he owns: "We're snakebitten, baby!"
The Toobin piece published May 30. At the time, Davis had hit the disabled list with what was supposed to be a minor injury, coming from a collision on the infield with Wright.
His strained left calf became a bone bruise became a stress fracture requiring a boot became cartilege damage that may have happened because the boot didn't allow it to properly heal. Right: Davis missed the season.
He also contracted something called Valley Fever, which saps the body of energy. It's a disease that ultimately ruined the career of Conor Jackson, among other professional players, and the symptoms are exacerbated by extended, strenuous exercise. The impact of a 162-game season on such a disease would concern anyone, and Davis' epic valleys in performance in both 2012 and 2013 certainly raise eyebrows.
But this wouldn't be the Mets if they simply handled that in house, assessed the risk, and dealt Davis in a timely manner with a minimum of fuss. Instead came the anonymous rumors, which began in September 2012 about Davis' nightlife and ability to be coached. Never mind the reputation Davis had as a worker among his teammates and, notably, manager Terry Collins.
Davis got to defend himself then, and for most of the subsequent 18 months, with the Mets making it clear how eager they were to bid rid of him while subsequently declining to trade him because they weren't satisfied with the potential return in the deal for the player they'd repeatedly, publicly disparaged.
Instead, Davis stayed in limbo for a team with many holes, but a perfectly competent replacement for Davis at first in Lucas Duda.
The thing about Duda is, he wasn't a first-round pick. No one projects him to become a superstar. It's impossible to imagine Fred Wilpon getting excited about Duda, or Duda selling tickets for the Mets, an increasingly difficult task as the other supposed problem players for the team have left for other teams.
The ultimate haul for Davis appears to be Zack Thornton, a nondescript minor league reliever, and a player to be named later. That the player hasn't been named yet is almost certainly a roster quirk—no 2013 draft pick can be traded for a year.
Even if that 2013 pick is an elite prospect—and that's unlikely—it's going to be years before such a player can even help the Mets. Nor is that player likely to carry with him the pedigree and high hopes the Mets once had for Ike Davis.
Davis is in Pittsburgh now. The Pirates are a talented team, a playoff team last year, who are likely to contend for years to come, with stars like Andrew McCutchen and a pipeline of talent filled to capacity.
Davis will get the chance to be a cog in the machine. The Pirates hope he can slot in at first. And if he can't, well, they'll get somebody else to play.
He's off to a decent start, hitting a grand slam against the Reds. McCutchen has known him a long time, and echoed what everybody who isn't an anonymous source with the Mets has always said about Davis.
"He's going to fill in here pretty easy and be easy to get along with everyone," McCutchen said. "Everybody for sure is going to like him."
The Pirates hope Ike Davis will fulfill his promise. The Mets are just happy to have a reasonable fallback plan in Duda. The team's owners saved $3.14 million by making the trade.
"It was pretty negative over there for me for a little while," Davis told Pirates reporters, reflecting on his time in New York.
He could have said more. But Davis, now, doesn't have to live in the past.