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Mets Outcasts Justin Turner and Colin McHugh Could Have Been Important Pieces to Current Team

Turner batting .332 with LA since 2014.

After sitting on his hands for far too long, Sandy Alderson awoke from his slumber over the weekend by adding Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson to a New York Mets lineup desperately seeking major league hitters. The Mets’ GM, Alderson, retooled the lineup by acquiring the two veterans from Atlanta, in addition to calling up top prospect Michael Conforto from Double-A Binghamton. Trader Sandy also acquired veteran reliever Tyler Clippard yesterday afternoon from the Oakland Athletics. All these moves make the team better, however, I want to discuss two moves that Alderson made a long time ago, which seemed trivial at the time but loom large now.

In June of 2013, Alderson quietly traded 26-year old righty Collin McHugh to the Colorado Rockies for Eric Young Jr. A few months later, Alderson non-tendered then 28-year old utility man Justin Turner, despite the fact his versatility and production seemed to be worth the $800,000 he was projected to earn in 2014. These two moves didn’t garner many headlines at the time, but boy, do they seem important looking at them now.

Since the start of the 2014 season, Turner’s .332 batting average is the best in baseball (minimum 500 AB) and only two hitters with at least 500 plate appearances have a better wRC+ than him: Paul Goldschmidt and Mike Trout. The next three hitters on the list after Turner are Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper and Miguel Cabrera. Meanwhile, McHugh has landed on his feet with the Houston Astros and his 18 wins since Aug. 1, 2014, are the most in baseball. In those 30 starts, he’s 18-5 with a 3.40 ERA, and the Astros are 21-9.

Turner, who Alderson was apparently sick and tired of following the 2013 season because of a lack of hustle and differing approach at the plate, has rejuvenated his career with the Dodgers after signing a minor league contract last February. In 322 plate appearances last year, Turner hit a remarkable .340/.404/.493 (157 wRC+) with seven home runs, 43 RBI, 46 runs scored and 21 doubles, good for 3.2 fWAR. He’s been arguably just as good this year, slashing .323/.387/.563 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs.

McHugh had some success in the Mets’ organization, but was never considered a top prospect. He was let go because he simply wasn’t any good, other than his dazzling debut outing, where he became just the fifth pitcher since 1900 with no runs allowed, nine strikeouts and two or fewer hits surrendered in his MLB debut, according to Elias. He made 11 appearances and five starts for the Mets during the 2012 and ’13 campaigns, posting an unsightly 8.26 ERA and 0-5 record. He was dealt to the Rockies, who designated him for assignments after just four lackluster starts.

McHugh was 0-8 with an 8.94 ERA during his stints in New York and Colorado, but the Astros decided to take a flier on him. In December of 2013, McHugh was claimed off waivers by Houston and he went on to have a career year last season, finishing with 11 wins and a team-leading 2.73 ERA. The Astros’ front office were intrigued with the spin rate on his curveball and told him that he should be throwing the pitch more. McHugh changed his approach, going from a pitcher who was heavily dependent on his fastball to one who is much more reliant on his off-speed stuff. And the results speak for themselves.

He has become a staple in the Astros rotation and a dependable innings eater, something the Mets invested $20 million dollars in for an aging Bartolo Colon to become. It’s not fair to look at these moves in hindsight, but the Mets could of used that Colon money elsewhere and given McHugh a longer look, or perhaps resigned Aaron Harang to a minor league deal after his brief cameo in Flushing during the final weeks of the 2013 season and hoped that the spacious confines of Citi Field would play well for the fly-ball pitcher.

Certainly, Colon has eaten up his innings and played the important role of old sage in a young locker room, but the team could have just coughed up a few more dollars and resigned LaTroy Hawkins two winters ago if they were looking for leadership.  Obviously, nobody could have predicted that Harang would have a bounce back year with the Braves as a 36-year old last season, or the ascension of Turner and McHugh. But baseball is a funny game.

According to, people who know Turner also believe he benefited by getting to know outfielder Marlon Byrd, who resurrected his career on the Mets in 2013 after the Red Sox released him and a failed PED test. Byrd became a key mentor on the Mets for some of the team’s younger players, including Turner. Speaking of Byrd, he is another one that the Mets let slip away. The Mets trading Byrd and John Buck for Dilson Herrerra and Vic Black was another heist pulled off by Alderson, but not attempting to resign him during that off-season is another move that Alderson should regret.

Another move that Alderson certainly regrets is rejecting the Orioles offer of lefty Zach Britton for Ike Davis last winter. Instead, Alderson overplayed his hand and settled on Zack Thornton, a righty reliever that any team, including the Mets, could have claimed in the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings for $50,000. Britton and Jeurys Familia could have formed the Mets version of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, but hindsight is 20/20. Or how about last month, when the Dodgers apparently offered the Mets Juan Uribe for Dillon Gee, according to NY Post reporter Joel Sherman. Alderson once again overplayed his hand and Gee is now not even worth a bag of baseballs while toiling in Vegas.

Alderson has done a solid job of developing young talent, making some shrewd trades and trying to build a team in spite of the payroll shackles induced by the Wilpons. But sometimes it’s the moves that are the quietest that go on to loom the largest.

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