Ask Curtis Granderson how things are going, and he’s likely to give you the same answer no matter what the current circumstances. A remarkably steady presence on and off the field whether he’s hitting .192 or .385, Granderson has been the Mets’ most valuable player for the duration of what has turned into a magical season in Queens.
For a player who was originally signed to a four-year, $60 million contract in order to provide David Wright desperately needed protection in the lineup, Granderson’s quiet reinvention into a new player—and the leadoff hitter the Mets have been missing since Jose Reyes’ departure—can’t be overlooked or understated as his team prepares to try and win its first World Series title since the 1986 season.
At the time Granderson came aboard, there were a lot of questions as to what the Mets were doing. The team wasn’t quite ready to win with its current crop of talent, there were seemingly bigger needs on the roster and Granderson had just come off of an abbreviated 61-game season in which he hit .229/.317/.407 with seven home runs with 15 RBI, missing more than 100 games due to a fractured forearm and broken hand. Was this really the right gamble for the Mets to roll the dice on? Sports Illustrated called the signing a “big risk,” and they certainly weren’t alone. With the ghost of Jason Bay was still haunting this team, many felt that Granderson’s arrival could result in a similar departure.
His first year with the Mets provided some cause for concern for even those who didn’t worry about his fit on the team. Hitting .227/.326/.388 with 20 home runs and 66 RBI, Granderson was incredibly streaky and struggled to fulfill the role the Mets initially envisioned. But Granderson, who remained remarkably positive through it all, was simply the first step in New York piecing together a much bigger picture.
The veteran outfielder’s arrival didn’t set the stage for the Mets’ rebirth or suddenly make Citi Field the most desirable place in Major League Baseball to play, but it was the beginning of the team rebuilding its brand. General Manager Sandy Alderson has always picked his spots as well as any other decision-maker in the game, and his recent words (via Joel Sherman, New York Post) regarding the Yoenis Cespedes acquisition serve as a strong illustration of exactly that point.
“But part of what we are doing here, like any business, you have a product and a brand, and your brand is something that is partially a function of what your product line is and what you offer in the marketplace and part of it is this other equity — what people think. And what people think is a function of what your product line was five years ago and three years ago and now. The Mets as a brand took a hit. Part of our effort was not just to improve the product, like General Motors would improve the product from year to year, but to somehow restore confidence in the brand also.”
Granderson again arrived for spring training with the Mets in 2015, but this time his role was known, expectations had changed and Kevin Long—the man credited for Granderson’s previous renaissance with the New York Yankees—was hired to be the hitting coach. Now with more talent around him and placed in a position to succeed, Granderson excelled as the team’s leadoff hitter by hitting .259/.364/.457 while posting the fourth-highest OPS (.821) of his career. Beyond hammering an impressive 26 bombs and driving in 70 runs out of the leadoff spot, Granderson’s on-base percentage tied his second-highest mark ever, he had 150 hits for the first time since 2011 and his 33 doubles were the most he’s ever struck with the exception of 2007—arguably the best season of his lengthy career.
Despite the newfound success Granderson is enjoying while serving as a catalyst for a team that continues to surprising everyone, the sweet-swinging lefty is still the calm, cool presence that this Mets team needs to find its way—and Manager Terry Collins knows it (via Colleen Kane, Chicago Tribune).
“This guy’s got a smile on his face every day, if he’s playing, if he’s not playing,” Collins said. “You wouldn’t know if he’s 0-for-40 or if he’s 30-for-40, same guy every day. That persona on a star, and young players see it, it helps a lot.”
There will be plenty to point to when this Mets season is over and its twisting and turning story is told, and although Granderson hasn’t necessarily had a signature moment, New York would never have been in this position without him. With David Wright (spinal stenosis), Travis d’Arnaud (hand, elbow) having missed substantial time this season, Lucas Duda more up-and-down than a teeter totter and Yoenis Cespedes not having arrived until August, Granderson’s value to this team far exceeds the $15 million New York pays him annually.
The Mets are still painting the picture of their season, but it’s been clear for some time that cool hand Curtis is at its center.