Despite inking a three year deal with huge average annual value, the popular speculation in sports media is that Yoenis Cespedes will opt out of his contract after the 2016 season. It makes sense; Yo will be 31 years old, and it will likely be his last chance at a six year/nine figure deal. As hopeful as we are that Cespedes stays a met, it does appear likely that he will join a huge number of Mets alumni in sharing the distinction of ‘short tenure.’ If Yoenis Cespedes plays anything like he did in the second half of 2015 this year, he might just be the best ever two-year Met. To put this theory to the test, the staff here has decided to begin a mini-series as a tribute to Yo: remembering the best two season Mets of all time.
Each review will include a beer comp; we’ve agreed to use seasonal brews. Whenever I crack open a great seasonal brew it instantly becomes a mainstay in my fridge for months. A great winter stout, for example, is the only thing that makes the bitter cold more palatable. However, every season comes to an end and every time it feels as if my new love affair is being unjustly cut short. The same can be said about some of these Mets; in each case they left us wanting more.
I get the honor of kicking off the series with a recap of Lance Johnson’s impressive time with the NY Mets and a review of a delicious Russian imperial stout.
The general theme for the Mets in the mid-90s was that of disappointment. By 1993, the talent and swagger that previously surrounded the Mets had all but dried up. There was some optimism that pitching would emerge from our system again (as it did in the form of Gooden, Cone, Darling, and El Sid in the 80s) but I guess sometimes that luck of talent translating into success skips a “generation” or two. However, after finishing second in the strike shortened 1995 season, things were starting to look up for New York. They had a defensive wizard in the farm system named Rey-O that would man shortstop, 21 year-old Edgardo Alfonzo had just made his big league debut, and they had a budding star in Todd Hundley behind the plate. Having traded billion-dollar man Bobby Bonilla, the Mets lacked outfield offense and speed. Enter Lance Johnson on a two-year $5.7m deal. Lance ‘One Dog’ Johnson had made a name for himself around the league as a speedster, averaging 32 steals and placing himself atop the leader board in triples for four consecutive seasons from 1991-1994. Lance fit the team nicely as a lead off hitter, and had ample speed to play CF.
Lance Johnson lays out to save a no-hitter in Chicago
His first season with the Mets, 1996, would be the best of his entire career; he lead the league in ABs, hits, triples, got an All-Star nod, and even garnered some MVP votes! Lance Johnson posted an outstanding 122 wRC+, a .362 on base percentage, and swiped 50 bags. Advanced fielding metrics aren’t available, but his defensive range was above average. His high OBP and outstandingly low k-rate (5.5%!) made him the quintessential lead off man – his value measured by fWAR that season was 6.4, trailing only Bernard Gilkey and his 30 HR campaign. He even established some single season records that still stand today: Most Hits (227) and Triples (21). At the end of the season, the Mets inked him to a 2 year/$10m extension. For many Mets fans, he was he filled a void left behind by the other “#1” and fan favorite: Mookie Wilson.
A lot can change in season. Lance Johnson got off to a sluggish start in 1997, and although he was still able to get on at an impressive clip, his penchant for extra bases seemed to be regressing at an alarming rate. The Mets were playing decently, despite Lance Johnson becoming a slap hitter, and appeared to have a chance in the Wild Card race. One Dog was not the biggest obstacle to real success in ’97 – the bullpen was an absolute train wreck and lead the league in blown saves through the All-Star break. The Mets decided to trade Johnson for bullpen help, sending him to the Cubs and getting Brian McRae, Mel Rojas, and Turk Wendell in return. It was good time to part with LJ; Turk would become a fan favorite and help the Mets playoff runs in ’99 and ’00, meanwhile Lance Johnson continued to regress and never played another full season.
If Lance Johnson were a beer he would be Deschutes’ The Abyss Russian Imperial Stout. This is high praise – but his 1996 season still ranks as one of the best offensive seasons ever in Mets history (5th all-time in single season bWAR). The Abyss is an annual limited release is typically made available by Deschutes in November since 2006. The beer is dark and decadent. It has a pitch black pour due to the black barley and chocolate malt – and you’ll pick up flavors of vanilla, licorice, cherry, molasses, and bourbon (barrel aged). This is a slow sipper, else it will knock you on your ass (12%+ ABV). The presence of millennium hops contributes more complexity in the form of herbal aroma and some bitterness for good measure. The diversity, mysteriousness, and elite quality of this beer makes is a great seasonal comp for Lance Johnson’s brief tenure with the Mets.
Cheers, Lance Johnson, this one is to you!