Justin Dunn didn’t make it to the majors with the Mets, didn’t fulfill his baseball dream with his hometown team, but as the 23-year-old righthander joins the Mariners in the next phase of his career, he can rest easy knowing he did his job.
He helped the Mets become a better team.
It just didn’t happen the way he long imagined.
In a deal that became official Monday, the Mets sent the Freeport native to Seattle in a seven-player trade that brought Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to Queens.
At first, Dunn said, news of the trade “was a little bit of a shock.” Then he talked with his manager at high Class A St. Lucie, Chad Kreuter, and his college coach, Boston College’s Mike Gambino, who reminded him that baseball is a business.
“After getting over the shock that I’m moving across the country, I realized this is part of the job, it could happen again, it could happen to anyone else,” Dunn, who reached Double-A Binghamton in 2018, said over the phone Monday night. “When I signed with the New York Mets, my job was to help the major-league team in any way required, and if that means [being traded], that’s my job. Now it’s my job for the Mariners.”
Dunn departs his first professional organization appreciative of the support — from the Mets and their fans — and the geography.
First, the geography: After the Mets chose Dunn in the first round (19th overall) of the 2016 draft, they assigned him to short-season Class A Brooklyn. That was the closest to home he had played in more than a half-decade, he said, after going to high school in Connecticut and attending BC.
"I almost had too many people at Brooklyn games,” Dunn said, laughing. “My mom was close enough friends with the ticket-office people that she sent them Christmas presents.”
And then the support: Dunn’s first full pro season, 2017, ended with a 5.00 ERA in 20 games (16 starts) for St. Lucie.
“Thank you to all Mets fans. I didn’t have the best year in ’17 and they stuck behind me,” said Dunn, the Mets’ 2018 minor-league pitcher of the year. “Being a New Yorker, I understand what that loyalty means.”
And now he joins Seattle, the farthest major-league team from his hometown (edging San Diego). The Mariners are just embarking on a rebuild, a prospect that excites Dunn, he said, because “part of me likes being the underdog. I like beating up on the big dogs.”
Dunn can be sure the Mariners want him, too. If the fact that they negotiated his inclusion in this trade wasn’t enough, he can think back to 2016, when Seattle showed major predraft interest and very nearly picked him 11th overall.
“I thought I would be a Mariner from Day 1,” he said. “I’m glad they kept the interest and a situation came where they could get me.”