PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- A dozen years later, Carlos Gomez still hasn’t forgotten. He was back wearing orange-and-blue Thursday, shaking his head at the quick passage of time, and recalling how it was supposed to be in Flushing.
“I remember,” said Gomez, smiling. “Carlos Beltran was going to move to rightfield and I was going to play center.”
Maybe the positions hadn’t been ironed out yet, but the two were penciled in as part of a Mets’ dream trio that also included Fernando Martinez in left, and the team’s decision-makers were so confident in that alignment they drew up the blueprint for Citi Field with them in mind. The deep power alleys, the seemingly endless lawn in center. It was a hitter’s nightmare, and Gomez was supposed to be the sheriff of that expansive territory, the one in charge of tracking down anything that entered his airspace.
Gomez was 21 when he made his Mets debut, in 2007, and couldn’t wait to be part of what everyone imagined to be a bright future for the franchise. But that winter, GM Omar Minaya packaged Gomez with three pitchers — Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey — in the trade for Johan Santana. As for Martinez, he played a total of 47 games over three seasons for the Mets (.183 BA, 2 HRs, .540 OPS) before he was acquired by the Astros on a waiver claim.
Beltran, the lone survivor of that grand plan, continued to polish his Cooperstown resume with four more teams after the Mets traded him to the Giants in late July 2011. Since his departure, Gomez has been with five clubs, and as everyone knows by now, nearly returned to Flushing in 2015 if not for the Mets blowing up the swap that had — for a few hours anyway — stamped Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores for Milwaukee.
The indelible image of that bizarre night at Citi Field involved Flores wiping tears from his eyes as he stood at shortstop, crestfallen to leave the team he grew up with. The reason Flores got to stay, however, is because the Mets weren’t satisfied with Gomez’s medical records — specifically a disputed hip issue — and the trade collapsed. It remains a personally frustrating chapter that Gomez had no interest in reliving Thursday.
“It’s in the past,” Gomez said. “Even that day, that bad time is a good memory, but it’s in the past. I have nothing to talk about this. I’m excited to be here, and blessed.”
Still, Gomez is at least partially responsible for two of the Mets’ biggest acquisitions in recent memory, first by his inclusion in the Santana package and again in the failed Flores-Wheeler deal — which led to Sandy Alderson trading for Yoenis Cespedes a month later. Santana never got the Mets to the playoffs, but he did pitch the first no-hitter in franchise history. Following the Gomez fiasco, Cespedes went on a legendary second-half tear (22 HRs, .930 OPS in 71 games) in 2015 that helped propel the Mets to the World Series for the first time since 2000.
So what was Gomez up to in the meantime? The highlight was a two-year stretch (2013-14) in Milwaukee, where he batted .284 and averaged 24 homers with an .838 OPS, earning a pair of All-Star appearances. Gomez also had two top-20 finishes on the MVP ballot, placing as high as ninth in 2013 when he won the Gold Glove as a centerfielder.
Gomez is 33, and coming off a soft offensive season (.208 BA, .634 OPS) for the Rays. But if there is rebound ability in there, Gomez may be in the right place to revive it, even as he joins a very crowded outfield equation on a minor-league deal with the Mets.
“Last year was a tough season, but I learned a lot, and finally I have another opportunity to show that I'm a good player and I can help win games,” Gomez said. “This team sees that in me.”
Due to the depressed free-agent market, at least for the middle-to-lower class, the Mets were able to stockpile accomplished outfielders at a bargain, also collecting Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco on minor-league deals. Gomez now becomes more insurance, but few have been happier to wear a No. 85 on their back, as he was assigned Thursday.
“It’s a dream,” Gomez said. “Coming back to the team that you started with, that everything started with in my career. There’s a lot of good memories.”
Just not the ones Gomez had imagined.