MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Mejia provides sad, cautionary tale

Mejia provides sad, cautionary tale

Jenrry Mejia's emergence in 2014 told a larger story about the New York Mets. Something special was happening. As waves of gifted young players arrived, the future, suddenly, was bright and shiny.

Later, third baseman David Wright would say every veteran player saw it coming.

"There was just so much talent on the way," he said.

In that way, Mejia was perfect for that place and time. His emotions seemed real and raw, his joy contagious. Mejia was going to be part of a generation of Mets that accomplished great things. Back then, it was easy to see him fitting in with Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard and the others.

Together, they would deliver packed houses and gnawing postseason victories and wild celebrations. And that's the incomprehensibly sad part of this story.

If you're thinking "sad" is far too generous a description, try "maddening." Or "incomprehensible." Take your pick. Mejia's baseball career, which had dazzled scouts and thrilled teammates and smothered opposing hitters, is on hold, perhaps forever.

• Mejia handed permanent suspension

We may never know how great Mejia could have been. That IS the sad part.

DiComo on Mejia suspension

As fans, we have no idea if we're ever again going to see this kid do what things he seemed destined to do.

Let's also be clear about this thing. Mejia is not a victim. Got that? Don't even think of going down that road. His decision to use performance-enhancing drugs was his and his alone. For whatever reason -- insecurity, ego, infallibility -- Mejia decided the rules did not apply to him.

Now after three positive tests, Mejia is the first player to be slapped with a lifetime ban under the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program for three positive tests. This just makes no sense on so many levels. Baseball has put in place an array of safeguards to keep such a thing from happening -- apps, toll-free numbers, counseling.

Players are told again and again not to risk putting something in their bodies they're not absolutely certain of. Having been caught twice, it's almost incomprehensible that Mejia would try again, knowing it might be the end of his career.

Mejia is 26 years old and eligible to apply for reinstatement in a year. But he must miss at least two full seasons. How much of that 93 mph fastball will be left in two years?

Mejia returns to the mound

If this is a message to every other player, so be it. Any player cheating now should be reminded of the risks. There will always be someone whispering about an undetectable substance or a foolproof masking agent. Only thing is, there's a monumental risk involved.

This kind of thing just didn't seem possible in 2014 when Mejia was so dominant down the stretch. After the All-Star break, he settled in nicely as manager Terry Collins' closer, making good on 18 of 19 save chances and striking out better than a batter an inning.

There was some wildness, but that seemed part of the entire package. Was Mejia wild or purposely wild? Regardless, opposing hitters knew not to dig in, to be ready for anything. And when the Mets went to Spring Training last year, Mejia was one of a long list of reasons they were so optimistic about 2015.

Mejia injured his elbow on Opening Day, and then the suspensions followed -- one in April, another in July. He was nowhere around last season as his teammates made a magical run to the World Series.

The Mets still thought Mejia might come back, signing him to a $2.47 million contract even though he was still serving his second suspension. His third was announced Friday, and while it's tempting to wonder how much better he would have made the Mets' bullpen if he'd returned, that's irrelevant -- as is the contract, which he will now not receive.

The Mets will be fine. They have talent and depth and leadership. They have a great manager in Collins and a general manager, Sandy Alderson, who will find other options.

In the end, this is a story about a talented young guy who may have thrown his career away. Mejia is a cautionary tale for others. If that's his contribution, here's hoping others are at least paying attention.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.