NEW YORK -- For a time, Ike Davis appeared poised to be paired with David Wright as the Mets' corner-infield cornerstones.
Instead, after a few seasons in which Davis alternately led the club in home runs and endured protracted slumps and stints on the disabled list, he lost his starting job at first base to Lucas Duda and now is no longer a member of the Mets. The club announced before Friday's game that it had traded him to the Pirates for Minor League right-hander Zack Thornton and a player to be named.
"I've been in the Mets organization for a long time and made some really good friendships and stuff like that," Davis said. "That's the toughest part, I think. I really had a blast in New York. I made my childhood dreams come true, playing in the big leagues here. But it's just a steppingstone."
New York drafted Davis, 27, in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and, two years later, he rated as high as No. 62 on Baseball America's list of Top 100 Prospects. He demonstrated his hitting acumen from the start, smacking two hits in his big league debut, on April 19, 2010, and finishing seventh in that season's National League Rookie of the Year balloting after batting .264 with 19 home runs and a .791 OPS.
An ankle injury derailed his 2011 season, limiting him to just 36 games, though he continued to show great promise at the plate with a .302 average and .925 OPS. However, he opened both 2012 and 2013 with long slumps. He rebounded in 2012 with a scorching second half and still led the club with 32 home runs and ranked second with 90 RBIs despite batting .227.
But last season he wasn't able to rally in the same fashion. His average fell further, to .205, and his power was gone, too, as he hit just nine homers with a .334 slugging percentage in 103 games. He even spent 10 games in Triple-A after a midseason demotion.
"I just didn't play as well as I should have," he said. "Now I get a fresh start, and hopefully, I can get right back to where I used to be."
Davis understood such a trade might be coming. because no team carries three first basemen all season. Duda, also a left-handed hitter, had claimed the starting job at first base, and the right-handed Josh Satin had emerged as a platoon option and backup at the position.
"We're very happy with the trade," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "We're happy for Ike in the sense that he'll get another opportunity elsewhere. It's a situation we needed to resolve here, and we're happy with the return."
Rumors and headlines about a potential trade of Davis had popped up in the New York tabloids for months. The position battle was a major topic of conversation and, at times, seemed like a distraction. Then, two days after manager Terry Collins announced that Duda would be his primary starter, Davis hit a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam that only confused the situation.
"I thought it was important that we made a decision one way or the other," Collins said. "These guys are, beneath the uniforms, human beings, and they're great friends, but I know there's always pressure that the 0-for-3, the 0-for-4 [makes them ask], 'Hey, am I in there tomorrow? Am I not in there tomorrow?' This helps Lucas know that he's the guy moving forward, and we wish Ike all the best."
Though many of Davis' teammates recognize that the trade is in his best interests as a player, they regard him highly as a friend.
"Ike's going to be missed," Wright said. "I think Ike would be the first one to tell you that things didn't quite pan out the way a lot of us thought they would here, as far as the production, but through thick and thin, Ike's been one of the best teammates I've ever had."
Duda similarly raved about Davis, calling him an "unbelievable guy" and noting that they are good friends. When asked if he'd be more at ease without Davis challenging for playing time, Duda barely conceded the point, saying, "Maybe a little."
Oakland selected Thornton in the 23rd round of the 2010 Draft. He signed with Pittsburgh as a Minor League free agent before the 2012 season and reached Triple-A Indianapolis last season, where he began this season as well. In 32 2/3 innings at that level, he had a 3.31 ERA and 39 strikeouts for a prodigious K rate of 10.7 per nine innings.
"Thornton is going to give us more depth and has pitched very well at the Minor League level," Alderson said. "He's not on the [40-man] roster, so that gives us some flexibility there, but we're happy to add that depth. With respect to the player to be named later, we're happy as well."
Duda, Alderson said, has similar power potential as Davis, with an enhanced ability to hit left-handed pitching. The Mets also control his rights for an extra season. The return of outfielder Chris Young from the disabled list created a roster crunch, which contributed to the timing of Friday's move. Now Collins will have a fifth outfielder on his active roster for in-game maneuvering.
Davis, meanwhile, is likely to join the Pirates in Pittsburgh on Saturday, and he will probably platoon at first base with the right-handed-hitting Gaby Sanchez.
"They have a great young team and some good veterans, too," Davis said. "I'm looking forward to playing and hopefully helping them win. ... I feel a lot better in the box this year, so I'm excited to see what I can do with a lot of playing time."