By Ernie Palladino
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If the Mets didn’t have such depth in their bullpen, they might have had to take Jenrry Mejia’s ridiculous claims of an MLB conspiracy more seriously. They might even have had to help him fight his lifetime ban for getting caught not once, not twice, but three times for steroids use.

Instead, they smartly positioned themselves to shrug off whatever controversy their one-time, short-time closer stirs up. He was nothing but an extra part anyway.

Had Mejia’s forever ban come at this point last season, the Mets might have found themselves in a philosophical dilemma. Back then, Jeurys Familia had only just scratched the surface of his closing abilities. The Mets hadn’t even considered him as their ninth-inning guy. Mejia was still there, ready to resume a role that saw him convert 28 of 31 save opportunities in 2014.

Familia would serve as his setup man.

We all know what happened next. Mejia never quite got back there. Some elbow stiffness on Opening Day 2015 landed him on the disabled list. He had yet to return when MLB’s 80-game suspension for a first offense came down.

Even then, he played the dumb card, claiming he had no idea how an old-school, easily-detectable steroid like Stanazolol got into his system. Keep in mind, this was never a Maria Sharapova situation. Unlike Meldonium, which the International Tennis Federation just placed on its banned substance list nearly 10 years after Sharapova started taking it for a health issue, Stanazolol has only one usage.

To get bigger, stronger, faster.

At least Sharapova hoisted the blame on herself. Whether or not she’s telling the whole truth about her careless disposal of an e-mailed, updated list, she does appear ready to accept whatever punishment the ITF deems necessary.

The Mets might even have forgiven Mejia’s own claims of ignorance had he stayed clean once he came back. But just seven appearances after his return, he took a year-long suspension for a second offense on July 28.

By the time baseball called Strike 3 on Mejia before pitchers and catchers even reported to Port St. Lucie, they were well-fixed to go on without him. Familia, coming off a 43-save season, remains in place. The acquisition of left-hander Antonio Bastardo gives them a wonderful eighth-inning option. Jerry Blevens, healthy now after a broken arm ended his season in April, presents a lefty-lefty option. Addison Reed gives Terry Collins a nice sixth- or seventh-inning replacement, and can even enter in the eighth. Sean Gilmartin and Hansel Robles offer early-game support.

The group Mejia might have contributed to has looked good so far. Familia had allowed one hit in two innings as of Sunday. Bastardo’s 4.50 ERA in four outings is somewhat misleading, since the two earned runs he gave up came off two homers in the same inning against the Yanks on March 9. He has allowed just three hits in his other three innings of work.

Reed and Blevins had each given up one run in four outings. Gilmartin and Robles had allowed just one earned run (Gilmartin’s) in 8 1/3 combined innings.

Had Mejia avoided the third suspension, the Mets certainly would have found use for him upon his return in late July. But really, whether he ever pitched again in a Mets uniform was never a big issue. They came into spring training solid.

Now, they need only watch and laugh or cringe over Mejia’s latest claims:

Baseball jimmied up his second and third drug tests.

The investigators tried to get him to flip on another suspected cheater.

MLB spies hacked into social media accounts to find evidence of PED use.

Triangulated crossfire, MLB style. Real grassy knoll stuff.

Sad. Stupid. Ludicrous.

But Mejia’s guilt or innocence is immaterial as far as the Mets are concerned.

They had moved on even before Strike 3.

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino


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