With the possibility of the Mets making a 4- or 5-for-1 trade with the Twins for Johan Santana, I thought I’d look back at some of the big trades in the past where the Mets dumped a handful of prospects in return for one MLB player.
December 11, 2001 – Mets acquire Roberto Alomar and two minor leaguers for:
Matt Lawton, Alex Escobar, Jerrod Riggan, Billy Traber (PTBNL), Earl Snyder (PTBNL)
This was a major, major disaster of a deal when you consider that Alomar came into NYC as a scared rabbit and hit more like his father than the player who finished fourth in the AL MVP voting a month before the trade. While Lawton was expected to take over left field for the Indians, the keys to the deal were Escobar — who at the time was considered better than Lastings Milledge ever was — and recent first-round pick Traber, a 6’5″ lefty who might compare to today’s Mike Pelfrey. In addition, Riggan had shown promise in a 35-game stint in setup relief (think: Juan Padilla), and Snyder was no slouch himself — he played 1B, 3B, and OF, and was a consistent 20-25-HR power threat in the minors (compare to Mike Carp). In the end, though Alomar was a bust, so were all of the players sent to Cleveland.
May 22, 1998 – Mets acquire Mike Piazza for:
Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, Geoff Goetz
OK, the Mets didn’t exactly empty their minor league system for Piazza — no small feat in acquiring the best-hitting catcher of all-time. However, Wilson was the hottest commodity in Metsville — Milledge would be a good comparison — and LHP Yarnall was a fast-moving prospect
who eventually cracked Baseball America’s “top 50″ in 2000 (compare: Kevin Mulvey, as a lefty). As it turned out, Piazza gave the Mets the best offensive production they’ll ever see from a backstop. On the other end, Goetz never made the majors, Yarnall never panned out either, and Wilson — other than 2000 and 2003 — had a disappointing career that failed to match the hype.
July 31, 1989 – Mets acquire Frank Viola for:
Rick Aguilera, David West, Kevin Tapani, and Tim Drummond
OK, this didn’t turn out so great. Viola pitched two and a half seasons for the Mets, winning 20 games in one of them, before becoming a free agent and leaving the organization. On the other hand, Aguilera went on to be a dominating closer for a decade and Tapani became a solid #2 or #3 starter, once winning 19 games. However, West, who was the key piece of the deal and at the time considered the best prospect in the package, was an absolute bust. Drummond pitched a total of 49 MLB games in mopup relief.
Dec. 11, 1986 – Mets Acquire Kevin McReynolds, Gene Walter, and Adam Ging for:
Shawn Abner, Stan Jefferson, Kevin Mitchell, Kevin Armstrong, and Kevin Brown
No, it wasn’t THAT Kevin Brown, but rather a AAAA / tweener with the same name. Walter and Ging were throw-ins; this deal was all about McReynolds, who performed well but did not live up to high expectations. Mitchell was the only one in the Mets’ part of the package who had any kind of MLB career, winning the NL MVP in 1989. At the time, Abner was considered the better prospect, having been a former first overall #1 pick and a supposed “5-tool player”. In addition, Jefferson was thought of so highly that the Padres immediately inserted him as their starting centerfielder … that didn’t last long. Armstrong did not reach the Majors; I think he was added to the deal simply because his first name was “Kevin”.
Nov. 13, 1985 – Mets Acquire Bob Ojeda and three minor leaguers for:
Calvin Schiraldi, Wes Gardner, John Christensen, and La Schelle Tarver
While you couldn’t compare this trade to a potential Johan Santana deal, when it was made most felt the Mets had overpaid and made a mistake in giving up so many good young prospects. Gardner had saved 18 and 20 games for Tidewater the previous two seasons and many felt he was ready to become an MLB closer, but was blocked by the McDowell – Orosco tandem in Flushing. Schiraldi was a fast-tracker with electric stuff, who had gone 14-3 at AA and 3-1 with a 1.15 ERA before skipping to the bigs in 1984 as a 22-year-old (as a comparison, imagine if Pelfrey dominated like that, what his value might be). Tarver was one of many, many speedy, athletic outfielders in the Mets’ system at the time blocked by Mookie and Lenny Dykstra. He was coming off consecutive .300+ average, 35-steal seasons in AAA and seemingly just needed an opportunity with an MLB club in need of a centerfielder (consider him an advanced Carlos Gomez, minus the power potential). Christensen was a AAAA guy, and by 1985 was too old to be a prospect (think: Ben Johnson).
As it turned out, Ojeda was exactly what the Mets needed, and Schiraldi was also exactly what the Mets needed (meaning, the right guy to pitch against them during Game Six of the 1986 WS). Gardner turned out to be a journeyman mopup reliever, Christensen did nothing, and Tarver played in 13 big league games. Schiraldi was the best of the group, but after a promising 1986 half-season, never fulfilled that early promise, jumping from team to team and between starting and relieving. His last MLB season was 1991 — at age 29. In contrast, Ojeda kept receiving big league paychecks through 1994.
It’s probably not fair to compare the Mets’ prospects of yesteryear to the handful of trading chips they currently have … but it’s a long winter and what else do we have to argue about?
If the past can tell us anything about the future, then these deals suggest that the Mets might be on to something by emptying their coffers for Johan Santana. Personally, I’m still against trading away too many prospects at this point in time, but looking over all the above, it’s hard to argue against the idea. Of the 21 players sent away, the only ones who had decent MLB careers were Kevin Mitchell, Kevin Tapani, Rick Aguilera, and Preston Wilson. Again, it’s not fair to compare across eras, but going strictly by the numbers, it would appear that the odds are in the Mets’ favor in a 5-for-1 or 4-for-1 trade.
Thoughts? Did I miss any blockbusters that might be representative?
About the Author
Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers.