Big Prospect Trades By the Mets

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?

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. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Micalpalyn January 18, 2008 at 12:12 pm
    OK I’ll bite.

    In 2001 Alex Escobar was one of the top prrospects in baseball. I still have high hopes for he AND Billy Traber. Alex Escobar when he does play gives glimpses of what F-Mart could be. But everytime he plays (it seems) in 10 games he goes down with an injury. Same for Traber.

    Johan: Metsblog has climbed in again and basically says the deal is all about F-Mart. I am not against including F-Mart. I think however that F-mart and Gomez should not be in the deal. I’d part with deolis but only because Brant Rustich and Eddie Kunz would remain.

  2. isuzudude January 18, 2008 at 4:20 pm
    Two deals you might have missed are:

    1. February 6, 1998 – Mets acquire LHP Al Leiter and IF Ralph Milliard from the Marlins for RHP AJ Burnett, LHP Jesus Sanchez, and OF Robert Stratton.

    2. November 25, 2005 – Mets acquire 1B Carlos Delgado from the Marlins for 1B Mike Jacobs, RHP Yusmeiro Petit, and IF Grant Psomas.

    Not mega-deals, but they do fall under the “1 superstar for a handful of prospects” parameters. Burnett was a big piece to give up in retrospect, but Leiter’s contributions to the late-90s playoff teams more than made up for it. Sanchez and Stratton were busts. And as stated in previous posts, although Delgado has yet to show his MVP-caliber form with the Mets, none of the players given up in that trade are coming back to haunt us, yet. So I guess these two examples further justify giving up the 4 or 5 prospects to get Santana, because the Mets have yet to get seriously burnt in this type of deal (although I’m not sure if any prospect we’ve ever traded within the past 25 years, with the exception of Scott Kazmir, has had as high of expectations as F-Mart, Gomez, and Guerra.)

    Another thought that popped in my head today…
    I think I’m finally understanding why the Mets are the frontrunners to land Johan. Obviously it appears as though the Yankees and Red Sox have the most prospects that the Twins are interested in swapping for Johan. Yet, both have been very reluctant to give them up. So this offseason I keep asking myself, “what in the world are these teams waiting for? This is the best pitcher in baseball, what’s the hold up here??” Both teams also have ample financial abilities, so it’s not like getting Johan locked up to a contract extension would be a problem. But I have to figure that both teams feel the can get Johan without giving up ANY of their coveted prospects. How can that be? Simple. Just sign Johan when he’s a free agent following this season. Both teams can blow Johan away as far as money is concerned, and both have to figure that Johan would be very interested in joining their respective organization. So why give up anything at all, especially a package of big-time, can’t-miss prospects, when next winter they can obtain Johan for a couple million Benjamin Franklins? And that’s where the Mets come into play. Perhaps they’d find a way into the Johan sweepstakes next winter, but at best they’d only have a 1 in 3 chance of winning it, and would likely find themselves in the likes of a bidding war we’ve never witnessed before. So our best way of getting Johan is trading for him NOW (or at least prior to this year’s trading deadline). Minnesota has to feel like they want to get something for Johan, even if it’s *just* the foursome of Gomez/Humber/Mulvey/Guerra…especially when the alternative is getting nothing in return when Johan walks away as a free agent. So if I’m the Twins, and I don’t pull off that deal before spring training, I’m playing a big game of chance with my future. #1, you’re risking a Johan injury, which would leave his value at zero. #2, you’re risking Johan looking subpar to begin 2008, decreasing his trade value. And #3, you’re risking becoming more desperate as the clock keeps ticking and the Mets don’t back off of their final offer. So the way I look at it now, the Twins are almost forced into trading Santana to the Mets before the start of the season, and it will only take them another 2-4 weeks to realize that they have to do SOMETHING, and that Omar is not going to give in to Minnesota’s demands. I think it would be a VERY tough pill to swallow for the Twins to wind up with nothing but somebody’s draft pick next winter when Johan signs with his new team.

    Then again, if the Mets slump to begin the new season, and Johan continues to pitch like Johan, then the Mets will become the desperate team, and may be forced to include F-Mart in the deal, along with whoever else Minnesota demands. It’s a big game of chicken. But in my opinion, the Yankees and Red Sox are out of the mix until next offseason, as they’re banking on Minnesota not making a trade with anybody, or at least on Johan becoming a free agent next winter.

    I apologize for my ramblings.

  3. joe January 18, 2008 at 9:45 pm
    Interesting stuff, ‘dude.

    First, regarding the Leiter and Delgado deals, I didn’t include them because they didn’t, to me, include a significant number of highly rated prospects. Though the Delgado deal comes close. Probably, I should have kept the Piazza deal out as well.

    As far as the chicken game, I think both the Bosox and the Bronxers are hoping the Mets get Santana and sign him for the long term — so that they don’t have to deal with bidding against each other again a year from now. If the Mets don’t get him before ST, though, I can see the Twins holding on to Johan until the trade deadline, when they can force someone’s hand — the Yanks or Red Sox in particular. Yes, there is a gamble in Santana getting hurt or having a down year, but from a PR standpoint it might be a better plan for the Twins. Right now, the Twins perceive the deals on the table to be not strong enough (despite what MN fans and bloggers think). If they roll the dice and something bad happens with Santana, they might escape criticism, citing that the “right” deal wasn’t there.

    I don’t think it’s a bad idea for the Twins to gamble and hold onto Johan until July. One of the Yanks or Red Sox will be in second place, and likely desperate to make a move. Similarly, if the Mets are anywhere but in first place, they’ll be much more willing to surrender to demands (see: Viola, Frank; Zambrano, Victor; Benson, Kris).