After the Champagne: Winter Doings of Past Met Champions
This offseason has just about had it all: a big trade, two free agent signings and the return of a trio of popular incumbents. A player wearing a Mets hat is going to the Hall of Fame. While transaction-wise, the Mets have had busier, splashier off seasons, unlike those other winters, they weren’t coming off a World Series berth. Was this year busier than normal for a World Series Mets team? How did previous Met front offices behave coming off previous trips to the fall classic? Here’s a hint: not very well.
Let’s take a look.
Reaction: Ugh. The Otis trade would haunt the Mets for the next decade. As was outlined way back here, the Mets nearly swapped Otis and Nolan Ryan to Atlanta for Joe Torre the year before. Old-timers such as myself can recall the days when third base was a black hole for the franchise. Foy was another failed attempt to fill it and it cost them, although not as dearly as their next attempt would. Marshall logged three seasons for the Mets as a part time outfielder. Sadecki lasted five seasons before being traded for Torre in 1974.
Reaction: If there ever was a time to re-tool, the winter after a veteran team goes 82-80 is it. However despite their pedestrian regular season record, the Mets had surprised everyone by getting to Game Seven of the 73 World Series (remember this was in the pre-wild card era). The brain trust decided instead to keep the team essentially intact. This proved to be the wrong decision, but they almost made an even bigger blunder. McAndrew’s career was over by this point, but Capra, finally able to get a regular turn in the rotation, had a spectacular season for the Braves in 1974. He led the NL in ERA. Injuries ruined his career from then on however.
• Mets trade Kevin Mitchell and two other outfielders to San Diego for Kevin McReynolds and P Gene Walter
• World Series hero Ray Knight signs with Baltimore
• Mets trade catcher Ed Hearn to Kansas City for David Cone
Reaction: The hindsight on both trades is far different than the immediate reaction. Most pundits liked the McReynolds acquisition as Mitchell was seen as a utility player. The Cone trade, made right before spring training ended, was overshadowed by Doc Gooden’s entry into rehab. Many saw it as risky, since Hearn had proven to be a capable backup catcher. McReynolds, despite being a solid player, never quite lived up to his expectations, a situation made worse when Mitchell won the MVP for the Giants two years later. Cone had a remarkable career that included stops with both New York teams, which was spilt by a return trip to Kansas City and a stint in Toronto. Without Knight and Mitchell, the post-86 Mets lost some of their swagger. It showed.
• Colorado signs P Mike Hampton (Mets draft David Wright with the compensation pick. Mets also lose SP Bobby Jones to the Padres.
• In one day (December 11), Mets sign Ps Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel OF Tsuyoshi Shingo (from Japan) and trade Bubba Trammel to San Diego for P Donne Wall.
• Endy Chavez is moved for the first time, to KC for a minor leaguer.
Reaction: This was the offseason the Mets passed on Alex Rodriguez, who really, really, really wanted to come here. Interesting to think how much different baseball history might have been for both the Mets and the Yanks if Fred had actually opened his wallet and paid the man. Trachsel hung around long enough to get lit up in Game 3 of the ill-fated 2006 NLCS against the Cardinals. Endy would return for one of the biggest moments in Mets history, although that memory will always be bittersweet.
Right now, Mets GM Sandy Alderson is riding a wave of popularity. Past transgressions are forgotten and even some of his harshest critics have praised his planning and his deal making. Soon comes the hard part: the start of the 2016 season and the task of taking the ultimate next step. With one exception, the Mets have never put together back-to-back playoff seasons. Now, it’s World Series or bust; a tall task for anyone.
So, here’s hoping for a re-run of this article next January with some additional (and happier) content.