Spilled Milk Part 2: Missed Trades Since 1986
We’re back after a brief interruption on our look at deals the Mets didn’t make and what those deals could have meant to the franchise if they had actually been consummated. This week, we’ll take a look at some near misses in the modern era, which for our purposes span the last 25 years of Mets History, beginning in 1986. Speaking of that magical year…
1. The Ray Knight for Davey Lopes deal falls through, spring 1986. By this time, the Mets where rolling, coming off a great 1985 season and poised for even greater things. They also had an unwanted and seemingly washed-up third baseman in Knight who had hit a measly .218 the previous year. They thought they had a taker in Chicago (an earlier deal of Knight to Pittsburgh for Lee Mazzilli had fallen through) with Davey Lopes, the former artful Dodger, coming in return. Proving beyond any shadow of doubt that 1986 was indeed the Mets year, the deal fell through and Lopes ended up in Houston instead. Knight only went on to win the MVP of the World Series. Lopes just wasn’t the other Davey’s, (Johnson that is) type of player and it is hard to imagine just where he would have fit on that team.
2. Lenny Dykstra almost returns to the Mets, 1990. The Mets and the Phils made an in-season trade in 1989 that by the end of the season, nobody was happy about. Juan Samuel couldn’t play centerfield and shared a mutual dislike for New York and the fans, while the Phils didn’t care much for Lenny and his .222 batting average in their uniform, either. They offered him back to the Mets, who refused. The next year Lenny apparently bulked up on “vitamins,” and hit .325 for the Phils. Two years later he keyed their surprising 1993 NL Pennant winner. Meanwhile, the Mets struggled to find a replacement for him, both in the batting order and in center. Transpose Dykstra’s 1990 season from Philly to the Mets and our team likely surges past Pittsburgh and wins the NL East. Lenny is certainly no sweetheart, but that trade (and the no-return policy) is easily one of the worst in Mets history.
3. Ken Griffey Jr. spurns the Mets, December 1999. Gotta hand it to Steve Phillips, he wasn’t shy about moving prospects for veteran pieces. After the Mets thrill-a-minute run to Game 6 of the NLCS, Phillips put a deal together with the Seattle Mariners for their all-world center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. Junior was coming off a quartet of monster seasons in Seattle where he had hit 49, 56 (twice) and 48 homeruns. His bat, the story went, would take the Mets to the next level in 2000. The pieces included then highly touted outfielder Alex Escobar and pitcher Octavio Dotel, among others. For reasons that now escape me, the Mariners decided to move him and they accepted the Mets’ offer. However, as a five-and-ten player (five years with the same team and ten in the majors) Griffey Jr. exercised his right to refuse the trade. Instead, the Mariners moved him to his hometown Reds for Mike Cameron and Brett Tomko. This is one of those non-deals that worked out for the Mets. Griffey had one decent season for the Reds in 2000 and then slipped dramatically due to injuries. He never approached his late 1990’s production again. Meanwhile, Phillips refocused his attention and most of the failed trade package toward Houston and landed Mike Hampton. Mike won the 2000 NLCS MVP for the Mets and then left as a free agent, with the Mets getting a pretty good draft pick for him in return (David Wright).
4. Barry Larkin spurns the Mets, July 2000. What is it with these Cincinnati guys? In July of 2000, the Mets lost slick-fielding Rey Ordonez to a season-ending injury. So, Phillips put a package together for the Reds that included Escobar in exchange for their multiple All-Star shortstop and team leader Larkin. However, as a five-and-ten player and a Cincinnati institution, Larkin nixed the deal, ultimately denying himself a chance to play in the World Series. Instead, Phillips (he sure was a busy guy, ha-ha) dealt Melvin Mora to the Orioles for shortstop Mike Bordick. Mike had a momentous debut for the Mets, homering in his first at-bat as a Met and then breaking a bone in his hand later in the same game. The Mets went to the World Series anyway; Larkin did get 300 more hits in the next four years before retiring and “Esco-bust” was shipped to Cleveland in the ill-fated (for everyone involved) Roberto Alomar trade. Larkin is generally forgotten outside of Cincinnati when great shortstops are mentioned, but playing in New York could have helped both his baseball legacy and his wallet.
5. Manny Outlastings Mets Prospects 2005-2007. Admit it: you thought that Lastings Milledge was the next Gary Sheffield. You drooled at the thought of a homegrown outfield of Milledge, Carlos Gomez, and Fernando Martinez; a veritable Generation K of outfield prospects starring for the Mets over the next decade or so. And, when the Boston Red Sox whispered in Omar Minaya’s ear about a Milledge for Manny Ramirez deal, you shared with him your vision of Milledge as the next future star and the whole homegrown outfield thing. Perhaps you also grumbled on WFAN or on Metsblog about Omar’s predilection for acquiring veteran Hispanic players. What’s worse is that someone in the Mets hierarchy actually listened to me, I mean you, and nixed the deal, apparently numerous times. Instead “L-Millz” became such a clubhouse pariah that after the 07 season, Omar shipped him to Washington for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. Quite a comedown, eh? Manny stayed hot for the rest of the aughts, while Milledge played his way off of three more teams and is currently among a list of minor league free agents. Shame on you!
So there you have it, over 40 years worth of moves that weren’t. There are probably many more that were discussed internally between teams but never saw the light of day. For example, the Mets apparently had several offers for members of Generation K, but turned them all down. Phillips is rumored to have tried to trade both minor league prospects David Wright and Jose Reyes for various veteran pieces.
Next week: a gaze into the crystal ball at some moves the Mets might (or might not) make this off-season.