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…
Browsing All Posts By Dan Capwell
Author’s Note: We interrupt the Spilled Milk Series to focus on a story that many of the current fans may have either forgotten or don’t know about. It’s the story of how the Mets missed their chance to extend their great mid- to late-80s run. As a courtesy to our readers and to help protect your valuable keyboard, monitor, or smart phone, The Mets Today staff will notify you when the “spit take” part of this article arrives. Next week, we’ll look at other big deals from the post-1986 era that didn’t happen.
Two events signaled the end of the Mets 1984-1990 winning streak. One is obvious and occurred in the 9th inning of Game Four of the 1988 NLDS. To paraphrase Casey Stengel: you can look that one up. The other occurred about five months later and while somewhat less dramatic than the events of that terrible October evening, had an equally devastating impact on the team’s immediate and long-term future.
First off a little brown-nosing–Joe’s article on what if the Mets hadn’t made certain moves was very entertaining and thought-provoking. Nice work boss! It got me to rummaging through the cobwebs in the corners of my brain. For reasons that are now apparent, I have stored a lot Met-related information there. I also have a copy of the revised Jack Lang’s The New York Mets: 25 Years of Baseball Magic, (which is now itself 25 years old) as the source material for this story.
As has been told and retold, the Mets have made some good trades, some bad trades and some God-awful trades. But, they have also failed to pull the trigger on several deals, deals that if made would have in all probability altered the course of the franchise. Do you remember these?
1.The Mets Don’t Get
The Mets are heading towards their first potential major free agent defection since the end of the 2000 season. In fact, throughout the entire 35 years of free agency, only a handful of key players ever left the team for greener pastures. This does not include a plethora of bad trades, bungled roster moves or the like, but players the team wanted to keep but couldn’t. Should the Mets re-sign Jose Reyes? Perhaps history will serve as a guide. For clarity the player’s last year with the Mets appears in parenthesis.
1.Darryl Strawberry (1990): Until recently the best offensive player the Mets have ever produced, Straw’s contract expired at the end of the 1990 season. At the time he was at the pinnacle of his career: at age 29 he was on pace the break the all time home run record and was coming off a 37-home run season. Darryl spurned the Mets, instead inking a lucrative five-year $22.25 million contract with his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers. He proved to be a bust in LA, hitting only only 38 home runs in three years there before being released. He drifted to San Francisco and then later to the Yankees where he enjoyed a revival of sorts, but his sure-fire Hall of Fame career when he left the Mets was lost in a haze of injuries and drug abuse. He has since reconcilled with the Mets and recently surfaced, warning Reyes to stay in New York. Hard to envision what could have happened had he stayed (many blame the influence of hometown friends on his demise in LA) but the cost of replacing him—first Vince Coleman and then Bobby Bonilla—ushered in a Mets Dark Age that lasted from 1991 to 1998 and the arrival of Mike Piazza.
2.John Olerud (1999): This one hurts. Ole revitalized his career in New York after then-GM Joe McIlvaine stole him from Toronto for Robert Person. Ole hit .354 for the Mets in 1998 and was the first baseman for “the greatest infield ever” in 1999. He departed after that season for his hometown of Seattle where his offensive revitalization continued. He also logged time with Boston and the Yankees before retiring with a .398 career OBP. To replace him, the Mets signed Todd Ziele, who did an acceptable job at first for a few years before departing via trade to Milwaukee after the 2002 season. The Mets could have used Olerud’s bat in the Subway Series and in their failed defense of the NL title in 2001.
3. Mike Hampton (2000): Mike arrived two days before Christmas in 1999 for Octavio Dotel and Roger Cedeno. He helped anchor the rotation in for 2000 NL Champion Mets, going 15–10 with a 3.12 ERA and winning the MVP of the 2000 NLCS. Then he departed for Colorado, making the infamous “the schools in Colorado are better” remark. Injuries derailed Mike’s career and his 8 year, $121 million dollar contract is widely regarded as one of the worst free-agent signings in MLB history. As compensation, the Mets received Colorado’s pick in the draft and took an infielder you may have heard of: David Wright.
4. Sid Fernandez (1993): By the end of 1993 season all of the shine was gone from the 1986 championship team. One of it’s last remaining links was El Sid, who’s pitching performance in Game Seven of the 1986 World Series is still one of the most underrated efforts in team history. McIlvaine told reporters he wanted to keep Sid, but instead the Baltimore Orioles signed him to a three year deal. Sid was clearly done by this time, lasting parts of two seasons with Baltimore and one season each in Philadelphia and Houston. As compensation, the Mets used Baltimore’s pick in the draft to get Jay Payton. One of the most enigmatic players in Met history, Payton overcame several years worth of injuries to hold the starting CF position for the 2000 champs.
5. David Cone (1992): OK this one doesn’t really count, as Cone was traded to the Blue Jays right at the end of August. But he was in the last month of his contract and it was generally assumed that he would not resign with the Mets. GM Al Harazin realizing Cone was leaving, went into panic mode and moved him quickly to the Jays. Backing up the old adage that even a blind squirrel finds a nut occassionally, part of the haul included an unknown second baseman named Jeff Kent. Unfortunately, the Mets didn’t know what they had in Jeff and watched as he fueded with teamates, the press and the fans until they shipped him to Cleveland in the ill-fated Carlos Baerga deal. Later Kent developed into a Hall of Famer with the San Francisco Giants. Cone went on to spectacular career: winning a World Series with Toronto and a Cy Young Award in Kansas City. He then went to the Yankees (they do have a fetish for ex-Mets, no?) where he won four rings, pitched a perfect game and got Mike Piazza out in a crucial spot in Game Four of the Subway Series.
Honorable Mentions: Al Leiter, John Franco and Mike Piazza. In all cases the Mets let these long-time stalwarts leave without an arbitration offer, meaning they had no intention of keeping any of them.
Epilouge: In all but one case (Olerud) the Mets guessed right in letting their big ticket players go. The haul in return was a franchise player (Wright), a useful piece (Payton) and the One That Got Away (Kent). The real lesson is the Strawberry situation. Just a hunch, but Jose Reyes’ .337 season and the NL batting crown is going to be as good as it gets with him. However, if the Mets are going to let him walk, it had best be as part of a plan for a rebuilding instead of a makeover. No trying to replace him with expensive pieces that they reward for their previous efforts with another team. They shouldn’t worry about what the fans think. The hard core fanbase will accept a rebuilding with a purpose. The good news for the Mets is that the hard core fanbase is all that is left them.
Taking a page from the 1985 classic movie The Breakfast Club, Sandy Alderson continued his “Don’t You Forget About Me” media tour yesterday, this time appearing with WFAN’s Mike Francesa.
Essentially, Alderson rehashed his SNY talking points from the previous day regarding the Citi Field walls, the young arms and the 2012 closer, but he also added tidbits about Jose Reyes and next year’s payroll.
Alderson called Reyes his top priority and expressed optimism that the Mets will keep their shortstop. He did however expect that Reyes will at least test the market by filing for free agency. “If he’s come this far, he will file,” Alderson said.
He also told Francesa that he has already been given the parameters for the 2012 payroll and they are “in line with what’s been discussed.” Francesa probed a bit on this one and gained agreement from Sandy that the payroll is more in the $110 million range than in the $70 million range. “That’s good news,” was Francesa’s reply, as he then gave an updated Yankees score.
Dan’s Take: I remain confident that the Mets have the right man in Alderson to lead them back to contention. I agree that those ridiculous dimensions at Citi Field must be changed, that the Mets need a better closer and that they must keep Reyes. I’d like to hear more on finding a left handed platoon for Jason Bay and getting a defensively skilled catcher, but it does sound like they have their priorities in the proper order as the offseason looms.
Joe’s Take:: As you might guess, I’m skeptical. To me this is Alderson acting as the talking head of the organization with the job of smoothing things over with the fan base, and to set the stage for the offseason stories. For example, he’s setting no expectations re: Reyes, but, he’s offering the possibility of changing the dimensions — it’s like a bargain.
Put it in the comments.
In case you missed it, Sandy Alderson appeared with Ron and Gary during the top of the third inning in last night’s Mets-Cardinals game. The Mets cooperated, scoring three runs, giving Alderson the time to respond from some frank questioning from Cohen.
Alderson admitted that the 2012 closer may not yet be in the organization and that the team will not use next Spring Training to decide on who gets the role. He blamed the recent dreadful homestand on the numerous blown save opportunities by the bullpen. Alderson also dwelled on the concept that this as-yet-undetermined closer may currently be a minor league pitcher on the verge of a breakthrough.
Alderson spoke highly of both Ruben Tejada and Dan Murphy, noting the Mets slide from contention began when Murphy was lost for the year. He praised Jason Bay‘s determination to work himself back to past performance and indicated that the starting rotation, plus Johan Santana will be much the same as this year. He also said that his staff will recommend changes to the dimension of Citi Field.
The New York Mets 1986 second base platoon will reprise their roles for a few weeks this month. Triple AAA Buffalo manager Tim Teufel will join the coaching staff this Friday and will stay until September 18th. From there, his former platoon partner Wally Backman will take his place until the end of the season.
He’s started a World Series game at Yankee Stadium, once dissed Miss Iowa and is a published author and poet. He is Miguel Batista and if the Mets at all want to add a little interest to the remainder of another season of broken dreams, they should call him up from Buffalo to take the rotation spot for the recently DL’d Jonathon Niese.
No, Batista won’t log many quality innings, nor at age 40, is he auditioning for a spot in next year’s rotation. What he might bring is a little quirkiness and character to a team that has been beaten down recently by injuries, bullpen meltdowns and mental mistakes. Batista is the author a 2007 thriller called The Avenger of Blood, a novel about a serial killer. He is also known for his love of philosophy and poetry—imagine a combined shut out by Batista and R.A. Dickey, now there would be some post game quotes! If nothing else, the Mets could urge him to slight other beauty queens the way he did Katherine Connors — then reigning Miss Iowa — back in 2010. (For those who have forgotten, Batista was booed when he replaced Nats phenom Steven Strasburg as a starting pitcher last year when Strasburg turned up injured. Asked later if it bothered him, Batista replied “no, I understand how the fans felt. It’s like going to see Miss Universe and getting Miss Iowa.” To which Connors replied, “I can pitch but I’d like to see Batista walk down a runway in a bathing suit and high heels.” They eventually made up and Connors was invited to throw out the first pitch at a later Nats game). Perhaps a bevy of beauty queens tossing out the first pitch for the remainder of the home schedule might bump attendance up slightly and make Jose Reyes more affordable to the Mets next year. If not, well there’s always Pat Misch.
The injuries to Niese and Scott Hairston might mean an early jump on the expected September call ups. Mike Nickeas has already been activated to replace Niese on the roster. In addition to Batista and Misch, some other names include Zach Lutz, Chris Schwinden and Jordanny Valdespin. As has been reported elsewhere, don’t expect Matt Harvey, Jeurys Famila or Reese Havens.