Earlier this week, I broke down the Mets worst free agent signings of the last decade, highlighted by the disastrous Jason Bay signing last year. Of course, the Bay signing was a double edged sword – the Mets get the bad Bay now, and missed out on the terrific Bay nearly a decade ago.
They traded Bay, along with Bobby Jones and Josh Reynolds to the Padres for Jason Middlebrook and Steve Reed in 2002. Bay would bash 181 homers over the next seven years, production the Mets were hoping for when they signed Bay last year. If only they’d held on to him back then, those homers would have been at Shea!
Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and the Mets have traded plenty of guys who turned into stars later on (Nolan Ryan anyone?). This list strikes a healthy balance between those guys who came out of no where to become stars, plus trades that looked bad at the time and got worse as time went on. Get ready for some All-Stars lost, outstanding seasons missed and an awful lot of valuable arms traded away for nothing. (All trade info from the indispensable UltimateMets.com)
Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino to Cleveland for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza
My grandfather rightly reminded me today that Jeff Kent was a malcontent and a bad locker room presence for the Mets, and no doubt that contributed to his trade. But Kent could flat out hit, clubbing 55 homers for the Mets in three seasons prior to the trade, all from a nontraditional power position. Cleveland flipped Kent to San Francisco, and he proceeded to hit 300 more homers with an .881 OPS for the next 11 seasons. Baerga hit .281/.311/.396 in his “best” year as a Met, while Espinoza barely saw the field and retired a year later.
Carl Everett to Houston for John Hudek
Another malcontent and full-on crazy person, Everett’s days as a Met ended after the 1997 season, when Everett posted a .248/.308/.420 slash line with 14 homers. Next six seasons? .290/.361/.509, with an .870 OPS and 22 homers per year, albeit for four different teams. Everett was a two-time All-Star and actually received some MVP votes for his 1999 season, when he posted an impressive .325/.398/.571 line. He also does not believe in dinosaurs.
Melvin Mora et al to Baltimore for Mike Bordick
Future All-Star Mora was sent along with three others to the Orioles for the delightfully crappy Bordick. Because when you have a chance to get Mike Bordick, you go ALL IN. Bordick hit .260 with a .685 OPS for the Mets in 56 games before returning to Baltimore in the offseason. Mora broke out in 2002 with 19 homers, then had three stellar years in a row: from 2003-05, Mora hit .312/.391/.513 with 69 homers and 88 doubles, made the All-Star team twice, won a Silver Slugger and garnered some MVP votes in 2004 with 5.4 WAR, while playing every position in the infield except pitcher/catcher. The 2004 Mets lost 91 games, by the way, with Kaz Matsui, Eric Valent, Daniel Garcia and the incomparable Joe McEwing all seeing time in the infield.
Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano
You knew we were getting here. For some reason, the Mets thought they were one piece away from contention, and went all in by giving up 20-year-old top prospect Kazmir for the openly bad 28-year-old Zambrano. This was an ugly trade when it happened, and got worse as Kazmir became a solid pitcher for the Rays (3.51 ERA, 742 Ks in 689 IP from 2005-08) while Zambrano allowed more than 240 baserunners in just 166 IP in his first full season. Zambrano posted a bloated 6.75 ERA in 2006 before he was mercifully cast aside.
Ty Wigginton and Jose Bautista for Kris Benson
July 30, 2004 – a dark day for Mets fans everywhere. Not only did the Mets give up Kazmir, but they traded away future superstar Bautista and the surprisingly useful Ty Wigginton for a pitcher whose sole claim to fame was his Playmate wife. No one could have predicted Bautista would become a premiere power hitter, but Wigginton had an .821 OPS with the Mets that season and would go on to hit 24, 22, and 23 homers from 2006-08. The only bright spot was that Wigginton was blocking some kid named David Wright at third base.
Heath Bell and Royce Ring to San Diego for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson
Bell enjoys nothing more than reminding everyone that the Mets gave up on him, and the stats just twist the knife. In 2006, Bell had a 5.11 ERA in 37 innings for the Mets. In 2007, Bell had a 2.02 ERA in 93.2 innings for the Padres, with 102 Ks and just 60 hits allowed. Since a somewhat off year in 2008, Bell has a 2.31 ERA and 119 saves, with 198 Ks in 183 IP and counting. Oof.
Billy Wagner to Boston for Chris Carter and Eddie Lora
Let’s say this one counts for several relievers the Mets have given up on too soon: Dan Wheeler, Octavio Dotel, even current Met Jason Isringhausen. Wagner had three very nice years for the Mets, filled with some notable meltdowns but a 2.40 ERA, 101 saves and a ridiculous 226 K’s in 187 innings. Wagner tore major ligaments in his pitching arm in 2008, and was out of baseball for a full year. All the time he insisted he wanted to come back from the surgery, but claimed he was done playing for the Mets. He came back in August 2009, and the Red Sox claimed him off waivers before the two teams negotiated a trade, because the Mets clearly figured Wagner’s career was over.
In 13 innings pitched for Boston that year, Wagner had a 1.98 ERA and struck out 22. The next year, playing for the rival Atlanta Braves, Wagner had a blistering 1.43 ERA, with 104 strikeouts in just 69 innings. His WHIP was .865, his ERA+ was an absurd 278. Opponents hit just .159 off of him, with a miniscule .493 OPS. Wagner then rode off into the sunset, while his Mets replacement Francisco Rodriguez brawled with his father-in-law in the bullpen.