While the New York Mets are more famous for bonehead trades and signings, that doesn’t mean they haven’t ever had a savvy transaction. To their credit, throughout Mets history, there have been some moves that have propelled the Mets from mediocrity to playoff and even World Series contention. “Amazin’ Moves” will be an on-going series that will explore these finer moments. Today, I will examine when the Mets traded for Mike Piazza in 1998.
Famously drafted in the 62nd round of the 1988 amateur draft as a favor to Piazza’s father, a close friend of Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, Mike Piazza not only became one of the game’s premier hitters, but is also, arguably, the best catcher in history too. Between 1993 and 2002, Piazza averaged a .322/.389/.579 line with 35 HR, 107 RBI, and 85 R. Mind you, he did this despite having to crouch for nine innings every game. The catcher was more than just a terrific hitter–he was also the face of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That is, until 1998.
Charismatic, dedicated, and talented catchers do not grow on trees, yet it didn’t prevent News Corps, the new owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, to trade the ever-popular Mike Piazza. News Corps feared that Piazza would command an unaffordable, long-lasting contract upon his free agency in 1999, so in an agreement made without then-Dodgers general manager Fred Claire, the Dodgers sent Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile to the Florida Marlins in exchange for Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenrich, and Manual Barrios. Just a week later, the cost-cutting Marlins flipped Piazza to the New York Mets for top prospects Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnell, and Geoff Goetz. The formerly “un-tradeable” Piazza was now a New York Met.
Unlike so many stars before and after him, “Pizza Man” did not fall pray to the big New York spotlight. Instead, he posted a sensational .348/.417/.607 line with 23 HR, 76 RBI, and 64 R in his first 446 PA’s as a Met. The following season, in 1999, Piazza’s 40 HR/124 RBI effort helped propel the Mets to their first playoff birth since 1988. Similarly, in 2000, Piazza’s MVP-caliber .324/.398/.614 line with 38 HR, 113 RBI, and 90 R were a main contributor to the Mets almost-successful World Series run.
In eight seasons (1998-2005) for the New York Mets, the Hall-worthy catcher, who officially retired after the 2007 season, owned a career .296/.373/.542 line with 220 HR, 665 RBI, and 532 R with the Mets. During his Mets tenure, he appeared in seven All-Star games, took home five Silver Slugger awards, and was voted in the top-15 for MVP four times. There is no doubt that Mike Piazza is one of the greatest Mets hitters ever, but whether or not he’ll go in the Hall of Fame donning orange and blue still doesn’t make the 1998 trade anything less than an amazin’ move.