On December 20, 1996, the Mets traded starting pitcher Robert Person to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for first baseman John Olerud. Olerud was perhaps one of the most under-appreciated and misused players under Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, and the Mets cashed in.
Despite emerging as one of the finest young hitters in the game during the 1993 season, Cito Gaston wasn’t particularly patient with Olerud. In 1993, Olerud led the league in doubles (54), batting average (.363), on-base percentage (.473), and OPS (1.072). He also collected 24 HR, 107 RBI, 109 R, and slugged at a .599 clip. Needless to say, Olerud was an extremely productive player. But the slick-fielding first baseman couldn’t quite duplicate his breakout success in 1994 (.297/.393/.477 line with 12 HR, 67 RBI, and 46 R in 453 PA’s) or 1995 (.291/.398/.404 line with 8 HR, 54 RBI, and 72 R in 581 PA’s). With a younger Carlos Delgado nipping at his heals, and a well-paid and highly-regarded Joe Carter assuming the designated-hitter role, there was no open slot for John Olerud on the 1997 Blue Jays.
The sweet-swinging lefty was shipped to the Mets (with a whopping $5 million) during the off-season in exchange for Robert Person, who had just come off a solid 4.52 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 2.17 K/BB in 89.6 IP campaign. Unlike Person (combined 6.18 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, and 1.46 K/BB in 177.6 IP from 1997 to 1999), Olerud immediately paid dividends for the New York Mets. In 1997, the first baseman swatted a .294/.400/.489 line with 22 HR, 102 RBI, and 90 R in 630 PA’s. Olerud only improved in 1998, posting his best season since 1993 with a .354/.447/.551 line with 22 HR, 93 RBI, and 91 R.
While 1998 was Olerud’s finest season in orange and blue, it was really 1999 where his bat and glove proved to have the most value. For the first time since 1988, the New York Mets made the playoffs, and advanced to the National League Championship Series. Olerud owned a stellar .298/.427/.463 line with 19 HR, 96 RBI, and 107 R during the regular season, but also formed a historically-magnificient defensive infield with Edgardo Alfonso, Rey Ordonez, and Robin Ventura.
The Mets granted John Olerud free agency after the 1999 season, and the 31 year-old signed with the Seattle Mariners. Olerud would make his second trip to the All-Star game with the Mariners, and also collected three Gold Glove awards. He retired after the 2005 season, which he spent as a part-time player for the Boston Red Sox.
Due to his sweet swing, on-base skills, and slick glove at first base, John Olerud was beloved by Mets fans from 1997 to 1999. Even if Robert Person had panned out in the slightest, the trade would still have been a big win for the Mets.