November is upon us, and that means it’s time once again to gather around the ol’ Hot Stove. This is a wonderful time of year when it’s totally permissible to let rampant speculations and our collective imaginations run wild.
With the 2013 World Series behind us, this year’s MLB free agency period is open for business. In line with Sandy Alderson’s stated desire to acquire an experienced catcher as insurance should Travis d’Arnaud incur another injury, I have already pleaded my case as to why the Mets should consider extending A.J. Pierzynski an offer. Otherwise, among the Mets’ primary needs are an outfielder-slugger, a starting pitcher, and perhaps a shortstop.
The GM/Owners Meetings will take place in Orlando, Florida, from November 11th through the 13th, and the Winter Meetings will run from December 9th through the 12th. The Rule 5 Draft then takes place on December 12th.
Those two annual baseball conventions have traditionally been fertile ground for trades. On that note, I believe the most effective way to improve this club is through smart and creative player exchanges. History also tells us some of the best trades are the ones you never see coming.
The following is a summary of just some of the major trade acquisitions negotiated by the Mets through the years:
- On June 15th, 1969, the Mets shipped two minor leaguers, Bill Carden and Dave Colon, along with Kevin Collins and Steve Renko to the Montreal Expos in exchange for first baseman Donn Clendenon.
- In order to secure Rusty Staub on April 5th, 1972, the Mets sent Montreal what was then considered to be a very worthy trade package featuring Mike Jorgensen, Tim Foli and burgeoning slugger Ken Singleton.
- Just over a decade later on June 15th, 1983, the Mets acquired Keith Hernandez from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. Then on December 10th, 1984, the Mets and Montreal Expos negotiated yet another high profile trade, when the Mets acquired catcher Gary Carter in exchange for Hubie Brooks, Floyd Youmans, Herm Winningham and Mike Fitzgerald. In November of 1985, the Mets and Red Sox pulled off an eight player trade (4 for 4) which landed the Mets Bob Ojeda.
- On December 11th, 1986, the newly crowned champion Mets and Padres pulled off an eight player trade. In exchange for Kevin McReynolds and two other inconsequential players, the Mets sent San Diego minor leaguers Kevin Armstrong and Kevin Brown, along with Shawn Abner, Stan Jefferson and Kevin Mitchell. Then on July 31st, 1989, the Mets sent Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, David West, Tim Drummond, and Jack Savage to the Minnesota Twins for Frank Viola.
- After the 1997 World Series, the Florida Marlins began dismantling their championship team in earnest before the celebratory champagne could dry from the locker room rugs. On February 6th, 1998, the Mets traded minor leaguers Robert Stratton, A.J. Burnett and Jesus Sanchez for the services of Al Leiter and a second inconsequential player. Then on May 22nd, 1998, the Mets again partook in the continuing Marlins fire sale, and acquired Mike Piazza in exchange for Ed Yarnall, Geoff Goetz and Preston Wilson. To cap off the team that won the 2000 N.L. title, on December 29th, 1999, the Mets and Astros struck a five player deal. The Mets sent Houston minor leaguer Kyle Kessel, Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel in exchange for Mike Hampton and Derek Bell.
- On November 24th, 2005 the Mets sent minor leaguer Grant Psomas, Mike Jacobs and Yusmeiro Petit to the Marlins for slugger Carlos Delgado.
- More recently, on February 2nd, 2008 the Mets traded Kevin Mulvey, Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber and minor leaguer Deolis Guerra for Minnesota’s Johan Santana.
Also consider what the Toronto Blue Jays paid to acquire R.A. Dickey. I’ll even go off the Mets reservation, and recall the time Omar Minaya, then GM of the Montreal Expos, traded Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Lee Stevens and Brandon Phillips to Cleveland in exchange for Bartolo Colon. I’ll take it a step further by bringing up the Mets all-time worst (disaster) transaction - The Cincinnati Reds sent four players – Doug Flynn, Pat Zachry, Dan Norman, and the hook of the trade, Steve Henderson – to the Mets in exchange for Tom Seaver. That trade stands alone however, as the Mets knew they were getting fleeced, but were helpless to prevent it.
In hindsight, some of the more high profile players the Mets traded away turned out to be Ken Singleton, Neil Allen, Hubie Brooks, Kevin Brown, Kevin Mitchell, Rick Aguilera, A.J. Burnett, and most recently Carlos Gomez has realized his worth.
I hope you enjoyed that trip down memory lane, but such is life. My point was to demonstrate the cost of negotiating premium trades. If the Mets have designs on acquiring a high impact player, they must be prepared to ante up. On average, it took 3.7 players to get the above deals done. Frank Viola and Kevin McReynolds cost the post-1986 champs five players apiece. Donn Clendenon, Gary Carter and Johan Santana were the second most costly acquisitions at four players each. But generally speaking, whether any given player pans out, prospect or otherwise, is of no matter on trade day. The only thing that matters is what both general managers think of a given player(s) at the time of the deal.
In three years, Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi have affected great change throughout the Mets farm system. We now have enough minor league prospects on the display shelf that allows prospective teams to shop, while still leaving enough talent left over for the Mets to keep and utilize. Recently, I posted my version of the Mets top 30 prospects. In order to facilitate one or two trades similar to the ones mentioned above, upwards of six or seven players and/or prospects might be needed. The Mets have assembled a surplus of young right-handed pitching in their system, which ideally makes for a good jumping off point heading into potential negotiations.
The Mets no doubt have many important decisions to make in the short time between now and, say, the Rule 5 draft. Some decisions revolve around current player personnel, while some very critical decisions will involve the organization’s collective resolve, or stomach for reassuming player salary risk again. I trust that Sandy Alderson will delve into this year’s free agent pool smartly, but if we have him gauged correctly, he’ll do so deliberately as well, which is fine. I do not feel the Mets need to over-extend themselves trying to plug all their holes at once through free agency. That may work in other parts of the city, but in Queens, that is clearly not feasible, nor welcome for that matter.
New York Mets success has historically been built on the foundations of a strong farm system, with an emphasis on developing strong pitching, which in turn provided them with the ability to procure premium players through trades. Donn Clendenon, Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter, then Mike Piazza, and even Carlos Delgado to some extent, were all fortune changers for the Mets.
Circling back to Piazza, the number of players transacted by Steve Phillips and the Mets between 1998 and 1999 was extraordinary. The Mets shipped out nine combined players and prospects over the course of three trades, all after harvesting the farm for the likes of Edgardo Alfonzo, Jeromy Burnitz, Todd Hundley, and the unfortunately doomed Generation-K, among others, for themselves first.
But as was the case with Keith Hernandez, Mike Piazza and Johan Santana, the Mets ensured their continued service with the club by signing them to lucrative contract extensions. So, trading prospects is nice, but you still eventually have to show these guys the money.