As much as I love the Mets, the franchise has made a plethora of questionable moves over the years. While the infamous Tom Seaver trade has often been labeled as the “worst trade in Mets history,” there have also been many other minor moves here and there that I’m sure the organization wishes they could call “backsies” on. “What Could Have Been” will be an on-going series which will take a look back at these unfortunate transactions. Today, I will examine the trade that sent former Mets second baseman and easy Hall of Fame candidate, Jeff Kent, to the Cleveland Indians in 1996.
People often say it takes more than just hitting and fielding to make it in New York–and in regards to Jeff Kent, that was certainly the case. Most Mets fans don’t remember Kent for posting an impressive .279/.327/.453 line with 67 HR, 267 RBI, 244 R, and 12 SB over parts of 5 seasons, but remember him instead for his bad temper, lack of fan recognition, and run-ins with management (Dallas Green in particular). The notorious hot-head smacked 20+ HR’s twice in orange and blue, and posted a fantastic .292/.341/.475/.816 line in his first full-season for the Mets. Yet all I remember about Kent is him blatantly turning down my seven or eight year old self for an autograph–and it seems as though management saw the same Jeff Kent my young, disappointed self saw too.
There is no doubt that trading Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino to the Cleveland Indians for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza was a terrible trade, but at least the Mets weren’t the only team to prematurely dispose of Kent. In fact, the Mets had plucked the young Kent from the Toronto Blue Jays four years earlier in exchange for David Cone–a trade most Mets fans hated, and one that certainly planted the seeds for his departure in ’96. However, even though the Indians fleeced the Mets in 1996, they soon dealt Kent along with Julian Tavarez, Jose Vizcaino, and Joe Roa in 1997 to the San Francisco Giants for slugger Matt Williams. While Williams delivered his usual high home run total/low OB–arguably helping the Indians get to the World Series–he also fled Cleveland the following season, signing a long-term pact with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In retrospect, trading one standard year of Matt Williams for ten to eleven Hall of Fame seasons of Jeff Kent wasn’t a smart move.
For the Mets, it wasn’t until 1999–three seasons later–that Edgardo Alfonzo took the second base reigns away from Carlos Baerga, and wiped the “trader’s guilt” clean from the New York Mets. But post-Mets, Jeff Kent went on the become one of the best second baseman’s in baseball history. From 1997 to 2008, Kent posted a combined .295/.365/.516/.881 line with 299 HR, 1200 RBI, 1024 R, and 78 SB for the Giants, Astros, and Dodgers. During that span, Kent had ten seasons of 20+ HR’s, three seasons of 30+ HR’s, a 1.021 OPS in 2000, and was also a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger, a top-twenty MVP candidate seven times, and won the MVP in 2000. There is no doubt Kent’s stats benefited greatly from protecting Barry Bonds for six seasons, but it still doesn’t and shouldn’t stop Mets fans from wondering, “What could have been?”