New York Mets News

What Could Have Been — Jason Isringhausen

By Unknown author

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 pitcher Jason “Izzy” Isringhausen, to the Oakland Athletics in 1999.

In 1995, the Mets proudly unveiled “Generation K,” a trio of pitching prospects that were seen as the return to greatness. The successful Mets of the 1980’s relied dearly on homegrown talent like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden to be the focal points of their offense and starting rotation, respectively. However, with Strawberry and Gooden straying from the pack, the Mets found themselves in the bottom of the standings during the early 1990’s. But Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson, and of course, Jason Isringhausen–otherwise known as “Generation K”–were seen as the yellow brick road back to the top.

As often happens with premature, inordinately high expectations, there were low results–very low results. The trio developed sever injury issues, and were all more ineffective than the next. Young Isringhausen showed a ton of promise in his debut at age 22, posting 9 Wins, a 2.81 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9 IP, and 5.3 K/9 IP in 93 IP, but the rest of his innings in orange and blue were less enthralling. The big righty toiled in the majors from 1996 to 1997, posting a combined 5.19 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 4.2 BB/9 IP, and 6.2 K/9 IP in 201.3 IP. Most of those innings occurred in 1996, as Izzy developed injuries including tuberculosis, a broken wrist, and two major operations on his pitching arm, which knocked him out for most of 1997, and all of 1998.

Isringhausen was healthy in 1999, but health didn’t equal success for the now 26 year-old. As a result, Izzy was shipped off to the Oakland Athletics with Greg McMichael for closer, Billy Taylor. While Taylor never lived up to replacing the ancient John Franco, Isringhausen, on the other hand, flourished in his new role as the A’s closer. Over 2.5 seasons as the Athlethics closer, the righty pitched to the tune of 10 Wins, 75 Saves, 3.04 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 3.6 BB/9 IP, and 8.2 K/9 IP.

Now an established major league closer, Izzy became too expensive for the A’s, so he was granted free agency, and signed a four year, $27 million pact with the St. Louis Cardinals. Considering Isringhausen was a tremendous injury risk just a few years earlier, the deal appeared to be questionable–but the bold move paid off well as Izzy become one of the premier closers over the next six seasons with the Cardinals. From ages 29 to 34, the dominant closer owned a combined 16 Wins, 205 Saves, 2.66 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9 IP, and 8.4 K/9 IP in 365.3 IP.

However, in 2008, Isringhausen began to look like his old injured self. He posted his lowest innings total since 1999 (42.3 IP), along with just 12 Saves, a 5.70 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 4.6 BB/9 IP, and 7.6 K/9 IP. It looked as though the former feared reliever was toast when his 2009 “comeback” with the Tampa Bay Rays resulted in his third major arm surgery. Despite the odds, Izzy again pitched in 2010–this time for the Reds Triple-A franchise–but only managed an unremarkable 9.53 ERA, 1.94 WHIP, 5 K’s, and 7 BB’s in 5.6 innings.

Retirement loomed, but Isringhausen still felt he had something left in the tank. So in 2011, he called the team that drafted him, the New York Mets, to ask for an audition. Izzy returned to Port St. Lucie, where he stood as a young 22 year-old 16 years earlier, and after a bullpen session where he “threw the ball well,” Isringhausen received a minor league deal, and an invite to Spring Training. As nostalgic as it is for Izzy and fans to see the former farmhand back where it all started, the prospect of Jason Isringhausen taking the ball in the 9th instead of Billy Taylor, Armando Benitez, and Braden Looper, still reminds us tortured Mets souls, “What could have been?”