A Look Back at Mediocre Mets: Mel Rojas
If one was forced to pick a single, all-encompassing characteristic of the New York Mets as a franchise, it would have to be the team’s incredible knack of enlisting truly mediocre players. “A Look Back at Mediocre Mets” will be an on-going series exploring these types of players that fans loved, hated, but were regardless forced to watch. Today’s mediocre Met is reliever Mel Rojas.
Mel Rojas’ tenure with the Mets wasn’t long–just one and a half seasons to be exact–but it sure was memorable. Rojas was acquired on August 8, 1997 with Brian McRae and Turk Wendell from the Chicago Cubs for Lance Johnson, Mark Clark, and Manny Alexander. While McRae and Wendell would become serviceable members of the franchise, Rojas, on the other end of the extreme, became one of the most hated relievers in Mets history.
Rojas collected a whopping 122 Saves before arriving in New York, and most of which (109 of them) with the Montreal Expos. In fact, the right-hander owned a very respectable 3.04 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 2.34 K/BB in 509.6 career innings with the Expos. After nailing down a career-high 36 Saves and a 3.22 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 3.29 K/BB in 1996 for the Expos, Rojas was granted Free Agency, and signed with the Chicago Cubs. The 30 year-old reliever collected 13 Saves for the Cubbies by mid-season, but also sported an uncharacteristic 4.42 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 2.03 K/BB too. The Cubs cut their losses, and sent Rojas packing.
In 26.3 innings for the 1997 New York Mets, Rojas instantly became a fan favorite to boo. Even though the former-closer wasn’t handling the ninth for the Mets (that would still be John Franco’s role), his sky-high 5.13 ERA was enough to irk Shea’s faithful. In all fairness to Rojas, his 1.13 WHIP and career-best 5.33 K/BB illustrated that he wasn’t quite as bad as his ERA suggested he was, but even with those brights points, the reliever still regressed mightily in 1998. In his first full-season in orange and blue, the 31 year-old Rojas quickly sealed his fate as a sworn enemy amongst Mets fans. The righty pitched to the tune of a 6.05 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, and 1.37 K/BB in 58 gut-wrenching innings.
Needless to say, fans wanted Mel Rojas gone at any cost. And that cost would be Bobby Bonilla the following season. Rojas would go on to pitch one more season in the bigs, hurling for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, and then returning to the Montreal Expos–all during the 1999 season. He would end his Major League career by posting a career-worst 18.00 ERA, 2.21 WHIP, and 1.11 K/BB in 14 forgettable innings. Interestingly enough, the reliever did pitch for another four seasons in the Minors before officially hanging ’em up.
As painful as it was to watch Mel Rojas sweat on the mound for the Mets, some good did came out of the initial trade. For instance, Turk Wendell not only became a fixture in the Mets bullpen for parts of five seasons, but he was also celebrated as one of the franchise’s most beloved folk heroes. Shark-tooth-wearing rubber armer aside, Mel Rojas’ 84.3 innings as a Met was one of the most prime examples of Mets mediocrity, and his anti-success will forever be a hard feat to beat.