Was the original New York Mets free agent signing of Bobby Bonilla has bad as we remember?
We all know the drill. Bonilla is the poster child for deferred sports contracts even though it’s incredibly common with all free agents these days. Even in Bonilla’s time, many players were getting paid well beyond their time with the club.
Bonilla wasn’t always a joke in New York. In fact, when he first joined the Mets as a free agent in 1992, he was a man still capable of playing some fantastic baseball.
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In some ways, I think of Bonilla the same way many of us do Jason Bay. He was coming off of multiple fantastic years with the Pittsburgh Pirates when he signed with the Mets. How could things possibly go wrong?
Year one as a Met went poorly with Bonilla hitting only .249 with 18 home runs. The number of home runs he hit actually bested the previous year’s total.
However, he drove in 30 fewer runs and his batting average was more than 50 points lower.
The following year, Bonilla was actually an All-Star for the ill-fated 1993 squad. While hitting .265, he smashed a career-best 34 home runs and drove in 87.
As luck would have it, Bonilla was even better in 1994. In the 108 games he played, Bonilla had 20 home runs and a .290 batting average. If not for the strike-shortened season, he would have put up some numbers near or equal to his Pirates days.
When baseball resumed in 1995, Bonilla was still there. This time, in 80 games played, he basted 18 home runs with a .325 batting average. He was traded midseason to the Baltimore Orioles.
Of course, we don’t remember Bonilla for those better years. Instead, it’s his poor return that sticks in our memory.
Even though Bonilla’s numbers in the early part of the 1990s were good, in retrospect, the free agent signing was a bust.
It’s not all his fault either. The Mets dramatically underperformed in those years. A combination of aging players, injuries, and some bad contracts all contributed to a less memorable era of Mets baseball during Bonilla’s first stint with the club.
From 1992-1995, the highest winning percentage the team had was .487 in 1994. It would take until 1997 when Bonilla was on the World Series-winning Florida Marlins before they returned to .500.
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There’s no question Bonilla was a disappointment in blue and orange. However, as we’ve seen plenty of times, one man doesn’t make or break a baseball team. The Mets aimed for a star, landed him, and then lost the whole time he was here.