The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs haven’t made all that many trades in their history. However, when they do strike deals, they’re usually impactful ones.
In 2021, we saw the Mets buy Javier Baez and Trevor Williams in exchange for first-round draft pick Pete Crow-Armstrong. The final grade on this deal isn’t complete but it’s not going to go down as the best the Mets have ever made with the Cubs.
To find that trade, you need to go back to August 8, 1997. The Mets and Cubs struck a deal involving six players.
The best Mets trade with the Cubs brought them three impactful players
The 1997 Mets weren’t quite ready to compete but they got the ball rolling. The team was in a buying and selling mode mid-year. This trade with the Cubs was an odd one because the players involved were similar in some ways.
The deal included outfielder Brian McRae and relievers Mel Rojas and Turk Wendell going to New York. Lance Johnson went to Chicago along with two players to be named later. They would end up being starting pitcher Mark Clark and infielder Manny Alexander.
McRae was an upgrade over Johnson whose success in 1996 was beginning to fade due to injuries. Rojas and Wendell were meant to solidify the bullpen. Only Wendell would accomplish this. Rojas was not very good during his time with the Mets. He’d later get traded for Bobby Bonilla.
McRae’s better year with the Mets came in 1998 but because the Mets were able to flip him again in mid-1999 for Darryl Hamilton, we have to add a couple of points here. Hamilton hit .339/.410/.488 for the Mets in 189 plate appearances that season. He never would have represented Queens if not for the presence of McRae.
Then there’s Wendell. Everyone’s favorite eccentric reliever, he gave the Mets 312.2 innings of relief and a 3.34 ERA. He was especially good for them from 1998-2000, pitching more than 70 innings all three seasons and posting ERAs ranging from 2.93 to a still solid 3.59.
Over in Chicago, Clark would pitch well for the Cubs but after the 1997 season his numbers ballooned and he wasn’t nearly as good. Johnson would play well, too, but injuries prevent him from playing regularly for the rest of his career.
Honorable mention trades between the Mets and Cubs
Aside from the aforementioned 2021 trade deadline deal between these two clubs, there’s also the January 2008 trade that returned Angel Pagan to New York. Two years earlier, the Cubs had purchased him from the Mets. It was the first major league transaction between the two clubs since the trade for McRae, Rojas, and Wendell.
In the 2008 deal that returned Pagan to the Mets, the cost was two minor leaguers who never made it to the big leagues. Pagan would be a productive member of the Mets outfield for several seasons.
A little earlier in history, we saw the Mets rent Jose Vizcaino briefly thanks to a 1994 trade involving a minor leaguer and Anthony Young. Vizcaino had a short yet productive tenure with the orange and blue.
Even earlier than this trade was the 1981 deal that, like the Pagan trade, resulted in a reunion. Steve Henderson and cash were traded to the Cubs for slugger Dave Kingman.
None of these other trades would, however, help the Mets build a winner. The 1997 trade did.