New York Mets: The 10 Biggest Headaches in the Past Decade
With 2011 coming to a close and the Mets' 50th anniversary season around the corner, now is a good time to look back on the Mets' biggest headaches from the past ten years (2002-2011).
The past decade for the Mets was underachieving overall, as the team had a winning record in only four of those seasons (2005-2008), and within those seasons, they only won the NL East division title once in 2006. Bloated contracts, poor decisions and injuries definitely helped the Mets suffer in those years more than many people had expected them to.
Much of the blame for all this falls on the Mets' three previous general managers: Steve Phillips, Jim Duquette and Omar Minaya. Each of their starts of general manager were promising in the beginning, but by the time they all got fired, they were pretty much run out of New York due to some of the poor decisions they made.
Hopefully, this next decade will turn out better than the last one, but here are the Mets' ten biggest headaches from the past ten years.
10. Mark Corey/Grant Roberts
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The average Mets fan probably doesn't remember Mark Corey or Grant Roberts. The reason they are both on the same rank is because they caused problems for the Mets in very similar ways during the 2002 season.
Corey suffered a seizure in June of that year after a loss to the Braves. He collapsed right outside of Shea Stadium. The exact cause of the seizure was undetermined. He later stated that he had smoked marijuana that night shortly before the seizure, and this distraction pretty much was the start to what ended up being a lackadaisical season for the Mets.
At the 2002 trade deadline, the Mets were in second place with a 55-51 record. However, they tanked in the last two months and finished with a 75-86 record, including an 0-15 record at Shea Stadium in August.
In September, it was revealed that another Mets pitcher, Grant Roberts had been using marijuana as well, thanks to a picture of him hitting a bong back in 1998 was included in a Newsday article.
In the end, the Mets finished in last place in 2002, Valentine got fired immediately after and the 2002 Mets became perceived as a lazy team, mostly thanks to the headlines made by Corey and Roberts.
9. Roger Cedeno
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When the Mets originally acquired Roger Cedeno prior to the 1999 season, it turned out to be a great move as Cedeno batted .313 and stole 66 bases that season. He was a catalyst for one of the Mets' best offenses ever and proved his value to be good enough to get traded as part of the package that brought Derek Bell and Mike Hampton to the Mets a year later.
Despite trading him away, general manager Steve Phillips still wanted Cedeno to return to the Mets and eventually signed him to a four-year, $18 million contract in 2002. That was the real mistake.
Cedeno had somehow lost his speed and gained weight during his second stint as a Met. He batted .260 with seven home runs and 41 RBI in 2002 with 25 stolen bases and surprisingly low .318 OBP. 2003 was not much different as he finished with a .267 average, seven home runs, 37 RBI, 14 stolen bases and a .320 OBP. He was expected to continue being the catalyst he once was in 1999, but he failed to be that player in both seasons.
The Mets ended up trading Cedeno to the Cardinals right before the start of the 2004 season, but they had to eat a good chunk of his remaining contract as well. All in all, bringing Roger Cedeno back was certainly one of many moves at the time that the Mets would later regret.
8. Aaron Heilman
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One of the most infamous relievers for the Mets in the late 2000s would have to be Aaron Heilman.
The first round pick for the Mets in 2001, Heilman spent parts of 2003 and 2004 with the Mets as a starting pitcher, but converted into a reliever in 2005. His 2005 season was not bad, as he finished with a 5-3 record and a 3.17 ERA.
Heilman then became one of the more significant members of the Mets bullpen in 2006. He went 4-5 that year with a 3.62 ERA and had a solid season until the NLCS against the Cardinals. Heilman gave up the decisive home run to Yadier Molina in the top of the 9th inning in Game 7. The Cardinals went on to win that game and the World Series as well. As a result, many fans were quick to blame Heilman for the Mets not being able to get to the 2006 World Series.
Heilman's pitching never really recovered from that point on. He had a decent season in 2007 as the entire team collapsed in September. But it was his 2008 season that became the final straw for Mets fans, who by then were booing Heilman on a daily basis.
His ERA ballooned to 5.21 in 2008 and he became one of the biggest symbols of the Mets' 2008 collapse. By the end of the season, the Mets fans were literally pleading for Heilman to get traded, and that is exactly what happened. Heilman got traded to the Mariners in the following offseason in the trade that brought Sean Green, J.J. Putz and Jeremy Reed to the Mets.
7. Jason Bay
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The most recent headache for the Mets has been Jason Bay, whom the Mets signed to a four-year $66 million contract prior to the 2010 season in order to bolster the Mets' offense. In the first half of his deal, Bay has not lived up to his expectations at all.
Bay batted .259 with just six home runs and 47 RBI in 2010 before a concussion ended his season in late July. He did not produce any better in 2011 with a .245 average, 12 home runs and 57 RBI.
To Bay's credit, he has always hustled and played good defense, but the offensive numbers just haven't been there for him. Hopefully, this improves in the next two seasons or this could become one of the worst contracts the Mets have ever signed someone to.
6. Victor Zambrano
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Jim Duquette was not a great general manager for the Mets by any means. But what ended up costing him his job was the trade he pulled at the 2004 trade deadline to send top pitching prospect Scott Kazmir to the Devil Rays for Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato. While Kazmir blossomed into a one-time ace for the Devil Rays and led the team to the World Series in 2008, Zambrano and Fortunato did next to nothing for the Mets.
Zambrano went 2-0 in three starts at the end of 2004 and went 7-12 with a 4.17 ERA in 27 starts in 2005, but struggled mightily with control issues, which plagued him for the majority of his career. He then went 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA in five starts in 2006 before an elbow injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Pitching coach Rick Peterson claimed he could not "fix" Zambrano's control issues and this basically turned out to be a wasted trade for the Mets. Kazmir has not pitched as well since 2008, but having Kazmir on the Mets from 2005-2008 could have potentially helped the Mets gain more success around the league.
5. Roberto Alomar
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Prior to the 2002 season, general manager Steve Phillips thought he made a brilliant trade by acquiring Roberto Alomar from the Indians in a blockbuster trade.
What Phillips didn't realize was that by then, Alomar was past his prime and did not show any glimpses of what made him one of the best second basemen in the 1990s. Alomar did not bring the same defense that won him ten Gold Glove Awards at second base. He also did not provide the same hitting he once had while a member of the Blue Jays, Orioles and Indians.
Alomar batted .266 with 11 home runs and 53 RBI in 2002, but what was really surprising was his .331 OBP. In 149 games played, he only drew 57 walks. In 2003, he was batting .262 with two home runs and 22 RBI before getting traded in early July to the White Sox in one of the first moves made by new general manager Jim Duquette.
Roberto Alomar was one of the best Hall-of-Famers to ever wear a Mets uniform, but the Mets were not fortunate enough to see Alomar play at his best.
4. Mo Vaughn
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The obese Mo Vaughn comes in fourth and is the most noticeable symbol of the Mets' decline from 2002-2004. And yes, the pun was intended.
After being sidelined for all of 2001, Steve Phillips watched Vaughn hit off a tee and that alone convinced him that Vaughn would be the perfect clean-up hitter to bat behind Mike Piazza in the lineup. Phillips then traded Kevin Appier to the Angels for Vaughn.
By the 2002 season, Vaughn had only gotten fatter and less mobile in the field. He became by far one of the worst defensive first basemen in Mets history. Heck, even Piazza played the position better during his brief infielder stint in 2004.
But the Mets traded for Vaughn to improve their offense. In what was expected to be a 35-40 home run and 110-120 RBI season, Vaughn only delivered 26 home runs and 72 RBI to go along with a .259 average and .349 OBP. He also struck out 145 times that year, which was nothing unusual for the 2002 Mets.
If 2002 was a bad season for Vaughn, 2003 was simply horrendous. Vaughn packed on even more pounds in the offseason and only lasted a month into the 2003 season before his knees gave out and ended his career. He was only batting .190 with three home runs and 15 RBI before the injury.
The Mets kept Vaughn under their control through the end of the 2004 season as an insurance policy, but Vaughn's arrival ultimately helped contribute to the firings of both Phillips and manager Bobby Valentine, plus the Mets underachieving mightily in 2002 and 2003.
3. Luis Castillo
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One of the biggest causes to Omar Minaya's downfall as general manager was the four-year contract he gave to Luis Castillo in 2007.
Once Jose Valentin got hurt in 2007, Minaya pulled off a trade to acquire Castillo as the Mets' new second baseman. He batted close to .300 and had a .371 OBP at the end of the season.
Castillo's 2008 season though was not good at all. He was hurt for half of the season and when he was healthy, he batted .245 with three home runs and 28 RBI. By then, Mets fans were calling for Minaya to find a new second baseman. Minaya shopped Castillo in the following offseason, but did not find any takers.
During an altogether lost season for the Mets in 2009, Castillo was actually one of the Mets' better hitters that year. He actually stayed healthy and batted .302 with a .387 OBP. It was unfortunate though that this performance had to come during a forgettable season overall.
The Mets then became optimistic that Castillo had turned the corner, but still shopped him in the offseason and once again found no takers.
In 2010, Castillo started the season at second base, but due to injuries and his poor numbers, he got sent to the bench in favor of Ruben Tejada. Castillo was not happy and was outspoken about the way he felt the Mets were treating him. His average slipped to just .235 and he never found much of a groove offensively.
By the end of 2010, Mets fans wanted Castillo gone no matter what. And the new general manager Sandy Alderson did just that when he released Castillo during the 2011 Spring Training. The Mets had to eat the remaining $6 million of his contract that year.
Castillo briefly signed a minor league contract with the Phillies shortly after his release, but the Phillies themselves released him midway through the season and he never made a major league appearance throughout all of 2011.
2. Kaz Matsui
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Luis Castillo was not a good signing at all for the Mets at the time, but one of his second base predecessors was an even bigger headache for the Mets from 2004-2006. That person's name was Kaz Matsui.
Heralded as a premier power hitter in Japan, the Mets signed Matsui to a four-year contract to become the team's new shortstop.That signing became the beginning of the end for general manager Jim Duquette.
As a result, Jose Reyes was moved to second base for the 2004 season and this move was not good for either Matsui or Reyes. While Reyes got hurt and struggled at second base, Matsui struggled himself at shortstop. He committed a lot of errors and did not look comfortable at all that year.He batted .272 with seven home runs and 44 RBI that year.
Matsui and Reyes then switched positions in 2005, but Matsui was hurt during part of that season and only played in 87 games. He batted just .255 with three home runs and 24 RBI. By the end of the season, Matsui was splitting time with Marlon Anderson and Miguel Cairo at second base.
In 2006, Matsui got off to a terrible start and was only batting .200 with one home run and seven RBI before getting traded to the Rockies in early June for short-lived Met Eli Marrero. By then, the booing had only kept increasing and Matsui had clearly become a failure with the Mets.
The only notable achievement Matsui did as a Met was hitting a home run in his first at-bat of each of his three seasons on the team. In fact, his first at-bat in 2006 was an inside-the-park home run and the first on Opening Day since 1975.
1. Oliver Perez
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All of these previously mentioned players were very unpopular with the team and its fans, but none come anywhere close to how bad Oliver Perez was to the Mets.
Acquired from the Pirates in 2006 after the Duaner Sanchez taxi cab accident, Perez did not pitch particularly well for the rest of the 2006 season, but had two solid starts in the NLCS against the Cardinals, with the latter occurring in Game 7. The Mets did not win that game in the end, but Perez certainly gave them a chance.
Perez then went 15-10 with a 3.56 ERA in 2007 and surprised a lot of people while doing so. He had a knack for pitching well against good teams and pitching poorly against teams that were not as good.
In 2008, Perez went 10-7 with a 4.22 ERA. However, he led the National League in walks with 105 and had more control issues than before.
Perez was a decent pitcher at that time, but after the Mets decided to overpay with a new three-year $36 million contract, he instantly became the most useless pitcher, if not player, in baseball.
Perez's 2009 season was mostly lost due a recurring knee injury, but when he was on the mound, it was not a pretty sight. In just 14 starts, he went 3-4 with an alarming 6.82 ERA. The Mets even tried to not have him pitch often, but when he did, the games became forgettable.
After the 2009 season, Mets fans were hoping that Perez would get released or traded. Neither of the two happened in the following offseason and Perez remained a Met in 2010. He was moved to the bullpen in May of the 2010 season and repeatedly refused any minor league assignments, which only made his teammates and the fans dislike him more and more.
After refusing an assignment for the second time, Perez was placed on the disabled list and after being activated, he only made six more appearances after July 21, all in relief and all in blowout games. He was fittingly the losing pitcher in the final game of the season.
Once Sandy Alderson became the new general manager, he finally took action during the 2011 Spring Training and released Perez, thus ending Perez's time as a Met. The Mets ate the remaining $12 million left in his contract while doing so. Perez later signed a minor league contract with the Nationals, but did not make a major league appearance in 2011.