New York Mets: The Team’s Worst Trades Since 2000, Part II
After the New York Mets’ World Series run in 2000, things quickly took a turn for the worst. The 2001 squad barely finished over .500, with manager Bobby Valentine finding himself on a shorter and shorter leash. The year 2002 was even more abysmal.
Their mediocre play in 2002 and the few seasons to follow could not have been unexpected, however, considering some of the poor trades the team made that precipitated their failure.
Here’s a rundown of some of the squad’s most egregious moves that took place during the 2001 season and offseason.*
*One trade you will find conspicuously missing is the deal for Roberto Alomar. While it was a disappointing trade, it wasn’t a bad trade per se—that is, the Mets did not lose much to acquire the future Hall of Famer.
They traded Alex Escobar, Matt Lawton, Jerrod Riggan, Earl Snyder and Billy Traber for Alomar, pitcher Mike Bacsik and a minor leaguer. All players just about equally bombed with their new teams, so the deal mostly comes out as awash in the end.
Todd Pratt for Gary Bennett
This was a catcher-for-catcher deal that didn’t quite work out for the Mets.
Todd Pratt was the Mets' more-than-reliable backup catcher from 1997 to 2000, hitting .282 with 15 home runs and 83 RBI in that span. He was a postseason hero*, an apt defender and a welcome veteran presence in the clubhouse.
*After hitting a game-winning home run in the fourth match of the 1999 NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks
To begin the 2001 season, however, the aging backstop was struggling. Through his first 45 games, he hit only .163 while posting on-base and slugging percentages that were barely .300.
Growing tired of his ineffectiveness, the Mets traded Pratt to the Philadelphia Phillies on July 23 for fellow catcher Gary Bennett. The team at the time was shedding dead weight for someone who was considerably worse overall, but who was an improvement over what the Mets had dealt with so far that season.
Long story short, Bennett played in only one game for the Mets while Pratt rebounded nicely and served as the Phils’ reserve catcher until 2005. He hit .311 in 2002, slugged seven home runs in 2005 and in 2003, the slow-footed big man even hit a triple.
For the Mets, Bennett was gone before anyone knew he arrived. To make matters worse, when they traded the one-game wonder away they received in return minor leaguer Ender Chavez (Endy’s brother, coincidentally), who never saw a day in the big leagues.
The deal, then, was tantamount to Pratt for a worthless minor leaguer. That’s…not good.
Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook for Bruce Chen
Was trading Turk Wendell, who was having another solid season out of the Mets bullpen, as well as Dennis Cook, who was rebounding after an off-2000, really worth the three wins and 4.62 ERA that Bruce Chen netted them?
When the Mets traded Wendell and Cook to the Philadelphia Phillies for Chen and minor leaguer Adam Walker on July 27, they parted with two pitchers who were a combined 5-4 with a 4.09 ERA. They were averaging 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings, while allowing less than a hit per frame.
Not stellar, but they were steady, dependable ‘penmen.
Upon their departure, the Mets’ bullpen began to struggle. Following the trade, reliever John Franco posted a 5.14 ERA and perhaps most egregiously, closer Armando Benitez blew three saves and put up a 4.99 mark in 30 games following the deal.
In return for the two relievers, the Mets received a subpar temporary lodger, who started 11 games for the club and went 3-2 with a 4.62 ERA. He surrendered 10 home runs in 59.2 innings, while posting a very mediocre 90 ERA+. Walker never pitched in the major leagues.
Rick Reed for Matt Lawton
It really didn’t seem like a bad deal at the time. New York was trading a reliable starting pitcher, Rick Reed, for a reliable outfielder, Matt Lawton. Though the positions were different, the deal seemed about equal.
Prior to the July 30 Reed-Lawton swap, the 36-year-old pitcher was 8-6 with a 3.48 ERA in 20 starts. He began the season 7-2 and, riding his early success, made the All-Star team.
Lawton was hitting .293 with 10 home runs, 19 stolen bases and a .396 on-base percentage, following up a strong, All-Star 2000 with an All-Star quality 2001.
Then the trade happened.
Lawton played in 48 games for the Mets, hitting only .246 with three home runs and 13 RBI. His OPS+ with the Twins was 119—it dropped to 90 with New York. His walk-to-strikeout ratio dove from 1.4 to 0.6. He struggled so very mightily and was quickly dealt away to the Indians in the deal for Roberto Alomar following the season.
Reed, too, struggled with his new team, by posting a 5.19 ERA in 12 starts to round out the 2001 season. However, the next year, he won 15 games for the squad.
Lawton didn’t even have a next year with the Mets.
Desi Relaford for Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Shawn Estes
Desi Relaford was a Met for only one season, 2001—but it was a good year, the best of his career.
Unfortunately for him and the New York Mets, he was sent to the San Francisco Giants on December 16 for two consistently mediocre players who had the worst seasons of their careers in 2002—while in Mets uniforms, of course.
Looking back, the logic of the deal does not quite make sense. During the 2001 season, Relaford hit .302 with eight home runs, 32 RBI and 13 stolen bases in a super-sub role. He hit well, he fielded well and he even pitched well, tossing a scoreless frame on May 17.
That year, Shawn Estes had a thoroughly pedestrian season, winning nine games and posting a 4.02 ERA in 159 innings. Tsuyoshi Shinjo, who started his major league career with the Mets and was making a return trip with the offseason transaction, hit .238 in 118 games.
Let’s look at the deal through a mathematical lens. We are going to assign Relaford a value of two, where two equals good.
We are going to assign Estes and Shinjo values of one, where one equals mediocre.
Mathematically, one plus one always equals two—in other words, two mediocres, when combined together, make a good. This deal in question, in a mathematical world, would equal out—the Giants would be happy with what they acquired and the Mets likewise.
Too often in baseball, however, one plus one does not equal two—both sides do not get equal returns. Instead, one plus one equals one, or even worse—one plus one equals zero. That is, two mediocres, when traded for a good stay mediocre, delivering unimpressive seasons for their new team. Or, they even become a bad, bombing most bodaciously.
That is the case here. Estes struggled, going 4-9 with a 4.55 ERA in 23 starts before being shipped off to Colorado partway through the season. Shinjo hit only .193 in 114 at-bats.
In short, the Mets swapped a player who performed well in 2001 for two players who did not. The result was the Mets saw their returns flounder in 2002, and were left wondering what if Relaford stayed with us?
Now that is a bad deal.