New York Mets: Ranking the 10 Best All-Time Midseason Trades

Shale BriskinContributor IIIJuly 19, 2012

New York Mets: Ranking the 10 Best All-Time Midseason Trades

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    With about two weeks to go until the MLB trade deadline, the Mets are certain to make at least one significant trade to help improve their team as it attempts to make a run for a postseason berth for the first time since 2006.

    The Mets are expected to acquire at least one reliever, whether it be a left-handed specialist, a closer or both. They are also expected to possibly trade for another right-handed bat. If the Mets can pull off a great trade or two, it could definitely improve their chances of staying in the race.

    Throughout franchise history, the Mets have been widely known for making poor trade decisions, whether it be during the regular season or in the offseason. Names like Jim Fregosi, George Foster, Juan Samuel, Ryan Thompson, Carlos Baerga, Billy Taylor, Mike Bordick, Matt Lawton, Jeromy Burnitz, Victor Zambrano, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo will make any Mets fan scratch his or her head.

    However, the Mets have also been able to pull off some midseason deals that have improved their teams in those respective years. Here are the 10 best midseason trades in Mets history.

    For the record, trades made in April after the beginning of the regular season were not factored into this ranking because they are "early-season trades."

10. Richard Hidalgo and His Huge Month of July

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    On June 17, 2004, the Mets traded veteran reliever David Weathers, plus Jeremy Griffiths to the Astros for one-time phenom Richard Hidalgo.

    The Mets had gotten two solid seasons out of Weathers, who had a 2.91 ERA in 2002 and a 3.08 ERA in 2003, but in 2004, he did not pitch as well, as his ERA rose to 4.28 before the trade. As for the lesser known Griffiths, he struggled mightily in the nine appearances and six starts he made in 2003 with a 1-4 record and a 7.02 ERA. He was out of baseball after one final appearance with the Astros in 2004.

    As for Hidalgo, he was struggling that year with the Astros, but had some good years in the past, along with one amazing season in 2000. That year, he batted .314 with 118 runs scored, 42 doubles, 44 home runs 122 RBI and a 1.028 OPS.

    After batting .256 with four home runs and 30 RBI prior to the trade, Hidalgo became a force in the Mets' underachieving lineup and singlehandedly carried the offense through July. He batted .294, hit 10 home runs and drove in 22 RBI for the month. Although he did not hit as well in August and went completely cold in September, Hidalgo managed to finish the year with a .228 average, 21 home runs and 52 RBI in 86 games as a Met.

    Hidalgo ended up signing with the Rangers in the following off-season and left as one of the Mets' more prominent "one-month wonders" ever.

9. Good Riddance Bobby Bo!

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    On July 28, 1995, the Mets did themselves a huge favor by trading away the infamous Bobby Bonilla, plus minor league player Jimmy Williams to the Orioles for outfielders Damon Buford and Alex Ochoa.

    Buford became a regular in the Mets outfield for the rest of the season despite batting just .235 with four home runs and 12 RBI in 44 games after the trade. In the offseason, he was dealt to the Rangers.

    Ochoa, though, was the main player the Mets wanted from the Orioles, and they were not willing to accept any trades until they could have him. After a brief September call-up in 1995, Ochoa became a part-time player in both 1996 and 1997. He batted .294 with four home runs and 33 RBI in 1996, but regressed to a .244 average, three home runs and 22 RBI line in 1997.

    Ochoa's hitting never lived up to its expectations, and the fact that Lance Johnson, Bernard Gilkey, Butch Huskey and Carl Everett were all better hitters did not help him get as much playing time as well. Nonetheless, he was a great defensive replacement and had a very strong arm in right field.

    Ochoa's greatest Mets moment occurred on July 3, 1996, when he collected five hits and became just the sixth Met to hit for the cycle against the Phillies. He was traded to the Twins for Rich Becker after the 1997 season.

    So if the Mets did not end up getting that much out of Buford and Ochoa, why was this trade great for the Mets? It was because Bobby Bonilla was gone and no longer a liability and a distraction until his questionable return in 1999, but that's another story. During his first stint as a Met, Bonilla had some solid years in 1992 (.249 average, 19 home runs, 70 RBI), 1993 (.265 average, 34 home runs, 87 RBI) and 1994 (.290 average, 20 home runs, 67 RBI), although none of those years were as good as the numbers he put up with the Pirates. Bonilla was even batting .325 with 18 home runs and 53 RBI before the trade, but despite the numbers he put up, Mets fans everywhere despised Bonilla.

    This was because Bonilla turned into a sideshow act for the Mets. When he wasn't hitting home runs, he was whining to his managers and teammates, calling the press box to complain about getting charged with an error and threatening sports reporters in the clubhouse. Furthermore, whenever trouble surrounded the Mets, Bonilla always seemed to be involved. When teammate Vince Coleman threw a firecracker outside Dodger Stadium that injured three people, Bonilla and Dodgers outfielder Eric Davis happened to be with Coleman at the scene. All those incidents, plus Bonilla's expensive contract, were the main factors as to why he ended up getting traded.

    Bonilla helped the Orioles reach the 1996 ALCS and won his only World Series championship as a member of the Marlins in 1997. After getting traded to the Dodgers for the 1998 season, the Mets re-acquired him for Mel Rojas. This time around, Bonilla was mostly on the bench and only made his Mets legacy that much worse. He signed with the Braves in 2000 after getting released and retired after spending 2001 with the Cardinals.

8. Lenny Harris, Pinch-Hitting Extraordinare

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    One of the greatest pinch-hitters ever, Lenny Harris spent two separate stints with the Mets. In 1998, he was acquired for underachieving reliever John Hudek and became the Mets' main utility player that year. He played every position except catcher and pitcher at least once and batted .232 with six home runs and 17 RBI.

    After signing with the Rockies in 1999, Harris was traded to the Diamondbacks after just 91 games. He remained in Arizona until getting traded back to the Mets one June 2, 2000 for the oft-injured Bill Pulsipher.

    Pulsipher was once a heralded prospect and the lone southpaw in Generation K, which consisted of him, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson. The triumvirate was supposed to lead the Mets to championships, but instead, all three ended up spending a significant amount of time on the disabled list as a result of Tommy John surgery and various anxiety issues. In the end, Pulsipher simply became a prospect bust.

    As for Harris, the Mets gained the better end of the deal, as Harris became another utility man and a second reliable pinch-hitter alongside Matt Franco. This helped the Mets gain better depth on their bench. For the year, Harris batted .304 with three home runs, 13 RBI and a .381 OBP. Despite not getting a single hit in the 2000 postseason, Harris scored a run in the NLDS against the Giants and drew a walk and scored a run in the World Series against the Yankees.

    In 2001, Harris only batted .222 with nine RBI, but made a name for himself on the final day of the 2001 regular season, when he broke Manny Mota's career pinch-hit record, which stood at 150. Harris remains the all-time leader and finished his career with 212 pinch-hits.

    Harris was traded to the Brewers after the 2001 season and spent 2002 in Milwaukee before splitting the 2003 season with the Cubs and Marlins. He then remained with the Marlins until they released him after the 2005 season. Harris retired and immediately became the Nationals hitting coach, which he held through 2008.

7. Out with the Old, in with the New

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    On July 28, 2011, the Mets traded away one of their core players, Carlos Beltran, and acquired a soon-to-be core player in Zack Wheeler.

    Beltran had been with the Mets since signing a seven-year $119 million contract in 2005. After an underachieving season in his first year as a Met, Beltran rebounded with 41 home runs in 2006, which tied the Mets' single-season record, drove in 116 RBI, scored 127 runs (another Mets' single season record), drew 95 walks and finished with a .982 OPS. He then followed with two more great seasons in 2007 and 2008, although not at the same rate as 2006, and got off to a great start in 2009 before a right knee injury ended his season.

    Beltran did not play again until right after the 2010 All-Star break. With a brace on his knee and having missed the equivalent of a full season, Beltran was not the same player when he returned. He struggled at the plate and was nowhere close to as agile in center field as he once was. This led to new manager Terry Collins deciding that Beltran would become a right fielder in 2011.

    With many people doubting if Beltran would ever revive his career, he did just so in 2011 with a .289 average, 15 home runs and 66 RBI before getting traded. It was the last year of Beltran's contract, and he and the Mets both knew he was not going to get re-signed, so the Mets let him get a chance to play with a postseason contender in the Giants.

    After getting traded to the Giants, Beltran batted .323 with seven home runs, including the 300th of his career and 18 RBI. However, the Giants ended up missing the postseason, and Beltran departed for the Cardinals, whom he signed a two-year contract with. He has had quite a season this year with 20 home runs and 66 RBI so far.

    In return for Beltran, the Mets got one of the Giants' top pitching prospects in Zack Wheeler. The sixth overall pick in the 2009 MLB draft, Wheeler was a highly touted pitching prospect and has had a great season in AA Binghamton this year with a 9-4 record and a 2.39 ERA.

    Wheeler is now considered the Mets' top overall prospect and should get promoted to AAA Buffalo very soon, and possibly the major leagues sometime in 2013.

    There are two different ways to look at this trade. Between the Mets and the Giants, the Mets obviously gained the better end because they have a top pitching prospect they can build around, while the Giants acquired a rental outfielder, missed the postseason and did not re-sign him.

    Between Beltran and Wheeler themselves, the Mets got the better end for this as well, but not by such a landslide compared to the two teams. Beltran has had a great season so far, but he is now 35 and nearing the end of his career, while Wheeler is still developing and has a very bright future ahead of him.

6. The Beginning of the Steve Phillips Era

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    On July 16, 1997, Steve Phillips became the ninth general manager in Mets history when he succeeded his former boss, Joe McIlvaine. The timing was rather surprising because the Mets had a surprisingly successful season in 1997, but it was clear that the Mets wanted someone else making the critical personnel decisions.

    Almost a month later, on August 8, Phillips made his first major trade by dealing popular center fielder Lance Johnson, middle infielder Manny Alexander and dependable starter Mark Clark to the Cubs for centerfielder Brian McRae and relievers Mel Rojas and Turk Wendell.

    After having a career season with a .333 average, 117 runs scored, 227 hits, 31 doubles, 21 triples, nine home runs, 69 RBI and 50 stolen bases in 1996, Lance Johnson immediately became one of the most popular Mets. He made the All-Star team that year and got off to another solid start in 1997 before shin splints caused him to miss over a month of the season.

    With a crowded outfield, plus Johnson being 34 at the time, the Mets decided they would be better off parting ways with the "One Dog." Mets fans may have been disappointed at the time, but eventually, it turned out rather good for the Mets. Johnson did not play to the same level as before with the Cubs, whom he played for through 1999. He signed with the Yankees in 2000 and spent a brief appearance on the major league squad before getting sent to the minor leagues. He subsequently retired after that season.

    Alexander was a journeyman middle infielder, who filled in for the Mets in 1997 at second base when Carlos Baerga was slumping and at shortstop when Rey Ordonez got injured. His numbers though were not too impressive. He batted .248 with two home runs and 15 RBI in 54 games. After getting traded to the Cubs, whom he stayed with through 1999, Alexander continued his journeyman career by spending time later with the Red Sox, Rangers and Padres.

    After a solid 1996 season of his own, in which he led all Mets starters with 14 wins, Mark Clark's 1997 numbers (8-7, 4.25 ERA) were not exactly up to par and the Mets decided to include him in the trade. After the deal, Clark made nine starts for the Cubs and went 6-1 with a 2.86 ERA as he finished the season with a combined 14-8 record and a 3.82 ERA.

    It would be Clark's last great season in his career. He went 9-14 with a 4.84 with the Cubs in 1998 before moving onto the Rangers and having two terrible seasons there in 1999 and 2000. He retired after the 2000 season.

    The main reason for this trade though from the Mets' perspective was because the Mets needed more bullpen depth to help bridge the game between the starters and longtime closer John Franco. Rojas, a former Expos closer was the centerpiece of the trade for the Mets. Ironically, he turned out to be by far the least useful of the new Mets.

    Rojas was 0-2 with a 5.23 ERA in 23 appearance in 1997 following the trade. He was even worse in 1998 with a horrendous 6.05 ERA in 50 appearances despite a 5-2 record. Rojas ended up being traded for an even bigger headache in Bobby Bonilla after the 1998 season.

    As it turned out, the steal of this trade for the Mets was Turk Wendell, who became one of the Mets' most dependable relievers from 1997-2001 and one of the best setup men in team history. Wendell turned in a 5-1 record and a 2.93 ERA as the Mets' primary right-handed set-up man in 1998. He went 5-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 1999 while setting a then-Mets single season record 80 appearances out of the bullpen, followed by an 8-6 record and a 3.59 ERA in 2000 as he helped the Mets get to the 2000 World Series.

    Wendell had a 4-3 record and a 3.51 ERA in 2001 before getting traded to the Phillies with his left-handed counterpart Dennis Cook. Wendell spent the rest of 2001-2003 with the Phillies and 2004 with the Rockies before retiring.

    Last but not least, McRae became a decent center field replacement for Johnson. After the trade, the switch-hitter batted .248 with five home runs and 15 RBI. However, he bounced back in 1998 with a career season that included a .264 average, 36 doubles, 21 home runs, 79 RBI and 20 stolen bases.

    In 1999, though, he regressed and was batting just .221 with eight home runs and 36 RBI before getting traded to the Rockies at the trade deadline. It turned out to be the final season of his career, as the Rockies traded him to the Blue Jays a week later. He struggled with his new team and retired after that season.

    There are many different ways to assess this trade. Between the two centerfielders, the Mets and Cubs pretty much evened out, as both Johnson and McRae did not play particularly well after the trade and both retired a few years later.

    Alexander and Clark did not contribute that much in particular to the Cubs during their respective tenures there, while Rojas was a disaster for the Mets and Wendell became a revelation.

    Thus, the trade overall did not give either team a significant advantage in the long run, but Wendell's dominance in the Mets bullpen was what put the Mets over the top as the winners of this trade.

5. Frank Viola's Arrival

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    The Mets made a few terrible trades in 1989, but one trade that year turned out to benefit the Mets. On July 31, 1989, the Mets traded Rick Aguilera, Dave West, Kevin Tapani and minor league players Tim Drummond and Jack Savage to the Twins for former AL Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola.

    Viola had helped the Twins win the 1987 World Series and won the 1988 AL Cy Young Award after going 24-7 with a 2.64 ERA. Yet in 1989, he wasn't pitching as well and the Twins decided to trade him. He went 5-5 with the Mets after the trade, but bounced back with a 20-12 record and a 2.67 ERA in 1990. The Mets already had one ace in Dwight Gooden, so adding Viola to the mix strengthened their rotation even more, and especially with Ron Darling and Bob Ojeda both declining.

    In 1991, Viola got off to an 11-5 start and made the All-Star team for the second consecutive season. However, as the Mets collapsed in the second half, Viola did not help the cause, as he went 2-10 in his final 12 decisions. The Mets then chose to not re-sign Viola after the 1991 season, and he then had two solid seasons with the Red Sox before injuries got the best of his career. He retired in 1996.

    As for the players the Mets dealt away, Tapani and Aguilera became key components of the Twins' 1991 championship team. Tapani went 16-9 that year with a 2.99 ERA, while Aguilera saved a career high 42 games as the Twins' closer. The other three players the Twins received did not make any particular contributions.

4. The Mets Acquire a World Series Hero

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    On August 28, 1984, the Mets made a huge trade and acquired third baseman Ray Knight from the Astros for three minor leaguers.

    The only minor league player that the Astros acquired that played in the major leagues was outfielder Gerald Young, who had a decent career with the Astros, Rockies and Cardinals. With this being said, the Mets became the clear winners in this trade.

    Knight spent the next two seasons with the Mets, and although his regular season numbers weren't exactly the best, he hit very well in the 1986 postseason. Knight platooned with Howard Johnson at third base both years. He only batted .218 with six home runs and 36 RBI in 1985, but improved in 1986 with a .298 average, 11 home runs and 76 RBI.

    Knight's play, though, extended beyond the statistics. His infamous fight against Eric Davis of the Reds was one of the turning points for the Mets in 1986. In the 1986 NLCS, Knight only had four hits in 24 at-bats, but became one of the big heroes during the World Series that year. He hit .391 with a home run, five RBI and four runs scored.

    In Game 6, Knight hit the game-tying single and eventually scored the winning run after Mookie Wilson hit the legendary ground ball by Bill Buckner. In Game 7, Knight cemented his World Series MVP bid by hitting a tie-breaking home run as he won the 1986 World Series MVP Award.

    Despite his heroics, the Mets decided to stick with Johnson as their everyday third baseman, which turned out to be great, as Johnson had a great career with the Mets. As a result, Knight was not offered a contract and ended up signing with the Orioles. Knight was heartbroken by this decision and has been quite bitter to the Mets ever since. For example, he was one of the few 1986 Mets that did not attend the 20th anniversary celebration at Shea Stadium. Knight's absence is probably due to him still being upset over the Mets not re-signing him.

    After a sub-par season with the Orioles, Knight got traded to the Tigers in 1988 and became a utility player. He retired after that season.

The Mets Acquire Their First World Series Hero

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    On June 15, 1969, the "Miracle" Mets acquired first baseman Donn Clendenon to platoon with Ed Kranepool in one of Gil Hodges' many platoons.

    After spending the first eight years of his career with the Pirates from 1961-1968, the Pirates did not protect Clendenon from the 1968 expansion draft. He got selected by the Expos and then got dealt to the Astros with Jesus Alou for future Met Rusty Staub. Being that the Astros had named Harry Walker, Clendenon's former Pirates manager as the new Astros manager, Clendenon refused to play for them because he did not get along with Walker.

    Clendenon was returned back to the Expos on April 19, 1969 as the Expos and Astros negotiated a new trade. He struggled with the Expos before getting traded to the Mets in June for Kevin Collins, Steve Renko, Dave Colon and Jay Carden. None of these players contributed much going forward, while Clendenon became a hero.

    Clendenon did not hit well with the Mets at first, but hit very well down the stretch as his team won the the NL East division title for the first time ever. He batted .252 with 12 home runs and 37 RBI that year as a Met.

    Clendenon did not appear in the 1969 NLCS, as the Braves used right-handed starters each game. However, in the World Series, the Orioles had some southpaws atop their rotation, and Clendenon made the most of his opportunities. He batted .357 with three home runs and four RBI en route to winning the 1969 World Series MVP Award.

    Clendenon went on to have a great season in 1970, plus a decent season in 1971, before playing for the Cardinals in 1972. He retired following the 1972 season.

2. A Piazza Delivery

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    In 1998, the Mets had some big decisions to make. Their two-time All-Star catcher, Todd Hundley, was recovering from elbow surgery and was not going to return until July of that year, and the Mets did not exactly have a suitable catcher to really replace him for the time being. Instead of making a big trade or signing in the offseason, general manager Steve Phillips remained patient.

    Journeyman catcher Tim Spehr ended up becoming the Opening Day starter in 1998, but broke his wrist on May and missed most of the season because of it. After that, the Mets tried out Alberto Castillo, Todd Pratt, Jim Tatum and Rick Wilkins behind the plate, but none of them proved to be particularly capable of holding an everyday job. Then, all of a sudden, the best catcher in baseball at the time was available.

    After rejecting a seven-year, $84 million contract extension, the Dodgers traded All-Star catcher Mike Piazza to the Marlins on May 15. The Marlins, though, were not going to keep him all season, as they had already done one of their trademark fire sales. As a result, the Marlins traded Piazza to the Mets exactly a week later on May 22 for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz.

    As soon as Piazza arrived in New York, everyone welcomed him with open arms. John Franco gave his No. 31 to Piazza and switched to 45, while Hundley played left field when he returned in July. Piazza boosted a then-underachieving Mets lineup and led them to falling just one game short of a postseason berth that year. Piazza batted .348 with 23 home runs and 76 RBI after the trade and then signed a seven-year, $91 million extension with the Mets in the offseason.

    While Wilson became a solid centerfielder for the Marlins for a few years, both Yarnall and Goetz did not end up doing much in particular. Piazza, on the other hand, continued hitting in his prime and led the Mets to a postseason appearance in 1999, plus a trip to the World Series in 2000. The numbers he put up with the Mets were one of the best in team history, and Piazza is in the top 10 of many Mets offensive career and single season rankings.

    Piazza is going to eligible for a Baseball Hall of Fame induction in 2013 for the first time. Once he gets inducted, it's pretty much guaranteed that the Mets will not only induct him into their own Hall of Fame, but retire his No. 31 as well. Time will tell how all that will unfold.

1. The Greatest Trade in Mets History

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    The greatest trade ever in Mets history occurred on June 15, 1983. That day, the Mets acquired former MVP first baseman Keith Hernandez from the Cardinals for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.

    The Mets had been struggling for years from 1977-1982, and general manager Frank Cashen knew something major had to get done. With rookie outfielder Darryl Strawberry already on the team, the Mets became a completely different team once Hernandez was acquired. Hernandez was arguably the greatest defensive first baseman ever and could certainly hold his own at the plate.

    However, the biggest turning point within this trade was that Hernandez's experience and leadership improved the Mets' team chemistry dramatically throughout his time with the Mets. He became the leader of the Mets' clubhouse and then co-leader once catcher Gary Carter arrived in 1985. His leadership helped teammates like Strawberry and Dwight Gooden excel at their positions and kept the Mets loose but focused at all times.

    Despite not being the best hitter statistically on the Mets, Hernandez finished second to Ryne Sandberg in the 1984 NL MVP Award and finished fourth in 1986 as well. In 1987, he was named the Mets' first team captain in franchise history, which was another sign of how much of a leader Hernandez really was. Former teammates wearing his No. 17 later in their careers is yet another example of how much Hernandez meant to the them.

    The trade that brought Keith Hernandez to the Mets is the best trade in team history because it ended one of the darkest stretches in team history and began the best seven-year run the Mets have ever had from 1984-1990.