In 2003, the New York Mets were fully entrenched in the seemingly never-ending doldrums of struggle and loss. They could hardly win a game and when they did, it barely inspired confidence, for it would likely be followed by one or two more defeats.
To make matters worse, they didn’t help themselves by making many impactful trades to improve their lot. Even after going 75-86 in 2002, they hardly made any deals to make the team better.
And so, the team went 66-95 in 2003, which was to be followed by—not surprisingly—another losing season. Let’s take a look at some of the trades that made the team as bad as it was during those lifeless couple of years.
Jeromy Burnitz for Victor Diaz
Right fielder Jeromy Burnitz began his major league career with the Mets in 1993, but was shipped away and soon established himself as a true power threat in both the American and National League.
Skip ahead a few years to 2002. He returned to the Mets with some fanfare after hitting .251 with 34 home runs and 100 RBI for the Milwaukee Brewers the previous season. Surely, much was expected of him.
Much more than he actually provided, at least. In his first year back with the team, he was thoroughly disappointing as he hit only .215 with 19 home runs and 54 RBI.
But that was 2002. By 2003, it appeared he had righted his metaphorical ship, as he was hitting .274 with 18 home runs and 45 RBI through 65 games. He was on the rebound and was having, to that point, one of the best seasons of his career.
Alas, on July 14, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Victor Diaz and two non-factors, pitchers Jose Diaz and Kole Strayhorn (neither of whom would pitch for New York).
Though his average dipped following the trade, Burnitz still finished the season with 31 home runs and 77 RBI. He would follow that year with 37 dingers and 110 ribbies in 2004, then 24 home runs in 2005.
Victor Diaz, on the other hand, spent parts of three seasons with the team, two of which were mere cups of coffee. His best season was 2005, when he hit .257 with 12 home runs and 38 RBI in 89 games.
Burnitz wasn’t perfect, but he was a heck of a lot better than that.
Graeme Lloyd for Jeremy Hill
These are two names that many Mets fans, even diehards, likely did not know were even affiliated with the organization.
But they were, and one of them—relief pitcher Lloyd—did pretty well in his short time with the squad.
Signed as a free-agent in January 2003, the 36-year-old was coming off two lackluster campaigns in Montreal and Florida. Between 2001 and 2002, he posted an ERA of 4.74 in 150 games, a number that shouldn’t inspire confidence in a fan base tired of losing.
He quieted his critics in 2003, however, when his ERA dropped to 3.31 after 36 games. He even won a game while walking only seven batters in 35.1 innings.
All good things must come to an end, though. On July 28, he was sent to the Kansas City Royals for pitcher Jeremy Hill, who would never appear in a big league game with New York.
Following the trade, Lloyd struggled mightily by posting a 10.95 ERA in 16 appearances—but one wonders how well he would have done had the Mets decided to keep him around for the entire season. He had performed well to that point and would have likely continued to perform with aplomb.
Jaime Cerda for Shawn Sedlacek
In 2002, rookie pitcher Jaime Cerda performed extremely well in a relatively short stint with the Mets, by posting a 2.45 ERA in 32 relief appearances. It was the first time since 1985 that a Mets rookie hurler posted a sub-3.00 ERA while appearing in 30 or more games.*
*Roger McDowell did it before him.
Though he had some hiccups the next year—his ERA was 5.85 in 27 matches—he was still only 24 years old, meaning he had time to develop, improve and blossom.
Unfortunately, the Mets didn’t give him that time. Instead, he was sent to the Royals for pitcher Shawn Sedlacek (who, like all those mentioned before him, never actually appeared in a game for the Mets) in January 2004.
In his first season with his new team, Cerda posted a 3.15 ERA in 53 appearances, saving two games and finishing 16. Not a bad deal for the Royals, who effectively surrendered nothing to get him.
Timo Perez for Matt Ginter
Not only is this a bad trade because the Mets lost more than they gained, but for more, well, sentimental reasons as well.
Timo Perez…ah, the memories. After toiling in Japan, the 25-year-old debuted with the Mets in 2000 and hit .286 in 24 games.
He then became a vital cog in the postseason, batting .294 with three RBI in the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants and .304 with eight runs scored in that year’s Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Following his postseason heroics, he became a steady-but-not-stellar platoon outfielder for the next three years, appearing in as many as 136 games in a season.
Sadly, baseball can often be a cold and unsentimental business, and the Mets thought he was not solid enough to merit keeping around. On March 27, 2004, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for starting pitcher Matt Ginter.
Ginter spent only that season in New York, going 1-3 with a 4.54 ERA in 15 games (14 starts). Sure, he showed flashes of sheer brilliance—including a 22.2 inning stretch in which his ERA was 1.19—but overall, he was, well, just so-so.
Perez slowly declined for the next few years, until 2007, when he hit .389 in 90 at-bats for the Detroit Tigers.
And that final hurrah was the last Major League Baseball ever saw of the man, the myth, the most unlikely of postseason performers…Timo Perez.