The early 2000s were a promising time for the New York Mets and the mid-2000s were an age of recovery. However, those lackluster years in-between were downright dreadful. In 2003, the team finished 66-95 and the next year, they were 71-91.
It was during 2004 and early 2005 that the team made some of its most egregious trades of the decade—they sent away future All-Stars and Silver Sluggers in those depressing days, while receiving little in return.
Let’s take a look at some of the deals that made the Mets as disappointing as they were in 2004 and 2005.
Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano
Mets fans the world over rue this most terrible of trades, in which the team sent 20-year-old top prospect starting pitcher Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for the perpetually mediocre hurler Victor Zambrano.
To this day, those Mets fans don’t understand the team’s convoluted thinking when they made that fateful July 30, 2004 transaction. This was a kid with a world of promise and upside that they were just giving away for a pitcher who had a 4.47 career ERA prior to the deal.
Kazmir went on to average 11 wins and 186 strikeouts a year from 2005 to 2008, getting a K more than one batter per inning, on average. He finished ninth in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2005, was an All-Star in 2006 and 2008, and in 2007 he led the AL in strikeouts.
Zambrano, on the other hand, went 10-14 with a 4.42 ERA in 39 games for the Mets. He was an All-Star zero times, he walked too many batters and in 2006, his final year with the team, he posted a 6.75 ERA.
(There were two other pitchers involved in this deal as well, but they were non-factors—the Mets sent Jose Diaz to Tampa Bay, but he would never play for them. The Rays sent Bartalome Fortunato to the Mets and in 17 relief appearances with New York, he had a 7.06 ERA).
Jose Bautista and Ty Wigginton for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger
In retrospect, this was a terrible trade for New York—but at the time, it didn’t look so bad.
The Mets needed to get rid of third baseman Ty Wigginton somehow, as David Wright was waiting in the wings and ready to take over at that position. They also needed a boost in starting pitching, so acquiring a player like Kris Benson, the under-performer that he was, seemed like a good idea.
The other names attached to the trade seemed like throw-ins. No one could have predicted Jose Bautista’s ascension to greatness and Jeff Keppinger was a mid-level prospect at best.
Bautista wasn’t a Met for long, either—in fact, he was in their organization for less than a day. He was acquired from the Royals on July 30, 2004 and was involved in this trade…on July 30, 2004.
As usual, things didn’t work out in New York’s favor. Benson made 39 starts over a couple of seasons for the team and went 14-12 with a 4.23 ERA—that’s serviceable, sure, but nothing spectacular. Keppinger hit .284 in 116 at-bats.
Wigginton, on the other hand, went on to hit 140 home runs as a non-Met, eclipsing the 20 home run mark four times between 2005 and 2012. He was an All-Star in 2010 and in 2008, he posted a fantastic 129 OPS+.
Bautista toiled in the big leagues through 2009, posting unexciting numbers for multiple teams, including his current squad, the Toronto Blue Jays.
Then, 2010 happened. And 2011. And 2012. Over those three years, he averaged 41 home runs and 97 RBI a season. He slugged .593, got on base 40 percent of the time and, as one of the best players in the American League, was an All-Star each season. In 2010 and 2011, he won the Silver Slugger Award.
He wasn’t a Met for long, but we had that. That guy who would go on to terrorize American League pitching was in our clutches!
July 30, 2004 was a bad day in New York Mets transaction history. They lost future All-Stars Kazmir, Bautista and Wigginton (who have six All-Star selections between them) and acquired, well, almost nothing.
The Mets traded gold for garbage that day, losing much and gaining little.
Dan Wheeler for Adam Seuss
Well, what you just read was depressing—but there’s more, so take a Prozac and keep reading.
Mets fans may vaguely remember Dan Wheeler—he was a relief pitcher in 2003 and 2004, but he didn’t pitch much and his time in New York, in which he went 4-4 with a 4.25 ERA in 67 games, was nothing to write home about.
What the Mets lost in their August 27, 2004 trade with the Houston Astros, when they sent Wheeler for career minor leaguer Adam Seuss, wasn’t an established superstar pitcher. Instead, they lost someone who would become one of the better relievers in the league.
In his first two full years with Houston, 2005 and 2006, Wheeler posted a 2.36 ERA in 146 games. He averaged 73 appearances, 22 games finished, 68 strikeouts and six saves each year.
Then, with the Rays from 2008 to 2010, he averaged 68 appearances and posted a solid 3.24 ERA.
What if the Mets had kept him around and he posted those stellar numbers with them, instead of Houston and Tampa Bay? Imagine how much better their bullpen would have been in the mid- and late-2000s.
Alas, imagining is all we can do at this point, as the Mets traded him away…for someone who never spent a day in the major leagues.
Vance Wilson for Anderson Hernandez
Compared to the other doozies of poor trades the Mets have dragged the team and its fans through, this one doesn’t hurt so much. But it still stings.
Catcher Vance Wilson was a solid backup, spelling the starters with aplomb when called upon to do so. He hit for some power (he slugged .427 in 2004), played solid defense (he had a career .990 fielding percentage) and he could throw prospective base stealers out with the best of ‘em (he led the league with a 49 percent caught-stealing rate in 2002).
Despite his upside, the Mets traded him to the Detroit Tigers on January 5, 2005 for young second baseman Anderson Hernandez.
For years after the trade, Mets fans would hear the same thing—Anderson Hernandez is our starting second baseman of the future.
Unfortunately, the future never came and by 2008, he was out of a Mets uniform, having been traded to the Washington Nationals. He returned briefly to New York in 2009, but was only used in a reserve role.
All told, the starting second baseman of the future hit .207 with a .256 on-base percentage in 222 Mets at-bats.