As 2005 folded into 2006, the New York Mets hit a stride. For the first time in years, they were making trades—good, worthwhile trades—that actually benefited the team. They picked up first baseman Carlos Delgado for almost nothing, catcher Paul Lo Duca for the same.
Starting pitcher John Maine and reliever Duaner Sanchez joined the team in the 2005-2006 offseason, and starter Orlando Hernandez came aboard a few months later, in deals that helped make the Mets a near-indomitable force.
They were winners once again. In 2006, they made it to the National League Championship Series and in 2007 and 2008—riding on the backs of these trade-acquired stalwarts—they had winning, albeit disappointing at the end, seasons as well.
However, there were a few clunker deals thrown into the mix during that time—transactions that may have kept the Mets from being Pennant winners in 2006 and Division winners in 2007 and 2008.
Let’s take a look at some of those trades.
Mike Cameron for Xavier Nady
Don’t get me wrong; at the time this wasn’t a terrible deal. Only in retrospect can we see that the Mets gave up more than they received.
Defensively stellar outfielder Mike Cameron joined the Mets in 2004 and hit 30 home runs for the team that season. In 2005, he was having an even better year, with 12 home runs and 39 RBI (and an elevated batting average) through 79 games.
But he was involved in a terrible outfield collision with Carlos Beltran partway through the year, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. To complicate his stay in New York further, he had been shifted to right field from his natural post in center to accommodate Beltran.
By the end of the season, then, the Mets had in Cameron damaged goods that may or may not recover fully from his injuries and a guy who was being forced to play out of his usual position.
Trading him, and his pretty large contract, seemed like a good idea.
On November 18, 2005, he was sent to the San Diego Padres for outfielder Xavier Nady.
Nady spent less than a full season in New York, hitting .264 with 14 home runs and 40 RBI in 75 games before being sent to the Pirates. Granted, he was a big reason the Mets got off to a hot start—they were 46-29 in games he played—but had they somehow kept the offensively dynamic Cameron instead, they might have won 50 or 55 of those 75 games.
Upon leaving the Mets, Cameron averaged 23 home runs, 75 RBI, 81 runs scored and 17 stolen bases a year from 2006 to 2009. He was defensively superior to Nady, was quicker on the base paths and possessed greater power, too—Nady averaged only 10 home runs and 42 RBI a season from 2007 to 2012.
The Mets traded Cameron, a solid starting outfielder, for Nady, a marginal starter at best. It was something they had to do considering the circumstances, but upon reflection, they lost a lot in the deal—and gained little.
Kazuo Matsui for Eli Marrero
This one is not so bad because of what the Mets lost, but because of what they received in return.
Since joining the Mets in 2004, Kazuo “Kaz” Matsui had been nothing less than a disappointment. He was a star in Japan, but his success overseas didn’t translate into success in North America.
The middle infielder spent time at second base and shortstop in his two-plus years in New York and couldn’t find perform well at either position, either offensively or defensively—and 2006 was his worst year yet. In 38 games, he was hitting only .200 with a .235 on-base percentage.
By June 9, 2006, the now-second baseman had all but lost his starting job to Jose Valentin. The writing was on the wall, where it had been for weeks—his Mets career ended that day as he was traded to the Colorado Rockies for journeyman utility player Eli Marrero.
While Matsui was struggling and he had to go, the chip New York received in return was just as bad. They didn’t improve any, and if anything, the team got worse.
In short, Matsui hit .345 with Colorado to finish the season and remained a serviceable ballplayer through 2008. Marrero, conversely, hit .182 in 33 at-bats with New York and was released on August 9 of the season, never to see the big leagues again.
Jeff Keppinger for Ruben Gotay
Not many players have been on both sides of bad trades in Mets history, but Jeff Keppinger was.
When the Mets parted with Jose Bautista and Ty Wigginton on July 30, 2004, Keppinger was some of the unexciting crud the Mets received from the Pittsburgh Pirates in return.
But that unexciting crud was still better than what New York received when he was traded away on July 19, 2006.
Ruben Gotay came aboard and proved to be only a temporary lodger, as he stuck around for just 2007. He was a serviceable utility player (and he had the best year of his big league career) while with the team, hitting .295 in 190 at-bats, but the one decent year he gave the team does not compare to the many good years Keppinger has had since leaving New York.
He doesn’t hit for power and he doesn’t drive in many runs, but the defensively versatile Keppinger can sometimes hit for average and, notably, is one of the game’s hardest players to strike out—in fact, he led the National League in at-bats-per-strikeout in 2008 and 2010. He can also play all four infield positions with aplomb.
As a result, Keppinger, a utility player, has earned considerable starting time since 2008, averaging 114 games and 396 at-bats a year.
Gotay hasn’t even played in the big leagues since 2008.
Heath Bell and Royce Ring for Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins
During his five years in San Diego, Heath Bell was one of the best relief pitchers—and for the final three years, best closers—in baseball. Averaging 71 games a season, he posted a 2.53 ERA, while striking out more than a batter per inning. From 2009 to 2011, he averaged 44 saves a year and was an All-Star each season.
Reliever Royce Ring, for his part, had a decent 2007 with San Diego and Atlanta, posting a 2.70 ERA in 26 games.
The Mets look like fools, then, for trading them to the Padres on November 15, 2006 for outfielder Ben Johnson and pitcher Jon Adkins.
Those two spent a combined total of 10 games in New York, with Johnson hitting .185 in 27 at-bats and Adkins pitching a single inning with the big club—but hey, at least his ERA was 0.00.
Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens for Adam Bostick and Jason Vargas
Relief pitcher Matt Lindstrom never spent a day in a Mets uniform, so it is fitting that he was involved in a deal for someone who, likewise, never spent a day in a Mets uniform.
On November 20, 2006, the flamethrowing right-hander was sent with pitcher Henry Owens to the Florida Marlins for pitchers Adams Bostick and Jason Vargas.
Bostick never pitched for the Mets—heck, he never reached the major leagues, toiling in the minors until 2010. Vargas barely pitched for New York as he made two abominable starts for the squad in 2007, going 0-1 with a 12.19 ERA.
Lindstrom, on the other hand, became a serviceable relief pitcher; in his first two seasons in Florida, he averaged 68 games a year while posting a combined ERA of 3.11. In 2010, with Colorado, he had 23 saves ,and last season he posted a 2.68 ERA.
Owens wasn’t long for the major leagues, though one must wonder why. He made 22 relief appearances for Florida in 2007 and went 2-0 with a stellar 1.96 ERA. He allowed no runs in his first seven games with the team and had a 0.79 ERA in his last 12 matches with the squad.
That deal was a clunker for sure.