New York Mets: Men Who Have Gone from Zeroes to Heroes (or Vice Versa)
The New York Mets just finished off their 50th season in the Major Leagues with a 74-88 season. During their 50-year tenure, the Mets have had their fair share of All-Stars, but have never had an MVP. They've had World Series heroes and future Hall-of-Famers.
But as many Mets fans can attest to, there seems to be some sort of black cloud hovering over Queens when it comes to true superstar talent. There have been countless players that either came up through the Mets' system, only to have huge careers elsewhere, or big-name players that came to the Mets, only to burn out and produce little-to-nothing for the Mets.
There are some instances that will be left off of this list. The Mets' absurd trade of Nolan Ryan to the Angels for Jim Fregosi has been well-documented. Same can be said for their acquisitions of Yogi Berra and Willie Mays, just before the end of their respective Hall-of-Fame careers.
So, let's take a look at some of the other all-time greats that were not great when playing in Flushing.
Who knows what the Mets' franchise would have been like had they given Heath Bell the chance to close in the Major Leagues. The Mets signed the burly right-hander as an amateur free agent in 1998. And while he was in the Mets' organization through 2006, he only appeared in 81 big-league games over parts of three seasons, never recording a single save.
In their farm system, however, Bell was racking up the saves—108 to be exact, over eight seasons. But clearly, the Mets' brass felt that Braden Looper was more qualified for the Mets' closer role than Bell. So after the '06 season, Bell was traded to the Padres for the great Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson.
And though Bell was initially blocked as the Padres' closer by some guy named Hoffmann, Bell soon was entrenched as the team's stopper. And did he ever flourish. In 2009, his first full season as the closer, Bell saved a league-best 42 games, in what was his first of three All-Star selections (to date). He followed that up by saving 47 in '10, and 43 more in '11.
Bell translated his San Diego success into a three-year, $27 million contract with the new Miami Marlins in 2012. Granted, his time in South Beach wasn't anything to write home about either. But at least the Marlins gave Bell the chances he deserved to be the team's closer.
Could it be that Omar Minaya had it out for the New York Mets? Well with the mess he made during his tenure as GM, it's hard to argue. Not only did he bring in the floundering contract of Jason Bay and Oliver Perez, but there was the glorious acquisition of Luis Castillo.
Castillo was a World Series hero for the Florida Marlins...twice. He stole 62 bases in 2000, and was a three-time All-Star with the Fish. But after a brief stop in Minneapolis, the Mets traded for the speedy second baseman in the middle of the 2007 season—which was his walk year.
Minaya liked Castillo so much, that he offered the 31-year-old a four-year, $25 million contract. Turns out, that contract would outlast Castillo's knees, and Minaya's term as GM.
Castillo only appeared in 87 games for the Mets in '08, and finished with his lowest batting average since his second full season in the Major Leagues. He had a decent bounce back season in '09 (aside from one particular dropped pop-fly in Yankee Stadium...), when he batted over .300 with 20 stolen bases.
But after another subpar season in 2010, the Mets released Castillo, terminating his contract a year early. He has yet to play a Major League game since.
Though on a wide-scale view, Castillo's numbers with the Mets weren't terrible, they certainly weren't what they were the Mets were expecting. Add Castillo's name to the list of Minaya's woeful acquisitions...
This list is not limited to just players—managers can also be represented, as evidenced by Mr. Art Howe. In 2003, Howe was tabbed as the man to replace Bobby Valentine at the helm of the Mets, and there may not have been a better candidate at the time. Howe was coming off of a first-place finish with the A's in 2002, his final of seven years in Oakland.
While managing the A's, Howe's clubs saw two first-place finishes, and two second-place finishes—including two 100-win seasons. Overall, he had a record of 600-533 in Oakland. He finished second in the Manager of the Year voting four times. So naturally, Mets fans were expecting Howe to bring that Bay Area magic to Queens. No such luck.
Howe spent two seasons as Mets' manager, and managed to improve on his first season by finishing in fourth place in 2004. Not only did the Mets finish in last place in the division in 2003, they had the second-worst record in the league. Howe was fired after the 2004 season, and has not managed a Major League game since (though his name has been linked to the Toronto Blue Jays' managerial opening).
The Mets had a decent 2001 season. They finished two games over .500, third place in the NL East. So, in an effort to have an even better 2002 season, they made a splash of a trade with the Cleveland Indians, acquiring Roberto Alomar, one of the greatest second basemen of the last 20 years.
Alomar's years prior to joining the Mets needs no introduction. Over a dozen All-Star nominations and over a dozen Gold Gloves decorated his mantle from his years spent in Toronto, San Diego, Baltimore and Cleveland.
However, his time in New York, however brief, was rather unspectacular, especially by his standards. Alomar spent a season and a half with the Mets, and managed to hit a total of 13 home runs and steal just 22 bases.
Of course, Alomar would go on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011. But his shrine in Cooperstown was all thanks to his years prior to joining the Mets. Perhaps Alomar should have just called it a career after the '01 season, as from 2002-2004, he hit .262 with just 20 home runs (with an additional stop in the South Side after his time in Queens).
Coming off of a 2002 season that saw them finish 75-86, last in the division, the New York Mets made a bold move. They signed a long-time rival, left-hander Tom Glavine, to a four-year, $42.5 million contract. Glavine, who turned 37 just before the start of the '03 season, had been a member of the Braves' rotation for the first 16 seasons of his illustrious career.
During his time in Atlanta, Glavine put together five 20-win seasons, and was named the league's Cy Young Award winner twice ('91 and '98). He was an eight-time All-Star with the Braves, and was part of the dynasty that also featured John Smoltz and Greg Maddux as part of one of the most dominant pitching staffs in history.
So naturally, when the Mets signed this future Hall-of-Famer, expectations were rather lofty and the fans had something to be excited about. But, like so many times before, this would turn out to be just another let down.
In his first season in Queens, Glavine finished with a horrendous 9-14 record with a 4.52 ERA—by far the worst season of his career, aside from perhaps his rookie season. He improved slightly the following year, gaining two more victories while maintaining the same loss total.
His New York legacy was capped off by his final start in orange and blue. On September 30, 2007, the Mets and the Phillies entered the day tied for first place in the division. The season rested on the shoulders of the 41-year-old ace, as the team squared off at home against the Marlins.
But Glavine would be less than stellar in this outing (insert understatement here). He was able to record one out, while giving up seven earned runs in the first inning—an inning he would not finish. The Mets lost that game 8-1, in what would be the worst start of Glavine's career, and were denied entrance into the postseason.
So even though Glavine did manage to earn his 300th career win in Queens, it's probably safe to say his best years were spent out of Shea Stadium...
In the summer of 1992, the New York Mets were muddling through yet another dismal losing season. So, as many sub-.500 teams do, they shipped an established, young pitcher (David Cone) for an up-and-coming slugger (Jeff Kent). Cone was due to become a free agent at the end of that season, while Kent was making his Major League debut.
Kent had a world of potential coming up through the Blue Jays' system. After being drafted in 1989, Kent went on to slug 41 home runs over three Minor League seasons, primarily out of the second base position. This was a small sign of things to come.
With the Mets, Kent never really tapped into that potential. In parts of five seasons with the boys from Flushing, Kent only hit 67 home runs with a mediocre .279 batting average.
However, after a brief stint in Cleveland, Kent went on to do huge things with his next ballclub, the San Francisco Giants. As a member of the Giants (alongside Barry Bonds), Kent became a three-time All-Star and was the league's MVP in 2000. He also helped the Giants win the pennant in 2002. In all, Kent more than doubled his home run output as a member of the Giants, in just one more season than he spent with the Mets.
After spending six more years in Houston and Los Angeles, Kent retired in 2008 with a total of 377 career home runs. The five-time All-Star will be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time next year, and while he will be up against some tough competition, as a power-hitting second baseman, he stands a chance of entering Cooperstown before all is said and done. Needless to say, he will not be donning a Mets cap if that day arrives.
It's amazing how things come full-circle, isn't it? Jason Bay was drafted in 2000 by the Montreal Expos as a 22-year-old from British Columbia. Two years later, he was dealt to the Mets in a Minor League deal. Just four months later, the Mets spun Bay around and sent him to San Diego (along with Mets legend Bobby J. Jones) for a couple of middle-of-the-road relievers.
In 2004, after being dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bay became a star. He won the Rookie of the Year award in the National League, after hitting .282 with 26 home runs in just over 400 at-bats. Overall, in parts of six seasons with the Buckos, Bay smacked over 130 home runs while playing a stellar outfield.
In 2008, the Pirates shipped Bay off to Boston, where he continued to torment pitchers. After putting together an impressive '09 season, then-Mets GM Omar Minaya decided to bring Bay back to Flushing. Minaya opened up his wallet and signed Bay to a four-year, $66 million contract—in what will go down as one of the worst free-agent signings in franchise history.
Bay's tenure in Queens will certainly be one that he and Mets fans alike will want to forget. He spent three years with the Mets, but only managed to appear in 288 games. He hit 26 total home runs (the same amount he hit in his rookie 2004 season).
Injuries and ineffectiveness made Bay's time with the Mets so painful, he and the team actually agreed to terminate his contract a year early, making him a free agent. And if one were to believe in Mets lore, then it can be expected for Bay to go on to have another All-Star caliber season with his new team in 2013.
It's always exciting when teams have a group of young pitchers coming up at the same time. The Braves had Smoltz/Maddux/Glavine. The A's had Hudson/Zito/Mulder. And in the early 90s, the Mets were supposed to have their trio—Isringhausen/Pulsipher/Wilson. Of course, that's not exactly how things turned out...
The Mets drafted "Izzy" in 1991, and he made his debut with the team in 1995. That year, he finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, after compiling a 9-2 record with a crisp 2.81 ERA in 14 appearances (all starts). However, that season would be as good as it got for Izzy and the Mets.
After two disappointing and injury-filled seasons, the Mets parted ways with the right-hander, trading him to Oakland in 1999. He immediately became the closer for the A's and amassed 33 and 34 saves respectively in 2000 and 2001.
After that '01 season, Isringhausen signed as a free agent with the Cardinals, and continued to be a dominant closer. He saved 47 games for the Redbirds in '04, and 33 more when the team won the World Series in 2006.
Injuries got the best of him again towards the end of the decade, and he missed the entire 2010 season. But, as fate would have it, Isringhausen inked a Minor League deal with the Mets prior to the 2011 season, and would become an integral part of their bullpen that season.
Interestingly enough, Isringhausen recorded the first save of his career in 1999 with the Mets. He recorded his 300th (and final) save also as a member of the Mets' bullpen in 2011.
Ultimately, his numbers with the Mets were not pretty. A 4.59 ERA over 113 appearances in parts of five seasons is not something to write home about, and certainly was not what the club was expecting to receive from one-third of the three-headed monster dubbed as "Generation K".
There isn't a bigger name on this list than the great Nolan Ryan. This is the classic case of what this list is all about. The Mets picked Ryan in the 12th round of the 1965 draft and he had his first full big league season in 1967. He spent a total of four full seasons in Queens, putting together decent but not spectacular numbers (29-37, 3.51, 487).
Then, prior to the 1972 season, the Mets—in need of an offensive boost—sent Ryan to the Angels in a package deal to receive Jim Fregosi. Fregosi was a six-time All-Star for the Angels, and was just two seasons remove from a 22-home run campaign.
Well, the rest of the story has been well-documented. Fregosi spent a season and a half in New York before being sent off to Texas. The numbers he tallied aren't really worth writing down.
Meanwhile, Nolan Ryan went on to become one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game. He would twirl seven no-hitters, strikeout an MLB-best 5,714 batters, and was eventually enshrined into Cooperstown. And other than the fact that he won a World Series ring as part of the 1969 Mets, his tenure in Queens has been reduced to a small footnote on his legendary resume.