Over time, the amount of criticism Major League Baseball teams take from fans regarding their transactions seems to be escalating and increasing. In particular, the New York Mets have taken a beating from journalists and fans for bad signings and failed trades. Yours truly has been one of those critics.
However, it recently dawned on me that every once in a while, the Mets will actually make a worthwhile acquisition. Of course, these get overshadowed by the Jason Bays, Roberto Alomars and Bobby Bonillas of the world.
But let's give credit where credit is due and look back at some of the team's greatest trades and free agent signings over the history of the Mets' franchise.
The free-agent signing of Robin Ventura tends to fly under the radar a bit, though it's hard to understand why that is. Ventura, of course, is most remembered for hitting the infamous grand-slam single against the Braves in Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS.
But Ventura was much more than that for the Mets. The team signed him to a four-year, $32 million contract prior to the '99 season. Ventura was bringing his five Gold Gloves to Shea Stadium, where the Mets already had a solid infield defense. The 1999 season featured the infield quartet of Ventura, John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo and Rey Ordonez. The four helped the team to a league-best .989 fielding percentage—there was a total of 27 errors committed by this combo.
Overall, in the four years he spent in Queens, Ventura amassed 77 home runs and 260 RBI, essentially keeping the hot corner warm for an up-and-coming David Wright. The switch-hitting slugger definitely gave the Mets the bang for their buck.
Prior to the 2005 season, the Florida Marlins inked left-handed slugger Carlos Delgado to a 4-year, $52 million contract. And after one season with the first baseman, the Fish decided they were unable to afford his services, and traded him to the Mets in exchange for prospect Mike Jacobs and pitcher Yusmeiro Petit (the Marlins also sent $7 million to the Mets as part of the deal).
The deal certainly worked out in the Mets' favor. Mike Jacobs would end up having a couple of decent years in Florida, but never lived up to his potential. Meanwhile, Delgado smashed 100 home runs with the Mets from '06-'08 while collecting 316 RBI with a slash line of .265/.349/.505. He helped the Mets reach the NLCS in 2006, and was a stable veteran presence for the up-and-coming David Wright to learn from.
However, Delgado was unable to make through the '09 season, as a torn labrum in his right hip caused to him to miss all but the first month of the season. He would not play a Major League game after May 10, 2009. But for the time he was healthy, he provided power and leadership to a Mets team that was desperate for such qualities. He spent a short time in Queens, but his impact was far greater than his tenure.
The Mets' pre-2008 acquisition of Johan Santana is arguably their biggest move of the 21st century thus far. To acquire the left-handed ace from the Twins, the Mets had to part ways with Carlos Gomez, Phillip Humber and Kevin Mulvey—not a whole lot when you consider Santana's resume.
They also had to commit to Santana, six years and $137.5 million to convince him to bring his talented left arm to Queens. Some might argue that the Mets gave Santana far too much, and he has yet to yield the results that were expected. Injuries have taken their toll on his Mets tenure—he missed the entire 2011 season recovering from shoulder surgery.
But when Santana has taken the mound, more often than not, he has been a bona fide ace. Since the '08 season, the southpaw owns a 3.18 ERA with over 600 strikeouts. He gave Mets fans a thrill on the second-to-last day of that season, twirling a dominating three-hit shutout at home against the Marlins in the heat of a pennant chase. Of course, it would be for naught as the Mets lost the last game of the year, and their final game at Shea Stadium.
And we need not forget how Santana further etched his name in Mets' history by becoming the first pitcher in the 50-year history of the franchise to throw a no-hitter. His 2012 no-hit gem against the Cardinals will be remembered for ever by Mets fans, and hopefully not so much for the toll it took on his arm.
Santana's contract is up after next season (the Mets hold an option for 2014). It remains to be seen what will become of him once his contract expires. But regardless of what happens, Santana's time in New York has definitely been more good than bad.
The Mets' 1986 squad was chock full of talented All-Stars and superstars. Mookie Wilson, Jesse Orosco, Doc Gooden, etc. But perhaps none were as key to their success as Keith Hernandez. The slick-fielding first baseman was not known for his power skills (just 80 big flies in seven seasons with the Mets). But his .297 batting average and five Gold Gloves were more than enough to make "Mex" a hit in Queens.
The Mets acquired Hernandez from the Cardinals in the middle of the 1983 season, trading away Neil Allen and Rick Owenbey—names many Mets fans are unfamiliar with. Hernandez would make three All-Star teams during his time with the Mets, and he finished among the top five in MVP voting twice.
Keith, and his legendary mustache, will forever be remembered as an all-time Mets great, and fan favorite.
After the 2005 season, the Mets were in need of a closer. Braden Looper was gone via free agency, and the team did not have the faith in Heath Bell to give him the job (they would trade Bell at the end of the '06 season). Left-hander Billy Wagner could not come to terms on an extension with the Phillies, so he opted to sign with the division-rival Mets.
After a four-year, $43 million contract, Wagner had become the closer for the Mets. And what a relief he was. In his first season in the Mets' bullpen, Wagner saved 40 games and finished with a sparkling 2.24 ERA, landing sixth in the NL Cy Young award voting. He was an integral part of the Mets making it to the NLCS that season.
And though he earned All-Star bids each of the next two seasons, Wagner would undergo Tommy John surgery at the end of the '08 season, and made just two appearances in 2009 before the Mets dealt him to Boston in an August waiver deal.
Overall, Wagner appeared in 183 games for the Mets in four seasons. He recorded a total of 101 saves while striking out 230 batters. Sore fact for Mets fans—Wagner spent the 2010 season with the Braves, and though it was the last season of his illustrious career, he went out on top as he saved 37 games for the Braves and finished with a 1.43 ERA. Just a grain of salt in Mets' wounds.
Sure, $119 million over seven years is a large contract. But when a 27-year-old outfielder is coming off a 38-home run season (plus eight more in the postseason), why not splurge and bring those talents to Queens? That's exactly what then-GM Omar Minaya did, in regards to Carlos Beltran.
Prior to joining the Mets, Beltran was developing into a five-tool player. He could hit, run, steal, field...there wasn't much the switch-hitter couldn't do. And he had a history of being relatively healthy.
Enter the 2005 season, Beltran's first as a Met. His Mets career got off to a slow start, as he managed to hit only 16 home runs that year (though he did swipe 17 bases and was named to his second All-Star game). But he picked up the pace in '06 when he tied the franchise record with 41 dingers while driving in 116 runs. He would finish fourth in the MVP voting that season.
He had two more quality seasons before injuries started to take their toll. Between 2009-2010, Beltran only appeared in 145 games, as he was recovering from knee surgery. But he returned nicely in 2011, smashing 15 home runs in 98 games for the Mets. His stock had rebounded so much that the Mets were able to trade Beltran to the Giants midseason to acquire top prospect Zack Wheeler.
Despite the grumblings that many have about his health (or lack thereof) while in a Mets uniform, Beltran put together six-plus quality seasons with the boys from Queens. Was he worth $119 million? Perhaps not. But I wouldn't call him a complete bust either.
There haven't been many fan favorites more popular in Mets' history than John Franco. The longtime closer joined the Mets via a trade with the Reds in 1989. He spent the next 14 seasons with the Mets, accumulating 276 saves along the way.
Franco, a Brooklyn native, was as classy as they come in baseball. He took hometown discounts to remain with the Mets for as long as he did (the Mets never spent as much as $4 million to retain his services). He even offered to change his uniform number from 31 to 45 when the club acquired Mike Piazza in 1998.
In order to obtain Franco from the Reds, the Mets parted ways with former first-round draft pick and closer Randy Myers. And while Myers would go on to have a respectable career of his own, I don't think Mets fans were too bothered by the trade and its subsequent results.
Talk about your bargain pick-up. R.A. Dickey initially cost the Mets $600,000 when they signed the knuckleballer to a minor league contract prior to the 2010 season. After he surprisingly impressed all of baseball with a 2.84 ERA and 11 wins on a poor Mets team, he was given a two-year extension for $7.8 million. And did he ever reward the Mets for that act.
Though he only won eight games in 2011, he struck out a career-best 134 batters while walking only 54. But that was nothing compared to his 2012 season. He struck out a league-best 230 batters, finishing with a 2.73 ERA and becoming the first Mets pitcher to get to 20 wins since Frank Viola in 1990. He also became the first Mets pitcher since Doc Gooden in '85 to win the Cy Young award (and becoming the first knuckleballer ever to win the award).
Currently, the Mets and Dickey are in heated contract negotiations, as he is due to become a free agent after next season (the Mets picked up a $5 million option for 2013). After the type of year he had in 2012, the Mets would do well to ink the 38-year-old Dickey for the remainder of his career.
The acquisition of Mike Piazza may rank among the top three in franchise history—if not number one. At a time when the franchise was floundering and was essentially the laughing stock of the league, the Mets swung a deal with the Florida Marlins to acquire the future Hall of Fame catcher (just one week after the Marlins acquired him from the Dodgers). The Mets sent Preston Wilson and Ed Yarnall to Florida in exchange for Piazza in a deal that would change the face of the franchise.
Pizza's impact was immediately felt as he swatted 23 home runs in his first 109 games in Flushing while hitting a robust .348. His monumental home run against the Braves on September 21, 2001 will forever be etched in Mets', and baseball, history.
The accolades and accomplishments of Piazza can go on forever. The numbers can do all of the talking (220 home runs, 655 RBI and a .296 batting average over parts of eight seasons with the Mets). Perhaps his best years were spent in Los Angeles. But it was his time in New York that had the greatest significance to the himself, the team and the sport. Piazza's 396 career home runs as a catcher are by far the most among all Major League backstops.
There's no arguing that Al Leiter was a fighter in his days as a Big League pitcher. Every fifth day, he would go out and give 110 percent, no matter what team he was playing for. From the time he became a regular cog in the rotation (1994), Letier never made fewer than 20 starts in a single season. The left-hander was a true horse.
So prior to the 1998 season, the Mets found a way to pry Leiter away from the division rival Florida Marlins. It cost the Mets A.J. Burnett, plus a four-year, $32 million contract, but Leiter certainly paid back the dividends, and wasted no time doing it.
In his first season in Flushing, Leiter pitched to a 2.47 ERA while striking out over 170 batters. He won 17 games and finished sixth the NL Cy Young award voting that year.
In 1999, Leiter pitched the game of his life. The Mets finished the season tied with the Reds for tops in the wild-card race. This forced a 163rd game—a one-game playoff to decide who was headed to October. Leiter took the ball for this game, and twirled a dominating two-hit shutout, striking out seven in the process. The Mets won the game 5-0, and went on to their first postseason appearance since 1988.
Leiter spent seven quality seasons in the Mets' rotation. He finished with a 3.42 ERA and over 1,100 strikeouts during his tenure. He ranks among the top 10 in just about every pitching category in the history of the Mets franchise. A true winner, and a class act, Leiter was indeed a great pickup for the Mets.
Prior to the 1979 season, the Mets traded away an aging fan favorite, Jerry Koosman, to the Twins. In exchange, the Mets received a fresh, young reliever by the name of Jesse Orosco. And while Koosman would have some decent years with the Twins (and subsequently the White Sox and Phillies), they were nothing like the years he had with the Mets. And what the Mets got out of Orosco was more than enough to make up for the loss of Koosman.
Orosco officially took over as the Mets' closer in 1983, and with a 1.47 ERA, he finished third in the Cy Young balloting that season (he even garnered some MVP votes as well). He saved 31 games in '84 and looked pretty untouchable going forward (he would later share the closer's role with Roger McDowell).
Of course, his most famous save came in October when he struck out Marty Barrett to win Game 7 of the 1986 World Series, giving the Mets their second championship in the history of the franchise.
Orosco played for an incredible 24 seasons in the Major Leagues, spending eight of them with the Mets (the most with any one team). His ERA with the club stands at 2.73 and he saved a total of 107 games. He never got a chance to be a closer anywhere else, but Mets fans are sure glad that he was their co-closer in the mid-1980s.