But I Liked That Guy: Great Mets Performers Who Were Gone Too Soon
The business of baseball can be an unpleasant one for fans. Just as soon as they latch onto a player, he is traded away as management vies to make the team more competitive—or to shed payroll.
A player may be doing very well, but that doesn't always matter to those pulling the strings. The future is what matters, winning is first and foremost. Or, perhaps, what matters most is money—dollar signs are the real bottom line.
Today, Mets fans have the misfortune of experiencing such an undesirable situation with star pitcher R.A. Dickey. Fresh off a 20-win season and a Cy Young Award, fans have grown very fond of the humble, knuckleballing Southerner.
Yet, he may be traded. It seems likely, in fact. Despite his 39 wins and 2.95 ERA in a Mets uniform, he is the center of daily trade discussions.
Let's take a look at some other former Mets who performed well with the team, but didn't stick around. They were studs and stars and heroes, but they just didn't last. They were gone too soon.
Moises Alou was 40 years old when the Mets picked him up in November 2006, but it seemed like he still had a lot in the tank.
Though he played in only 98 games for the Giants the previous season, he still hit .301 with 22 home runs and 74 RBI. The oft-injured outfielder just needed to stay a little healthier to be a real impact player for the Mets in the years to come.
Unfortunately, his injury woes followed him to New York. He hit .341 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI in his first year with the team, but his campaign was stunted and he played in only 87 games. The following year, he again dominated at the plate by hitting .347—though that year he was limited to 15 games.
Just 102 games over two seasons is all he spent in a Mets uniform, 102 thoroughly dominant games in which he hit .342 with 13 home runs and 58 RBI.
And just like that, he was gone. He retired in March 2009.
In 2006, Chad Bradford was one of the Mets' best relief pitchers. By 2007, he was with the Baltimore Orioles.
Despite going 4-2 with a 2.90 ERA in 70 appearances in his lone season in New York, the Mets did not factor him into their future plans and let him go via free agency following the campaign.
Bad move: He combined for a 2.76 ERA in 146 games over the next two years, pitching for the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.
Short but sweet describes his time in the Big Apple, as he logged 15 wins, 151 strikeouts and a 3.14 ERA in his sole New York regular season, plus two more victories in the postseason.
He even won the National League Championship Series MVP that year, after going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two starts.
He was an expensive pitcher, however, one who commanded eight-figure salaries before it was in vogue. Following the 2000 playoffs, he walked via free agency and latched on with the Rockies.
Perhaps it was for the best—he never again won 15 games in a season and his ERA following his departure from New York was 4.84.
Left fielder Tommy Davis joined the Mets in November 1966, departed in December 1967 and hit .302 with 16 home runs, 32 doubles and 174 hits in between. He was one of the few bright spots on a team that won only 61 games.
Acquired from the Dodgers for Jim Hickman and Ron Hunt, Davis proved to be only a temporarily lodger as the Mets dealt him following his solid performance in '67.
His trade represented the Mets' transition from the old guard to the new, from losers to winners—they dealt pitchers Jack Fisher and Billy Wynne, both members of the horrible mid-1960s squads, along with Davis for Tommie Agee and Al Weis.
Both Agee and Weis were pivotal performers in the Miracle Mets' 1969 season.
Because his time in New York was so short, fans often forget just how good Lance Johnson was.
Most recall his stellar 1996 season, when he hit .333 with 227 hits, 21 triples, 117 runs scored and 50 stolen bases. He went from being a star to a superstar, if only for a year.
Often overlooked is his followup 1997 campaign. Nowhere near as stupendous as his 1996 season, it was still impressive. Through 72 games with the Mets, he was hitting .309 with six triples, 15 stolen bases and a .385 on-base percentage. He had 33 walks and only 21 strikeouts, and he logged 43 runs scored.
Alas, on Aug. 8, he was traded to the Cubs for three players, including Turk Wendell, who is the only return who would prove effective in the long term.
Perhaps the Mets were expecting greater things from him after his legendary 1996 season (heck, I know I would have been). But in retrospect, dumping him after only 232 games in a Mets uniform was regrettable.
In his short time in New York, he hit .326 with 309 hits, 27 triples, 160 runs scored and 65 stolen bases.
Relief pitcher Roberto Hernandez came and went and came back again, and he performed well during both stays in New York.
Signed as a free agent in January 2005, the 40-year-old hurler won eight games and posted a 2.58 ERA in 67 relief appearances for the Mets that season. A solid performance, but apparently not good enough—he became a free agent following the season and the Mets didn't re-sign him.
He joined Pittsburgh to start 2006, though he returned to New York at the trade deadline, as the Mets sent Xavier Nady to Pittsburgh for his services, as well as those of starter Oliver Perez.
In 22 games that go-around, he had a 3.48 ERA, plus a 0.00 mark in three postseason appearances.
Once again, however, the Mets declined the aging pitcher's services as he departed via free agency when the year was over.
In 89 total games in New York, Hernandez was 8-6 with a 2.79 ERA. He allowed only 72 hits in 90.1 innings of work.
Let's step into the time machine for a moment and travel back to the early 1960s.
These are tumultuous times for America: There's an unpopular war afoot, economic uncertainty abounds and the Mets are putrid (are we sure we're in a time machine?).
One bright spot on those horrid early Mets teams was starting pitcher Carl Willey, who in 1963 won nine games and posted a 3.10 ERA for a team that went 51-111. He allowed only 149 hits in 183 innings, paced the squad in ERA* and tossed four of the club's five complete game shutouts.
*Among pitchers with at least 50 innings.
Despite his solid performance in '63, Willey was used sparingly the next two years and won only one more game in a Mets uniform.
All told, he was 10-18* with a 3.29 ERA in 57 games (34 starts) for New York. He had eight complete games and four shutouts, and in 241 innings, he surrendered only 216 hits.
*His .357 winning percentage was still higher than the Mets' .317 mark in those years.
First baseman Rico Brogna exploded onto the scene as a rookie for the Mets in 1994, hitting .351 with seven home runs and 20 RBI in 39 games. During one 20-game stretch, he hit .431 with eight doubles and 12 runs driven in.
He followed that up with a fantastic sophomore campaign by batting .289 with 22 home runs, 76 RBI and a .485 slugging percentage, while leading league first basemen in fielding percentage.
After struggling in 1996, however—he hit only .255 with seven home runs and 30 RBI in 55 games—the Mets quickly gave up on the promising 26-year-old, shipping him to the Phillies for pitchers Toby Borland and Ricardo Jordan. Both had ERAs over 5.00 in Mets uniforms.
Over the next three seasons, Brogna averaged 21 home runs, 34 doubles and 96 RBI a year. If it's any consolation, his replacement, John Olerud, wasn't half bad.
How Elmer Dessens managed to go 4-2 with a 2.71 ERA in 81 games over two seasons in New York is beyond me, but he did it somehow. Despite lacking the "stuff" of a stellar major leaguer, he managed two pretty stellar seasons to round out his otherwise mediocre career.
Joining the Mets in 2009, Dessens spent most of his first year with the organization in the minor leagues, though he did post a 3.31 ERA in 28 relief appearances with the big club that year.
In 2010, he had a 2.30 ERA in 53 appearances, allowing only 41 hits in 47 innings—but get this: He struck out only 16 batters, too.
Perhaps lucky more than skilled, Dessens was not long for New York, despite his impressive stint in the Big Apple. He became a free agent following the 2010 season.
Richie Ashburn joined the Mets for their first season in 1962 and he was one of their best offensive performers. In 135 games, he hit .307 with seven home runs, 12 stolen bases, 60 runs scored and 81 walks.
Instead of remaining with the futile Mets any longer, however, Ashburn opted to retire following that lone season in New York, in which the team went 40-120.
Before he became one of the better closers of the 1980s, relief pitcher Jeff Reardon was a hurler for the Mets, and a pretty good one at that.
He came up in 1979 and posted a 1.74 ERA in 18 games and, the following year, he had eight wins and a 2.61 mark in 61 appearances. After starting 1981 with a respectable 3.45 ERA in 18 games, the Mets shipped him away to Boston for outfielder Ellis Valentine.
Though Valentine gave the Mets a somewhat decent year in 1982, Reardon went on to make 880 career appearances and earn 367 saves. Unfortunately for New York, only 97 of those appearances came in a Mets uniform.