Ranking the 10 Worst Acquisitions in New York Mets History
Since joining the league in 1962, the New York Mets have excelled at making some of the worst player acquisitions in baseball history.
Due to mismanagement, front-office ineptitude, poor player development and a myriad of other reasons, the Mets have always seemed a step behind other teams in player evaluation. As a result, some of the trades and free-agent acquisitions over the years have been disastrous.
Mets fans, grab some ice cream. Here are the 10 worst trade or free-agent acquisitions in Mets history.
10. Vince Coleman
How acquired: Signed four-year, $11.95 million free-agent contract before 1991 season
In six seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Vince Coleman became one of the most threatening base stealers in the league.
After joining the Mets before the 1991 season, his numbers took a turn for the worse.
While Coleman was not worth the hefty contract, he is only No. 10 because he was still a solid contributor for the Mets. In three seasons with the Mets, Coleman had a respectable .270/.336/.356 line.
However, Coleman also never played more than 92 games or stole more than 38 bases in those three seasons, whether it was due to injuries or suspensions or both. Considering Coleman led the league in stealing every season before joining the Mets, those numbers are very disappointing.
9. Kaz Matsui
How acquired: Signed three-year, $20 million contract before 2004 season
The Mets signed Kaz Matsui believing he was the rare middle infielder who could provide home run power to complement skillful defense and speed.
Instead, the Mets got an average player who did not provide much power or speed.
But the Mets can be forgiven for aggressively pursuing Matsui.
In 2002, Matsui had a monster season for the Seibu Lions, mashing a .332/.389/.617 line in 140 games with 46 doubles, six triples, 36 home runs, 87 RBI, 119 runs and 33 stolen bases. Matsui was almost that spectacular the following season, hitting .305 with 33 home runs.
With the Mets, though, Matsui never came close to those lofty expectations. In two-plus seasons with the Mets, Matsui had a .256/.308/.363 line with just 11 home runs and 22 stolen bases.
Matsui’s Mets career was an utter disappointment, but on the bright side he is the only player in MLB history to hit a home run in his first at-bat in his first three seasons.
8. Roger Cedeno
How acquired: Signed four-year, $18 million free-agent contract before 2002 season
Prior to the 1999 season, the Mets made a brilliant move acquiring Roger Cedeno. In his first season as a starter, Cedeno broke out for a .313/.396/.408 line with 66 stolen bases.
Two seasons later, then-Mets GM Steve Phillips brought Cedeno back to New York. Cedeno responded by gaining weight, losing speed and becoming a much worse hitter and defender. Expected to be a menace to opposing teams, just as he was in 1999, Cedeno instead became another questionable acquisition.
In two frustrating seasons with the Mets, Cedeno hit .263/.319/.362 and stole just 39 bases.
Eventually, Mets ownership traded Cedeno to the St. Louis Cardinals just before the 2004 season, eating his entire contract for next to nothing.
7. Luis Castillo
How acquired: Mets traded Drew Butera and Dustin Martin for Luis Castillo in July 2007; Castillo signed four-year, $25 million free-agent contract after 2007 season.
At one point, Luis Castillo was one of the best second basemen and base stealers in all of baseball.
In 2007, due to an injury to Jose Valentin, the Mets traded for Castillo. Castillo performed well down the stretch, hitting .296/.371/.372 in 50 games. Then the Mets gave the 32-year-old Castillo a four-year contract worth far more than he deserved.
Next season, Castillo dealt with a number of injuries and appeared in just 87 games. He also hit .245 with just 11 extra-base hits in almost 300 at-bats.
Castillo rapidly became an unpopular figure with Mets fans. His skills and defense were vanishing. With no extra-base power to worry about, Castillo became one of the least threatening hitters on the team. Castillo’s name became synonymous with moments such as the walk-off dropped pop-up against the New York Yankees.
In 2010, Castillo was benched to give young Ruben Tejada playing time, a situation that he openly disliked. By the end of that season, Castillo had worn out his welcome.
GM Sandy Alderson, in the beginning stages of clearing house and rebuilding the Mets, released Castillo during 2011 spring training, but not before eating the remaining $6 million on his contract.
6. Bobby Bonilla
How acquired: Signed a five-year, $29 million free-agent contract with Mets before 1992 season; after being traded, reacquired when Mets traded Mel Rojas for Bobby Bonilla before 1999 season
Bobby Bonilla had been an All-Star the previous four seasons before joining the Mets, so New York took a chance and made him the highest-paid player in baseball.
Bonilla was productive over the next three-plus seasons with the Mets, although not nearly worth as much as his hefty contract. He was even an All-Star in 1993, when he finished the season with 34 home runs and 87 RBI.
In the middle of the 1995 season, the Mets traded Bonilla to the Baltimore Orioles.
However, Bonilla’s story does not end there; inexplicably, the Mets acquired Bonilla again, trading for the 36-year-old before the 1999 season.
Playing in just 60 games, Bonilla had a pitiful .160/.277/.303 line for the Mets that year.
Interestingly, at the time of Bonilla’s second move to the Mets, then-GM Steve Phillips was in the middle of a leave of absence stemming from a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former employee. His temporary replacement, Frank Cashen, held the office for just eight days.
No matter who is to blame for the Mets bringing back Bonilla, the decision was just another case of horrific front-office management by the Mets.
The quintessential ending to Bonilla’s Mets career was a story that Bonilla and Rickey Henderson were playing cards as their fellow Mets teammates were being eliminated from the 1999 NLCS.
Bonilla, and his deferred payments of $1,193,248.20 every July 1 until 2035, have become a punchline for many Mets-inspired jokes, and rightfully so.
5. Jim Fregosi
How acquired: Mets traded Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi before 1972 season
It is not hard to see that the Mets got this one wrong.
Nolan Ryan holds numerous career records and is one of the most dominant pitchers of all time. On the other hand, Jim Fregosi played just 146 games as a Met, hitting .233/.319/.328 in the process.
However, as lopsided as this trade ended up, it only ranks No. 5 because it was not that bad of a trade at the time.
Ryan, then 24, was considered nothing more than a promising, powerful pitcher.
He gave up just 6.5 hits per nine innings as a Met, which coincides with his record-breaking career average of 6.6. But Ryan also gave up 6.1 walks per nine innings, including 116 walks in 152.0 innings in 1971. Everyone knew about Ryan’s blazing fastball, but no one knew the kind of legend Ryan would become.
Also, one overlooked factor of this trade is that Ryan originally asked to be traded.
At the time, the Mets had a deep pitching rotation. They wanted to win now and had a young, promising starter who did not want to be there. Therefore, the Mets should not be faulted for trading Ryan, who could only serve as a distraction to the team.
Fregosi, meanwhile, was a player who was supposed to be entering his prime.
Before the 1971 season, where Fregosi was limited to 107 games, he was a perennial All-Star, MVP vote-getter and even earned a Gold Glove in 1967. Coming into his age-30 season, Fregosi was expected to play the best baseball of his career with his new teammates.
Instead, Fregosi became an anemic hitter whose career slowly fizzled out in his 30s. As a Met, he hit .233/.319/.328 in 148 games. Fregosi contributed just 38 runs and 43 RBI over one-plus seasons.
This trade ended up comically one-sided, especially considering the superstardom that Ryan has enjoyed during and after his career. But looking at the situation at the time, no one could have predicted this outcome for either player involved.
As a result, this trade only ranks No. 5.
4. Mo Vaughn
How acquired: Mets traded Kevin Appier for Mo Vaughn before 2002 season
Unlike the Nolan Ryan trade, the outcome of the Mo Vaughn acquisition is perhaps the least surprising result in this list.
Vaughn missed the entire 2001 season recovering from a ruptured tendon in his left arm. Additionally, in just two seasons with the Anaheim Angels, Vaughn’s weight reportedly increased from 245 pounds to 275 pounds. Vaughn was also guaranteed $50 million over the next three seasons.
Despite the many red flags, the Mets decided to gamble on Vaughn anyway. Even worse, they paid $46.5 million of his contract.
The Mets also gave up a very reliable starting pitcher in Appier.
In his only season with the Mets, Appier had a 3.57 ERA in 206.2 innings. But Appier was also due $33 million over the next three seasons, which may have been the biggest factor in trading him.
But unlike Vaughn, the Angels got their money’s worth with Appier.
In 2002, his first and only full season as an Angel, Appier won 14 games with a 3.92 ERA as the Angels won the World Series.
As for Vaughn, he simply could not find his pre-injury form. In 2002, Vaughn managed a respectable 26 home runs and 72 RBI. But with an uncharacteristically low .259 average, Vaughn was not close to the MVP candidate the Mets desired.
To make matters worse, Vaughn hit just .190 in 27 games in 2003 before his season (and eventually his career) was ended due to an arthritic left knee.
3. Juan Samuel
How acquired: Mets trade Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell for Juan Samuel in June 1989
Statistically, this is the worst trade in Mets history.
Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell were two of the better prospects the Mets had developed, both reaching the majors in 1985. In four-plus seasons, McDowell tallied 84 saves and a 3.13 ERA, while Dykstra produced an impressive .278/.350/.413 line with 116 stolen bases.
In return, the Mets got a supposedly electric base stealer and solid hitter whose skills promptly vanished as soon as he left the bitter rival Philadelphia Phillies.
Samuel, who was an All-Star and Silver Slugger just two seasons prior, was pitiful with the Mets. In just 86 games in 1989, Samuel hit a miserable .228/.299/.300 with 75 strikeouts and just 17 extra-base hits.
Meanwhile, Dykstra and McDowell enjoyed plenty of success with the Phillies.
Dykstra hit .289/.388/.422 over the next eight seasons, finishing his career with the Phillies, while McDowell posted a superb 2.90 ERA over his three years in Philadelphia.
Samuel only lasted one season in New York. By the next offseason, the Mets mercifully traded Samuel to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Mike Marshall and Alejandro Pena, putting the final touch on one of the most lopsided trades in Mets history.
2. Jason Bay
How acquired: Signed four-year, $66 million contract before 2010 season
Jason Bay is often the poster child for questionable Mets signings, and with good reason.
Bay, a pull-happy fly-ball hitter, seemed a perfect fit for his team before the Mets, the Boston Red Sox.
While the Mets play in a pitcher friendly ballpark in Citi Field, Fenway Park’s infamous Green Monster perfectly complemented Bay’s fly-ball tendencies. Not surprisingly, in Bay’s only full season with the Red Sox, he mashed 36 home runs en route to the Silver Slugger award.
With the Mets, Bay’s drop in offensive numbers over the next three seasons was worse than anyone could have imagined.
As a Met, Bay hit .234/.318/.369 over three injury-riddled years, never accumulating more than 12 home runs in a season. The Mets expected Bay to be a catalyst for an offense that desperately needed a home run threat, but Bay did not even produce enough to play every day.
Shortly after the 2012 season, the Mets terminated Bay’s contract with a hefty $21 million payout.
To Bay’s credit, he has always been praised for having a remarkable work ethic and always hustling. Unfortunately, the results just never came for him in a Mets uniform.
Considering how quickly Bay’s production dropped off, and how much money the Mets gave him, he has certainly earned the No. 2 spot on this list.
1. June 15, 1977: The 'Midnight Massacre'
Trade: Tom Seaver for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson and Dan Norman
Quite simply, Tom Seaver is the greatest pitcher in Mets history.
The Hall of Famer and 12-time All-Star had 311 wins, a 2.86 career ERA, three Cy Young Awards and 3,640 strikeouts, sixth most in MLB history.
Yet due to a long, heated dispute with the Mets front office, Seaver was traded to the Cincinnati Reds on the 1977 trading deadline for a package of players. The trade shocked fans and was infamously dubbed the "Midnight Massacre."
As Bill Madden of the New York Daily News details, Seaver was livid at Mets ownership for not trying to improve the declining team.
Before 1977, the new collective bargaining agreement ushered in the era of free agency. Seaver was rightfully angry at the lack of free-agent acquisitions by the Mets, especially while the crosstown New York Yankees kept signing more and more star players.
Since the Mets’ 1973 championship run, the team had slowly been in decline. The players, media and fans were widely critical of M. Donald Grant, the frugal, antagonist board chairman and former Wall Street stockbroker.
But Dick Young, then a New York Daily News columnist himself, was the only writer to side with Grant. Since Young’s son worked for the Mets front office, this evoked conflict-of-interest charges, as well as even more criticism.
And it was one of Young’s columns in particular near the June 15 trading deadline that caused the Seaver trade.
In that column, Young claimed that Seaver was jealous that former teammate Nolan Ryan made more money than him. More significantly, Young also included Seaver’s wife in the column, throwing her into the middle of the mess and enraging Seaver to the point of demanding a trade immediately.
Interestingly, with the exception of Norman, the Mets uncharacteristically acquired some valuable players in exchange for Seaver.
Zachry logged a 3.63 ERA in over five seasons as a reliable starting pitcher on a bad team. Flynn was a starter for over four seasons and even won a Gold Glove in 1980. And Henderson was runner-up for Rookie of the Year, amassing a .287/.360/.423 line in four seasons.
In the end, this trade may not statistically have been the worst acquisition the Mets have made. But they traded an ace and one of the team’s most beloved players, receiving four players that contributed only moderately to some horrendous Mets teams.
Looking at the big picture, this is the worst acquisition the Mets have ever made, and one that Mets fans will unfortunately never forgive or forget.