It's hard being the younger, less tradition-rich franchise in the city that never sleeps. Despite the memories of some of the greatest moments in big league history, the New York Mets find themselves feeling like second-class citizens in their own city going into 2010.
Begrudgingly, that is where the Mets find themselves after a spectacular stretch of baseball in the Omar Minaya era.
The high point was the young 2006 team that ran away with the National League East during the regular season, only to fall a game short of the pennant.
After two seasons of barely missing the postseason, the team bottomed out in 2009, when Mets players spent more than 1,480 days on the disabled list, the most in the majors, a list that included eight former All-Stars.
The Mets path during the Omar Minaya era has been a rollercoaster, but it could be much worse. The Mets spent more days in first place in the NL East from 2006-2008 than any team in the division, but it isn't how you start, it's how you finish.
Over the past decade, there were a lot of potential moves that the Mets could have made, that some fans clamored for, that the team decided not to make. A team with the passionate fan base such as the Mets faithful ends up with a thousand different opinions on how to make the team better.
Today, I'll look at some of these potential moves that never happened. Whether it's trades that weren't made, or free agent targets that ended up elsewhere, I'll take a look at 10 players that almost called Shea Stadium and/or Citi Field home.
Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, and no one really knows what could've happened in different circumstances if we change the past. But just for fun, let's imagine what it would be like if the fans, at least the most vocal ones, had really gotten their say on player decisions.
Many Mets fans wondered why the team decided not to address the starting rotation that was in dire need of an upgrade after a poor 2009. Outside of ace lefthander Johan Santana, none of the incumbents of the rotation were known quantities.
Angels pitcher John Lackey was the biggest name among starting pitchers in the free agent market this past season, but many Mets fans had their eye on New York City native Jason Marquis.
Marquis, a Jewish kid from Staten Island, grew up a local hero in the city, even pitching a no-hitter in the 1991 Little League World Series. Marquis would go on to win back-to-back New York City championships before being drafted in the first round of 1996 draft by the Atlanta Braves.
With a career ERA of 4.57 and a 94-86 record, Marquis is no ace, but has always been a crafty sinker-baller who has his moments. In 2009, his lone season with the Colorado Rockies, Marquis finished with a 4.04 ERA, his lowest since 2004.
So when the veteran righthander hit the open market and publicly expressed interest in his hometown team, many Mets fans saw a perfect fit.
The Mets instead decided to show faith in Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine and never made a serious offer to Marquis, who signed a two-year deal with Washington instead.
It's too early to tell if this was the right decision, but the returning four Mets starters (along with rookie lefthander Jon Niese) have pitched better than expected in the early part of the year.
Mike Pelfrey is 4-1 with a 2.40 ERA. Niese currently has a 3.60 ERA, while Perez sits at a respectable 4.05. Maine has been up-and-down as a fifth starter, currently with an ERA just under 6.00. Johan is Johan, and while he's had a few ugly outings, he's still the workhorse ace we all expect to have a strong second-half of the year again.
As for Marquis, he's off to an 0-3 start with the Nationals, getting shelled for 19 earned runs in his first 8.1 innings pitched for an ugly 20.52 ERA. Unfortunately, he won't get a chance to straighten out those numbers any time soon. He was placed on the disabled list with an elbow injury on April 19th.
The old adage about the postseason is that you don't know how a young pitcher will pitch under the pressure until they experience it first hand and prove themselves.
If that's the case, then John Lackey received a baptism by fire when he was tabbed to start Game Seven of the 2002 World Series for the Angels during his rookie season. Lackey became the second rookie in Major League history to start and win a Game Seven of a World Series, and has cemented his status as a big-game pitcher ever since.
In 78 postseason innings spanning 14 games, including 12 starts, Lackey has a career postseason ERA of 3.12. With that postseason reputation, it's no wonder the Mets made a serious run at him during the offseason.
However, with only enough money to allot towards one superstar player, the Mets chose to spend it on left fielder Jason Bay instead of Lackey. The Red Sox gave Lackey a lavish five-year deal to bolster their rotation and form a fearsome trio of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Lackey.
Lackey has impressed thus far in his Red Sox career, and will likely remain a force on the mound for years to come. But Bay was probably the more prudent choice for the Mets, who sorely needed a power bat to replace Carlos Delgado.
The streaky Bay hasn't hit his stride yet in the first few weeks of the season, but ultimately if you have money to spend, the golden rule is to spend it on a position player over a pitcher every time.
Although it would be nice to see Lackey in a Mets uniform, the thought of Gary Matthews Jr. getting playing time because we wouldn't have Jason Bay is not something I think most fans would like to see.
More starting pitching! Yes, Joel Piñeiro was another intriguing option for the Mets this past offseason. Piñeiro had a bit of a renaissance season in 2009 with the Cardinals, reinventing his pitching philosophy under the watchful eye of pitching coach Dave Duncan.
Piñeiro pitched his first seven seasons in the big leagues in Seattle. After back-to-back solid seasons in 2002 and 2003, the rest of his Mariners career was marred by poor and inconsistent performances and a slew of injuries.
Piñeiro signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2007, and made 31 appearances in relief for the Red Sox after spending the majority of his career as a starter in Seattle. A mid-season trade to St. Louis saw his return to the rotation and showed flashes of brilliance down the stretch.
After a disappointing 2008 with the Cardinals, Piñeiro reinvented his pitching approach prior to last season, developing a sinker that allowed him to attack the strike zone and pitch to contact.
The new approach resulted in a career year for Piñeiro, who had the lowest WHIP (Walks + Hits per Innings Pitched) of his career, and his lowest ERA since 2002.
However, like many former Cardinals pitchers who revitalized their careers under the tutelage of Dave Duncan, there were questions about whether or not Piñeiro could duplicate his success without the pitching coach who saved his career.
Piñeiro was thought to be a top target of the Mets after losing out on Lackey, and most fans agreed the Mets needed to sign a starter after Lackey and Jason Marquis found new homes.
The Mets and Piñeiro's agent exchanged dialogue, but some say that the Mets never really made a serious offer to the righthander. When it was all said and done, the Mets never blinked, and Piñeiro signed with the Angels to replace Lackey.
The first position player on the list, Alfonso Soriano was an intriguing name for Mets fans for a few years, and for many reasons.
The slugger had come up with the New York Yankees and was traded to the Texas Rangers in the deal that sent Alex Rodriguez to the Bronx. During the 2005 season, there were rumblings that the Mets were thinking about swinging a deal for the hot shot second baseman.
The Rangers made it no secret that they wanted someone to take Soriano off their hands, but it was the Washington Nationals who made an unexpected splash, acquiring the talented hitter and announcing that they planned on moving him to left field.
There was a time prior to the 2006 season when it was speculated that Soriano would try to boycott his new position, as he believed moving from second base would dramatically reduce his value on the open market as a free agent following the season.
The theory was simple. The demand for a power hitting second baseman would likely be much higher than a power hitting outfielder, which are typically a dime a dozen.
It was thought that the Nationals acquired him simply to trade him off during the season and recoup some value, rather than letting him walk as a free agent following the season.
Somehow, the Mets were constantly linked to trade rumors with Soriano, starting in 2005 while he was with Texas all the way up until the trading deadline in 2006 with the Nationals.
Surprisingly, the Nationals shocked everyone when they decided to hold onto Soriano past the trading deadline, feeling that no team was willing to give them adequate value that would satisfy the team into dealing him.
Soriano responded by hitting 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in an absolute monster year in Washington, which rendered his defensive skills a relatively moot point.
Despite many Mets fans making their voices heard once again, the Mets paid barely any attention at all to him during the 2006-07 offseason, and Soriano signed an eight-year contract with the Cubs.
What is it with all these pitchers on this list?
Well, quite frankly, the Mets always need pitching, and the fans have always done their part in letting the front office know who they want.
Barry Zito won the AL Cy Young back in 2002 with Oakland and quickly gained a reputation for being one of the most durable pitchers in baseball. Zito remarkably pitched at least 213 innings in each of his six full seasons with the Athletics, including four seasons of over 220 IP.
Many Mets fans went crazy after the 2006 season trying to let the Mets know that they believed Zito was the guy to put the team over the top.
The Mets decided that giving a long-term deal to the soft-tossing lefthander was not worth the risk, so they decided to pass and Zito signed a hefty seven-year, $126 million deal with the San Francisco Giants.
The Mets fans who clamored for Zito changed their tune when Zito suffered through the worst two seasons of his career in his first two years in the National League.
2009 was not much better for Zito, although he's off to a good start this year. But he never became a Met, thank goodness. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and not many people foresaw the drop off Zito had once he jumped ship to the other side of the Bay Area.
Plus, with all of the money saved from not signing Zito, the Mets were able to trade for Johan Santana the following offseason and sign him to a seven-year extension that at the time was the largest contract for a pitcher in big league history, breaking Zito's record from the year before.
Orlando Hudson is a guy who was always known more for his glove than his bat. The journeyman second baseman has won four Gold Glove awards with three different teams and is a much better hitter (career .282 batting average) than he's given credit for.
Hudson also grew up a Mets fan and wanted nothing more in the world than an opportunity to play in New York when he reached free agency following the 2008 season.
The Mets unfortunately were tied up after signing Luis Castillo to a four-year, $25 million deal the previous offseason and could not find a place on the field and in the payroll for the O-Dog, who took a one-year deal with the Dodgers in hopes of trying again in 2010.
In the past offseason it was like Groundhog's Day for Hudson, as the Mets actively tried unsuccessfully to rid themselves of Castillo's contract in order to sign Hudson for the second straight year.
Mets fans love the local products like Paul Lo Duca and Nelson Figueroa, who grew up as Mets fans and got to live the dream of playing for the team for a few seasons. Any player who publicly declares their love for the Mets will instantly have a strong connection with the fan base.
The Mets tried as hard as they could to make room for Hudson, two years in a row even, but could not justify paying two second starting second basemen and were left with Luis Castillo again.
Castillo is not a bad player, although he's not a very good one either. Hudson would likely be an upgrade if he ever does fulfill his dream of playing in Queens someday. Hudson signed a one-year deal with the Twins this season and will be back out in the free agent market after the season. Perhaps this time, the Mets will make their move.
Roy Oswalt to the Mets is an interesting rumor. The reason that I have it so high on the list is due to the fact that it almost happened. And I'm not talking about speculation or thinking out loud or anything. It truly was one of those deals that seemed like a done deal until it suddenly wasn't.
In 2006, the Mets were cruising on their way to the National League East title, but some July 31st trade deadline deals were on the horizon. One of the trades the Mets made was the acquisition of reliever Roberto Hernandez and starter Oliver Perez from the Pirates for right fielder Xavier Nady.
The Nady deal was a hastily put together deal that Omar Minaya put together quickly after set-up man Duaner Sanchez separated his shoulder in a taxi accident just hours before the trade deadline.
However, according to those in the know, the Mets and Astros came oh so close on a trade agreement that would've sent the ace righthander Oswalt to New York.
Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman reported that the Mets felt they had come awfully close to making official a three-team deal with the Baltimore Orioles that would've seen Miguel Tejada to Houston, Roy Oswalt to the Mets, and top prospect Lastings Milledge among others to Baltimore.
Many have speculated that Orioles owner Peter Angelos called the Mets and told them the deal was off because he didn't feel he was getting enough back for his prized shortstop. (Ironically, Tejada would later be traded to Houston a few seasons later, is currently back with the Orioles in 2010.)
Whatever the case may be, the 2006 Mets almost had another ace in their stable. Oh how different it would have been to see Roy Oswalt pitching instead of then-rookie John Maine and deadline acquisition Oliver Perez in one of the crucial seven games of the NLCS.
After injuries would down Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez before the postseason, it sure would've been nice to have Oswalt in a playoff run, especially the year after he had pitched the Astros to the World Series.
After the 2003 season, Mets fans set their sights on free agent rightfielder Vladimir Guerrero. The pressure to make a splash was high, and nobody was a better fit than the former division rival Guerrero.
Guerrero made his major league debut with the Montreal Expos in 1996, and tormented the Mets in his National League career from 1996-2003. The numbers are simply astounding.
In his career against the Mets, which spans 415 plate appearances over 102 games, Guerrero hit .311 with a .402 on-base percentage and a .578 slugging percentage. That's a .980 OPS with 23 home runs over that span.
Mets fans had become all too familiar with the free-swinging, athletic slugger during his stay in the National League East, and Mets fans hoping for a spark were very vocal about who they wanted to see roaming Shea Stadium's outfield before the 2004 season.
However, the front office internally decided that Guerrero was an injury risk, and that his back would not hold up over the course of a five-year contract.
The Angels decided he was worth the risk, and eventually signed him to a five-year, $70 million deal. Guerrero rewarded the Angels with his first league MVP award in 2004 and stayed productive and healthy over the length of the deal, albeit mostly as a DH.
He may have been a defensive liability had he signed with the Mets, without the luxury of the DH, but it sure would have been fun to see the best bad-ball hitter of his generation play in Queens.
The Mets would spend the 2004 season toiling in obscurity, before the hiring of former Expos GM Omar Minaya to the same position in September of that year. Minaya would make a splash in his first offseason with the Mets by signing free agent CF Carlos Beltran and starting pitcher Pedro Martinez.
Alex Rodriguez was a phenom when he was drafted out of the University of Miami with the first pick of the 1993 MLB First Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.
A-Rod played parts of seven seasons (five full seasons) with the Mariners, putting up monster numbers never-before-seen from the shortstop position.
In 2001, at age 25, Rodriguez became the most sought after free agent in MLB history, eventually signing a ten-year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers.
Rodriguez currently resides in the Bronx of course, but he actually grew up a Mets fan and actually would have preferred to take less money to sign with the Mets. His agent, Scott Boras convinced him to take the mega-deal from Texas and the rest was history.
The Mets general manager at the time was Steve Phillips, a name that makes most Mets fans want to slam their heads against a wall. But, for every miss Phillips made as Mets GM, every now and then he'd make some savvy moves like the Al Leiter deal, the acquisition of Mike Piazza, or the signings of free agents like Mike Hampton and Todd Zeile.
Phillips believed that signing Rodriguez would cripple the Mets financially, and he also wasn't sold on Rodriguez's mental make-up. Reportedly, Phillips referred to A-Rod as a "24-plus-one" player, referring to his less than stellar clubhouse reputation being a detriment to the other 24 players on the roster.
Nobody knows how different the baseball world would've been with A-Rod in Queens instead of Texas, but Rodriguez himself reflected on it in 2008 after he excluded agent Scott Boras to negotiate a new contract with the Yankees.
"I went for the contract [with the Rangers] when my true desire was to go play for the Mets," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez's affinity for the big city was taken into consideration when he decided to re-sign with the Yankees for a record $275 million deal before the 2008 season.
Many Mets fans had mixed feelings when the news came straight from the horse's mouth about his desire to play in Queens, and for good reason. After the performance enhancing drug controversy that stained his reputation, and even before that, it easy to find as many negatives as positives about the player who may someday call himself the all-time home run king.
Although we have no idea how things would have turned out if A-Rod had gotten his wish back in 2001, I agree with the general notion that his clubhouse reputation would have been a distraction for the Mets. Even though Rodriguez could've shattered offensive records for the Mets, I'm always a guy who prefers the young, homegrown talent to the borderline superstar.
A-Rod's signing probably would've prevented the Mets from signing Carlos Beltran in 2005. I'm a huge Beltran fan, who's a five-tool player on the field and a better person off of it. In addition, A-Rod would've likely played shortstop for the Mets, turning Jose Reyes into trade bait.
But had he broken all the records he broke as a Ranger and Yankee in a Mets uniform, the past decade would be dramatically different than it is today. it's hard not to wonder how an A-Rod/Mets marriage would've shaken up the baseball world.
(For more Mets, Jets and Nets analysis, visit my personal blog, MetsJetsNetsBlog)