As the trading deadline creeps closer and the Met blogosphere discusses targets to bolster the injury-riddled starting lineup, I wanted to step back and objectively evaluate how the Mets have done in the trading market in the past. This post is the first in what I plan as a series, each edition addressing a certain period during the last 47 years. This edition looks at the seasons between the end of the 1996 season and the beginning of the 2006 season, bookended by two of the best trades in recent Met history (John Olerud and Carlos Delgado).
The problem, as I quickly learned, was how do I statistically evaluate whether the Mets effectively evaluated players? In the interest of my sanity, I decided to use one main statistic, the wins above replacement (WAR) stats compiled by baseballprojection.com. That being settled, I needed to figure out how I was going to use these numbers. Would I just look at the WAR numbers of the players when they play for the teams directly involved in the trade? That would provide a more accurate impact on the teams involved in the trades, but it wouldn't really describe how the Mets did at evaluating the talent of a player and their remaining production. I couldn't blame the Mets for acquiring players who just didn't perform well in New York but who would prosper elsewhere.
Instead, I added the WAR statistics compiled after the trade by each involved player and subtracted the total WAR on the trader's side from the total WAR on the Met side, leaving the differential which will determine the rankings. To emphasize again, these rankings show how good the players were in their career after the trade, not necessarily whether they were good for the Mets or the teams they were traded to.
When all was said and done, the Mets came out with players with WARs 18.4 LOWER than the players they gave away, generally indicating that the Mets have made poor choices. There is some less bad news, however. The average trade resulted in a WAR differential of -.07, which is awfully close to a break even score of 0.
As you see from the chart, the bulk of the trades have resulted in either a small negative or small positive differential with the occasional disaster and steal thrown in.
Specifically, the John Olerud trade was magnificent, yielding the highest score during this timeframe of +32.8. Not surprisingly, the Mike Piazza deal was close up there for the Mets as well, giving the Mets a differential of +20.3, with most of those additional wins coming in a Met uniform. These rankings also highlight a vastly underrated trade that was made close to the trading deadline of 1999 for pitcher Kenny Rogers. Rogers was outstanding for the Mets to close out the regular season and was crucial in the team's run at the Wild Card.
Best Trades for the Mets from the End of the 1996 Season to the Start of the 2006 Season
|Date ||Player(s) Sent By the Mets ||To ||Player(s) Acquired By Mets ||WAR Differential
||Geoff Goetz, Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall
||Leo Vasquez, Terrence Long
||Jason Bay, Jimmy Serrano
||Arnold Gooch, Todd Hundley
||Roger Cedeno, Charles Johnson
||Elvin Andujar, Pedro Feliciano, Raul Gonzalez, Brady Clark
||Greg McMichael, Dave Mlicki
||Brad Clontz, Hideo Nomo
||Grant Psomas, Mike Jacobs, Yusmeiro Petit
||Robert Stratton, AJ Burnett, Jesus Sanchez
||Al Leiter, Ralph Milliard
Interestingly, the only reason the Todd Hundley trade made it on the list is the value of Charles Johnson. Johnson was a pretty decent catcher for the years after the trade while Hundley's career was short and disappointing. His career contributions and swapping of him for Armando Benitez overcame the lackluster performance of Roger Cedeno (stolen bases included).
There are some players who are going to appear on both the best and worst trades lists, particularly outfielder Jason Bay. The trade to acquire Bay from the Expos by itself was a great trade, just as the trade of Bay to the Padres was a disaster. In the end, these types of trades end as a wash for the Mets; they had to acquire the great talent in order to lose it.
Some trades, however, did not end in a wash. They were just awful. I'm sure that many of these have haunted your dreams, so here's the official casualty list and the damage done.
Worst Trades for the Mets from the End of the 1996 Season to the Start of the 2006 Season
|Date ||Player(s) Sent by Mets ||To ||Player(s) Acquired by Mets ||WAR Differential
||Pat Gorman, Lesli Brea, Mike Kinkade, Melvin Mora
||Jose Diaz, Scott Kazmir
||Bartolome Fortunato, Victor Zambrano
||Paul Byrd, Andy Zwirchitz
||Jason Isringhausen, Greg McMichael
||Josh Reynolds, Jason Bay, Bobby M. Jones
||Jason Middlebrook, Steve Reed
What makes the Melvin Mora trade worse than the numbers show is that Mike Bordick was almost useless as a Met, but then returned to Baltimore and was a relatively productive player (5.6 WAR over the next 3 seasons) while playing alongside Mora.
Overall, the Mets did a mediocre job of evaluating players' remaining potential during this time period. If they had just stood pat, their teams would have had better players and probably won more games. As a general observation, the worst trade list has way more July trades than I would like and none of those players helped the Mets a great deal in their playoff runs. Omar, be careful in the next month; it's all too easy to give away the farm for the flavor of the month.
These are just the highlights. If you are curious about a trade that isn't listed, I've graded them all over on this spreadsheet