(bumped from fanposts. --eric)
It's easy as a Mets fan to dwell on all the terrible transactions made in recent years, but sometimes it's helpful to keep in mind that this franchise has actually pulled off some great steals. So with that in mind, here's my list of the ten best trades since 1983. Why 1983? I wanted to keep this within the timeframe that I've been a fan. Technically the first year I started watching was 1984, but there was a deal that I had to include - and besides it did impact the team that I got to watch.
There is not necessarily any scientific backing to this list. Generally speaking, the less given up and the more gotten back the better. I also prefer trades where the Mets received long-term benefit rather than short bursts of usefulness, thus why Mike Hampton is in the honorable mentions.Honorable Mentions: Don't you just hate these? Me too. I should just expand the list. Eh, whatever.
Lance Johnson, Mark Clark, and Manny Alexander to the Cubs for Turk Wendell, Mel Rojas and Brian McRae. This was the first trade of the Steve Phillips era, and it set the tone for many of his transactions. He didn't really get the best value for what he gave up, but considering that the Mets wound up with the only guy involved in the trade who made any meaningful contribution to his club - Wendell - technically the Mets did get the better of the exchange. The fact that the real target here was Rojas, well, again, it typifies the Phillips regime.
Roger Cedeno, Octavio Dotel, and Kyle Kessel to Houston for Mike Hampton and Derek Bell. Hampton was very good in his one season for the Mets, and helped guide them to the World Series. Since that was the point of the trade, that made it a good trade for the Mets. Of course, Hampton did leave after one season to set sail for the awesome public schools in Colorado, and Dotel wound up having a pretty solid career in the bullpen, so that keeps it out of the top ten.
Dante Brinkley and Gaby Hernandez to Florida for Paul LoDuca. The Mets gave up nothing and got two solid years from LoDuca. By the end of his tenure we were not sorry to see Paulle go, but it is worth noting that he was one of a handful of guys who bothered to show up for the last two weeks of the 2007 season.
Grants Psomas, Mike Jacobs and Yusmeiro Petit to Florida for Carlos Delgado. I had a tough time keeping this one out of the top ten, but in the end it fell just short, as did the Mets with Delgado. Still, he gave us one tremendous season and another great half-season.
Terrence Long and Leo Vasquez to Oakland for Kenny Rogers. Rogers was actually pretty solid down the stretch for the Mets, and they arguably would not have made the post-season without him. Long had a decent but unspectacular career and . . . I'm just going to shut up now.
10. John Christensen, Wes Gardner, Calvin Schiraldi and LaSchelle Tarver to Boston for Bob Ojeda, Chris Bayer, Tom McCarthy and John Mitchell. The Mets were looking for a left-handed starter to shore up the rotation prior to the 1986 season, and they got their man with Bobby O. Ojeda went 18-5 in '86 with a 2.57 ERA and sub 1.1 WHIp. He was arguably the anchor of the rotation, and he picked up a huge (and historically underrated) victory in game two of the NLCS that year and then an even bigger win in game three of the World Series. He never was remotely as successful again, but had a few decent years in the late 80s for the Mets. Meanwhile, the only meaningful player traded away was Schiraldi. Calvin did have a great year in '86 as the Red Sox closer, but was the losing pitcher in both games six and seven of the World Series. So, if you think about it, this one trade accounted for three of the four Mets wins in the 1986 World Series. From a certain point of view.
9. Gerald Young, Manny Lee and Mitch Cook to Houston for Ray Knight. The Mets were looking to add a veteran bat to their lineup in the heat of the 1984 pennant race, and so they went out and acquired Knight before the final final (not a typo) trade deadline. Knight was unspectacular down the stretch, and just about God awful in 1985, but formed a great platoon with HoJo in 1986. Knight wound up winning World Series MVP honors, though honestly it was about as meaningful as David Eckstein being so honored four years ago. Meanwhile, the Mets gave up very little. Gerald Young was a speedster, but one with absolute terrible instincts. He racked up 65 steals in 1988 for the Astros and then 34 in 1989, but he also led the league in caught stealing both years (27 in 1988, 25 in 1989 for one of the worst ratios I have ever seen). Manny Lee had a decent career as a role player for the Blue Jays, but was nothing that the Mets missed.
8. Robert Person to Toronto for John Olerud. This was probably the greatest heist of Steve Phillips's tenure (at least that benefited the Mets).* While Person had some decent years as a starter, including a 15-7 season in 2001 for the Phillies, he was out of baseball by 2003 at the age of 33. Olerud, meanwhile, became a legend in a relatively brief stint with the club. He was the anchor of the "greatest infield of all-time," and was an incredibly steady bat. In many ways he was the 1990s version of Keith Hernandez (more on that in a moment). His best season may have been 1998, where he put up an eye popping .447 on-base percentage. He actually had a bit more pop than Mex, averaging 21 homers in the three seasons he was with the club. Now only if they had re-signed him . . .
*Correction: Joe McIlvane was still GM at this point. Sorry Steve.
7. Robert Stratton, A.J. Burnett, and Jesus Sanchez to Florida for Al Leiter and Ralph Millard. The Mets desperately needed an ace to anchor their staff following the 1997 season. Though Leiter had been solid at times for the world champion Marlins, he was already working on his third organization and was 32 at the time Steve Phillips made this deal, so it was not obvious to all that Leiter was the answer. In fact, his 1997 season, despite a tremendous outing in game seven of the World Series, was a bitter disappointment.
Well, score another one for Phillips, because without this trade there is no way the Mets would have been as good as they were over the next several seasons, and they would not have sniffed the post-season. Leiter had a career year in 1998, and though he struggled at times during the 1999 seasons, he pitched arguably the most memorable game in franchise history during the play-in game against the Reds. Though he never recorded a post-season win for the club, thanks largely to his good friend Armando (three blown saves in games started by Leiter in the 1999 and 2000 post-seasons) and some shaky offensive support, he was dominant in all but one start. Of the players given up for Leiter, only Burnett has had a good career, and in fact his career trajectory has been eerily similar to Al's. When you consider how consistently good Al was up until close the end of his Mets tenure, this was a great pickup.
6. Walt Terrell to Detroit for Howard Johnson. This was a relatively under the radar trade in the 1984 off-season, one that was overshadowed by a much flashier move, and I don't think too many people even knew who Howard Johnson was. HoJo platooned with Rey Knight for most of the 1985 and 1986 seasons, but it wasn't until he finally became a full-time starter in 1987 that he exploded onto the scene as a true superstar. Johnson posted three 30/30 seasons - when that actually meant something - and probably should have had an MVP award in 1991, but the writers were evidently in the mood to hand out only one MVP that season for players on second-division clubs. HoJo was a bit uneven - literally. His best seasons seemed to come only in odd-numbered years. Terrell, meanwhile, was sort of the 1980s version of Joe Blanton. He was generally good for 200+ innings of absolute mediocrity. All in all, it was another great Frank Cashen steal.
5. Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey to Minnesota for Johan Santana. This one is somewhat difficult to rank because it is the most recent, and we still don't know if any of the prospects dealt will ever amount to anything. But all signs so far indicate that the Twins would have been better off with two compensatory picks when Santana walked after the 2008 season. It is kind of scary to think about what the Mets rotation would look like without Santana. He arguably should have won the Cy Young award in 2008 (it was honestly a toss-up with Lincecum, but I don't have any complaints about it), and though it appears as though he is not quite as dominant as he was a few years ago, he is still one of the elite pitchers in the game. Meanwhile, Mulvey has already been shipped off, Humber has struggled to stay in the rotation, Gomez is a slightly better version of Gerald Young, and Guerra's future as a top prospect has dimmed.
4. Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herb Winningham and Floyd Youmans to Montreal for Gary Carter. The Mets surprised just about everyone by staying in the 1984 pennant race for as long as they did. They clearly were a team on the rise with a ton of great young talent, but they needed just one superstar bat to put them over the top. Enter the Kid. In his first game with the Mets on opening day 1985, Carter ended the game with a 10th inning homerun off of some guy named Neil Allen. A love affair was born. Unlike some other guys who impressed in their debuts coughBobbyBonillacoughMikeBordick Carter was the real deal. He helped lead the Mets to within inches of a title in 1985, and then of course the big trophy in 1986. But even in 1986 there were signs that Gary was on the decline. His power numbers began to nosedive in 1987, and he was never the same player. Still, as was the case with Bobby O, Cashen accomplished what he wanted to. The only reason that this trade doesn't rank a little higher is that the guys the Mets dealt, aside from Winningham, had decent careers. Youmans was the key piece of the trade, and some thought he would be the next Doc Gooden. He showed flashes of brilliance in Montreal, but he never came close to meeting expectations and his career fizzled. Fitzgerald was a very good backup catcher, and Brooks remained a solid if unspectacular shortstop.
3. Ed Hearn, Rick Anderson and Mauro Gozzo to Kansas City for David Cone. Younger Mets fans probably have no idea who any of those first three guys are, and Cone of course was a borderline Hall-of-Famer. So yeah, that trade worked to the Mets benefit. But it wasn't obvious from the start that it would. Cone struggled mightily to start the 1987 season, and in fact it looked like he was headed out of the rotation until an exhibition charity game start against the Red Sox seemed to turn his season and his career around. I still remember that game, amazed that this guy who I thought was just a bum was turning in such a brilliant performance.
Unfortunately an injury derailed his year just as soon as he hit a groove, but he would come back the next year to emerge as the ace of the staff. In 1988 Cone went 20-3 with a 2.22 ERA, a 1.115 WHIP, and 213 strikeouts in 231 innings pitched, surpassing even the mighty Doc Gooden in performance and even possibly popularity. He had uneven seasons from 1989-1991, though his numbers suffered in part by playing for mediocre teams. Unfortunately being the only non disappointment on the uber disappointing 1992 team meant he was their most tradeable commodity, and he wound up being dealt to Toronto for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson. Of course Thompson, not Kent, was the supposed prize of that haul, which only makes Cone's end with the Mets even sadder. What's worse, Cone's greatest success would come playing for the team across the river. What could have been.
2. Neil Allen and Rick Owenbey to St. Louis for Keith Hernandez. The Mets were an absolute joke for much of the late 70s and early 80s. There were some great prospects in the pipeline, and one of them - some kid named Strawberry - was the first of the lot to make an appearance at Shea. But the Mets were going nowhere in 1983. They desperately needed to make a splash and acquire a veteran presence to lend credibility to the organization. Hernandez, meanwhile, had fallen out of favor in St. Louis for, shall we say, off the field stuff. The end result was an organization and a player earning redemption in one fell swoop.
Mex quickly became one of the most popular players in franchise history,and he earned it through his consistent offensive performance, but most of all because of his phenomenal defense. Defensive metrics even now are somewhat faulty, and it's probably all but impossible to measure this perfectly objectively, but I can't remember a guy manning his position any better than Keith. Allen, meanwhile, never did much in St. Louis. He had some decent seasons for the Yankees, but for the most part, was a flameout. Owenbey started four games for St. Louis, giving up 10 runs in 19 innings, walking 8 and allowing 23 hits. So the Mets turned their franchise around, acquired a Hall-of-Fame caliber player who helped guide them to a world championship, while giving up next to nothing. That is an awesome trade.
1. Ed Yarnall, Preston Wilson and Geoff Goetz to Florida for Mike Piazza. Confession time: I opposed this trade before it happened. Todd Hundley was on the DL, but in my mind it was absurd to trade for a catcher when we already had an All-Star behind the plate, one who really wasn't that much worse than Piazza.
Of course, I wasn't the only idiot. I distinctly remember columnists - Bill Madden sticks out - demanding that he be traded over the summer because it was clear that the Mets were not going to make the post-season, and they were likely not going to re-sign Piazza, so better to get something now. And even Mets fans themselves voiced displeasure with Mikey, having the temerity to boo him because he got off to a slow start in New York. I never was more disgusted to be a Mets fan than when I sat in Shea Stadium one Friday evening against the Dodgers and I heard the boos cascade down on Mike after another rough game.
Six weeks later the dude was being seranded by 50,000+ people singing "Happy Birthday" in unison. And though the club fell short of the post-season, he was re-signed to a seven-year deal. The rest, as we say, is history.
Meanwhile, Yarnall pitched all of seven big league games - for the Yankees no less. And while Preston Wilson had a decent enough career, he was not even in the ballpark of the monster known as Mike Piazza.