Who Let Bobby Bonilla Return to the Mets in 1998?

The New York Mets are not drumming up a lot of meaningful news these days, which means it's only a matter of time before some hack writer drums up Bobby Bonilla's deferred contract payments for "original" content on a slow news day.

We all know about how the story ends with $1,193,248.20 due to Bonilla every July 1 from 2011 to 2035, but former Mets general manager Jim Duquette intimated via Twitter on Tuesday that we should remember how the story of Bonilla's horrible homecoming begins -- or, more specifically, that we should remember who let that second chapter start for one of the most polarizing and controversial players in Mets history.

In responding to a question about the role of Phillips in Bonilla's homecoming from Real Dirty Mets blogger Ed Marcus, Duquette --- also known as Phillips's director of player personnel back in 1998 -- set the record straight on the actual shot caller that brought Bonilla back for a second tour in Flushing:

btw - the Bonilla trade may fall on Cashen's record as well as SP's. Check out the timing

and then clarified...

the 1st time was Al's. 2nd time - Cashen was interim. That's all I can say. NDA!

...which begs the question -- Need he say more?

The Mets reacquired Bonilla from the Los Angeles Dodgers on November 11, 1998 in a trade for reliever Mel Rojas. The trade itself was basically a swap of headaches and bloated salaries for both sides. Rojas had worn out his welcome in Flushing and was due approximately $4.6 million in 1999. An underperforming Bonilla clashed constantly with new Dodgers manager Davey Johnson, who had just signed a three-year contract and previously clashed with Bonilla in Baltimore.

It was a classic change-of-scenery trade, and one that had been rumored for weeks prior to the deal. Then again, one version of the trade rumor also included the Mets sending Butch Huskey to Dodgertown to pick up Eric Young. Another version upgraded Huskey to Todd Hundley and involved Darren Dreifort coming back to Shea.

That date, however, is important. November 11, 1998 was three days after Phillips took a leave of absence from the club to deal with the fallout of a sexual harrassment suit filed against him by a former Mets employee. He was replaced by Mets Hall of Famer Frank Cashen, who had served as a consultant to the Mets after leaving his post as general manager in 1991.

Cashen held the reins for all of eight days in a tenure that likely played a role in two other roster moves. He re-signed starter Masato Yoshii to a two-year, $5 million contract and left two days prior to southpaw reliever Dennis Cook returning to the Mets with a three-year, $6.6 million deal. Both were Major League moves, but neither could induce the vitriol that gets produced upon seeing Bobby Bonilla in orange and blue.

So Duquette's technically right. Cashen's name sat atop the front office hierarchy that brought Bonilla back to Shea Stadium for a second tour. But is it now all on the architect of the 1986 World Champions, especially considering that Cashen basically completed the groundwork that Phillips laid down? Jason Diamos recalls in the New York Times on November 18, 1998 (a.k.a. the day Cook signed) that there was more than one chef in the front office kitchen for the Mets as the Mets continued to mull over players like B.J. Surhoff and Robin Ventura:

That, of course, is up to Phillips -- although the Mets apparently are still operating as a negotiating team (Duquette is the team's director of player personnel) until Phillips settles back into his everyday role. Yesterday, Phillips spent a good part of his time in meetings at Shea, which included the co-owner Fred Wilpon and the team's vice president, David Howard.

And that's why Duquette likely cut off Marcus on Twitter with his "NDA!" proclamation. A non-disclosure agreement would preclude Duquette from elaborating on the "negotiating team" tactics that kept the ship afloat in Phillips's absence or who thought Cook was worth $6.6 million for what turned out to be three years of replacement-level relief pitching.

It's interesting that Duquette tried to pin Bonilla's second tour on Cashen, especially since Diamos reported in that same story that B.J. Surhoff's agent confirmed a three-year deal allegedly worth $12.75 million was offered by Duquette on the day Phillips returned. Did Phillips just walk in and order Duquette to throw that offer out there? Cashen himself admitted to Diamos days earlier that he'd never spoken to Surhoff's agent, but "one of our guys talked to him." I wonder which guy.

The second coming of Bobby Bonilla was a disaster by all accounts while his lasting presence on the Mets' payroll comes courtesy of Phillips. Even if you want to blame Fred Wilpon for allowing Bernie Madoff's growing influence to make deferred payments seem like a viable strategy, it was ultimately Phillips' call to specifically defer Bonilla's money. His presence on the Mets payroll for the next 24 years falls at Phillips' feet as much as anyone.

But the reason Bonilla made it back to Flushing in the first place? You could make the argument that Phillips's legal troubles left the door open to the paltry haul since he wasn't there to revise or halt it, but you could just as reasonably point the finger at the brain trust left in charge after their GM's sudden absence and chose to stay the course on the so-called "Steve Phillips Plan" in the interim.

Or you could just implicate the 90-year-old bozo in the bow tie whose decorated career with the Mets and Baltimore Orioles might lift this transgression off someone else's shoulders with ease.

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