Mets Meet the Free Agency Era

Doug Benc / Getty Images

Given how Junior played with the team, maybe the Mets lucked out by not signing Gary Matthews, Sr.

Major League Baseball's first offseason with widespread free agency kicked off on this date in 1976. Representatives from every franchise gathered in New York's Plaza Hotel for the inaugural free agent re-entry draft, a rather convoluted system where teams, ranked from worst to first according to the prior year's record, had to bid for the negotiating rights of players with at least six years of service and no contract for the upcoming season.

Making their first foray into the open market, the Mets submitted bids on eight of the 24 available players. The team's top priority was outfielder Gary Matthews, though they also made plays for, among others, Don Baylor, Bobby Grich, and Reggie Jackson. Ultimately, none signed with the Mets. Matthews came the closest, but decided to take Ted Turner's more lucrative offer and ink a long term deal with the Braves. Considering "the Mouth from the South" promised to outbid all other owners (and served a one-year suspension for tampering because he said as much), New York didn't have much of a shot at landing their preferred player.

Birthdays

  • Between 1991 and 1995, Carlos Baerga, 44 today, averaged just over 17 home runs a season as a member of the Cleveland Indians. Traded to the Mets midway through '96, the second baseman hit 18 total over the course of the next two and half years.
  • Carlos Mendoza, a September call up in 1997, is 38. Used primarily as a pinch runner, Mendoza made his first career start in the 159th game of the season. Batting leadoff, he reached base three times, twice on account of being hit by pitches. He's one of 23 Mets to achieve the feat and the only one to do it in his initial start.
  • Dick Selma would have been 69 today. As a 21-year old rookie in 1965, Selma established a new Mets team record for most strikeouts in a game by fanning 13 Braves in just his second career start. That was the highlight of his New York tenure, however. After three seasons of bouncing between the rotation, bullpen, and minors, the Mets lost Selma to the San Diego Padres in the 1968 expansion draft.
  • Ryan Thompson, the player to be named later in the deal that sent David Cone to the Toronto Blue Jays, is 45. Referred to as the best batting practice hitter of all time by Dallas Green, Thompson got into 283 games that counted from 1992 to 1995 and proved his manager right by mustering an OPS+ of 94.

Transactions
On November 4, 1963, the Mets dealt nominal ace Roger Craig to the St. Louis for George Altman and Bill Wakefield. New York's Opening Day starter in '62 and '63, Craig lost both assignments and lead the league in defeats both years. As a Cardinal, he again posted a losing record in '64, but picked up a win in the Redbirds' World Series triumph over the Yankees. Altman and Wakefield, meanwhile, each failed to break the one WAR barrier and found themselves with new organizations in 1965.

Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
On this date in 1955, baseball legend Cy Young passed away at the advanced age of 88. While most hurlers dream of winning one of his eponymous plaques, rumor has it that Denton True himself hoped his pitching would be honored with an R.A. Dickey Award, despite dying 19 years before the knuckleballer's birth. Much like Dickey's signature pitch seemingly bends the laws of physics, his legend defies both space and time. Dickey be praised!

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