Earlier this week, the rumor mill was a-buzzin' with retroactive news when Ken Rosenthal reported the Mets and Marlins had discussed a swap of Jason Bay for Heath Bell and John Buck. To many fans chafing at the Mets' lack of moves, the thought of something as thoroughly unsexy as this added insult to injury.
At first blush, the prospect of getting rid of Jason Bay is tantalizing. On further reflection, though, the move makes little sense, which is probably why it didn't get done. As horrible as Bay has been, he's only signed through next season, whereas Bell's suckitude carries with it a two year ball-and-chain. There's a chance he could regain his old form, but that would run counter to every other closer who's shown his drop in velocity and control. Plus, the deal would have come with the extra albatross of Buck, who is a marginal upgrade over the Mets' current options at catcher and would make $6 million next year to boot.
As long as we're discussing hypotheticals, the question is: Where would this have ranked among the Mets' terrible deadline deals? After scouring through the archives, I have to conclude the answer is, middle of the pack.
Keep in mind that prior to 1986, the trade deadline was June 15. In a sense, the very idea of a "deadline deal" didn't emerge until then; the later date brought with it a greater sense of urgency. So most of trades described below come post-86. And of those, the vast majority come from the Phillips-Duquette-Minaya regimes. Shocking, I know!
June 15, 1962: Harry Chiti traded to Cleveland Indians for himself. One of the odder "trades" in baseball history, often cited as one more example of the '62 Mets' overpowering ineptitude. On April 26, the Mets front office acquired Chiti for a player to be named later, then got buyers' remorse when the catcher batted .195. So at the trading deadline, the original deal was completed by sending Chiti back to Cleveland, making him (presumably) the only player ever traded for himself. Unfortunately, Cleveland didn't want him either; though he was "returned" to the Indians, he never appeared in another major league game.
June 15, 1977: Tom Seaver traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, and Dan Norman; Dave Kingman traded to the San Diego Padres for Bobby Valentine and Paul Siebert. The infamous Midnight Massacre. Spooked by the looming specter of free agency, and egged on by hate-filled sports columnist Dick Young (who wrote dubious character assassination stories about Seaver's purported jealousy of ex-Met Nolan Ryan's wealth), GM M. Donald Grant shipped The Franchise off in the wee hours to Cincinnati. Simultaneously, he dispatched of another soon-to-be pricey player, slugger Dave Kingman. Grant's money-saving moves saved the Mets precious pennies on things like turnstile upkeep, since the trades plunged the team into years of losing, irrelevance, and empty seats.
July 31, 1989: Rick Aguilera, David West, Kevin Tapani, and Tim Drummond traded to the Minnesota Twins for Frank Viola. This is perhaps a harsh judgment for a deal that brought back a local boy made good who also happens to be the Mets' last 20-game winner. In 1990 (the season he achieved that feat), Brooklyn's own Viola pitched just shy of 250 innings and was good for an impressive 141 ERA+. But Viola was acquired for a big haul and left Queens after the 1991 season. Post-trade, Rick Aguilera reinvented himself as a reliever and went on to log 304 saves for the Twins and Cubs, while Kevin Tapani had a pretty good career himself, winning 19 games for a 1998 Cubs team that just beat out the Mets for a wild card spot. Between them, Aguilera and Tapani combined for 42.5 WAR in the decade plus after being traded from the Mets, which leaves Viola's totals for the orange and blue (12.2) in the dust
July 29, 1996: Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino traded to the Cleveland Indians for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinosa. If his reaction to rookie hazing was any indication, Jeff Kent probably would have never been a good fit in New York. Still, it would have been nice to find out. At the very least, it would have been nice to get a better return from a future Hall of Famer than Carlos Baerga, who wilted without the rest of Cleveland's powerful lineup to protect him. He played almost exactly at replacement level for two seasons and change and was gone, while Kent became a superstar.
July 31, 1999: Jason Isringhausen and Greg McMichael traded to the Oakland A's for Billy Taylor. After Jason Isringhausen suffered the tortures of the damned his first few seasons as a starter--falling victim to everything from a vengeful bullpen garbage can to tuberculosis--he was sent down to the minors in 1999 to convert himself into a reliever. It was thought he could help out a bullpen overtaxed by the Mets' middling starting rotation. But when Izzy's first major league relief outings varied wildly in quality, the front office got spooked that he might not be able to handle the rigors of a pennant race. So Steve Phillips shipped him and another reliever to Oakland for Billy Taylor, an official Proven Closer! Taylor pitched a whopping 13 1/3 innings for the Mets, gave up 20 hits and 12 earned runs over that span, and failed to make the postseason roster. Izzy went on to log 293 saves for Oakland and St. Louis, though he was nice enough to save his 300th for his return to the Mets in 2011.
July 28, 2000: Leslie Brea, Pat Gorman, Mike Kinkade, and Melvin Mora traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Mike Bordick. When Rey Ordonez was lost for the 2000 season, felled by a broken arm, the Mets were desperate to find a new shortstop. Melvin Mora was given time at the position, but some costly errors convinced the front office he was best suited for the outfield, and would probably top out at Utility Player. The Mets aimed high and nearly completed a trade for Barry Larkin, but the longtime Red vetoed the deal. So instead, the Mets set their eyes on Mike Bordick, who was enjoying a resurgent season with Orioles. Bordick hit the first pitch he saw as a Met for a home run but did very little afterwards, and was back in Baltimore the next year. Mora went on to be a two-time All Star, with RBI and home run totals no one from the Mets ever dreamed of (to be fair, while playing his home games in Camden Yards). And though none of the other players in the deal amounted to much in the majors, it still blows my mind that four prospects were needed to bring back Mike Bordick.
July 30, 2004: Scott Kazmir and Jose Diaz traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Bartolome Fortunato and Victor Zambrano. Considering the eventual flameout of Scott Kazmir, this trade looks a lot less horrible than it did a few years ago. If the Mets had held on to Kazmir, we might now groan about the lost opportunity of selling high on him like we do with another Can't Miss Prospect, Fernando Martinez. All that being said, this remains one of the Mets' most egregious trades, and emblematic of the bygone front office's utter inability to grasp the changing notions of value in baseball. Because if you're going to trade one of the most highly regarded lefty pitching prospects in the game, you have to get a better return than Bartolome Fortunateo and Victor Zambrano.
July 31, 2006: Xavier Nady traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez. For someone who only played here for half a season, Xavier Nady garners an awful lot of love in Mets fans' memories. The main reason for that, I fear, is because of who he was traded for, and what that trade represented. The deal never would have happened if Duaner Sanchez hadn't gotten the late-night munchies and got into a car accident that ended his season (and essentially his career). Needing an extra hand in the bullpen, Omar Minaya dealt Nady to the Pirates for the veteran Roberto Hernandez, who proved serviceable. It's the throw-in to the deal who became torturous, a torture compounded by the insane contract Minaya gifted to Oliver Perez after the 2008 season. The Nady for Hernandez/Perez deal represents the Minaya era in total: bad luck, poor timing, ill-considered spending, and lost opportunities.
2007/2008: Nothin'. As you no doubt remember/wake up at 3am trying to forget, the Mets missed out on the playoffs by one game in 2007 and 2008. The teams were in different places at the trade deadline in those seasons; in 2007, they still appeared on top of the world, while in 2008, they were trying to claw their way back into the hunt. In both cases, however, the teams clearly needed some help to go deep into October. Namely, pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Both years, Omar Minaya made zero deadline moves to acquire new arms. Looking at the pitchers that were dealt at the deadline those two years, it's hard to definitively say any of them would have helped the Mets avoid their fate. (Names include Matt Morris, Kyle Lohse, LaTroy Hawkins, Kyle Farnsworth, Arthur Rhodes.) But when you miss the playoffs by one game, it's hard to not think of how even a modest upgrade would have helped. Especially since the only move Minaya made at either deadline was to trade for Luis Castillo. *shudder*