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The Top 50 Mets of All Time: #44 Cliff Floyd

So many what-ifs.
So many what-ifs.

That Other Strikeout

I've written a lot about Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, both here and elsewhere. Hence, I've thought a lot about that game, probably too much. My mind always wanders back to the same handful of moments: Willie walking out to talk to Oliver Perez and then leaving him in to face Scott Rolen, the ensuing Endy Chavez miracle catch, Jose Valentin and Endy unable to capitalize with runners on second and third in the next half-inning, the Yadier Molina home run, and, of course, Adam Wainwright striking out Carlos Beltran. The stuff in between has faded into the recesses of my memory. Without consulting Baseball-Reference's play-by-play log, I couldn't even tell you for sure how the Mets scored their run. I think it was a David Wright RBI single. The inning-by-inning minutiae of that game have been replaced in my memory by fresher baseball agonies*, but there is one other moment I remember well, if not quite as clearly as some of the more traumatic highlights.

*Though the vague but unrelenting hatred of Jeff Suppan remains.

Before Beltran came up with the bases loaded and two out, Cliff Floyd came to the plate with men on first and second and none out. Floyd was hurting, everyone knew it. He had only made a pair of pinch-hit appearances in the series up to that point, and normally I would have expected the conservative Willie Randolph to send someone up here to bunt. That way, you get the tying run into scoring position and eliminate the possibility of a soul-crushing double play. However, Randolph decided to roll the dice, sending up a player that could book the Mets a World Series trip with one swing of the bat, but one who was also nursing a sore achilles and would almost certainly be doubled up on any ground ball even remotely near an infielder. Maybe it was the correct move, maybe not. All I know was that in the moment, I was absolutely convinced Floyd was going to park one.

A Baseball America Darling

Cornelius Clifford Floyd is the first player we have covered in The Top 50 Mets series that could be considered a truly elite prospect. He was a first round pick for the Expos in 1991 out of Thornwood High School in Illinois. Floyd signed quickly and was assigned to the Gulf Coast League, where he led the GCL Expos in home runs and tied for second on the team in steals. The scouting pedigree and potential power/speed combo was tantalizing enough for Baseball America to rank Floyd as the 34th best prospect in baseball going into the 1992 season. That season also brought a move to the outfield (Floyd had been a first baseman in the GCL), and he had a breakout year in the South Atlantic League. As a 19-year-old, Floyd hit .300 while stealing 30 bases and bashing 16 home runs for the Albany Polecats, posting an .874 OPS that was more than 200 points higher than the league average. That was good enough to make him the third-best prospect in all of baseball, but 1992 was a mere preamble to Floyd’s massive 1993 campaign.

Skipping over Advanced-A (he played one game there at the end of 1992), Floyd was assigned to Double-A Harrisburg as a 20-year-old. In 101 games he batted .329/.417/.600 and just barely missed going 30-30. A promotion to Ottawa followed, and Floyd finally struggled some, striking out more and seeing the bulk of his power numbers evaporate. He got a September call-up to Montreal as well but only appeared in ten games. Floyd had made the majors before he could even legally drink (had he been playing anywhere but Montreal, that is), and Baseball America crowned him the best prospect in the game going into the 1994 season. It’s easy to forget based on the broken-down, one-dimensional version of Floyd who arrived on the Mets, but Floyd was a complete offensive player as a prospect, showing solid contact skills, prodigious power, and plus speed. Despite his athleticism, Floyd was not a great defender and split his time as a minor leaguer between first base and the outfield corners. That bat looked like it would play anywhere though, and the Expos decided to find out in 1994. Of course that was one of the great what-if seasons in baseball history, as the player’s strike would lead to the cancellation of the season in August, with the Expos sitting 30 games over .500 and six up in the NL East. Floyd was the everyday first baseman for most of the season. eventually moving to the outfield corners in July. Wherever he played, he was below average as a hitter, posting a .281/.332/.398 line (89 OPS+) while playing mostly first base. But to even hold his own as the youngest player in the National League was impressive and likely signaled a bright future.

Unfortunately, 1995 would not be the breakout year for Floyd. On May 15th in a game against the Mets, he broke his wrist in a collision at first base with Todd Hundley and was forced out of action until September. All told, he would play only 29 games for the Expos that season as the team sunk back into mediocrity. Between his injury and his struggles against major league pitching, the Expos decided to start Floyd back in Ottawa at the start of the 1996 season. He hit over .300 in 20 games there and found his way back into the majors by the end of April. He gave Montreal roughly league-average production over the balance of 1996 (.242/.340/.423, 96 OPS+) while serving as the team's fourth outfielder.

By the end of the 1996 season, Cliff Floyd had logged about 800 plate appearances in the majors and posted an OPS+ of 81, not exactly what you would have expected from a prospect with his pedigree. But he was stil only 24, so it was a bit surprising that the Expos decided to trade him to the Marlins for Dustin Hermanson and Joe Orsulak. Injuries plagued Floyd again in 1997, but he hit when healthy and was on the bench as the Marlins captured their first World Series title. Floyd survived the post-World Series purge by virtue of being young and cheap, and he improved each year he was with the Marlins, although he would miss significant time to injuries in 1999 and 2000. Finally, in 2001 Floyd looked like the former top prospect he was. He hit 31 home runs, stole 18 bases in 21 attempts, and posted a .317/.390/.578 line, good for a 150 OPS+. More impressively, he stayed on the field for 149 games. Floyd made the All-Star team and received a few MVP votes on a Marlins team that finished ten games under .500.

The Marlins were just as mediocre in 2002, and Floyd was under his last year of team control, so the Marlins decided to offload Floyd, and found a willing taker in his former squad in Montreal. Two weeks after the infamous Bartolo Colon deal, Omar Minaya sent Carl Pavano, Graeme Lloyd, Mike Mordecai and Justin Wayne to Florida for Floyd, Claudio Vargas and Wilton Guerrero. Floyd wouldn’t stay long though. Over the next few weeks, the Expos fell back to .500, while Floyd struggled at the plate. With the trade deadline fast approaching, Minaya flipped Floyd to the Boston Red Sox for Seung Song and Sun-Woo Kim, honoring Floyd with the rare feat of being involved in two terrible trades in the same season. Cliff Floyd promptly went back to hitting like Cliff Floyd once he donned a Boston jersey, and despite being traded twice and switching leagues during the year, he posted another strong season.

On To Flushing

Coming off back-to-back seasons where he posted an OPS of over .900 while playing in 140+ games, Floyd was a fairly attractive free agent, landing with the Mets on a four-year, $26-million deal. This might have been a bit of a surprise, given his run-in with the previous Mets skipper. New York was hoping to get the Floyd of 2001 and 2002, but a nagging achilles injury plagued Floyd for all of 2003. This limited his availability, if not his effectiveness, before finally ending his season in mid-August. Floyd played 108 games in 2003 and posted an .894 OPS, giving the Mets the production they expected along with the fragility they probably should have anticipated. 2004 was more of the same. First, there was the quad injury he suffered while beating out an infield hit against the Expos in Puerto Rico. Then there were his fair share of day-to-day ailments and a mid-September shutdown, and once again Floyd missed about a third of the Mets season. But now his performance eroded as well, as an increase in strikeout rate cost him some batting average and power.

Finally, in 2005 the Mets got their first taste of the healthy and dangerous Cliff Floyd. As part of a surprisingly frisky Mets squad, Floyd put together his best season in Flushing and the second best of his career. He played 150 games and set a career high with 34 home runs, among them one of my favorite bombs in Mets history. All told, he posted a .273/.358/.505 line, good for a 127 OPS+. Combined with above average defense in left field, Floyd was goof for 4.4 rWAR on a Mets team that was in the playoff hunt right up until Randolph decided to bring in Shingo Takatsu to face Miguel Cabrera. Sigh.

The Mets were well-positioned to make another playoff run in 2006, and Floyd was expected to be a big part of that. However, he recieved a small scare in the preseason when doctors found that his kidneys were only functioning at 48% capacity. Floyd's family had a history of kidney ailments, but he was able to manage his condition with dietary changes and anti-inflammatory medication. Floyd wouldn't miss any time, but struggled through April and most of May. His bat started to heat up with the weather, but a recurrence of the same achilles issue that cost him large chunks of 2003 resurfaced. Floyd would miss most of June and most of August and was limited to just 97 games for the 2006 Mets. He ended up hitting just .244/.324/.407 (88 OPS+), his worst offensive season since his rookie campaign with the Expos. Floyd's inactivity and ineffectiveness didn't matter all that much, as a resurgent Carlos Beltran and offseason acquisition Carlos Delgado more than picked up the offensive slack for a team that won 97 games and cruised to the division title.

Floyd was healthy come October though, and he kicked off the Mets first playoff appearance in six years with a bang, blasting a home run against the Dodgers that nearly caused me to drive straight off the road. They don't give out MVP awards for the Division Series, but Floyd certainly would have had a case, batting .444/.500/.778 as the Mets swept Los Angeles out of the playoffs. However, the injury bug would strike Floyd again in the Game 3 clincher. He once again injured his achilles while coming around to score on a Shawn Green double and had to be lifted for Endy Chavez. Floyd's status was in doubt for the NLCS against the Cardinals, but he was kept on the roster despite being unable to do anything more than pinch hit. Which brings us back to the beginning of our tale...

An Unhappy Ending

Cliff Floyd struck out looking on a 2-2 pitch from Adam Wainwright. That's what Baseball-Reference tells me. I think I remember the called strike three. It was one of Wainwright's hammer curves, right? A preview of coming attractions? Jose Reyes hit a line drive that stayed up too long, Paul lo Duca walked, and the at-bat that launched a million memes began. I could look at a run expectancy matrix and tell you if the Mets should have sent up Tom Glavine to bunt or something. I'm guessing since they needed two runs probably not. I could debate whether or not Floyd should have been the guy in that spot, given that he could barely walk, and didn't hit all that much when healthy in 2006. I don't really want to make that at-bat a metaphor for Floyd's Mets career, because let's face it, that's a bit hacky, but there was a reason I was able to convince myself that Floyd would conjure up the some magic against St. Louis. He did it in Game 1 of the NLDS. He did it late one June night against Anaheim. When he was healthy he was absolutely the player you'd want up in that spot. He was just never healthy enough.

Floyd's contract expired at the end of the 2006 season, and he quietly signed a one year deal with the Cubs. Floyd provided average offense and some veteran leadership for another good team that suffered through an ultimately disappointing postseason. In 2008 he moved onto Tampa and did much the same thing for the surprising Devil Rays, leading to awesome articles like this from the Huffington Post. He would play ten games with the Padres in 2009 before hanging up the cleats for good.

Why He's Here

Floyd played four seasons with the Mets, but averaged just 117 games per year in the orange and blue. Across 1884 plate appearances, Floyd hit .268/.354/.478, good for an OPS+ of 116. His best season with the Mets was 2005 when he compiled a 4.4 rWAR, but his generally below average defense in left field limited him to 7 rWAR total as a Met. FanGraphs smiles on his contributions slightly more, giving him credit for 7.6 fWAR during his tenure in New York. We're still in the midst of guys who had a really good season or two, or strung together a bunch of average ones. Floyd maybe gets a bit too much credit from me for some of his bigger moments and likewise maybe doesn't get docked enough for all the time he missed with injury. But hey, he put up better numbers in more games with the Mets than Robin Ventura for example, and while we TrueSABR types may scoff some at the whole clubhouse leadership thing, Floyd was a well-respected locker room presence and a mentor to David Wright. Like every other team he played for, the Mets no doubt expected more performance from Floyd than they got, but he can play for my team any day of the week. Just have to make sure I have Endy Chavez on the bench.

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Cliff Floyd at Baseball-Reference

Cliff Floyd at FanGraphs