Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Trades From The Past: Ken Boyer

A couple of days ago, I read an article about how Ken Boyer should be considered for the Hall Of Fame. I had almost forgotten about Boyer's brief time as a Met and what a major acquisition it was considered at the time. Of course, it didn't work out for the Mets or Boyer and in my opinion, considering Boyer for the HOF ahead of Keith Hernandez or Gil Hodges to name just two others with Met connections, is ludicrous. Anyway, let's look at the deal.

In 1964, Ken Boyer was the NL MVP and led the Cardinals to the World Series. A year later, after a somewhat disappointing season, the Mets got him in a trade for Al Jackson and Charley Smith. Jackson was arguably the Mets' best pitcher in their early years. The term "crafty lefty" fit Al to a T. But, it seemed that he'd have to pitch a shutout to win a game. It wasn't quite that bad, but somehow Jackson managed to post 8-20 records for the Mets twice in 4 seasons. Al was without a doubt one of the all-time hard luck pitchers. Every Met fan knew he was a lot better than his record and he was bound to do better with another team, but the bottom line was that the Mets could throw just about anybody out there who could equal (or hopefully, better) that 8-20 mark, so he was expendable. As for Smith, he struck out way too much to be considered anything more than a stopgap at third base, even if he was one of the team's few power hitters.

So, Jackson and Smith for a player one year removed from MVP and still in the prime of his career seemed like a can't miss deal for the Mets. Of course, like the majority of Mets' trades, this one didn't work out at all.

Boyer was mediocre at best for the Mets, batting about .250 over a season and a half with the Mets, showing little of the clutch hitting, great defense, or leadership qualities that were his trademark with the Cardinals.

Smith was no great shakes for the Cardinals either, but a year later they traded him even up to the Yankees for Roger Maris in a deal that may have started the Yankees decline from powerhouse to cellar dweller. Jackson turned in one decent year as a Cardinals starter before moving to the bullpen. He eventually returned to the Mets briefly, but was cut during the 1969 season, so he never got to be a part of the Miracle Mets, which could have been a nice reward for his years of suffering with a team that didn't give him any support.

So, unlike several other deals that backfired on the Mets, this one wasn't so bad because of the players the Mets gave up, but rather because they thought they were getting a bonafide star and a team leader and instead, got an aging veteran who really did nothing that his predecessor (Smith) couldn't have done.

The Mets eventually dealt Boyer to the White Sox, where he didn't do much, either. J.C. Martin came to the Mets in that deal which seemed at the time to be another dud of a deal for the Mets - a player who was still thought of as a star for a backup catcher. I hesitate to say this was a GOOD deal for the Mets, but Martin's memorable contributions to the 1969 World Champions certainly helped to erase the memory of Boyer's disappointing tenure.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Trades From The Past: Staub for Lolich

In 1975, Rusty Staub had his best year for the Mets, driving in 105 runs. Then, in the offseason, for reasons few fans could understand, the Mets traded Staub to Detroit for veteran lefthanded pitcher Mickey Lolich. Actually, the trade was Staub and AAA pitcher Bill Laxton for Lolich and AAA outfielder Billy Baldwin.

I remember thinking that maybe this guy Baldwin was some super prospect (he wasn't) because otherwise, this trade was hard to justify. Trade Staub ? Maybe not unthinkable, because the Mets thought they had his replacement in the much younger Mike Vail. But for Lolich ? Was that the best they could do ?

Mike Vail came to the Mets as a throw-in minor leaguer in an otherwise inconsequential swap of utility infielders with the Cardinals. But Vail quickly established himself as a superior hitter on the AAA level, and was a sensation when the Mets brought him up, with a 23-game hitting streak that made fans and team officials think they had found a future long-term fixture in right field.

So, Staub could be a valuable trade commodity to a team that had a solid starting 3 in Koosman, Seaver, and Matlack, but needed an established 4th starter. Lolich was the pitching star of the 1968 World Series, but by 1975, he was still a workhorse, but a 35-year old, terribly out of shape workhorse who had lost 39 games in 2 seasons and didn't figure to get much better. Would a change of leagues return Lolich to glory ?

Well, Lolich went 8-13 for the Mets and soon departed, while Staub continued to hit for years. Fortunately, Rusty returned to the Mets a few years later where he became baseball's premier pinch-hitter.

And Vail ? He injured his knee playing basketball in the off-season, leaving a gaping hole in the Mets' lineup and when he returned, he never lived up to his potential with the Mets, although he hung around with a few other teams for a while as a 4th outfielder and pinch hitter.

The 1976 Mets finished 86-76 with neither Vail or Lolich making many positive contributions. Could the Mets have been a legitimate contender if they had kept Staub ? We'll never know.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Trades From The Past : Rusty Staub

Just before the start of the 1972 season, Mets' manager Gil Hodges died suddenly of a heart attack. A few days later, the Mets announced that Yogi Berra was the new manager and that they had completed a major trade, possibly the biggest in their history up until that time.

The Mets sent all 3 of their best young players to the Montreal Expos in exchange for the Expos' best and most popular player, Le Grand Orange, Rusty Staub. The trade gave the Mets the look of a powerhouse. Their solid pitching staff would now have one of the best hitters in all of baseball to drive in some runs. Staub was clearly an outstanding hitter. And, the Mets may well have won in 1972 if not for an incredible string of injuries that left them decimated. But, was this a good trade for the Mets ? In retrospect, it was certainly an interesting one to analyze.

The Mets gave up Ken Singleton, a legitimate power-hitting prospect who put up great AAA numbers and appeared to be on the brink of major league success, Mike Jorgensen, a local Queens kid, a slick-fielding first baseman who was a pretty good hitter, and Tim Foli, the former #1 draft pick in the country, a pepperpot shortstop who was a pretty decent all-around player, but neither a premier defensive shortstop or a better than average bat. All 3 were major league ready, but not quite able to break into the Mets lineup, although Singleton was likely to be the right fielder if this trade wasn't made. At the time, I thought it was worth the gamble. There's an old adage about multi-player trades that whichever team gets the best player out of the trade made a good deal. Was that the case here ? Probably, although with all the injuries the Mets suffered in 1972, all 3 of the players sent to Montreal would probably have gotten extensive playing time with the Mets.

Rusty Staub was one of the most popular Mets ever, and after being dumped for Mickey Lolich in a terrible trade with the Tigers (more about that next time) was brought back as a pinch-hitting specialist, a role that he thrived in. Never the best defensive player at first base or the outfield, and slow on the basepaths, Staub hustled and played all-out all the time and was an outstanding clutch hitter who also made some great defensive plays when they mattered most.

Singleton developed into a solid player with the Orioles after the Expos sent him there in one of their worst trades ever. Foli remained a middling shortstop throughout his career and returned to the Mets a few years later. Jorgensen earned a reputation as a slick fielder who was capable of putting up some decent numbers with the bat in a good year as well (think Doug Mientkiewicz).

Was this a good deal for the Mets or a bad one ? I'd say positive, although Singleton was tough to lose, but I always got the feeling that the Mets weren't going to give him the chance he needed. As for Jorgensen and Foli, they could have helped, but neither blossomed to be any more than projected; in Foli's case, somewhat less than projected.

Next, a look at Mike Vail, Staub for Lolich and how it all turned sour.


Friday, September 02, 2005

The First Amateur Draft - Part 2

Although first-round pick Les Rohr was a bust, the Mets did very well overall in the 1965 Amateur Draft. In retrospect, it was one of the best drafts in their history. Unfortunately, they didn't get to reap the full benefits of their haul since they traded away their best pick, Nolan Ryan, in what, of course, was one of the major trade blunders in baseball history.

Their second round pick, a catcher named Randolph Kohn never signed. I'm not sure if he played pro ball at any time. I'd like to think that maybe he really was better than Johnny Bench who got drafted several picks later, but just maybe he had better things to do than play baseball. If anyone knows anything about him, please pass it on. Other than the memory of seeing his name in The Sporting News as the #2 Mets pick, I don't remember ever hearing another word about him.

Third-round pick Joe Moock was a fairly-well hyped infield prospect who peaked at about AA. I do recall him appearing in the Mets' broadcast booth right after he signed (Kiner pronounced his name to rhyme with spook, while Murphy pronounced it to rhyme with book) and I think he had a very solid year in the NYP League, but I don't know where it fell apart for him.

Some of the notable picks included Ken Boswell in the 4th round, who became more or less the regular second baseman for several years. He was a good lefthanded hitter, considered a better bat than glove, and had to be considered a good pick for the 4th round.

Jim McAndrew was chosen in the 11th round and was an effective 4th or 5th starter for the Mets for several years, one of those guys who did much better statistically in the big leagues than his projection. Another good pick.

Nolan Ryan in the 12th round was a gem, of course. Scout Red Murff loved this skinny righty out of Alvin, Texas and Ryan became an immediate strikeout sensation in the Mets' system, averaging about 2 K's an inning from Rookie Ball to AAA, before the Mets brought him up. Ryan's future numbers could, of course, fill a book, or several books, as they already have, so I won't go into them here. Suffice it to say, this was a great pick and subsequently a great loss.

Steve Renko in the 24th round was an important part of the Donn Clendenon trade and did quite well for himself as a starter with the Expos after going over there. Nice selection.

Don Shaw was the 35th round choice. He was a favorite of M. Donald Grant for reasons I've never figured out, but I do recall reading that Grant was opposed to trading him in several proposed deals. Shaw eventually went to the Expos in the 1969 Expansion Draft. He was a decent lefty specialist for a little while. Of course, any 35th round pick that even makes it to the big leagues has to be considered a plus.

Other picks who surfaced briefly in the major leaguers included Joe Campbell in the 44th round (0 for 3 with the Cubs in his major league career) and Barry Raziano in the 47th round (1-2 in a brief career in the American League).

So, overall, the Mets got one future Hall Of Famer (Ryan), 3 Major League Regulars (Boswell, McAndrew, and Renko), one player who enjoyed brief major league success (Shaw) and 2 who got a cup of coffee. A great haul ? Maybe not, but certainly better than a lot of future Mets' drafts. And any draft in which you select even one future Hall Of Famer (how many other Mets draft picks can make that claim ?) has to be considered positive.