Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mets/Indians Trades - Losers All Around

I found it interesting that over the years, the Mets and Indians have made several trades that were considered major at the time, but wound up being highly disappointing for both teams.

The Roberto Alomar and Carlos Baerga trades come to mind first, of course. Both were perennial all-stars as Indians, but total failures as Mets. What keeps these from being steals by the Indians is that the players they got in exchange didn't turn out that well for them. Baerga brought them future Hall Of Famer Jeff Kent (I can't believe I'm writing that, but his stats will get him in) as well as the versatile Jose Vizcaino, who's still around, too. The Indians' problem is that they traded both of them to the Giants for Matt Williams, which made Mets' fans drool at the time because he was one player the Mets always coveted, except that turned out to be a great deal for San Francisco. And as far as Alomar, the Mets sent over Matt Lawton, who never duplicated his earlier success in Minnesota, as well as "top prospects" Alex Escobar and Billy Traber, both now members of the Washington Nationals who will struggle to make the team. Escobar remains a shining example of how "the #1 prospect in baseball" label is no guarantee of future sucess.

But I also recall a much earlier trade which was considered a big one at the time, although younger Mets fans will no doubt look at these names and think "who were they ?"

On November 27, 1972, the Mets obtained relief pitcher Phil Hennigan from the Indians for young pitchers Bob Rauch and Brent Strom.

The 1972 Mets got off to a 25-7 start before they were devastated by injuries. On paper, they were one of the strongest Mets teams ever with recent acquisitions Rusty Staub, Jim Fregosi, and Willie Mays and a superb starting staff led by Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Gentry, and McAndrew with Tug McGraw and Danny Frisella anchoring the bullpen. In November of 1972, the Mets dealt Gentry and Frisella for Felix Millan and George Stone, a deal which worked out very nicely, but at the time it created a void for a righthanded reliever.

Phil Hennigan had just had a solid season for Cleveland, posting a 2.67 ERA in 67 innings. Going on 27 years of age, he figured to be entering his prime years. He had already had 3 pretty good years in the Indians' pen and the Mets were expecting him to anchor their relief corps for several years.

Brent Strom had 3 years in the Mets' organization and was probably considered their best pitching prospect at the time. Rauch was one of the Mets' better prospects too, although his ceiling was probably just a middle man in the bullpen.

How badly did this deal turn out ? Hennigan appeared in 30 games for the 1973 Mets, pitching to a record of 0-4 and 6.23 ERA and never threw another inning in the big leagues after that year. Strom went 2-10 4.61 for the '73 Indians before being dealt away and never amounted to much. Rauch never made the team.

Fortunately, Harry Parker filled what was supposed to be Hennigan's role very nicely in 1973, helping the Mets to an improbable pennant. But this trade was certainly a letdown for both teams.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

What Do Met Fans Want ? What do any fans want ?

The starting pitching is uncertain, but there are plenty of candidates, including several age 25 and under, with several younger ones on the horizon. There are a bunch of future closer candidates in the system led by Ambiorix Burgos and newly-acquired Marcos Carvajal. Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez, and Fernando Martinez are among the best outfield prospects around. Francisco Pena may be the next great young catcher. Now, most likely not all of these prospects will become stars, but suppose a couple of them did every year, Omar continued to fill holes with free agent signings and judicious trades, and Willie Randolph cements his place as one of the all-time great field leaders in baseball history.

The Mets go to the World Series 5 out of the next 7 years and win it 4 times. Heaven ? Is this what Met fans want ? Or do they secretly wish for some of these prospects to fall flat on their faces ? For Omar to make a bad, maybe horrible trade or two so they can all criticize him ? For a couple of key injuries that will always have the team scrambling to come up with replacements ? Do Met fans want a team that wins over a hundred games every year, or one that's in a close race to make the playoffs ?

As my "profile" for this blog relates, I was a Yankee fan as a kid, but I found it much more interesting to follow a team that was always trying to improve, rather than one whose season didn't start until October. If the "new" Mets become the old Yankees, how would I feel? I'm pretty sure I'd still root for the Mets, but wouldn't watch nearly as many games or find it necessary to check box scores or team news nearly as often.

Personally, I'd like my team to be a contender every year, but not a runaway favorite. What if the Mets had gone all the way last year and won the World Series ? To be honest, I probably wouldn't follow them as closely this year. And if they win it all this year, it will be a thrill, and I'm sure I'll be less interested in the team next year.

I recall what I think was an old Twilight Zone episode where an inveterate gambler begins winning every time, and can't bear it. What is the thrill of gambling if you know you are going to win ? Similarly, how much enjoyment can one derive from rooting for a team that is always favored ? There can only be disappointment !

Opinions, please.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

McCovey an Original Met ? Gil Hodges as the Mets' FIRST manager ?

Using the online Sporting News archive that I wrote about in my last post, I accessed the issue of September 20, 1961 just before the Mets made their choices in the expansion draft. In this issue, NY writer Joe King speculated on who might be chosen by the Mets and Colt .45's as well as who the Mets might select as manager. (Interestingly, a year before, TSN printed the ACTUAL lists of players made available in the AL expansion draft, but no such list was ever published for the NL.)

Although the player lists were only about half accurate, few of those who didn't get chosen would have made much of a difference. But certainly one name mentioned as a possible Met choice would have made QUITE a difference. King wrote matter-of-factly that the Mets could wind up with Willie McCovey as their first baseman. No doubt, the Giants came to their senses and substituted the likes of Sherman "Roadblock" Jones and Joe Amalfitano as available talent. Looking back, McCovey certainly stands out among the players listed as potential choices. Presumably, King decided that with the Giants having two natural first basemen in Orlando Cepeda and McCovey, they could afford to part with one of them. The Giants would make some dumb moves like trading Cepeda for Ray Sadecki as well as giving up on slugging outfielders like George Foster, Felipe Alou, Leon Wagner, and Willie Kirkland, but I don't think they were dumb enough to put up McCovey. Had they done so, I'd like to think the Mets would have grabbed him with the first pick.

The other very interesting item in this issue (same page) stated that "with all indications that Casey Stengel will not return to managing, signs point to Gil Hodges as the No. 1 choice to be manager of the Mets". There was even speculation that there would have to be an arrangement allowing the Mets to pick Hodges in the draft for the purpose of being their manager, so Houston wouldn't take him.

Had the Mets opted for Hodges to lead them, it's very likely they would have taken more young players. Or maybe they knew they would be taking mostly older ones, so Hodges was not the best choice as manager. Whatever the case, a 1962 Mets team with Gil Hodges as manager and Willie McCovey at first base would have probably put this team on a whole different course.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mets Trades Of The Past - Tim Teufel

Ask me who the Mets traded for Keith Hernandez and I'll immediately tell you Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. Who'd they trade for Sid Fernandez ? Bob Bailor and Carlos Diaz. I remember most Mets trades like they were yesterday. But when I thought about Tim Teufel, an important member of the 1986 World Champion Mets, who was even better in 1987 when he batted .300, I remembered he came from the Twins, but couldn't for the life of me recall who the Mets gave up to get him. So I looked it up.

Turns out the Mets gave up 3 young players who were still regarded as prospects- Billy Beane, Bill Latham, and Joe Klink. Beane was a former first-rounder who never panned out with the Mets, but obviously he was the key player in the deal for Minnesota, because they gave him a fair amount of playing time in 1986. He hit all of .213 with no power, pretty much sealing his fate as a failed prospect. Beane, of course, later became one of the fast rising young executives in baseball and has been firmly entrenched as the Oakland A's GM for quite awhile now. Latham and Klink were young lefthanded pitchers. Latham was probably considered the better prospect, but Klink had some success in the major leagues as a lefty specialist a few years later, while Latham had no more than a cup of coffee.

Teufel had been the Twins' regular second baseman, yet the Mets were pretty well-set with Wally Backman. The thing is that Backman was a failed switch-hitter who was terrible from the right side, so the Mets figured they would be better off with a Teufel-Backman platoon and they were right. Teufel was never a star, but had a lot of key hits for the Mets, and was one of the quiet, unsung heroes of the team. This was clearly a good deal for the Mets and a gamble for the Twins that didn't pay off. Not only did none of the prospects the Mets sent them help much, but Teufel's successor at second base, Steve Lombardozzi, never amounted to much either.

So, this was a fairly low profile deal that turned out quite nicely for the Mets.