By Mike Steffanos
While we're waiting for anything substantial to happen in the hot stove season, I thought it might be interesting to look back at some of the Mets' key free agent signings and trades from the past 15 years. The information I used to compile this was primarily obtained from the wonderful Retrosheet web site. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list, but rather a highlight of the more important trades and signings.
Today we will cover the years from 1991-1995, as the glory years of the mid-1980's faded into the dark and evil days of early 1990s.
GM: Gerry Hunsicker
1991 Record: 77-84 (5th Place)
Free Agents: Vince Coleman, Rick Cerone
Dec. 15, 1990 -- Traded Bob Ojeda and Greg Hansell to the Dodgers for Hubie Brooks.
May 31, 1991 -- Traded Tim Teufel to the Padres for Garry Templeton.
July 15, 1991 -- Traded Ron Darling and Mike Thomas to the Expos for Tim Burke.
The 1990-1991 off-season was a time of many changes for the Mets. In essence, it signaled the end of the short-lived mid-1980s "dynasty" that Frank Cashen built and then dismantled. World Series MVP Ray Knight wasn't re-signed after the '86 championship season; Carter and Hernandez went in '89; as did Lenny Dykstra who was traded for Juan Samuel in one of Cashman's worst moves. During the 1990 season, Davey Johnson was summarily fired, replaced by Bud Harrelson. After the season Daryl Strawberry was allowed to leave as a free agent.
The Mets brought in 2 free agents for the 1991 season: 37-year-old catcher Rick Cerrone and former nemesis with the Cardinals Vince Coleman. Neither helped much -- beset by injuries, Coleman, the major pickup, had the first of 3 surly and unproductive seasons at Shea.
As for the trades, Ojeda, who had been a real solid pickup for the Mets and an important part of the championship team, was coming off a season where he was demoted to the bullpen after getting off to a bad start. He went on to have a couple of decent years with the Dodgers. Hubie Brooks, who had been the key player sent to the Expos in the Gary Carter trade in 1984, returned to the Mets and had a decent, though unspectacular year.
Tim Tuefel's trade removed yet another key 1986 veteran from the team, replacing him with a Gary Templeton who was well past his prime. He retired at the end of the season. Ron Darling, who had struggled with injuries his last years with the Mets, actually went on and had some real solid years for Oakland in the 1990s. Tim Burke, who had been a good closer but was basically done, gave the Mets nothing and was gone the following year. These moves did nothing to slow the rapid decline of the Mets.
GM: Gerry Hunsicker
1992 Record: 72-90 (5th Place)
Free Agents: Eddie Murray, Bobby Bonilla, Willie Randolph
Dec. 10, 1991 -- Traded Hubie Brooks to the Angels for Dave Gallagher.
Dec. 11, 1991 -- Traded Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies, and Keith Miller to the Royals for Bret Saberhagen and Bill Pecota.
April 12, 1992 -- Traded Julio Valera to the Angels for Dick Schofield.
Aug. 27, 1992 -- Traded David Cone to the Blue Jays for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson.
This was the 1992 Mets -- with the highest payroll in baseball they would become the material for Bob Klapisch and John Harper's book The Worst Team Money Could Buy. Eddie Murray gave them what they expected on the field, but spent his 2 seasons at Shea openly in contempt of the beat reporters. Bonilla signed a huge contract, feuded with reporters and failed on the field, in the process becoming one of the Mets' worst free agent signings ever. The 37-year-old Randolph gave the Mets 90 solid games in his final season, but missed the rest with injuries.
The Mets did no better with trades than they did with free agents. Brooks was gone one year after returning in return for reserve outfielder Gallagher. The indifferent Kevin McReynolds was on the downside of his underachieving career and was no big loss. Jeffries fulfilled some of his promise after leaving New York, making a couple of all-star appearances with the Cardinals in '93 and '94. Brett Saberhagen was plagued by injuries with the Mets, though he did give them one solid year in 1994. It would be somewhat of an understatement to say that Saberhagen and Mets fans never warmed to each other. Pecota was a utility player that stayed one year with the Mets. Valera had one decent year with the Angels, while SS Dick Schofield batted .205 in his lone Met season.
The biggest tragedy was David Cone for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson. As Gooden faded Cone became the Mets' best pitcher. There were some weird rumors of a sex scandal, and he was gone. Kent, never a fan favorite, didn't achieve much until after he left New York. Thompson was a spare part in 4 years at Shea. Cone went on to become one of the great money pitchers in the game with Toronto and then the Yankees.
GM: Al Harazin, Joe McIlvaine
1993 Record: 59-103 (Last Place)
Free Agents: Frank Tanana, Joe Orsulak
Dec. 7, 1992 -- Traded Wally Whitehurst, D.J. Dozier and Raul Casanova to the Padres for Tony Fernandez.
June 11, 1993 -- Traded Tony Fernandez to the Blue Jays for Darrin Jackson.
Sep. 17, 1993 -- Traded Frank Tanana to the Yankees for Kenny Greer.
If 1992 was a disaster, 1993 was a major low point for the franchise. The 103 losses was the fifth highest loss total in team history. Vince Coleman, who gave the Mets nothing on the field (when he actually played), embarrassed the team by throwing firecrackers into the crowd and hurting a kid. Anthony Young set a major league record with 27 losses in a row -- it would take a memorable 9th inning comeback to end the streak and give him his only win of the season.
Frank Tanana was the one "name" free agent, and his best days were long gone. He did wind up being the second best starter on this horror show of a team. Orsulak was a solid 1B/OF that actually gave the Mets 3 productive years. As far as the trades went, Whitehurst was a good looking pitching prospect the Mets picked up in 1987 in the Jesse Orosco trade. He had some moments with the team but never put it together. Dozier was a football player masquerading as a baseball player.
Fernandez was a former all-star SS that failed to shine in his short stay in Queens -- but sure enough, he had several more good years after leaving the Mets in the June trade for Darrin Jackson, who batted .195 for the Mets, but .312 for the White Sox the following season. Basically, everything the Mets touched in 1993 turned to excrement.
GM: Joe McIlvaine
1994 Record: 55-58 (3rd Place)
Free Agents: Mike Remlinger, Jim Lindeman
Nov. 24, 1993 -- Traded Dave Gallagher to the Braves for Pete Smith.
Jan. 5, 1994 -- Traded Vince Coleman and cash to the Royals for Kevin McReynolds.
March 30, 1994 -- Traded Anthony Young and Ottis Smith to the Cubs for Jose Vizcaino.
March 31, 1994 -- Traded former #1 pick Alan Zinter to the Tigers for 1B Rico Brogna.
1994 was the infamous strike year that killed baseball. Doc Gooden was suspended for drug use and never pitched again for the Mets. Eddie Murray and Vince Coleman were gone. The team itself, only 3 games under .500, was, by default, the best Mets team since 1990. Bonilla actually had a decent year, Saberhagen had his best year pitching for them; then the season went away on August 12 and that was that. Personally, it took several years for me to start feeling like a real fan again.
While LHP Mike Remlinger didn't do much to distinguish himself with the Mets, he did became a solid pitcher years later with the Braves. Jim Lindeman was a career bench player who had his best season in 1994 with the Mets, his last in baseball.
As for trades, Pete Smith was a mediocre starter obtained from Atlanta for reserve OF Gallagher. He distinguished himself by giving up an impressive 25 HRs in only 131 innings. Coleman was addition by subtraction, even though his trade brought back a fat, old and even more lethargic Kevin McReynolds for one more ride on the merry-go-round. McReynolds was out of baseball the following year. Trading Young and his lifetime Mets record of 5-35 was a nice move -- Vizcaino was a versatile and heady player that always seemed underappreciated by Mets management in his time here.
Alan Zinter was a former first round pick -- a catcher who wound up with only 78 career major league ABs in stints with the Astros and Diamondbacks. Brogna hit .351 with 7 HR and 20 RBIs in only 131 ABs with the team and became a fan favorite.
GM: Joe McIlvaine
1995 Record: 69-75 (2nd Place)
Free Agents: Brett Butler
Nov. 18, 1994 -- Traded Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Roa to the Indians for Paul Byrd, Jerry Dipoto, Jesus Azuaje and Dave Mlicki.
Nov. 28, 1994 -- Traded Todd Beckerman and Juan Castillo to the Astros for Pete Harnisch.
Nov. 29, 1994 -- Traded Quilvio Veras to the Marlins for Carl Everett.
Nov. 30, 1994 -- Traded Javier Gonzalez and Fernando Vina to the Milwaukee Brewers for Doug Henry.
July 28, 1995 -- Traded Bobby Bonilla and Jimmy Williams to the Orioles for Damon Buford and Alex Ochoa.
July 31, 1995 -- Traded Bret Saberhagen and David Swanson to the Rockies for Juan Acevedo and Arnold Gooch. Aug. 18, 1995 -- Traded Brett Butler to the Dodgers for 2 minor leaguers.
The 1995 season didn't begin until almost May, and the Mets took a while longer before they began to play well. The 38-year-old Brett Butler was the only free agent of note signed in a season that featured the debuts of Edgardo Alfonzo, Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen. Butler had a really solid year leading off for the Mets until they traded him to the Dodgers for 2 minor leaguers that never panned out.
The Burnitz trade sent away a young player that would become a solid run producer in return for pitcher Paul Byrd, who would blossom only after leaving New York; Dipoto, who was a decent bullpen arm for 2 seasons; and the mediocre Dave Mlicki, who pitched decently for the Mets. Todd Beckerman and Juan Castillo were minor leaguers, while Harnisch was another mediocre starter that gave the Mets some innings. Quilvio Veras for Carl Everett was a wash -- Veras became a good 2B while Everett showed flashes of the solid power hitter he would become, once again, after he left the Mets.
Doug Henry had a nice year out of the pen, but Vina went on to become a really good second baseman for the Brewers and the Cardinals. Buford and Ochoa were decent outfielders; Bonilla was having his finest year as a Met. Acevedo gave the Mets nothing; Saberhagen was awful with the Rockies but rebounded to have a couple more good years with the Red Sox. Trading away Bonilla and Saberhagen seemed to be more about erasing the stink of the terrible early '90 fiascos.
In 9 seasons since the 1986 championship, the Mets had completely dismantled a team that had won 91 games as recently as 1990 and made themselves a laughingstock -- a cautionary tale for those who felt that championships could easily be bought.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana, The Life of Reason
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