By Mike Steffanos
We finish our look back at important free agent signings and trades from the last 15 years. Once again, the information I used to compile this was primarily obtained from the 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 2000-2005.
GM: Steve Phillips
2001 Record: 82-80 (3rd Place)
Free Agents: Kevin Appier, Steve Trachsel
July 23, 2001 -- Traded Todd Pratt to the Phillies for Gary Bennett.
July 27, 2001 Traded Dennis Cook and Turk Wendell to the Philadelphia Phillies. Received Bruce Chen and Adam Walker.
July 30, 2001 Traded Rick Reed to the Minnesota Twins. Received Matt Lawton.
The Mets began the off-season of 2000-2001 by losing free agent Mike Hampton to the superior public school system in Colorado (hey, those private schools are expensive!). To those of us paying attention, Phillips' signing of Kevin Appier, three years removed from being an effective pitcher, did little to instill confidence. The 11-10 season he gave the Mets actually exceeded my expectations. Trachsel, after an awful start, became for us the dependably mediocre pitcher we all know and love today.
As previously with Phillips as GM, the season featured constant trades, most of little significance. Fan favorite Pratt went to archrival Philadelphia for a player that had one AB for the Mets. The Cook and Wendell move was noteworthy for moving 2 bullpen stalwarts to that same team in our own division. Neither pitcher excelled in Philadelphia, though Wendell had one more decent year in 2003 after missing the whole 2002 season. Bruce Chen was mediocre in 11 Met starts going 3-2. Rick Reed had been a dependable starter in New York; Lawton played only 48 games for the Mets before departing in the off-season trade that brought Roberto Alomar to Shea.
The season itself was a major disappointment. The team got off to another bad start -- a Bobby Valentine trademark. They were muddling along at 14 games under .500 in August, then got hot and made a run at the playoffs. September 11 happened and baseball went on hold. When it came back Piazza won a dramatic game against Atlanta, but it was the Braves who eventually killed the Mets run -- their disappointing 82-80 finish was only a nasty hint at what was to come.
GM: Steve Phillips
2002 Record: 75-86 (5th Place)
Free Agents: Roger Cedeno, David Weathers, Pedro Astacio
December 7, 2001 -- Traded Robin Ventura to the Yankees for David Justice.
Dec. 11, 2001 -- Traded Matt Lawton, Alex Escobar, Jerrod Riggan, Earl Snyder and Billy Traber to the Indians for Roberto Alomar, Mike Bacsik, and Danny Peoples.
Dec. 14, 2001 -- Traded David Justice to the As for Mark Guthrie and Tyler Yates.
Dec. 16, 2001 -- Traded Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Desi Relaford to the Giants for Shawn Estes.
Dec. 27, 2001 -- Traded Kevin Appier to the Angels for Mo Vaughn.
Jan. 21, 2002 -- As part of a 3-team trade, the Mets traded Lenny Harris and Glendon Rusch to the Brewers and Benny Agbayani, Todd Zeile, and cash to the Rockies. Received Craig House and Ross Gload from the Rockies and Jeff D'Amico, Jeromy Burnitz, Lou Collier, Mark Sweeney, and cash from the Brewers.
April 5, 2002 -- Traded Bruce Chen, Dicky Gonzalez, Saul Rivera and Luis Figueroa to the Expos for Scott Strickland, Phil Seibel, and Matt Watson.
July 31, 2002 -- Traded Jay Payton, Mark Corey, and Robert Stratton to the Rockies for Mark Little and John Thomson.
Traded Bobby Jones, Jason Bay, and Josh Reynolds to the Padres for Steve Reed and Jason Middlebrook.
2002 was the year that everything Steve Phillips touched turned to excrement. After the disappointing season in 2001, Phillips went positively frantic making moves. The free agents were a mixed bag -- Cedeno was nothing like the player he had been for the Mets in 1999, and soon lost favor with the fans. David Weathers was a decent addition to the bullpen. Pedro Astacio gave the Mets innings, but not a lot of quality, as a starter. Phillips also allowed the popular Edgardo Alfonzo to leave via free agency.
This was because Phillips had traded for 34 year old 2B Robby Alomar, coming off 12 consecutive all-star seasons with Cleveland. Alomar struggled the whole year both at bat and in the field, and did not endear himself to Met fans who perceived a lack of hustle on his part.
Phillips also traded the popular 3B Robin Ventura to the Yankees for David Justice, then turned around and moved Justice for left-hander Mark Guthrie and Tyler Yates. He traded the light-hitting Japanese OF Shinjo and the useful Desi Relaford to the Giants for the awful Shawn Estes. He moved 2001's mistake, Kevin Apier, to the Angels for Mo Vaughan, who maybe more than anyone else came to symbolize the lack of vision of the Phillips era.
A large 3-team trade sent LHP Glendon Rusch, PH Lenny Harris, OF Benny Agbayani, and Todd Zeile away in return for Jeromy Burnitz, who was lost offensively all year, and the mediocre Jeff D'Amico. At the trading deadline during the season, Jay Payton and minor-leaguer Jason Bay were among 6 Mets traded away.
Again, these are only highlights (lowlights?) of countless trades and personal moves by Phillips, all for a season that was comparable to the horrible 1992 team. They played badly all season, then absolutely quit on Valentine as they finished 11 games under .500, in last place in the NL East, costing Valentine his job and forcing Met fans to endure 2 seasons of Art Howe. Incredibly, after a season that could serve as a primer for bad personnel moves, Steve Phillips was allowed to keep his job, given one more chance to prove just how incompetent he could be.
GM: Steve Phillips, Jim Duquette
2003 Record: 66-95 (5th Place)
Free Agents: Tom Glavine, Mike Stanton, Cliff Floyd, Tony Clark, Graeme Lloyd, David Cone
July 1, 2003 -- Traded Roberto Alomar and cash to the White Sox for Edwin Almonte, Royce Ring, and Andrew Salvo. July 14, 2003 -- Traded Jeromy Burnitz and cash to the Dodgers for Victor Diaz, Joselo Diaz, and Kole Strayhorn.
The 2003 Mets would get off to a bad start and go downhill from there. Alomar was still awful. The fat Mo Vaughan struggled with a .190 average, then went on the DL with the knee condition that would end his career. Piazza had an awful groin injury in May that would sideline him for months. Expensive free agent acquisition Tom Glavine struggled all year; Mike Stanton missed time and pitched poorly when he played. Cliff Floyd injured an Achilles early but hung tough until Mike Piazza returned; unlike most recent acquisitions he earned the respect of the fans. Tony Clark gave the team a respectable year filling in, Graeme Lloyd gave them little before moving on, and David Cone's attempted comeback fizzled after 5 bad starts.
Steve Phillips was fired and replaced by Jim Duquette in June - with a mandate to trade Alomar, Burnitz and the floundering Armando Benitez away for whatever decent prospects they might bring in. Interim GM Duquette did a decent job, and was "rewarded" with the regular GM gig for 2004.
In only 3 seasons the Mets had plummeted from the heights of a world series appearance to the depths of a last place finish as they flirted with losing 100 games. And, to be blunt, Steve Phillips proved that building a playoff contender had been a fluke. His tenure in New York featured a dizzying merry-go-round of constant player movement, but when he left neither the farm system nor the big club had any real positive to show for it. Good riddance.
GM: Jim Duquette
2004 Record: 71-91 (4th Place)
Free Agents: Kazuo Matsui, Mike Cameron, Braden Looper, Karim Garcia, Shane Spencer, Todd Zeile
March 27, 2004 -- Traded Timo Perez to the White Sox for Matt Ginter.
April 4, 2004 -- Traded Roger Cedeno to the Cardinals for Wilson Delgado and Chris Widger.
June 17, 2004 -- Traded Jeremy Griffiths and David Weathers to the Astros for Richard Hidalgo.
July 19, 2004 -- Traded Karim Garcia to the Orioles for Mike DeJean.
July 30, 2004 -- Traded Justin Huber to the Royals for Jose Bautista.
Traded Jose Bautista, Ty Wigginton, and Matt Peterson to the Pirates for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger.
Traded Scott Kazmir and Jose Diaz to the Devil Rays for Bartolome Fortunato and Victor Zambrano.
Aug. 27, 2004 -- Traded Dan Wheeler to the Astros for Adam Seuss (minors).
Coming off the awful 2003 campaign, and with a lack of big name free agent signings, it was obvious that 2004 wasn't going to be a particularly memorable season at Shea. It was a fairly busy off-season, though, the "highlight" being the signing of Japanese SS Kaz Matsui -- whom the Mets promptly over-hyped to the point that it seemed like the second coming of Ichiro. Although he had a HR to lead off the season, and a nice series against the Yankees, Matsui's deficiencies in the field, particularly throwing; and at the plate, with a tendency to strike out chasing bad breaking balls, antagonized Met fans.
The other major free agent signing, CF Mike Cameron, injured his wrist very early in the season and consequently struggled offensively for most of the first half of the season. Although he played very well for the most part in CF, he had a disturbing tendency for almost shockingly bad defensive lapses at times. Braden Looper did a decent job for the most part in his first season as Met closer. Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer carried the Mets very early in the season, although neither would finish the year with the team. Zeile gave the Mets pretty much what they expected all year.
The Mets hovered around the .500 mark for the first half of the year, as both Leiter and Glavine pitched well. There were some fine moments, including a 3 game sweep of the Yankees over the July 4 weekend that gave the Mets their first ever season series victory. The trade for Richard Hidalgo gave their offense a lift for a while. They began to fade after the all-star break as their starting and relief pitching faltered and Mike Piazza looked bad at first base and struggled offensively.
They were rapidly falling out of contention when they made some controversial trades at the deadline. In particular, moving top pitching prospect Scott Kazmir earned the rancor of fans, and looks like it can rank with some of the Mets' all-time stinkers. Another bad trade that went unnoticed at the time was basically giving Dan Wheeler to the Astros for nothing -- Wheeler would develop into a really fine set-up man in a year the Mets struggled to find consistency in their bullpen.
The Mets endured another September collapse, sealing Art Howe's fate, as the Kazmir trade (perhaps unfairly) cost Duquette the GM job. There is argument to this day as to who was truly responsible for the trade. After the season the Mets also said goodbye to Al Leiter and John Franco. Omar Minaya would be given "full autonomy" as the club's new General Manager. 2005 would begin a whole new era at Shea.
GM: Omar Manaya
2005 Record: 83-79 (3rd Place)
Free Agents: Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Kris Benson, Ramon Castro, Roberto Hernandez, Marlon Anderson, Chris Woodward, Miguel Cairo.
Jan. 5, 2005 -- Traded Vance Wilson to the Tigers for Anderson Hernandez.
Jan. 27, 2005 -- Traded Ian Bladergroen to the Red Sox for Doug Mientkiewicz.
March 20, 2005 -- Traded Jason Phillips to the Dodgers for Kaz Ishii
New Mets General Manager Omar Minaya made a huge splash in his first off-season by signing the two biggest names in the free agent market, Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, for huge contracts. Martinez proved to be worth every penny, putting fannies in the seats and creating a buzz every time he took the hill. Beltran played through injuries early and just seemed to play tight all season. All of the lesser signings went well for the Mets, especially relief pitcher Roberto Hernandez, back up catcher Ramon Castro, and bench players Woodward and Anderson.
The 2005 Mets, although up and down at times, were a vast improvement over the previous 2 years. There is a solid foundation of talented youth and experienced veterans. As Omar Minaya begins his second off-season in charge of the team, his challenges have increased. It is no longer enough just to improve the team -- his task now is to take the team to the next step and build a playoff contender. Hopefully, he can achieve that and break a long string of incompetent management that has plagued the Mets for more than 15 years.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana, The Life of Reason
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