By Mike Steffanos
Recently I put together a list of all the key New York Mets player acquisitions through free agency and trades for the years from 1991-2005. After I finished the project, I thought it might be interesting to go back 10 more years and look at the rise and fall of the 1986 Championship team. 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.
We begin with the years from 1981-1985, as the Mets build towards their championship team.
GM: Frank Cashen
1981 Record: 41-62 (5th Place)
Dec. 12, 1980 -- Traded Roy Lee Jackson to the Blue Jays for Bob Bailor.
Dec. 15, 1980 -- Traded John Pacella and Jose Moreno to the Padres for Randy Jones.
Feb. 28, 1981 -- Traded Steve Henderson and cash to the Cubs for Dave Kingman.
May 29, 1981 -- Traded Jeff Reardon and Dan Norman to the Expos for Ellis Valentine.
Key Draft Picks:
Drafted Lenny Dykstra in the 13th round of the 1981 amateur draft.
Signed Kevin Mitchell as an amateur free agent.
As the Mets entered the 1980-1981 off-season, Frank Cashen was completing his first year as General Manager for new owner Nelson Doubleday. The team he had inherited was certainly a mess, coming off the fourth consecutive season of 95 or more losses.
The 1981 season -- shortened by a player's strike -- was divided into two halves. With twice the opportunity to take the division, the Mets came up short both times. At least they managed to avoid a fifth straight 95 loss season, but only by default. Their 62 losses in 103 games would translate to 97 over a full season.
Bob Bailor was a useful utility player that played primarily SS and 2B in New York. After giving the Mets 3 good years, he was a part of the trade that brought Sid Fernandez to New York. In return, Jackson gave the Blue Jays four good seasons out of their bullpen. The two players that the Mets gave up for former 20-game winner Randy Jones didn't do much, but neither did Jones in 2 injury-plagued seasons in New York. The trade of Steve Henderson for Dave Kingman sent away a good, hard-working team player for a guy that hit home runs and gave the Mets nothing else. (Can you tell I was never a Kingman fan?)
The Jeff Reardon for Ellis Valentine trade was possibly the worst trade Cashen made early in his Mets tenure, and reminiscent of some of the bad moves he would make later on. Valentine was brittle, and in my mind overrated. In most of two seasons with the Mets, he gave them just over 500 ABs, 13 HRs and 69 RBIs with a .260 batting average. He left the Mets as a free agent after the 1982 season, and was out of baseball by the age of 30. Reardon was only one of the game's best closers for more than a decade after leaving the Mets. I'm sure Cashen wanted to forget that one.
On the other hand, Lenny Dykstra and Kevin Mitchell would become key components of the 1986 championship team.
GM: Frank Cashen
1982 Record: 65-97 (6th Place)
Feb. 10, 1982 -- Traded Alex Trevino, Jim Kern, and Greg Harris to the Reds for George Foster.
April 1, 1982 -- Traded Lee Mazzilli to the Rangers for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell.
Aug. 4, 1982 -- Traded Joel Youngblood to the Expos for Tom Gorman.
Sep. 10, 1982 -- Traded Tom Hausman to the Braves for Carlos Diaz.
Key Draft Picks:
Drafted Dwight Gooden in the 1st round (5th pick) of the 1982 amateur draft.
Drafted Randy Myers in the 1st round (9th pick) of the 1982 amateur draft (Secondary Phase).
Drafted Floyd Youmans in the 2nd round of the 1982 amateur draft.
Drafted Roger McDowell in the 3rd round of the 1982 amateur draft.
1982 was a year of big changes in New York. Joe Torre was fired and replaced by George Bamberger. The Mets acquired George Foster from the Reds, only four seasons removed from a superb 52 HR, 149 RBI year; then dealt the popular Lee Mazzilli for a pair of minor league pitchers. All the comings and goings mattered little to the bottom line, as the Mets finished with more than 90 losses again for the fifth time in six years.
I'm sure most Mets fans already know that the George Foster trade didn't help the Mets much. Foster only managed 13 HR and 70 RBI in the much less potent Mets lineup. None of the players the Mets traded for him came back to haunt them, as Trevino went on to an unspectacular career as a backup catcher, and Harris as a decent starter/middle reliever. Kern, once a top closer, was winding down, with 1982 being his last decent season.
The Mazzilli trade was controversial at the time, but Darling was a key member of the Mets rotation for 7 years, and Terrell gave the Mets a couple of solid years before being traded to Detroit for Howard Johnson. Youngblood had been a good and popular player worn down by playing on so many horrible Mets teams. Gorman was an "okay" lefty reliever for 3 seasons in New York. Hausman did almost nothing after leaving New York, while Diaz had a great year in the bullpen for the Mets in 1983, then went to LA along with Bob Bailor in return for key acquisition Sid Fernandez.
Where Frank Cashen really shone in 1982 was in the amateur draft. Gooden, Myers, and McDowell became key contributors to the championship team, and Youmans was a part of the key trade that brought Gary Carter to New York.
GM: Frank Cashen
1983 Record: 68-94 (6th)
Dec. 10, 1982 -- Traded Mike Scott to the Astros for Danny Heep.
Dec. 16, 1982 -- Traded Charlie Puleo, Lloyd McClendon, and Jason Felice to the Reds for Tom Seaver.
Jan. 13, 1983 -- Traded Mike Davis to the Red Sox for Mike Torrez.
June 15, 1983 -- Traded Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey to the Cardinals for Keith Hernandez.
Key Draft Picks:
Stan Jefferson (1), Calvin Schiraldi (1), Dave Magadan (2), Rick Aguilera (3), Jeff Innis (13).
1983 was the year Tom Seaver came home to the Mets, and Daryl Strawberry began his career in New York. George Bamberger was out as manager, Frank Howard was in, as the Mets finished with over 90 losses yet again. That made 6 90-loss season in 7 years, and it would have been 7 in a row without the strike. You almost have to try to be that bad for that long.
In the midst of all that losing, Frank Cashen brought a huge piece of the puzzle to New York when he acquired Keith Hernandez in June. Keith was initially horrified to come to New York, but his father convinced him that with pitchers Ron Darling and Dwight Gooden in the farm system, the Mets would be a winner very quickly.
Mike Scott was a promising young pitcher in New York that was never able to put it together until he went to Houston and learned to scuff a baseball. Danny Heep was a valuable fourth outfielder and pinch hitter for the championship team. The Astros did wind up with the upper hand in that deal.
None of the players the Mets traded for Seaver came back to haunt them. Torrez was on the way out in his one year in New York, but he gave the Mets 222 innings, while Davis never made it to the big leagues at all.
The Hernandez deal, in retrospect, was the trade that brought the Mets their soul -- their spirit -- and their fire. Neil Allen was a pitcher with a lot of promise who never quite put it together. A lot of people think it was the Carter trade that "made" the Mets, I always thought it was this one.
GM: Frank Cashen
1984 Record: 90-72 (2nd Place)
Dec. 8, 1983 -- Traded Carlos Diaz and Bob Bailor to the Dodgers for Sid Fernandez and Ross Jones.
Other Key Off-season Transactions:
Jan. 20, 1984 -- The Chicago White Sox chose Tom Seaver as a free agent compensation pick.
Jan. 30, 1984 -- Released Dave Kingman.
May 9, 1984 -- Released Craig Swan.
June 15, 1984 -- Traded Eddie Williams, Jay Tibbs, and Matt Bullinger to the Reds for Bruce Berenyi.
Aug. 28, 1984 -- Traded Gerald Young, Manuel Lee, and Mitch Cook to the Astros for Ray Knight.
1984 was a year of dramatic turn-arounds for the Mets. They went from 90-game losers to 90-game winners. Davey Johnson took over as manager of the team from the unqulified Frank Howard. There was a huge turnover in the starting pitching. First Frank Cashen made a mistake, leaving Tom Seaver exposed as a compensation pick thinking no one would take him, but the White Sox did. Craig Swan, a tremendous talent who was unable to stay healthy, was released. 19-year old Dwight Gooden came up to the Mets was selected rookie of the year. Ron Darling and the newly acquired Sid Fernandez joined him in the rotation. Unfortunately for the Mets, they finished in second place behind the Cubs -- mainly because several Cub players had career years.
The Fernandez trade was a huge win for the Mets. "El Sid" became a mainstay of the rotation for a decade, the promising Carlos Diaz developed arm problems and gave the Dodgers little. Berenyi was beset with arm problems and never gave the Mets much; Williams and Tibbs had unspectacular careers. Ray Knight struggled through the 1984 and 1985 seasons and was almost released, but came back to be the 1986 World Series MVP. Young and Lee both had solid major league careers.
Although Kingman had three good years with the A's after the Mets released him, it was a good move; important to change the mentality of the club that was learning to win again after 7 horrible years.
GM: Frank Cashen
1985 Record: 98-64 (2nd Place)
Dec. 7, 1984 -- Traded Walt Terrell to the Tigers for Howard Johnson.
Dec. 10, 1984 -- Traded Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham, and Floyd Youmans to the Expos for Gary Carter.
Jan. 18, 1985 -- As part of a 4-team trade, traded Tim Leary to the Brewers. Received Frank Wills from the Royals.
March 29, 1985 -- Traded Frank Wills to the Mariners for Wray Bergendahl.
April 2, 1985 -- Traded Jose Oquendo and Mark J. Davis to the Cardinals for Angel Salazar and John Young.
July 16, 1985 -- Traded Dave Cochrane to the White Sox for Tom Paciorek.
Other Key In-season Transactions:
August 20, 1985 -- Signed Larry Bowa as a free agent.
The Mets added another big piece of the puzzle in 1985 as they acquired all-star catcher Gary Carter in a trade with Montreal. The team got off to a good start, but then lost Daryl Strawberry for over a month due to an injured thumb. The Cardinals got hot and the Mets spent the rest of the year chasing them. In those days before the wild card, the 98 wins the Mets accumulated were good only for second place and watching the playoffs on TV. Dwight Gooden enjoyed his finest season as a Met, going 24-4 and winning the NL Cy Young award.
The two December trades had huge implications for the Mets' future, acquiring Howard Johnson and Gary Carter. The Hojo deal goes down as a win for the Mets; Walt Terrell had a solid career pitching for the Tigers, Hojo blossomed as a star in New York -- although that would have to wait until Knight departed following the 1986 season. Hubie Brooks was a good player that had some big years for the Expos, while Carter was the missing piece of the championship team.
The Tim Leary trade was a bad one, but not a disaster; Leary had some good, but not great, years as a starting pitcher. Meanwhile, the Mets traded the player they received back for Wray Bergendahl, a pitcher taken fifth in the 1982 draft that never pitched in the big leagues. The Oquendo trade was another bad one. Jose had a good career in St. Louis, while Salazar never played for the Mets.
Tom Paciorek and Larry Bowa were better pickups. Both were valuable off the bench down the stretch, especially Paciorek, although neither remained with the Mets in 1986.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana, The Life of Reason
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