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Key New York Mets Free Agents and Trades (1986-1990)

Mike SteffanosTuesday, March 14, 2006
By Mike Steffanos


Last fall 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. Sorry it took so long to finish this, but this was one hell of a busy off-season.

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 cover the years from 1986-1990, from the world championship season to the beginning of the "dark ages" of the 1990s.

1985-1986
GM: Frank Cashen
1986 Record: 108-54 (World Series Champions)

Off-season Trades:
Nov. 13, 1985 -- Traded Calvin Schiraldi, Wes Gardner, John Christensen, and La Schelle Tarver to the Red Sox for Bob Ojeda, Tom McCarthy, John Mitchell, and Chris Bayer.

Jan. 16, 1986 -- Traded Billy Beane, Bill Latham, and Joe Klink to the Minnesota Twins. Received Tim Teufel and Pat Crosby (minors).

In-season Trades:
June 30, 1986 -- Traded Ed Lynch to the Cubs for Dave Liddell and Dave Lenderman.

Other Key In-season Transactions:
Aug. 3, 1986 -- Signed Lee Mazzilli as a free agent.

Aug. 7, 1986 -- Released George Foster.

After two consecutive excruciating second place finishes, 1986 was the year things finally fell into place. The big move was adding lefty Bob Ojeda to the rotation. He enjoyed his finest season in the majors and was the most consistent pitcher over the course of the season. The key player the Mets gave up for him, former first rounder Calvin Schiraldi, was a secret weapon for the Mets in the Series, losing games 6 and 7 in relief. Schiraldi was never the same after that, and was out of baseball before age 30. Because of injuries, and almost cutting off his own finger with a hedge trimmer, Ojeda was never quite the same again, but he gave the Mets some solid years before being traded after the 1989 season.

Teufel was another key acquisition, platooning at 2B with Wally Backman. Former first round pick Billy Beane was a bust as a player, but turned into a fair country GM years later. Ed Lynch was a fan favorite and an overachiever that had some decent years for the Mets. He was out of baseball a year after being traded. Neither of the players the Mets received in return for Lynch panned out as major leaguers. Reacquiring old favorite Lee Mazzilli was a popular move, and he became a key pinch hitter for the championship team.

Foster was a huge disappointment for the Mets. He received a lot of money to be "the man" in New York, and never really delivered. After a horrible year in 1982, he bounced back with decent years in '83, '84 and '85, but never approached the caliber of player he was in Cincinnati. The fans grew to hate him (somewhat unfairly), and, when the club finally cut bait and released him in August, he accused the Mets management of racism. Maybe it was true, but I go back that far, and I think the Mets released him because he struck out too much, didn't hit enough and projected the attitude that he didn't care. In retrospect, I think he actually did care, but he was a proud man on the downside of a career.

After the Mets won the World Series, most of us felt that, after enduring all of the hellish years from 1977-1983, we were witnessing the birth of a dynasty that would compete for the championship for a decade. Little did we know...

1986-1987
GM: Frank Cashen
1987 Record: 92-70 (2nd Place)

Off-season Trades:
Dec. 11, 1986 -- Traded Shawn Abner, Stan Jefferson, Kevin Mitchell, Kevin Armstrong, and Kevin Brown to the Padres for Kevin McReynolds, Gene Walter, and Adam Ging.

March 27, 1987 -- Traded Ed Hearn, Rick Anderson, and Mauro Gozzo to the Royals for David Cone and Chris Jelic.

In-season Trades:
Sep. 15, 1987 -- Traded Jeff Richardson and Shane Young to the Angels for John Candelaria.

November 1986 -- Danny Heep and Ray Knight granted Free Agency.

Frank Cashen made a huge strategic mistake by not resigning team leader Ray Knight after he was named World Series MVP. His leadership was most certainly missed -- as was Dwight Gooden, who missed the first 2 months of the season in drug rehab. Bob Ojeda, arguably the Mets best pitcher in 1986, missed most of the season with injuries. Everything seemed to work against New York in 1987, to the delight of Mets haters everywhere.

The mistake that Frank Cashen made in failing to re-sign Ray Knight was compounded by the ill-advised Kevin McReynolds acquisition. McReynolds was a superior ballplayer with questionable motivation whose Arkansas hillbilly mentality wasn't at all a good fit in New York. He had some solid years for the Mets, but the fans never embraced him. He always seemed to underachieve his potential. Meanwhile Mitchell, despite some demons that followed him to San Diego and San Francisco, became a bona fide slugger for several years.

Cashen redeemed himself a great deal by picking Kansas City GM John Schuerholz' pocket (yes, that John Schuerholz) to pick up pitcher David Cone. Not only was the trade an absolute steal, for a backup catcher who only had 35 major leagues at bats after the deal, but the 24-year-old Cone was able to pick up the depleted pitching staff and keep the Mets in the race until the end of the season. In 1988 he would win 20 games for the Mets.

Candelaria gave the Mets little in a late-season rental, but neither of the players they traded came back to haunt them.

1987-1988
GM: Frank Cashen
1988 Record: 100-60 (1st)

Off-season Trades:
Dec. 8, 1987 -- Traded Doug Sisk to the Orioles for Blaine Beatty.

Dec. 11, 1987 -- Traded Rafael Santana and Victor Garcia to the Yankees for Darren Reed, Phil Lombardi, and Steve Frey.

As part of a 3-team trade, traded Jesse Orosco to the Dodgers. Received Jack Savage from the Dodgers and Kevin Tapani and Wally Whitehurst from Oakland. The Dodgers sent Bob Welch and Matt Young to Oakland and the A's sent Alfredo Griffin and Jay Howell to the Dodgers.

March 26, 1988 -- Traded Randy Milligan and Scott Henion to the Pirates for Mackey Sasser and Tim Drummond.

The Mets had a bounce-back season in 1988, winning 100 games and the National League East crown. David Cone led the pitching staff and was absolutely robbed of the NL Cy Young award. Gooden and Ojeda both had excellent years after their respective 1987 troubles, and Ron Darling contributed his last good year as a Met. There were precursors of darker times to come, as both Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez both missed substantial time to injuries. Neither would be the same player again, and both would be gone after the following season.

The Mets had a 2 games to 1 lead on the Dodgers, and were up by 2 runs in the ninth in game 4 of the NLDS. Unfortunately Davey Johnson left a tired Gooden in for the ninth, a move that backfired when Mike Scioscia tied the game the Mets would go on to lose. The rest, as they say, was history. The Dodgers would win the series, the Mets would not see the playoffs again for over a decade, and Gooden -- who up to that point had never won a post-season game, never would. He finished his career 0-4 in 12 post-season games.

Doug Sisk was a talented reliever for the Mets, but his penchant for putting lots of runners on base eventually got old with the fans. He had one more good year with the Orioles in 1988, but only pitched 16 major league innings after that. Beatty gave the Mets almost nothing. Neither Santana nor the players the Mets received for him did much, although Santana was the starting shortstop for 1 season.

Orosco pitched a lot of seasons after leaving the Mets, some rather good, but was finished as a legit closer. Whitehurst, a top prospect, never really blossomed with the Mets. Tapani had some good years after being traded in the awful Aguilera for Frank Viola deal. Randy Milligan had some solid seasons in Baltimore. Sasser was a very good offensive catcher for the Mets whose career was derailed when trouble throwing the ball back to the pitcher cropped up.

1988-1989
GM: Frank Cashen
1989 Record: 87-75 (2nd Place)

Off-season Trades:
Dec. 7, 1988 -- Traded Wally Backman and Mike Santiago to the Twins for Jeff Bumgarner, Steve Gasser, and Toby Nivens.

In-season Trades:
June 9, 1989 -- Traded Terry Leach to the Royals for Aquedo Vasquez.

June 18, 1989 -- Traded Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell to the Phillies for Juan Samuel.

July 31, 1989 -- Traded Rick Aguilera, David West, Kevin Tapani, and Tim Drummond to the Twins for Frank Viola.
Traded Mookie Wilson to the Blue Jays for Jeff Musselman and Mike Brady.

Frank Cashen seemed to lose it as a GM in 1989. All his deals turned out bad, and the Mets began a decline that, in a way, they are still recovering from. Greg Jeffries, who was supposed to become a big start, was struggling at the plate, in the field, and with his teammates.

The cavalcade of foolish deals began in December, when sparkplug Wally Backman was traded to Minnesota for players that never made the majors. Then the useful Leach was traded in June for another prospect that failed to bloom. I can only assume that it was somewhere in this time frame that Frank Cashen lost his mind, when he traded Roger McDowell and Lenny Dykstra to the Phillies for Juan Samuel. Dykstra had some great years in Philadelphia. Samuel, a product of a hitter's ballpark, had a terrible half-season with the Mets before being traded away.

Then at the July trading deadline Cashen compounded Mets fans' misery by trading Aguilera, Tapani and a couple of other prospects for the fading Frank Viola. Viola actually gave the Mets one great and one decent year before moving on, but Aguilera became one of the game's top closers for a decade and Tapani proved to be a useful major league starter for the same period. Cashen compounded this lunacy by giving away popular Met Mookie Wilson for virtually nothing. The panic moves availed little, as the Mets finished 6 games behind the Cubs.

1989-1990
GM: Frank Cashen
1990 Record: 91-71 (2nd Place)

Off-season Trades:
Dec. 6, 1989 -- Traded Randy Myers and Kip Gross to the Reds for John Franco and Don Brown.

Dec. 20, 1989 -- Traded Juan Samuel to the Dodgers for Alejandro Pena and Mike Marshall.

In-season Trades:
July 27, 1990 -- Traded Mike Marshall to the Red Sox for Greg Hansell, Paul Williams and Ed Perozo.

Aug. 30, 1990 -- Traded Nikco Riesgo and Rocky Elli to the Phillies for Tom Herr.
Traded Archie Corbin to the Royals for Pat Tabler.
Traded Julio Machado and Kevin Brown to the Brewers for Charlie O'Brien and Kevin Carmody.

Other Key In-season Transactions:
Apr. 30, 1990 -- Selected Daryl Boston off waivers from the Chicago White Sox.

November 1990 -- Released Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez

The dismantling of the successful, if somewhat disappointing, Mets teams of the 1980s was essentially completed in 1990. The team got off to a horrible start, and 40 games into the season Davey Johnson was replaced as manager by former Met Bud Harrleson. The Mets had a very good pitching staff, led by Frank Viola in his one great Met season. They were a bad defensive team and missed the leadership of Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez, who were both released after injury-plagued campaigns the previous year. The team won 91 games, but finished behind Pittsburgh in their last decent season until the end of the decade.

The trade of closers with the Reds was a wash, as both Meyers and Franco were effective firemen for years. Juan Samuel lost a lot of his value after his awful half-year in Shea, he had 2 mediocre seasons in LA and bounced around as a bench player for a few years after that. Marshall was quickly shipped out of New York the following season, while Pena was a solid reliever for most of 2 seasons for the Mets -- precious little to show for former sparkplug Lenny Dykstra.

After the 1990 season Frank Cashen stepped down as GM in favor of Gerry Hunsicker, although Cashen was still pulling most of the strings. Although Cashen deserved a lot of credit for building the Mets into a champion, he deserves equal blame for dismantling a successful team. Following the 1990 season the Mets teetered on the edge of a precipice, and would be an awful team for most of the ensuing decade.


Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana, The Life of Reason

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