By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.
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 success.
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.