By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of new articles Barry will be writing on Mets second basemen for this site. - M.S.
It's hard to believe how in the past 15 years the Mets have had so many disappointments at second base, especially when they've made several trades for former stars at that position. This series of posts will examine the Mets' series of missteps at second base and look at some fairly good ones who got away. I'll conclude the series by reviewing the chronological history of the Mets at the position.
It was not too long ago that Luis Castillo was a top quality second baseman, adept on getting on base, a pesky hitter who made consistent contact and used his speed to be one of the best top-of-the order hitters in the game. The Mets gave up 2 B-level prospects to get him from the Twins, not a bad move in the short term. Unfortunately, signing him to a 4-year $32 Million deal starting with the 2008 season was a ridiculous move. Now, with his skills seemingly eroded, the Mets, saddled with 3 more years of his $8 million annual contract are looking to dump him any way they can. This most likely means either dealing him for a similarly overpriced player, or paying a large portion of his contract to get anyone to take him off their hands.
Several times in their earlier history, the Mets have opted to deal for one-time All Star second basemen who turned out to be disappointments including their very first starter at second, Charley Neal and one who they decided to use in centerfield, Juan Samuel. The one clear exception was when, prior to the 1973 season, the Mets acquired Felix Millan from Atlanta, along with George Stone in exchange for Gary Gentry and Dan Frisella. That deal worked out just fine as Millan gave the Mets several years of solid play.
Before and after Millan, the Mets' farm system produced Ken Boswell and Wally Backman who were each used as part of a successful platoon on World Champion teams, Boswell with Al Weis in 1969, and Backman with Tim Teufel in 1986. And for a few seasons, sandwiched in between the years that he played third base, Edgardo Alfonzo filled the role nicely. But more often than not, the Mets tried to fill their second base spot with a trade and these just didn't work out. Twice between 1996 and 2001, they traded with the Indians for perennial all-stars and the results were extremely disappointing to say the least.
Carlos Baerga was the best hitting second baseman in baseball for several years. In his best seasons, his stats were impressive for a player at any position and eye-popping for a second baseman, particularly a switch-hitting one who was no slouch defensively. After 4 years of batting over .300 , Carlos' performance tailed off in 1996 and on July 29th of that year, the Mets gave up the moody and disappointing Jeff Kent along with utility man Jose Vizcaino to acquire Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza. Baerga appeared out of shape and was remarkably unproductive during the remainder of the season, batting just .193. For the next two seasons, the Mets gave Baerga most of the work at second base, hoping that he might regain his all-star form, but to no avail. When his contract ran out following the 1998 season, no one regarded him as any more than a spare part. Over the next few years, he was signed and subsequently released by over half a dozen major league teams and also played in the independent Atlantic League. He was never the same player again.
Having been burned badly on that deal - did I forget to mention that after leaving the Mets and Cleveland, Jeff Kent went on to compile record-setting numbers for a second baseman that should one day get him into the Hall Of Fame? - it's surprising that the Mets again turned to the Cleveland Indians to acquire their next "great" second baseman. After getting 3 solid years at second base from Alfonzo, the Mets decided to trade incumbent third baseman Robin Ventura, who appeared to be on the decline, move Alfonzo back to third, and make a deal for the man they considered the number one second baseman in the major leagues, Roberto Alomar. Why the Indians would even consider trading the perennial all-star at his position was a mystery, unless they suspected (a la Baerga) that he had lost it and was headed for a sharp decline. And if Cleveland' s brass thought that, they were right. Alomar was never close to all-star caliber with the Mets and wore out his welcome in a hurry. It was some consolation for the Mets that, unlike in the case of Kent, none of the players the Mets sent away in the Alomar deal amounted to much, even though one of them, Alex Escobar, was considered the #1 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America at the time.
In my next posts, I'll look at some of the other second basemen the Mets have traded for in the past and how they worked out. I'll start with the 1960's and proceed chronologically. Then, I'll conclude the series by looking at what the Mets might have done differently and wrap it up with a look to the future.
Part 1 - A History of Mistakes - Current Article
Part 2 - The Sixties
Part 3 - The Seventies and Eighties
Part 4 - Gregg Jefferies
Part 5 - Jeff Kent
Part 6 - The Carlos Baerga era/error
Part 7 - Roberto Alomar
Part 8 - 2004 - 2005
Part 9 - 2006 - 2008
Part 10 - The Future