By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series of new articles Barry will be writing on Mets second basemen for this site. - M.S.
On August 29, 1992, the Mets traded David Cone, one of the mainstays of their rotation for 5 years, to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Mets were going nowhere and Toronto had a chance to go to the World Series, so it was a good break for Cone and a chance for the Mets to get some value for him before he would leave as a free agent. At the time, rumors were that the Mets were getting Derek Bell, a former minor league player of the year, who was having trouble breaking into the Jays' outfield. Whether or not he was actually offered to the Mets, I don't know, but the deal turned out to be Cone for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson.
Thompson was the player the Mets hyped - a five-tool guy who could play centerfield, run like the wind, and hit for power. All true, but Thompson also struck out a lot. He never put it together and faded away after several shots with the Mets and cups of coffee with several other big league teams. The Mets actually made a good short-term deal when they traded Thompson to Cleveland for pitcher Mark Clark who became one of the Mets' starting pitchers in 1996. Kent was a pretty good prospect, although no one was sure if he'd be a second or third baseman. He came with the reputation of being a good hitter with better than average power for a second baseman, but he was also tagged as a surly type with a history of disagreements with his teammates and coaches, going back to high school and college.
In '92, the Mets shuttled Kent between second and third. In 1993, he became the fulltime second baseman and put up good numbers with 21 home runs and 80 rbi to go along with a decent .270 average. He put up pretty good numbers for the next couple of years too, while maintaining his reputation as someone who couldn't get along with his teammates. Overall, Kent's tenure with the Mets was OK, but like Ron Hunt many years before him, you always got the idea that the Mets weren't completely satisfied with him and wanted to replace him. Unlike Hunt, Kent was not a fan favorite and no one was too disappointed when the Mets sent him away along with Jose Vizcaino (who had supplanted Kent as the Mets' second baseman in 1996 with Kent playing mostly third) in what turned out to be a disastrous trade in exchange for Carlos Baerga. More about Baerga in my next post.
Kent didn't do much for Cleveland either. The Indians tried him at first base and his production was mediocre, to be kind. After one season, Cleveland traded both Kent and Vizcaino to the Giants for Matt Williams. The Indians would trade Williams away to Arizona after one year. Ironically, if the Mets knew the Giants would make that trade with Cleveland, they might have done it instead of getting Baerga since the Mets had long coveted Williams, who had a few more good years with Arizona. Vizcaino actually had a fairly productive career as a utility man with several teams from that point on.
Jeff Kent ? Well, he became a star with the Giants, an MVP, the all-time leading home run hitter among second basemen, and most likely a future Hall Of Famer. To Mets' management and most Mets fans, this was completely unexpected. You could say that Kent was the type of player who wasn't going to succeed in New York. In his case, it was more because of the excessive media coverage that any New York pro athlete is subject to, rather than not being a "big city type of guy". San Francisco isn't exactly the most conservative town or a haven for aficionados of hunting and fishing. But it was there that Kent thrived. He continued to have clubhouse problems, most notably with Barry Bonds and maintained his label as someone best avoided by media and fans alike, but his production was undeniable. After six outstanding years with the Giants, he had six more solid years with Houston and Los Angeles. Should the Mets have let him go ? The obvious answer is no, but clearly, the Mets never saw him as a building block to a winner and thought that Baerga could be just that. It was still another mistake in evaluating talent for an organization that has made more than its share over the years.
Meanwhile, the Mets' organization did produce a couple of major league prospects at second base who might have deserved a longer look. Their story as well as that of Carlos Baerga in my next installment.
Part 1 - A History of Mistakes
Part 2 - The Sixties
Part 3 - The Seventies and Eighties
Part 4 - Gregg Jefferies
Part 5 - Jeff Kent - Current Article
Part 6 - The Carlos Baerga era/error
Part 7 - Roberto Alomar
Part 8 - 2004 - 2005
Part 9 - 2006 - 2008
Part 10 - The Future