By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a series of new articles Barry will be writing on Mets second basemen for this site. - M.S.
Historically, the Mets organization has not produced many major league caliber second basemen, but in the mid-'90's, it contributed no less than three. Unfortunately, the Mets didn't realize what they had and made the ill-fated trade for Carlos Baerga. Keeping Jeff Kent would have been the simple solution and probably the best one, but if the Mets wanted to dispose themselves of him, maybe it would have been smart to trade him for a pitcher or outfielder and let their 3 homegrown products fight it out for the second base job. Any of them would have been a better choice than Baerga, who seemingly went from perennial all-star to fringe major leaguer in a flash.
There was no question that Baerga had been a premier hitter, a switch-hitter at that, and a three-time all star, but when Cleveland made him available in 1996, the Mets were one of the few interested teams. He had gained a lot of weight and his skills seemed to have eroded, but the Mets, as they have so often, went for a player who HAD been great, hoping that he would bounce back. He never did.
In the meantime, the farm system produced three players who would go on to clearly out-perform Baerga over the next few years. Fortunately, the Mets did hold on to Edgardo Alfonzo who bounced back and forth between 2nd and 3rd throughout his tenure with the team, until back problems limited his effectiveness several years later. Could the Mets have traded Kent and Vizcaino for Matt Williams, filling the hole at third and giving Alfonzo the fulltime job at second ? That could have been one way the Mets might have done it better.
And then there were two other second basemen who came up through the Mets organization who would go on to play regularly in the major leagues for other teams. One of them had a brief chance with the Mets in 1994. He would be traded that off-season for disappointing reliever Doug Henry. That was Fernando Vina who would go on to play 10 years in the big leagues, mostly as a regular second baseman, batting over .300 three times.
The other, Quilvio Veras, never played an inning for the Mets despite being a AAA all-star. He was traded to the Marlins for Carl Everett and immediately became one of baseball's top stolen base threats. Although his career was shortened because of injuries, he could have been an exciting player for the Mets. So, the trade for Baerga was not only a terrible one because the Mets gave up Kent, but also because if they were going to trade Jeff, they could have helped themselves at other positions and any one of Alfonzo, Vina, or Veras could have filled the second base hole.
In the 1998 off-season, the Mets made the right moves in letting Baerga walk, signing free-agent Robin Ventura to be the regular third baseman and moving Edgardo Alfonzo to second. For the next 3 years, that combination was part of one of the major league's best infields and second base was back in good hands. Unfortunately, there was another bad move to come soon.
Part 1 - A History of Mistakes
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 - Current Article
Part 7 - Roberto Alomar
Part 8 - 2004 - 2005
Part 9 - 2006 - 2008
Part 10 - The Future