Back in the winter of 1999 the Mets were on the brink of putting together their last legitimate World Series run. GM Steve Phillips identified the need for a solid anchor in the pitching rotation to join the likes of Al Leiter, Rick Reed, Bobby Jones and Glendon Rusch.
Down in Houston Mike Hampton was coming off a sensational 22-4 season with a 2.90 ERA which guaranteed him a hefty salary increase – something the Astros were not fond of paying (shades of the post-Madoff Wilpons). The Astros knew they had a chip that many people would want so they set about trying to figure out how to make the most of the deal.
Now the traditional way of thinking would be to demand more talent in return in trade. The Mets did indeed pony up three players in this deal – Octavio Dotel who just finished his career last year having pitched in 758 games – Roger Cedeño who was remembered more for his Dr. Strangeglove play in the outfield than what he did with the bat and on the basepaths– and minor league hurler Kyle Kessel whose potential was never realized at the major league level. At the time Dotel was regarded somewhat like Jeurys Familia is now – a hard thrower who may not harness his powerful fastball. Cedeño was coming of a great season in which he batted .313 and stole 66 bases despite outfield skills against which Lucas Duda would be considered a defensive upgrade. Kessel was already organizational filler as a pitcher, never having done more than a .500 performance in the minors and at 24 his prospect window was closing.
With the Mets having gotten to (but ultimately losing) the 2000 World Series, that trade would be considered fair and still in the Mets favor. However, the Astros had a kicker in mind. If you want Hampton, you have to take our worn-out-his-welcome outfielder Derek Bell at his full $6 million salary. Back when the pockets were deep and the team was flush with its questionable investments, this was a small price to pay and the deal was consummated.
Actually, the acquisition of Derek Bell wasn’t all bad because he turned in a respectable year’s performance that included a 18 HRs, 69 RBIs and batted .266. Those numbers top what the Mets currently have out there but they still let him walk away to the Pirates a year later. His Mets tenure was probably better remembered for living on his yacht in Flushing Bay than for what he did in uniform. He was out of baseball at age 31.
In retrospect you could say they got two decent rentals that resulted in a World Series appearance but as any Mets fan worth his salt will tell you, the compensatory draft pick they received when Mike Hampton left in quest of the favorable school systems in Colorado was an obscure Virginia-based 3rd baseman who in 2014 was named the face of Major League baseball.
So why bring up this old trade now? No, it has nothing to do with David Wright and how both injuries and CitiField dimensions curtailed a career previously headed towards Cooperstown. It has to do with what the Mets face this coming off-season and how they might want to try the Astros’ strategy on other teams.
With the bleak free agent market and the bloated prices the players have been receiving who enter it, the likelihood of the Mets getting involved in a significant way are slim even if they (ha-ha) increased payroll. No, the path to changing the shape of the roster seems to be the one used least frequently by the current administration – the trade.
Hear me out. The Mets have arguably the deepest pitching inventory in baseball right now. Let’s look at starters:
- Matt Harvey
- Zack Wheeler
- Jacob de Grom
- Bartolo Colon
- Jon Niese
- Dillon Gee
- Rafael Montero
- Noah Syndergaard
- Steve Matz
In the bullpen they also feature:
- Bobby Parnell
- Jenrry Mejia
- Vic Black
- Jeurys Familia
- Josh Edgin
- Jack Leathersich
In addition, they have some middle infielders to spare:
- Daniel Murphy
- Wilmer Flores
- Matt Reynolds
- Dilson Herrera
- Ruben Tejada
So what do all of these players have to do with the Astros and their trade demand?
Bartolo Colon is our Derek Bell. It may well be that other teams are going to salivate over players currently in the Mets organization. In order to obtain them you let it be known that you must take Bartolo Colon and his $11 million salary as part of the deal. Now to another team, getting a Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon may not be as painful since Syndergaard would be cost controlled for several years and Colon’s deal goes away after 2015. Averaged out, their two salaries come to under $6 million apiece – pocket change for starting pitchers. That average improves with each year Syndergaard is in the majors. Now it doesn’t necessarily have to be Syndergaard in that trade but the principle remains the same.
Note that I’ve left out the other (by Mets standards) expensive player they have to deal – Daniel Murphy. His performance and salary are not unreasonable on their own and he could probably be traded without any conditional hook like Colon being attached to his name. However, if you could get someone to bite at a Murphy/Colon combo and plan to go with Dilson Herrera and Wilmer Flores up the middle then you just bought yourself somewhere on the order of perhaps close to $20 million to spend for a slugging corner outfielder’s salary. You also have the Chris Young money left over to spend as well. $27 million is more than enough to land someone like Cuban free agent Yasmani Tomas who is said to have as much raw power as Jose Abreu.
Sound off in the comments below on whether or not this approach would make sense.