Lately it seems we’re all sitting around wondering when the other shoe is going to drop – when someone blinks and acquiesces to Sandy Alderson’s arrogant waiting game and the Mets can break up the logjam of pitchers and 2nd basemen. No other time I can recall in baseball history has a team made only a single major league talent for major league talent over a four year period, but that’s what’s happened in Queens. Some even suggest how badly the team was burned during that Angel Pagan debacle may be why Alderson is so hesitant to once again pull the trigger.
While it’s impossible for a GM to get every transaction right but it’s particularly galling to see someone you traded away, let walk away or otherwise severed ties to the team then go on to have a successful career once out of the Mets uniform. Let’s take a look at an all-time team made up of ex-Mets who lived well and prospered once they got their paychecks elsewhere.
There were about five players who went onto to have long term success elsewhere while manning 1st base for another franchise. Jim Hickman with the Cubs, Dave Kingman with several teams, Rico Brogna with the Phillies (before a rare nerve disease derailed his career), David Segui and Ty Wigginton all played for the Mets before finding the grass (or Astroturf) greener somewhere other than Shea.
While early Met Ron Hunt went onto a tough way to earn a living in Montreal by setting records for getting on base via the hit-by-pitch, it is borderline Hall of Famer Jeff Kent whose absence probably stings the most. His consistency over a long period of time was a slap in the face to Mets fans each time he strode to the plate. The other honorable mention most often was a bench piece but a very good one at that – Jeff Keppinger.
While the name Jose Reyes and his departure from the club fills many blogs with vitriol, there were indeed others who played this position that also did well for other clubs. Tony Fernandez became a key offensive cog for other clubs, Jose Vicaino brought a steady presence to several teams and Jose Oquendo brought his flashy glove (and surprisingly better bat) to St. Louis. There was also the one magical year for Kevin Elster who slugged 20 HRs for the Rangers but never again came close to that level of success (and heard whispers of PED use before it was as widely reported as it is now).
The first big name that surfaced in what had been something of a pre-David Wright black hole at the hot corner was Hubie Brooks, but he was certainly part of the “you have to give to get” deal that transformed the mid-1980s Mets into eventual World Series winners when they landed Gary Carter. However, there were a few others like Dave Magadan who didn’t have much power but could seemingly line a single at will. One that I remember vividly was sending someone we thought of as a scrub utility player to Baltimore only to have Melvin Mora establish himself as a steady offensive force for many years.
Perhaps it is because the club has historically been built around pitching or that there simply are not that many good catchers in the game, but the team has not lost out on star players who don the tools of ignorance. Some who left the Mets and continued getting work for many years included Joe Nolan, Mike Fitzgerald, Kelly Stinnett and Brent Mayne
Cleon Jones was the first solid player the Mets had in this role and he played pretty much his whole career for this team. There were others, however, that the Mets saw fit to banish from the kingdom who put up All Star and MVP seasons elsewhere, including volatile Kevin Mitchell, hitting machine Greg Jefferies and farmhand Jason Bay (who eventually returned to everyone’s derision after leaving the best of his career in San Diego and Boston).
The Mets have had some excellent people play this role for them who, for a variety of reasons, they decided were not to be a part of their future. The first big one, of course, was All Star Amos Otis, future car wash entrepreneur, financial advisor and sexual harasser Lenny Dykstra, the poster child for anger management, Carl Everett, Jay Payton, Preston Wilson, Carlos Gomez and perhaps the crux of the current Alderson inertia problem, Angel Pagan.
Quite a few right fielders flourished once they left Shea Stadium. I particularly remember the career of slugger Ken Singleton being especially painful. Rusty Staub did well between his two Mets stints. Claudell Washington did quite well for a number of teams (including the cross-town rivals). Jeromy Burnitz was another who made a return appearance as a shell of his former self. Then, of course, there was the demon-plagued Darryl Strawberry.
Let’s get the big one off the board first. Nolan Ryan. Ouch. However, he’s not alone. The Mets also parted ways with Tom Seaver, Doc Gooden, David Cone and Mike Scott, all of whom had some stellar years for other teams, too. Then there was a group of highly serviceable pitchers who flourished for many years, including Kevin Tapani, Paul Byrd and Hideo Nomo. One I’d almost forgotten about until I began researching was Buzz Capra who went to Atlanta and had a magical season before arm injuries cut his career short. (And while it’s too soon to know for sure, you had to cringe each time Collin McHugh tamed hitters effortlessly for the Astros this past season).
What truly surprised me was how many high quality relief pitchers the Mets let slip through their fingers over the years for a variety of reasons. Tug McGraw was almost as revered in Philadelphia as he was in New York. Jeff Reardon, Randy Myers and Rick Aguilera all finished careers with Saves totals that make people momentarily at least think about Cooperstown. Then there were the VERY LONG careers of Jesse Orosco and Octavio Dotel in support roles in many bullpens. Jason Isringhausen, Heath Bell, Frankie Rodriguez (K-Rod) and LaTroy Hawkins all posted solid numbers as primary closers. Then there were the support/setup guys who flourished, including J.J. Putz, Dan Wheeler, Darren O’Day, and Darren Oliver. Finally, let’s not forget a pair of sidearmers, Chad Bradford and Joe Smith.
I didn’t specifically have a section on managers, but Joe Torre certainly would top that list. Davey Johnson would get an honorable mention as well.
Is there anyone you remember that the Mets chose to let leave whose presence came back to haunt you?