Every now and then the Mets do something with the thought of either saving money or enhancing the roster that involves transferring control of one of the team and fan favorites players. It’s always difficult to see one of your long time favorites change uniforms and leave town, but some instances are more difficult than others.
The granddaddy of them all, of course, is the Achilles Heel of the old M. Donald Grant administration, fueled in large part by former New York Daily News columnist Dick Young. Through the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) which in effect created the new era of free agency and quickly made the highest paid pitcher in baseball trail behind inferior competitors. The front office did not like the way in which Seaver and his agent engaged in rather hard negotiation for what they got, so when the 1977 trading deadline approached the Mets did not engage in signing players to make their team better but instead decided to push their perceived spoiled child out the door to the Cincinnati Reds for one known player in Pat Zachry who was fresh off a co-Rookie of the Year Award, as well as young infielder Doug Flynn, and two prospects from the minors in Steve Henderson and Dan Norman. That didn’t seem to be much of a haul for the greatest pitcher of the generation, but it made the Mets front office feel significantly better and saved them a huge pile of salary dollars that otherwise would have gone into Tom Seaver’s pocket.
To be fair, Tom Terrific had started on the down side of his long and illustrious career. During the five full seasons in the red and white uniform he had a winning record of 61-43, but his ERA rose to 3.33 which was much worse than it had been while playing for the Mets. His strikeout rate per 9 innings was down to a hair under 6, but those numbers would still be considered top notch in 2021 even if paled against the previous 10 full years in Queens when The Franchise was 182-107 with a stunning 2.34 ERA and 2334 strikeouts in 2718 innings pitched.
I bring up this painful memory because the Mets made tremendous strides towards turning from last place cellar dwellers into potential contenders. The supplementary pieces like Trevor May and James McCann were certainly helpful in fortifying the shaky foundation, but the team-changing acquisition of superstar Francisco Lindor and surprisingly capable starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco for a package inferior to what the Reds gave up for Seaver made the fans, news media and the pundits all opening the champagne and clearing space on their mantles for replicas of the World Series Championship trophies.
Unfortunately, there are still holes to fill to make the team move even further forward into the upper echelon of the National League East. You can’t forget the moves made over the past few years by the Atlanta Braves and the improvements that other clubs have done as well. Consequently the Mets should not be done in the roster changes for the upcoming 2021 season (as well as the minor league rosters that are filled with a lot of warm weight but not as much potential for future success as folks would like to see).
Consequently, there are many folks (myself included) suggesting that the Mets parlay Jeurys Familia and his $11,666,667 of salary to some other nostalgic ballclub who remembers his 2015 and 2016 seasons when he nailed down 43 and 51 saves respectively while fanning better than a batter per inning pitched. That was long ago and far away. He’s fallen faster than the approval ratings of your favorite restaurant during the pandemic. So any club willing to give us their problem child for our problem child would be a swap of bad contracts, but no one would shed a tear to see Familia close the door behind himself on his way out of town.
No, the difficult and emotional transaction folks must consider is what would happen if the Mets dangled one of their two first basemen as a trade possibility? How would folks, fans and anyone else with access to opinions about the team feel if all of the sudden Pete Alonso or Dom Smith were no longer donning orange and blue? Despite Alfonso’s watered down 2020 season he’s still fondly remembered for his 50+ HR season as a rookie in 2019 as well as winning the HR Derby at the All Star Game.
On the other side you have smiling Dom Smith who will work at first base, left field or DH to get into the lineup. This past season he was a breakthrough which saw him do greater than 6 times the WAR rating of his Polar Bear teammate. The one-year-younger Smith slugged .616, hit .316 and had an OPS of .993. For a point of comparison, Mike Trout hit .281 with an inferior slugging percentage and an identical .993 OPS. That’s pretty heady company.
So if you were to offer up a Dom Smith or a Pete Alonso to another club, you would pretty much be able to name your price for what you got in return. However, would the trading of a 26 year old or 25 year old player who generate potentially the most fan affection by an offensive player since Mike Piazza was on the club, what would be an equitable deal?