Saturday, February 02, 2008

Trades Involving Hall Of Famers? Yeah, The Mets Have Made One Or Two

In honor of the recently completed trade that sent Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins to the New York Mets, I decided to compile a list of trades that involved players in the Hall of Fame (where Santana is headed one day, assuming he continues at his current high level of play).

What I didn’t account for was the sheer number of times that Hall of Famers have been traded: well over two hundred, enough to fill 22 pages in Microsoft Word.

Until I figure out what to do with all those names, here is a slightly smaller group to work with: trades involving Hall of Famers and the New York Mets. There’s a little bit of everything there, from lopsided trades (favoring and hurting the Mets) to deals for washed up stars.

Willie Mays – Traded by the San Francisco Giants to the New York Mets for Charlie Williams and $50,000 on May 11, 1972

It’s hard to describe Mays as “washed-up” in 1971 – his 158 OPS+ argues to the contrary – but one could see that the end wasn’t far off. His .425 OBP was a career-high, but it was accompanied by a career-high in strikeouts (123 in 417 at-bats, 31 fewer than the previous high) and a near low in homeruns (18, second-worst only to 1969’s 13). Unless there’s something I’m missing, it appears that while Mays’ body was getting relentlessly older, sapping him of his power and bat speed, he was learning to stave off Father Time by improving his plate discipline and being selective on the basepaths (23 steals, caught only three times).

Off to a poor start in 1972 (.184, 0 homers, 3 RBI, 79 OPS+ in 19 games), Mays was sent packing on May 11, returning to the city where he had begun his major league career 21 years earlier. While he recaptured some of the old magic with the Mets (.267, 8, 19, 145 in 69 games), the rebirth was not permanent or sustained: the following season, he hit .211 and struggled in the field before finishing his career with an 0-for-2 and two walks in front of 20,000 people in Montreal. He struck out in the seventh inning and was in the on-deck circle when Felix Millan grounded out to second to end the top of the ninth.

The other player in the Mays deal, Charlie Williams, spent seven mostly average seasons as a reliever and spot-starter in San Francisco.

Tom Seaver – Traded by the New York Mets to the Cincinnati Reds for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, and Dan Norman on June 15, 1977

Traded by the
Cincinnati Reds to the New York Mets for Charlie Puleo, Lloyd McClendon, and Jason Felice (minors) on December 16, 1982

In trading for Santana, maybe Omar Minaya felt he was doing penance for the Seaver deal that took place nearly 31 years ago, when the 32-year-old former Rookie of the Year and three-time Cy Young winner who led the Amazins’ to the 1969 world championship was shipped to Cincinnati for four players. True, Santana is a little younger and his win totals are far lower, but the comparison seems apt.

For Omar’s sake, let’s hope Santana performs better in New York than Seaver did in Cincinnati, and for Bill Smith’s sake, let’s hope the prospects pan out better than did the ones that ended up in New York. Not that anyone really bombed or anything – Seaver recorded two top-five finishes in the Cy Young voting and three of the four new Mets players earned starting positions on the team – but I guess when the centerpiece of a trade is George Thomas Seaver, expectations are raised.

Exactly five and a half years later, the two sides were dealing again, with Seaver headed back to New York in exchange for three players, including two minor leaguers. While Seaver was the definition of average in one season with the Mets (9-14, 3.55, 103 ERA+), none of those three players did anything special at the major league level – Charlie Puleo was 7-14 in two seasons, Lloyd McClendon didn’t reach the majors until five years later and only saw limited action, and Jason Felice still hasn’t made his big league debut.

Really, the most interesting part of the two Tom Seaver trades is the realization that if we drop Seaver name for a minute, the Mets essentially traded Puleo, McClendon, and Felice to Cincinnati for Zachry, Flynn, Henderson, and Norman. Not the most exciting deal in the world, is it?

Nolan Ryan – Traded by the New York Mets with Frank Estrada, Don Rose, and Leroy Stanton to the California Angels for Jim Fregosi on December 10, 1971

Five months before the Mets landed Willie Mays, the acquired Fregosi, the guy who was supposed to anchor the infield for the foreseeable future. Instead, he played 146 games in two seasons while one of the guys he was traded for became the most unhittable pitcher in major league history. Oops.

If not for Nolan Ryan’s dominance as a member of the California Angels in the 1970s, nobody would remember this trade. Estrada never appeared in the majors for the Angels, Rose saw action in sixteen games before being traded to San Francisco, and Stanton spent five unremarkable seasons in the California outfield.

Ryan’s presence, of course, changes things. He played eight seasons in California, winning 138 games, striking out 2,416 batters, pitching four no-hitters, and building a Hall of Fame resume. Unfortunately, six of those eight teams were terrible, or his win totals would have been even more impressive. (Strange thing I just noticed about Ryan’s numbers: from 1980-93, he only won more than fourteen games twice and only struck out more than 270 batters once. He gets thrown into that longevity argument alongside Roger Clemens, but Ryan was clearly dominant for a stretch in the 1970s and followed that up with about fifteen years of very goodness for the rest of his career.)

Gary Carter – Traded by the Montreal Expos to the New York Mets for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham, and Floyd Youmans on December 10, 1984

Carter was a seasoned veteran before the trade that brought him to the Mets, one of the many stars who helped build the Montreal Expos into a contender in the early 1980s. He made seven All-Star appearances as a member of the Expos and finished second in both the Rookie of the Year voting in 1975 and the Most Valuable Player voting in 1980.

Carter’s first season with the Mets was very good (32 homeruns, 100 RBI, 138 OPS+) and his second wasn’t bad (24, 105, 115, World Series championship). After that, however, he entered a six-year, career-ending offensive decline (no idea what, if anything, happened to his defense).

Brooks had one terrific half-season for the Expos in 1986 (a 161 OPS+ - the most amazing thing about his career is that he struck out exactly 108 times for three consecutive seasons) and Youmans’ promising career was derailed by drug use after a promising start. All told, I’d say the Mets got the better of the deal.