Sunday, July 31, 2011

July 31 Has Provided Many Infamous Days In Mets History

Before 1986, the trade deadline used to be June 15, a date Mets fans most associated with the Midnight Massacre in 1977 and the acquisition of Keith Hernandez in 1983. Over the past 25 years, teams have been allowed to make non-waiver trades up to the July 31 deadline.

This year, there have been a frenzy of deals in the last days and hours before the non-waiver trade deadline. Carlos Beltran was traded by the Mets to the Giants. Kosuke Fukudome was dealt to the Indians by the Cubs. Hunter Pence, born and raised in Texas, was shipped off by the Astros to the one place in America that's the polar opposite to the politeness of the Lone Star State, Philadelphia. Michael Bourn became a Brave, Derrek Lee became a Pirate and Ubaldo Jimenez pitched one inning for the Rockies, was traded to Cleveland during his start, and was spared getting his final loss as a Rockie while being a member of the Indians when Colorado rallied to defeat the Padres.

Got that? Those were only a few of the dozens of trades made throughout major league baseball over the past few days. Even Joey Beartran considered trading away his colleague (yours truly) to a different Mets blog for Rich Harden and a toasted bagel with cream cheese, but that trade was pulled back once Joey realized that Harden would probably get injured picking up that bagel.

The Mets haven't been strangers to the last-minute deal since the trade deadline was pushed back to July 31. In fact, the team has made 13 deals on July 31 in the last 25 years. Unfortunately, most of the 13 have proven to be unlucky for the Mets. Let's review some of these trades (with thanks to Ultimate Mets Database for providing the trade details).

On July 31, 1989, the Mets engineered two deals, neither of which worked in the long run. They traded Rick Aguilera, David West, Kevin Tapani, Tim Drummond and Jack Savage to the Minnesota Twins for former Cy Young Award winner and Long Island native Frank Viola.

Those shades can't hide you, Frank Viola. We know you weren't worth Rick Aguilera and Kevin Tapani.

Although Viola went on to win 20 games for the Mets in 1990, becoming the last Met pitcher to accomplish that feat, his stay in New York was short. Viola finished 38-32 in 2½ seasons with the Mets. In his final year in New York (1991), Viola struggled, going 13-15 and leading the major leagues in hits allowed (259). He also lost the ability to strike out batters, finishing the season with 132 strikeouts, after registering at least 182 whiffs in each of his previous five seasons.

Meanwhile, two of the players he was traded for flourished in Minnesota. Kevin Tapani won 75 games in six seasons as a Twin, finishing fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1990 and seventh in the Cy Young Award balloting in 1991 when he finished 16-9 with a 2.99 ERA. Rick Aguilera was turned into the Twins' closer and became the franchise's all-time saves leader. (His 254 saves have since been tied by Joe Nathan.) Aguilera's 42 saves in 1991 tied Jeff Reardon's club record and was one of the main reasons why the Twins went from worst to first, as they won the World Series that year over the Atlanta Braves. The 1991 season also marked the first of three consecutive years that Aggie was selected to the American League All-Star team. Aguilera's 318 career saves (of which only seven came as a Met) rank 15th on the all-time saves list.

On the same day the Mets traded away the winning pitcher in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, they also dealt the man who hit the little roller up along first that enabled Aguilera to be credited with the win, as fan-favorite Mookie Wilson was sent to Toronto for Jeff Musselman.

This picture is wrong, just wrong.

Mookie would end up helping the Blue Jays win the 1989 American League East division title, even garnering consideration for the 1989 AL MVP award. Jeff Musselman, on the other hand, didn't do quite as well with his new team. After a decent end to the 1989 season (3-2, 3.08 ERA for the Mets), Musselman was downright atrocious in 1990, going 0-2 with a 5.63 ERA for a Mets team that won 91 games. Although he was only 27 years old in 1990, Musselman never pitched again in the major leagues following that awful season.

Ten years to the day after the trade for Frank Viola and the trading of Mookie Wilson, the Mets conducted another ill-fated deal, sending Jason Isringhausen (and Greg McMichael) to the Oakland Athletics. In return, the Mets received A's closer Billy Taylor, who was 37 at the time. After coming to the Mets, Taylor showed his age, appearing in 18 games for New York and registering an ungodly 8.10 ERA and 2.18 WHIP. In only 13.1 innings, he allowed 29 baserunners (20 hits, 9 walks) and opponents hit .345 against him.

Meanwhile, Jason Isringhausen became one of the best closers in baseball over the next decade. He pitched two years in Oakland, saving 33 games (and making the All-Star team) in 2000 and 34 games in 2001. He then signed a free-agent contract with the St. Louis Cardinals following the 2001 season and became the all-time saves leader of that storied franchise, surpassing such greats as former all-time saves leader Lee Smith and Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter.

Isringhausen is now back with the Mets, becoming the de facto closer after the trade of Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers. Interestingly enough, Izzy's next save will be the seventh of his Mets career (he saved one game in his first stint as a Met), which will tie him for 31st on the Mets' all-time saves list. Who will he tie? None other than Rick Aguilera, the other player the Mets traded away on a July 31st who became his new team's all-time saves leader.

At least we got Izzy back, even if it was a decade too late.

We could stop here, ending this piece with the symmetry of the Aguilera and Isringhausen deals, but there's one more July 31 non-waiver trade deadline deal we have to discuss. It happened only five years ago, but the Mets are still paying for it today. In this case, they're paying for it quite literally.

On July 31, 2006, the Mets traded rightfielder Xavier Nady to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Roberto Hernandez and some guy you might have heard of. His name is Oliver Perez.

At the time of the deal, which was only made because Duaner Sanchez had a case of the midnight munchies and was injured in a taxicab accident on his way to sate his grumbling tummy, Nady appeared to be on his way to his finest season in the major leagues. He had 30 extra-base hits (15 doubles, one triple and 14 home runs) and had driven in 40 runs. All of those numbers were compiled in only 75 games and 265 at-bats with the Mets. To put this into perspective, two years earlier, a Mets player was called up from the minor leagues in July and also picked up exactly 14 and 40 RBI, doing so in 263 at-bats, or two less than Xavier Nady needed to achieve the same statistics in 2006. That player was David Wright.

Over the next two full seasons after the trade, Nady blossomed, hitting .278 with 20 HR and 72 RBI in 2007 for Pittsburgh. He followed that up with an All-Star-caliber year in 2008, splitting his year between the Pirates and Yankees, and hitting .305 with 37 doubles, 25 HR and 97 RBI, all of which were career-highs. Meanwhile, while Nady was having excellent years in 2007 and 2008, the Mets were choking away their seasons, employing rightfielders Shawn Green (.291, 10 HR, 46 RBI) in 2007 and Ryan Church (.276, 12 HR, 49 RBI) to replace Xavier Nady. Green and Church combined to produce 22 HR and 95 RBI over those two seasons, numbers that were surpassed by Nady in 2008 alone.

As for the pitchers the Mets received in the Nady trade, Roberto Hernandez pitched in only 22 games for the Mets before signing a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians following the 2006 season, while Oliver Perez...ah, you know the rest.

Because Duaner Sanchez wanted the plate on the right, we got a plateful of Ollie.

Sure, the Mets made some decent deals on July 31, like the trade that brought them Shawon Dunston in 1999, who engineered one of the most important at-bats in franchise history, leading off the bottom of the 15th inning in Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS with a base hit, setting up the inning that ended with Robin Ventura's Grand Slam Single.

That same day, they also traded for Darryl Hamilton, whose biggest moment as a Met came in Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS against the Giants, when he ripped a two-out double in the 10th inning and eventually scored the winning run on Jay Payton's single.

You know what? Come to think of it, if the only good trades the Mets have made on July 31 have involved players who were only known for one at-bat with the team, then maybe the Mets shouldn't make last-minute trades at the non-waiver trade deadline. Let other teams make moves for the Hunter Pences, Ubaldo Jimenezes and Michael Bourns of the world. We'll make do with what we have. We don't need any more Billy Taylors, Jeff Musselmans or that Other Pitcher whose name escapes me at the moment.

No comments: