Thursday, February 14, 2013

Heartbreaking Transactions: A Mets Valentine's Day Special

Mets chief cook and bottle washer Fred Wilpon has announced to the world that the team is no longer in debt and can spend on free agents if there are good players to be had.  Papa Smirk made the announcement yesterday as pitchers and catchers have been trickling in to training camp in Port St. Lucie.

The news was meant to coincide with the comments made by manager Terry Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson on the state of the team.  However, at Studious Metsimus, we know better than that.  We know that Wilpon wanted to make the announcement in time for Valentine’s Day, a day known for spending money on unnecessary gifts, an intense outpouring of love, and a famous massacre.  And who knows more about spending money on unnecessary things (Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, Jason Bay), unconditional love (Sandy Koufax) and massacres (damn you, M. Donald Grant!) than the Mets?

In honor of Papa Smirk’s Valentine’s Day announcement, let’s take a look at what the Mets have done over the years when they’ve spent money for players they thought fans would love, only to see them revolt when those players failed to live up to expectations:

I'm in the mood for love...

In the 1970s, the Mets boasted wonderful starting pitching and a woeful offense.  Throughout the decade, the Mets tried to acquire a top slugger.  Joe Foy and Jim Fregosi were supposed to improve the offense.  Instead, they became answers to trivia questions about the worst trades in Mets history.  The closest they ever came to acquiring a top hitting talent was when they traded for Rusty Staub in 1972.  Of course, after the 1975 season, one-month wonder Mike Vail pushed the team to trade Staub to Detroit for Mickey “The Refrigerator” Lolich.  One can only imagine that if Twitter had existed in the mid-1970s, that deal would have been referred to as the #LOL-ich trade.  Have another donut, Mickey.

So the 1970s didn’t quite work out with regards to trading for a top hitter.  But once Frank Cashen came on board with his pedigree for winning (Baltimore won several American League pennants under his watch), it was assumed that the Mets would finally sign a premier slugger to give them a legitimate power threat in the lineup.  They thought they added that punch when they signed former home run champion George Foster to a five-year, $10 million deal in 1982.  A .300, 30 HR, 100 RBI season was commonplace for Foster in Cincinnati.  As a Met, he never hit .300, never hit 30 HR and never drove in 100 runs in a season.  Foster was as punchless at the plate as he was on the field.  The leftfielder refused to participate in a bench-clearing brawl against his former team in Cincinnati, citing that it would be a bad example for kids.  This, of course, from the same man who thought “Get Metsmerized” would be a hit rap album.

"I'm George Foster and I'm here to say - if there's a fight, on the bench I'll stay."

Cashen did well after learning from the George Foster fiasco.  But his replacement did not.  After Cashen’s departure in the early 1990s, the Mets tried to put together the best team money could buy, signing former All-Stars like Eddie Murray and Bret Saberhagen, as well as manager Jeff Torborg.  They also brought in the Bronx’s most famous tour guide, Bobby Bonilla.  Just as the Mets made Foster the highest paid player in baseball in 1982, they did the same one decade later for Bonilla.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Bonilla spent his hard(ly)-earned money on a wonderful pair of earplugs in four so-so seasons with the Mets.  Bonilla actually did reach the 30-HR mark that eluded Foster, but he also surpassed the ‘80s “slugger” in boos and phone calls placed to the official scorer.  Bonilla should have just stuck to being a tour guide to authors and reporters.  At least he was pretty good at that.

Sometime between being picked before Roger Clemens and Lenny Dysktra in the 1981 June amateur draft and being accused of sexual misbehavior as an ESPN baseball analyst, Steve Phillips was the Mets general manager.  Phillips continued the once-a-decade tradition of trying to upgrade the offense in a year ending in the number “2”, signing and/or trading for Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz, Roger CedeƱo, Shawn Estes, Jeff D’Amico and Pedro Astacio.  Had Stifler’s mom been available, he probably would have made a run at her, too.  (Rumor has it that she was already locked up in a deal with a relative of former Met phenom Sidd Finch.)  Phillips eventually took care of his sexual frustration when he became ESPN’s resident lothario.  His class of 2002 gave Mets fans a different kind of frustration.

Finally, Omar Minaya didn’t wait until a year ending in “2”, acquiring Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Orlando “The Dookie” Hernandez, Duaner Sanchez, Roberto Hernandez, Oliver Perez, Guillermo Mota, Luis Castillo, Julio Franco, Moises Alou, Johan Santana (see a pattern forming here?) and honorary “Los Mets” players Paul Lo Duca, Billy Wagner and Jason Bay.  Under Minaya, the team had what can now be called a fluke season in 2006, claiming the NL East division crown with a league-best 97 wins.  Unfortunately, the 83-win Cardinals led the National League in World Series championships that year with one.  After two late-season collapses by the rapidly aging team in 2007 and 2008 and two injury-riddled sub-.500 campaigns in 2009 and 2010, Minaya was relieved of his duties.  He can now be seen signing players left and right on Metstradmus’ Facebook page and Twitter account.

For many years, the Mets were content to toss money at players, hoping they would produce in Flushing the way they produced with their former teams.  But for every player that actually does well after coming to New York (we miss you, R.A. Dickey), there are a handful of players that don’t (Vincenzo Grucci – you may know his as Vince Coleman – comes to mind).

According to Fred Wilpon, the team now has money to spend, which it will most likely do in 2014.  Wilpon made this announcement as a pre-Valentine’s Day gift to fans who have been forced to sit through four straight seasons of fourth place finishes.  We’ll see if Wilpon really does have money to spend or if he was just yanking our chains to get us to come back to Citi Field for something other than Pat LaFrieda steaks.  If we find out that he cut back on Valentine’s Day flowers and chocolates for high school sweetheart Sandy Koufax, then perhaps this time we might have to believe him.

Smooch, there it is!

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