Saturday, December 21, 2013

Will Jordany Valdespin Be a Met-Killer as a Marlin?

"M" is for malcontent.

Former Met clubhouse pariah Jordany Valdespin will bring his off-the-field sideshow to South Beach in 2014, as he signed a minor league deal with the Miami Marlins on Friday.

In two seasons with the Mets, Valdespin had as many big moments as a pinch-hitter as he took selfies of himself.  He also served as a human Whac-A-Mole for John Buck after hitting a walk-off grand slam to defeat the Dodgers this past April.  But he never got along with Terry Collins and was divisive in the clubhouse, complaining about his lack of playing time even as his batting average dipped below .200.

You can be sure that if Valdespin makes the Marlins team out of spring training, he will be gunning for the Mets whenever the two teams meet.  If he does, he will join a long list of former Mets who tormented the team as Marlins.  Here are five such players who were thorns in the Mets' collective sides after they left Flushing.

Chuck Carr

The dominant Mets teams of the mid-to-late '80s had plenty of speed in their lineup.  Players like Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman were the team's table setters at the top of the lineup, striking fear in the minds of opposing pitchers whenever they reached base.  By 1990, both players were gone, and the Mets were more of a station-to-station team.  But they still had one player who could zip his way around the bases.  It's too bad they gave up on him before he got a chance to show the team what he could do.

Between 1989 and 1991, Chuck Carr stole 128 bases for the Double-A and Triple-A affiliates of the Mets' farm system.  But his blazing speed didn't get him much playing time at the major league level, as Carr could only amass 13 at-bats and two stolen bases for the Mets in 1990 and 1991.  In December 1991, the Mets traded Carr to the St. Louis Cardinals for a minor leaguer and one year later, Carr was taken in the expansion draft by the Florida Marlins.  And for the next three seasons, Carr showed the Mets what they were missing.

In 1993, Carr led the league with 58 stolen bases and finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting behind future Mets Mike Piazza, Greg McMichael and Jeff Conine.  Carr was headed for another great season in 1994, stealing 32 bases in 40 attempts before the players' strike ended his quest for back-to-back 50-steal seasons.  How much did the Mets miss Carr's speed that year?  Carr's 32 steals in 1994 were seven more than the amount of thefts registered by the entire Mets team.  (They were successful in 25 of their 51 stolen base attempts in 1994.)  Carr stole 115 bases in three years with the Marlins.  The Mets didn't record another 100-steal season until 1999, the year in which they ended an 11-year playoff drought.

Bobby Bonilla

Everyone's favorite self-proclaimed Bronx tour guide really socked it to the Mets after completing three-and-a-half tumultuous seasons in New York.  As a member of the division rival Pittsburgh Pirates, Bobby Bonilla recorded three 100-RBI campaigns during a four-season stretch from 1988 to 1991.  But after signing a lucrative free agent contract (that he's still collecting) to play in front of his hometown fans, Bonilla was a pretty big disappointment with the Mets.  In his final season in the Steel City, Bonilla hit .302 and led the league with 44 doubles.  In his first year with the Mets, Bonilla's average dropped to .249 and he produced just 42 extra-base hits (23 doubles, 19 homers).

Bonilla made the All-Star team twice as a Met, but never became a star in the hearts of Mets fans.  When he got off to a terrific start in 1995 (.325, 25 doubles, 18 HR, 53 RBI in 80 games), the Mets jumped at the opportunity to trade him, shipping him off to the Baltimore Orioles.  Two years later, he became a Florida Marlin and did with them what he couldn't do in New York.

After never hitting more than 25 doubles or driving in more than 87 runs in any of his years as a Met, Bonilla rapped 39 two-baggers and had 96 RBI as a member of the Marlins in 1997.  He also hit 17 homers and led the team with a .297 batting average.  But what most Mets fans remember is that he won a World Series championship with the Marlins in 1997 and was a key contributor to their success in the postseason, hitting two homers and driving in ten runs, which was two homers and ten RBI more than he had for the Mets in five playoff games when the team re-acquired him in 1999.  Even the strongest earplugs couldn't drown out the boos he heard that year.

Preston Wilson

Prior to the start of the 1998 season, Preston Wilson was primarily known for being the stepson of Mets legend Mookie Wilson.  When he was later traded to the Florida Marlins in May of that season, he was then known for being the key piece that netted the Mets a perennial All-Star and one of the most powerful hitters in the game in catcher Mike Piazza.  But five years after the trade, Wilson was just known for being one of the most complete offensive talents in baseball.

After a short eight-game career with the Mets, Preston Wilson was dealt to the Marlins with two other players for Mike Piazza.  Piazza went on to become one of the best hitters in team history, but Preston Wilson had himself a fine career as well.  In 1999 - his first full season in the major leagues - Wilson hit .280 with 26 homers and 71 RBI, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year vote.  Wilson followed that up with a tremendous 2000 campaign, a year in which he compiled 35 doubles, 31 homers, 121 RBI and 36 stolen bases.  If you recall, when the 2000 Mets lost the World Series to the Yankees, one of their flaws was a lack of power and speed in the outfield.  No Met outfielder had more than 18 homers, 69 RBI, or stole more than eight bases.  Wilson had 19 HR, 67 RBI and 15 stolen bases by the All-Star break that year.

Wilson continued to flourish after the 2000 campaign, recording two more 20 HR/20 SB seasons in his final two years with Florida before moving on to Colorado and putting up 36 homers and a league-leading 141 RBI with the Rockies in 2003.  And although most Mets fans might remember Yadier Molina's go-ahead two-run homer in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS as the crushing blow of the series, it was Preston Wilson's go-ahead RBI double off Tom Glavine in the pivotal fifth game that sent the Mets back to Shea Stadium needing to win the final two games to advance to the World Series.  They didn't.  And Mookie's stepson got his ring, something Mike Piazza never got as a Met.

Armando Benitez

Unlike Bobby Bonilla and Preston Wilson before him, Armando Benitez never got the chance to earn a World Series ring after he left the Mets.  But he did get to exact his own personal revenge against the Mets when he became a member of the Florida Marlins in 2004, and that might have tasted sweeter to him than the best bottle of championship-clinching champagne.

Benitez actually had a great career for the Mets, as long as the stakes weren't high.  The flame-throwing right-hander saved 160 games as a Met and his 2.70 ERA is the second-lowest earned run average posted by a Met with at least 300 innings pitched behind only Tom Seaver.  But Benitez wilted under the pressure, allowing crushing hits in key September games and various postseason affairs.  By 2003, the Mets were done with Benitez, trading him to the crosstown Yankees.  One year later, Benitez became a Florida Marlin, and he made sure the Mets remembered who they parted with every chance he got.

Florida was just mediocre in 2004 after winning the World Series the previous year, going 83-79 in defense of their title.  But Benitez was one of the main reasons why they didn't finish with a losing mark, recording a league-leading 47 saves for the Marlins - a number that still stands as the team record.  In addition to his career-best 1.29 ERA, Benitez really stuck it to the Mets, posting a 0.68 ERA against his former team and recording a whopping 11 saves versus New York.  The boos may have had a negative effect on Benitez when he was a Met.  But the boos he heard as a Marlin in 2004 did nothing but make him smile.

Jose Reyes

As much as Armando Benitez was vilified as a Met, Jose Reyes was beloved.  Reyes played nine seasons in New York, leading the team in smiles and excitement, as well as triples and stolen bases.  But when Reyes approached free agency for the first time in 2011, the team decided to go the cheap route, allowing him to sign with their division rivals in Miami.  The Mets didn't offer him a $106 million box of chocolates, and have been left trying to pick up the crumbs ever since.

Since Reyes' departure two years ago, the Mets have used an assortment of players to fill in the void left by the dynamic shortstop.  Ruben Tejada, Ronny Cedeño, Omar Quintanilla and Justin Turner have all played at least 20 games at the position over the last two seasons, as the Mets have scrambled (and failed) to replace what was once a sure thing in terms of offensive production.

None of those four players had power or speed.  Meanwhile, Jose Reyes picked up his 100th career triple and 400th steal as a Marlin in 2012, while smacking his 100th lifetime home run as a member of the Blue Jays in 2013.  The quartet of Tejada, Cedeño, Quintanilla and Turner have combined for 28 triples, 58 homers and 65 stolen bases in a total of 26 big league seasons.  Reyes has made the Mets remember what they lost every time he's faced them, going 8-for-8 in stolen bases, while hitting two triples and a homer in just 18 games against his former squad.

Jordany Valdespin will need talent, determination and plenty of balls to join the five players listed above.

There have been a total of 29 players who played for the Mets before becoming members of the Marlins.  Many of them (such as the five listed above) have gone on to become better players, win championships, or just became thorns in the Mets sides for many years.

After signing a minor league deal with Miami, Jordany Valdespin is looking to become the 30th former Met to go on to play for the Marlins.  If he had his way, he'd try to become the latest Marlin to sock it to his former employers in Flushing, just like Chuck Carr, Bobby Bonilla, Preston Wilson, Armando Benitez and Jose Reyes did.  It's up to the men currently wearing the orange and blue to make sure he doesn't.

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