Monday, January 30, 2012

One Season Wonders: Frank Viola

The 1989 Mets were a team in transition.  After cruising to their second division title in three years in 1988, the Mets fell flat in '89.  Co-captains Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter spent much of the year on the disabled list, combining to play in only 125 games.  Dwight Gooden did not make a start after the All-Star Break, missing over two months of the season with a shoulder injury before returning in September to make two relief appearances.

Assistant GM Joe McIlvane was also in the process of dismantling the team that enjoyed great success from 1984 to 1988.  Veterans Mookie Wilson and Lee Mazzilli became teammates in Toronto.  Roger McDowell and Lenny Dykstra were shipped off to Philadelphia.  Terry Leach became a Kansas City Royal.  Despite all the changes in personnel, the Mets remained competitive in the NL East.  At the All-Star Break, the Mets were only 2½ games out of first place, albeit with a less than spectacular 45-39 record.

But the plethora of injuries, especially the one to Gooden, were beginning to catch up to them in late July.  The Mets finished the month on a seven-game losing streak, which included a three-game sweep at the hands of the division-leading Chicago Cubs.  The team was also losing their patience with Rick Aguilera.

Aguilera, who was the winning pitcher in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, had begun the year brilliantly after two poor middle relief appearances to start the season.  From April 18 to June 19, Aggie had one of the most dominant stretches in Mets' history, allowing one earned run in 39 innings (0.23 ERA).  Opposing batters hit .169 against him and he had a phenomenal strikeout to walk ratio, fanning 47 batters while walking only eight.  It was during this stretch that the Mets started using him more in the final innings and he rewarded them by going 6-for-6 in save opportunities to go with three wins.

But then Aguilera hit a wall, one in which he never recovered from as a Met.  In 14 appearances from June 20 to July 30, Aggie was brutal to watch.  He blew four out of five save opportunities, lost five games and had a 4.78 ERA, while allowing opposing batters to hit just under .300 against him.  By then, Randy Myers was firmly entrenched as the team's closer (a position he also held in 1988) and Aguilera was deemed expendable.  The Mets were teetering close to the .500 mark and had fallen five full games behind the first place Cubs.  Joe McIlvane felt a change was needed and did not hesitate when the opportunity presented itself.  He needed more than just Rick Aguilera to complete the deal, but when it was completed, the Mets had themselves a former World Series champion and Cy Young Award winner in Frank Viola.

Frank Viola wore shades because he thought his future would be bright with the Mets.

The late July swoon and the need to find a suitable replacement for the injured Dwight Gooden led the Mets to make a major move at the trade deadline.  On July 31, 1989, the Mets sent Rick Aguilera, minor league prospects Kevin Tapani, David West, Tim Drummond and a player to be named later (Jack Savage) to Minnesota for left-handed starter and Long Island native Frank Viola.

Frank John Viola had built quite a résumé in the Twin Cities, winning 112 games in 7½ seasons, including a 24-win season in 1988 that earned him the American League Cy Young Award.  That came on the heels of the Twins' first World Series championship, a series in which Viola won two games against the St. Louis Cardinals, including the seventh and deciding game.  The Mets had acquired themselves one of the best pitchers in baseball and expected Viola to turn the team around in 1989 and beyond.

Unfortunately, the Mets did not come back to win the division in 1989, finishing in second place with an 87-75 record.  It was the first season since 1983 in which the Mets failed to win 90 games.  Viola was only mediocre in his 12 starts for the Mets, going 5-5 with a 3.38 ERA.  The man known as Sweet Music failed to deliver a division-winning concerto for the Mets in 1989.  However, with the return of a healthy Dwight Gooden in 1990, Viola took the National League by storm as part of a formidable one-two punch.  His renaissance started early and continued throughout the season.  Before he was done, Viola found himself doing things no left-handed pitcher had ever done before in a Mets uniform.

When the Mets traded for Frank Viola in 1989, they expected to see a Cy Young-caliber performance in almost every start.  They got much more than that over Viola's first seven outings in 1990.  Through mid-May, Viola was off to one of the best starts in franchise history.  Sweet Music started seven games and was the winning pitcher in all seven, allowing five runs in 51
⅔ innings, striking out 52 batters while walking only six.  Five of the seven games resulted in shutouts.

Although Viola was 7-0 to start the season, the same could not be said for the rest of the staff.  After winning his seventh game on May 12, the Mets were just barely over .500 with a 16-14 record.  The Mets were depending too much on Frank Viola to carry the staff while the other players got their act together.  So when Viola had his first mini-slump of the season, although it was only two starts, the team completely fell apart, leading to the dismissal of their long-time manager.

No need to look so mean, Frank.  It wasn't your fault that Davey Johnson got fired in 1990.

Following his scorching start, Viola cooled down.  In his final two appearances in May, Viola faced the San Diego Padres both times.  The Friars did as they pleased with the Met lefty, scoring 11 runs (10 earned) in 11 innings off Viola, handing him the loss on each occasion.  With Viola not winning, the team followed suit, losing nine of 13 games to go below .500.  During this cold streak, manager Davey Johnson was fired, replaced by Buddy Harrelson.  As with most managerial changes, the team responded quickly with Frank Viola leading the way.

From June 1 to the All-Star Break, Viola returned to his winning ways, going 6-1 over his next eight starts (one no-decision).  In his one loss, Viola gave up seven runs in 5
⅓ innings to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  But in his six wins, Viola was back to making the sweet music he was creating in the early part of the season.  Viola allowed five runs in 48⅔ innings in those six victories for a 0.92 ERA.  In the team's final game before the All-Star Break, Viola pitched 7⅔ innings of one-run ball, improving his record to 13-3.

After losing their first game under Buddy Harrelson, the Mets had suddenly become the hottest team in the National League, going 27-9 in their final 36 games before the All-Star Break to pull to within half a game of the first place Pirates.  With his 13-3 record at the break, Viola was named to the National League All-Star team for the first time, where he pitched one scoreless inning in relief.  

Unfortunately, the break couldn't have come at a worse time for the Mets, as the time off killed any momentum they had gained since the beginning of June.  In their first 33 games after the Midsummer Classic, the Mets were barely a winning team, going 17-16.  However, the Pirates weren't exactly taking advantage of the Mets' mediocrity, going 15-16 over the same time period.  The Pirates' slump catapulted the Mets into first place, but by late August, the Mets were once again behind Pittsburgh in the NL East, and this time they were four games back.  Needing one more push to retake the lead in the division, the Mets called upon Frank Viola to deliver.  The southpaw did all he could to carry the team on his back.

After seeing his record fall to 15-8 in mid-August, Viola turned it up a notch for the stretch run.  In a six-start span from August 22 to September 15, Viola went 4-1 with a 1.69 ERA.  He pitched at least eight innings in all but one of those six starts (Viola pitched seven innings in his one loss, a 2-1 defeat to the Los Angeles Dodgers) and held opponents to a .283 on-base percentage.  During this stretch, the Mets retook the lead in the National League East, only to fall behind by 3½ games in early September.  When Viola defeated the Phillies on September 15 for his 19th win of the season, the Mets were back to within half a game of first place.  That would be the closest the Mets would come to wresting the division lead away from the Pirates, as New York went 8-9 over their final 17 games while the Pirates took 11 of their final 16 contests to win the division by four games over the Mets.

Viola would win his 20th game of the season in the season finale against the division champions, but by then, it was too late.  The Pirates had won the first of three consecutive NL East titles and the Mets would go on to post six consecutive losing seasons after 1990.

Frankie V made Sweet Music throughout the entire 1990 season for the Mets.

Despite the disappointing end to the 1990 campaign, the Mets thought they would be able to count on Frank Viola for years to come.  Viola finished the year with a 20-12 record and a 2.67 ERA, becoming only the fifth pitcher (and second lefty) to win 20 games in a season for the Mets.  For his efforts, Viola finished third in the NL Cy Young Award vote, behind Doug Drabek and Ramon Martinez.  It would be the last time Viola would taste that type of success in the major leagues.

Although Frank Viola began the 1991 season strongly, going 11-5 with a 2.78 ERA over his first 19 starts and earning his second All-Star Game selection as a Met, he was an absolute disaster over the second half of the season.  From July 17 until the end of the season, Viola's music turned sour.  In 16 starts, Viola went 2-10 with a 5.75 ERA, failing to pitch more than six innings in 11 of those starts.  He wasn't fooling anyone at the plate, allowing 121 hits while striking out only 57 batters in 92⅓ innings.

For the season, Viola finished 13-15 with a 3.97 ERA.  The most telling stat of Viola's 1991 season was his hits allowed.  In 231⅓ innings, Viola surrendered 259 hits.  It was the most hits allowed by a Met since Roger Craig gave up 261 safeties in 233⅓ innings during the team's inaugural 1962 campaign.  To this day, Viola's figure remains the second-highest total in club history.  In addition, since 1991, the only National League pitcher to give up more than 259 hits in a season has been Livan Hernandez, who accomplished the feat in 1998, 2001 and 2005.  That's how bad Viola's 1991 season was, especially after the All-Star Break.

The Mets finished the 1991 season with a 75-86 record, their first losing record since 1983.  That offseason, Frank Viola became a free agent.  Given his poor second half in 1991, the Mets decided to go in another direction, allowing Viola to sign a three-year, $13.9 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. 

Viola had a so-so season in his first year in Boston (13-12, 3.44 ERA), followed by a decent second year (11-8, 3.14 ERA).  However, despite still being relatively young (age 33), Viola made only 15 more appearances in the major leagues following his second season in Boston, winning two of them.  A torn ligament in his left elbow sent Viola to the disabled list for the first time in 1994 and he underwent Tommy John surgery to fix it.  He ended up making six starts for Boston in 1994, three starts for Cincinnati in 1995 and six starts for Toronto in 1996, combining to go 2-5 with a 6.19 ERA before retiring at the age of 36.  He finished his career with a 176-150 record and a 3.73 ERA, going 38-32 in 2½ seasons with the Mets.

It's a shame Frank Viola didn't get to go out on top of his game.  He certainly was on top in 1990.

Frank Viola came to the Mets in 1989, hoping to get the team back to the heights it had reached in 1986 and 1988.  In his first full season in New York, Viola became the second left-handed pitcher in club annals to win 20 games.  However, he followed that up by giving up the second-most hits in franchise history in 1991.  By 1992, he was no longer a Met and by 1996, he was out of baseball.  Meanwhile, the players he was traded for made quite a name for themselves in the major leagues.

Rick Aguilera became a top closer in the American League, setting the Twins' career franchise record for saves (eventually surpassed by Joe Nathan in 2011).  Kevin Tapani won 143 games in the major leagues, of which 75 came in Minnesota.  In 1991, while Viola was giving up hit after hit for the Mets, Aguilera was tying the Twins' single-season record with 42 saves and Tapani was en route to a 16-9 record with a 2.99 ERA, helping the Twins win their second World Series championship.

The Mets wanted sweet music from Frank Viola when they acquired him in 1989.  All they got was one season of greatness.  However, his one spectacular season has become the last 20-win season recorded by a Mets' pitcher, as no one has won more than 17 games since 1990 (Al Leiter won 17 games for the Mets in 1998).  The fact that no Met has approached 20 wins since Viola accomplished the feat in 1990 is as much a wonder as Viola's one season was.

Note: One Season Wonders is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting those Mets who had one and only one memorable season in New York.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:
January 2, 2012: Bernard Gilkey
January 9, 2012: Terry Leach 
January 16, 2012: George Stone
January 23, 2012: Roger Cedeño

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I Will Always Love Carlos Beltran, But...

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Newsday

Recently, Brian Joura at posted an interesting piece on whether Carlos Beltran would wear a Mets hat when elected to the Hall of Fame.  The thing that struck me the most about the title was the word "when".

Now, don't get me wrong, I love Carlos Beltran and was hoping the Mets would re-sign him to an incentive-laden short-term contract, but at the same time, I am a realist.  I knew the Mets would never bring him back.  So being the realist that I am, I'd also like to say that as things currently stand, I don't think Carlos Beltran will ever be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

There have been many players who have boosted their Hall of Fame credentials after their 34th birthday.  One player who comes to mind is Paul Molitor.

At the end of the 1990 season, Paul Molitor was a 34-year-old with the Milwaukee Brewers.  At the time, he had enjoyed a good, but not great, career.  His career numbers (.299 batting average, 1,870 hits, 337 doubles, 66 triples, 131 HR, 626 RBI, 1,053 runs scored, 362 SB, three All-Star appearances and two Silver Slugger Awards) were those of a very good player, but no one expected him to be a Hall of Famer, especially with his injury history.  Molitor missed at least 44 games a year in three of the five seasons from age 30 to 34.

But beginning in 1991, the year he turned 35, Molitor enjoyed a baseball second wind.  Over his final eight seasons in the majors, Molitor hit .316.  After his 35th birthday, he had three seasons of 200 or more hits, scored 100 or more runs twice (missing a third time when he scored 99 runs in 1996 - the year he turned 40), drove in 100 or more runs twice (the only two times in his career he accomplished the feat) and hit at least 29 doubles in all eight seasons.  He also stole 142 bases after 1990, a rare feat for someone in the supposed twilight of his career and made four more All-Star teams to go with two additional Silver Slugger Awards.

What was once an okay career became a Hall of Fame one, as Molitor finished his career with a .305 lifetime batting average, 3,319 hits, 605 doubles, 114 triples, 234 HR, 1,307 RBI, 1,782 runs scored and 504 SB.  He also was a seven-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger Award recipient.

This brings us to Carlos Beltran.  Sure it's possible for Beltran to return to his 2006-2008 form with the Mets, but even doing that wouldn't get him anywhere near the numbers put up by Paul Molitor.  However, there is one player whose career numbers are very similar to Carlos Beltran's.  And no one is expecting this player to make the Hall of Fame once he becomes eligible in 2013.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the case of Steve Finley.

Steve Finley was a very good player who had a long career in the major leagues.  For 19 seasons, he was a dependable outfielder who won numerous Gold Glove Awards while not being a slouch at the plate.  Let's compare Carlos Beltran's career numbers with those of Steve Finley to see how similar they've been.

  • Carlos Beltran: 14 years, 1,917 hits, 390 doubles, 73 triples, 302 HR, 1,146 RBI, 1,184 runs scored, 293 SB, 831 BB, six-time All-Star, three Gold Gloves, two postseason appearances, no pennants, no World Series titles.
  • Steve Finley: 19 years, 2,548 hits, 449 doubles, 124 triples, 304 HR, 1,167 RBI, 1,443 runs scored, 320 SB, 844 BB, two-time All-Star, five Gold Gloves, seven postseason appearances, two pennants, one World Series title. 

They look pretty similar, don’t you think?  As of right now, Finley leads Beltran in most categories.  Beltran will more than likely surpass Finley in HR, RBI and walks this year.   He also might pass Finley in doubles in 2013.  But he might never pass him in base hits, triples and runs scored.  After stealing only four bases last year, it might take a few years for him to pass Finley in stolen bases, if he ever does at all.  It will also take him a minimum of four years to pass Finley in runs scored.

Now let's look at some sabermetric numbers, a category I don't use much here, but feel compelled to do in this comparison.  Carlos Beltran’s 60.8 WAR (53.6 oWAR, 7.2 dWAR) is better than Finley’s 40.5 WAR (42.5 oWAR, -2.0 dWAR), but Finley’s dWAR numbers took a dive in his final three years in the major leagues, as should be expected from a player once he turns 40. His dWAR over his final three years was -2.6, meaning he was above zero through age 39.

Carlos Beltran has had quite a career in the major leagues.  Unfortunately, he's been plagued by injuries for most of the past three seasons.  However, after having a bounceback campaign in 2011, he might be returning to his All-Star caliber self.  Still, that doesn't mean he's going to put up the type of numbers Paul Molitor put up after turning 35.

Beltran will turn 35 in April, just three weeks after the season begins.  He appears on track to have a career comparable to Steve Finley.  That's not a Hall of Fame career.  That's just a very good career.  And that's not such a bad thing.  As I said before, I'll always love Carlos Beltran, but he's not a Hall of Famer in my mind.  He has a lot of work to do if he's going to become one.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Perfect Way For The Mets To Stick It To The Marlins

As all Mets fans know, the Marlins have been a thorn in the team's side since 2007.  First, Tom Glavine was able to retire only one more batter than I did in the 2007 regular season finale, completing the Mets' collapse.  One year later, the Marlins wouldn't get off the field after they once again eliminated the Mets (and Shea Stadium) in Game No. 162.  Three years after that, they stuck it to the Mets again, this time by signing Jose Reyes to a six-year deal worth $106 million, or about $106 million more than Fred Wilpon has stored away in his souvenir Sandy Koufax piggy bank.

In fact, if you really want to get technical about it, the Marlins have been one-upping the Mets since 1997, when they replaced the Mets as the fastest expansion team to win a World Series.  (The Marlins have since been knocked off that perch by the fourth-year Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001.)

But other than the Mets celebrating their 2006 NL East title in front of their home fans while the Marlins watched in the road dugout, they haven't really done anything that would be considered negative to the Marlins.  Are they upset that the Mets took Mike Piazza and Carlos Delgado from them?  Did Fred Wilpon insult Marlins' owner Jeffrey Loria's mother because he found out Loria grew up as a Yankee fan during the era in which the Brooklyn Dodgers kept losing to them in the World Series?

The time has come for the Mets to stand up to the Marlins once and for all.  And I know just how they can do it.

Earlier today, it was reported that Bud Selig expects two extra wild-card teams to be in place for this season, rather than the 2013 campaign.  Therefore, with five teams now qualifying for the playoffs in the National League instead of the usual four, the Marlins have reasonable expectations that they will be one of those five teams.

More than likely, the Phillies will win the NL East for the sixth consecutive season.  But the Atlanta Braves are coming off an epic late-season collapse.  The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers both lost their top power hitters (Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder) to free agency.  With all those windows being opened in the National League, the Miami Marlins are poised to break through and crash the playoff party for the first time since Art Howe was supposedly managing the Mets.

Like many other teams competing for the wild card spots, the Marlins might not play a potential clinching game until the final series of the season.  And who, pray tell, will the Marlins be playing on October 1, 2 and 3 in front of their dozens of fans at their brand spanking-new ballpark?

The New York Mets.

Wouldn't it be something if the Marlins needed to win their final series of the season and the newly-signed (and former Met) Heath Bell blew a save or two to the Mets?  Or how about if Jose Reyes, representing the tying run in the bottom of the ninth was caught stealing to end a game?  What if the Marlins' new ace, Mark Buehrle, only lasted a third of an inning in the regular season finale, as the Mets battered him for run after run in the opening frame?  Would that be devastating to them?

It's been too long since the Marlins have been a thorn in the Mets' side.  Ever since Steve Trachsel's arm and Jose Valentin's bat took them down in the 2006 division clincher, the artists formerly known as the Florida Marlins have been giving the Mets and their fans recurring nightmares.

Hey, we all know the Marlins are just one poor finish away from conducting their once-a-decade fire sale.  Why not speed up the inevitable and give them a chance to do it this year?  The Marlins have been sticking it to the Mets every chance they've gotten since 2007.  It's time for the Mets to stick it right back to them in 2012.  Ya gotta believe.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Maine's In Massachusetts: Red Sox Sign John Maine

On May 20, 2010, John Maine took the mound against the Washington Nationals trying to rebound from his first poor start in a month.  Maine had given up six runs in five innings against the Florida Marlins in his previous start, after a four-start stretch in which his ERA was 2.49.

However, something didn't look right to manager Jerry Manuel after Maine walked leadoff batter Nyjer Morgan on five pitches.  Despite Maine's claims that he felt fine, Manuel took him out of the game.  John Maine never pitched again for the Mets, spending the rest of the season on the disabled list with shoulder fatigue.  When the Mets chose not to re-sign Maine during the offseason, he became a free agent and agreed to a minor league deal with the Colorado Rockies, going 1-3 with a 7.43 ERA in 11 starts for their Triple-A affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, in 2011.

Now comes word that John Maine will be changing his Sox, as the former Met hurler has agreed to a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox and has been invited to their spring training camp to compete for a spot on their roster.  Should Maine break camp with the Red Sox, he will be used as a relief pitcher, a role in which he has been rarely used.

Maine pitched for the Mets from 2006 to 2010, going 39-32 with a 4.17 ERA.  He ranks 23rd all-time in wins as a Met.  He also ranks in the top 20 in winning percentage (.549, 14th), fewest hits per nine innings (7.85, 8th) and most strikeouts per nine innings (7.76, 6th).  In addition, Maine was 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA in three postseason starts for the Mets.  And of course, Maine almost pitched the team's first no-hitter in the penultimate game of the 2007 season, helping the Mets temporarily stave off elimination with his 14-strikeout performance against the Florida Marlins.

If John Maine makes the Red Sox out of spring training, he will play for another former Met, as Bobby Valentine is the new skipper in Beantown.  As Mets' manager from 1996 to 2002, Valentine was known for going to his bullpen early and often.  None of Valentine's pitching staffs in his six-plus years as Mets' skipper recorded 10 complete games (the 1998 and 2002 squads had nine complete games apiece).  Prior to Valentine's arrival in New York, the Mets had never had a full, non-strike shortened season in which the starting staff didn't reach double digits in complete games.

Given that Maine's role on the Red Sox would be out of the bullpen, he'd probably get his fair share of opportunities to pitch for Bobby Valentine.  Of course, he has to make the team first.  Considering his lack of success (and health) since 2010, that might be easier said than done.

As a Mets fan who was also a John Maine fan, I'd like to wish him all the luck in the world as he tries to return to the major leagues as a member of the Boston Red Sox.  More than likely, he's going to need it.

I'm Glad For John Franco, But Where's Jesse Orosco?

I’m very happy that John Franco has become the latest member of the Mets’ Hall of Fame.  He is more than deserving of the honor, having pitched 14 seasons with the Mets and becoming the franchise’s all-time saves leader.  However, I am surprised by the fact that Franco was inducted this year, when there is another reliever who’s been waiting longer and is equally, if not more deserving of enshrinement into the team’s hallowed Hall.  My friends, where’s the love for Jesse Orosco?

When John Franco became the Mets’ all-time leader in saves in 1994, he broke Jesse Orosco’s record.  Prior to 1984, when the Mets became a perennial contender, Orosco was the sole bright spot on a last-place team.

In 1983, he went 13-7 with a 1.47 ERA and 17 saves.  He actually led the team in wins that year despite pitching exclusively out of the bullpen.  For his efforts, Orosco made his first All-Star team, finished 3rd in the Cy Young vote and actually finished 17th in MVP despite playing for a 94-loss team.  The following year, Orosco became the first Met to surpass 30 saves in a single season and was voted to his second All-Star team, the first reliever in franchise history to make multiple trips to the Midsummer Classic.  Two years later, Orosco made the final outs (and taught us all how to toss our gloves in the air in celebration properly) in both the NLCS and the World Series.

From 1981-1986, Orosco was 43-36 with a 2.31 ERA and 91 saves.  Think about that for a second.  He had a 2.31 ERA over a six-year span, a period in which he tossed 483.2 innings.  This is not a small sample of innings.  Simply stated, Jesse Orosco was one of the most consistent and effective relievers in Mets history.

It might be said that Franco’s selection was made so that each of the past two Hall of Fame classes wouldn’t focus so much on the 1986 team, what with Davey Johnson, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Frank Cashen getting the call in 2010.  But Mookie Wilson (1996), Keith Hernandez (1997) and Gary Carter (2001) were selected consecutively (no Met was selected from 1998-2000).  Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman were also selected in consecutive years when they got the call in 1988 and 1989, respectively.

If you want to take things a little further, here's another Hall of Fame nugget for you.  Tug McGraw pitched in eight postseason games for the Mets.  In those eight games, he was 1-0 with two saves and a 1.66 ERA.  Jesse Orosco also pitched in eight postseason games as a Met.  In his eight appearances, Orosco went 3-0 with two saves and a 1.97 ERA.  Both McGraw and Orosco played longer for other teams than they did for the Mets (the Tugger pitched ten seasons in Philadelphia, while Orosco pitched for another 16 years with various teams after leaving the Mets) and they both won another World Series elsewhere, with McGraw recording the final out of the Phillies' first-ever title in 1980 and Orosco winning a ring as a member of the 1988 Dodgers.  Of course, Tug McGraw has been in the Mets' Hall of Fame since 1993, while Jesse is still in limbo.

Speaking of the World Series, John Franco was the last Mets pitcher to win a World Series game, as he was given credit for the victory in Game 3 of the 2000 World Series.  Jesse Orosco is the last Mets pitcher to be on the mound when the Mets won a World Series.  There’s a big difference between winning a World Series game and winning a World Series.

Hey, I have no problem with John Franco making it into the Mets’ Hall of Fame and I congratulate him for becoming the 26th Met to receive the honor.  But he shouldn’t have been selected before Jesse Orosco.  Orosco had just as many accomplishments as a Met as Franco did, but he’s been waiting for the Hall honor longer than Franco did.  Hopefully, the Mets will get it right and induct Orosco next year.  He’s sure waited long enough to get that call.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ten Things You May Have Forgotten About John Franco

Photo courtesy of Associated Press/New York Mets

Earlier today, the Mets announced that John Franco will be inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in a ceremony prior to the June 3rd game against the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.  Franco will become the 26th member of the Mets' Hall of Fame and the first to be inducted since Davey Johnson, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Frank Cashen were bestowed the honor in 2010.

Many people know that John Franco played more years for the Mets (14) than any player not named Ed Kranepool and was the team's last captain.  It's also fairly common knowledge amongst Mets fans that Franco holds the club record for saves (276) and is the all-time leader for saves by a left-handed pitcher (424).

But what about the things you may have forgotten about the Brooklyn-born Franco?  He was much more than just a pitcher who racked up saves and years played with the team.  In fact, I've come up with ten things you may not remember about the man who came into games as Chuck Berry serenaded him over the Shea Stadium speakers.  In honor of the newest member of the Mets' Hall of Fame, I present to you...

Ten Things You May Have Forgotten About John Franco

1.  Before Mike Piazza became synonymous with No. 31, John Franco wore the number.  In fact, he wore it longer than Piazza did as a Met, but gave it up to the superstar catcher upon his arrival in May 1998.  Franco switched to No. 45, the number he wore as a player at St. John's University and the number of his childhood hero, Tug McGraw.

2.  When John Franco was traded from Cincinnati to the Mets in December 1989, he was the Reds' all-time saves leader with 148.  In 1994, Franco recorded his 108th save as a Met, taking over the team's top spot from Jesse Orosco.  For ten seasons, John Franco held the No. 1 spot in saves for both the Reds and the Mets until Reds' closer Danny Graves surpassed Franco in 2004.

3.  John Franco is one of only two Mets players who played for both Davey Johnson and Bobby Valentine, joining his battery mate, Todd Hundley.  Johnson was fired as Mets' manager during Franco's first season in New York, while Valentine dialed Franco's number in the bullpen 295 times.  Unfortunately for Johnson, Franco gave up two runs in two-thirds of an inning during a loss to the Padres on May 27, 1990.  It would be Davey's final game as Mets' manager.

4.  Although most fans remember Tom Seaver throwing out the first pitch at Citi Field, it was actually John Franco who threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the inaugural baseball game played at the Mets' home.  On March 29, 2009, Franco took the mound before the college baseball game between St. John's and Georgetown, opening up the ballpark with its first toss to the plate.

5.  The Mets lost the 2000 World Series to the Yankees in five games.  Who was the only Mets' pitcher credited with a victory in the first Subway Series in 44 years?  None other than John Franco, who earned the victory in Game 3 after Benny Agbayani's RBI double gave the Mets an eighth-inning lead.

6.  John Franco was once relieved by Matt Franco.  On Fireworks Night in 1999, Matt Franco traded in his pinch-hitting role to be the "pinch-pitcher" after John Franco left the game with a strained tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand.  Franco (Matt) would give up a three-run homer to the first batter he faced, adding two runs to Franco's (John) pitching line for the night.  The Mets would go on to lose the game to the Braves, 16-0.  That wouldn't be the only thing lost that night, as Franco (John, not Matt) lost his job as Mets' closer to Armando Benitez because of his injury.

7.  Darryl Strawberry and David Wright are widely considered to be the two best homegrown hitters in franchise history, with both players popping up all over the Mets' all-time offensive leaderboards.  John Franco is the only player who was a teammate of both players while with the Mets.  Franco's first season in New York (1990) coincided with the Straw Man's last year as a Met, while his last year (2004) was the year David Wright made his Met debut.

8.  John Franco is one of only three Mets' relievers to finish in the top ten in the Cy Young Award vote in a particular year.  In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Franco led the National League with 30 saves and placed 7th in the Cy Young vote.  Jesse Orosco (3rd in 1983) and Billy Wagner (6th in 2006) are the other Mets who have received Cy Young Award votes in addition to Franco.

9.  With 33 saves in 1990, John Franco became the first Met ever to lead the league in saves.  He repeated the feat in 1994 when he saved 30 games for the Mets to pace the NL.  To this day, Franco remains the only Mets pitcher to lead the National League in saves.

10.  John Franco is one of only two men to pitch for the Mets at age 44.  In 1965, Hall of Famer Warren Spahn became the first player to accomplish the feat, pitching in 20 games (19 starts) for the Mets at the age of 44.  Franco's final appearance as a Met (October 3, 2004) was also his only appearance as a 44-year-old.  That's not the only thing Spahn and Franco have in common.  Both pitchers are first all-time in wins and saves for left-handed pitchers, respectively.  Spahn's 363 career victories and Franco's 424 saves lead all southpaws in major league history.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jason Bay's Struggles Seem Awfully Familiar

When Jason Bay became a Met prior to the 2010 season, he was coming off a tremendous season in Boston.  Bay was an All-Star in his final season with the Red Sox, hitting .267 with 36 HR and 119 RBI.  He also won his first Silver Slugger Award and finished seventh in the AL MVP vote.  Perhaps his greatest victory that year was getting the Mets to give him a four-year, $66 million contract to become their new leftfielder.

Since signing the free agent deal, Bay has been a tremendous disappointment.  In 2010, he struggled from Day One.  He hit one home run in his first 44 games and had only hit five more by the All-Star Break.  After the break, Bay went homerless in the team's first ten games and then gave himself a noogie on the left field fence at Dodger Stadium.  He was diagnosed with a concussion and spent the rest of the season on the disabled list.  His final numbers in his first season as a Met (.259 batting average, .347 on-base percentage, 6 HR, 47 RBI in 95 games) left many to wonder if this was a fluke season or a sign of things to come.

In 2011, Bay began the second year of his Mets career in the same place where he ended his first - on the disabled list.  Bay missed the first 18 games of the season before returning from the DL on April 21.  Although he was able to remain healthy for the rest of the season, once again his production fell far short of his pre-2010 levels.  Bay hit two home runs in his first 47 games and finished the year with 12 HR and 57 RBI.  His batting average and on-base percentage were also disappointing, as he finished at .245 and .329, respectively.

Clearly, Jason Bay has not done much of anything to earn his high salary.  But this drop in production is not unique among Met hitters.  In fact, it happened before two decades ago in strikingly similar fashion.

Howard Johnson went from beloved '86 Met to three 30-30 seasons to "LOOK OUT BELOW!!"

In 1991, Howard Johnson won two legs of the National League Triple Crown, leading the league in home runs (38) and RBI (117).  He set a new franchise record with his RBI total and fell one homer short of Darryl Strawberry's single-season home run record.  He also hit .259 on the way to becoming an All-Star, winning the Silver Slugger Award and finishing fifth in the NL MVP vote.

One year later, HoJo had an awful first half.  At the time of the All-Star Break, Johnson was hitting .228 with 7 HR, 37 RBI, and was reaching base at a .336 clip.  After the break, he played in 15 games without hitting a home run, then was placed on the disabled list with a broken right wrist.  Johnson did not play again in 1992.

In 1993, Johnson attempted to show the Mets that he was over his injury, but instead regressed.  HoJo played in all but one of the team's first 57 games, hitting .243 with 5 HR, 22 RBI and a .353 on-base percentage.  He then missed three weeks with a viral infection, but when he returned to the lineup, he was basically an automatic out.  He played in 16 games after his DL stint ended, batting .222 (.354 OBP) and only driving in four runs (2 HR) before his season ended with another trip to the disabled list, this time with a fractured thumb.  For the season, Johnson hit .238 with 7 HR, 26 RBI and a .354 on-base percentage in 72 games.

Did you notice a similarity there?  I'll put it all together for you in case you missed it.

  • Howard Johnson (1991): .259, 38 HR, 117 RBI, All-Star, Silver Slugger, top 10 MVP vote.
  • Jason Bay (2009): .267, 36 HR, 119 RBI, All-Star, Silver Slugger, top 10 MVP vote.

  • Johnson ('92): .223, 7 HR, 43 RBI, sidelined for the season shortly after the All-Star Break.
  • Bay ('10): .259, 6 HR, 47 RBI, sidelined for the season shortly after the All-Star Break.

  • Johnson ('93): .238, 7 HR, 26 RBI, spent more time on the DL with a different injury.
  • Bay ('11): .245, 12 HR, 57 RBI, spent more time on the DL with a different injury.

Both Johnson and Bay had strikingly similar performances and health issues in the year following their best seasons.  Oh, and did I mention they were both 30 years of age during those great seasons?  No?  Sorry, I must have forgotten with all those other similarities I had to remember.

Jason Bay still has two years left on his gazillion dollar contract.  Fortunately for the Mets of two decades ago, Howard Johnson was a free agent following his second straight off-year in 1993, so the Mets were able to avoid a potential third consecutive poor season from HoJo.  (Johnson played two more seasons in the majors and combined to hit .205 with 17 HR and 62 RBI in 180 games for the Rockies and Cubs in 1994 and 1995 before retiring at age 34.)

It remains to be seen if Jason Bay will continue to decline the way Howard Johnson did for the Mets in the '90s.  One thing's for sure.  The Mets can't afford to have Bay suffer at the plate for a third straight season.  That's one similarity between Bay and HoJo the team and the fans could live without.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Loyalty And Leaderboards

Former Yankee catcher Jorge Posada officially announced his retirement from baseball today.  He left the game after playing exclusively for the Yankees since his promotion to the major leagues in 1995.

Those aren't sentences I usually begin a blog post with.  After all, this is Studious Metsimus, which the last time I checked, focused on Mets-related news.  But I couldn't help but notice something about Posada's career numbers with the Yankees, especially when compared to some of the Mets' all-time greats.

Jorge Posada collected 6,092 at-bats over his 17-year career.  In those at-bats, he picked up 1,664 hits, of which 379 were doubles and 275 were home runs.  Posada also walked 936 times, scored 900 runs and piled up 1,065 RBIs.  He's nowhere near the Yankee team leaders in any of those categories, nor does he rank among the top five hitting catchers of all-time, as players like Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, Johnny Bench, Ted Simmons, Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella were all better hitters than Posada.  So why am I making such a big deal about this?

Because Jorge Posada would be the Mets' all-time leader in hits, doubles, home runs, walks, runs scored and RBIs if he had played his entire career in Flushing.

As hard as it is for me to admit it, Jorge Posada was a better hitter than Ed Kranepool.

Jorge Posada surpassed 150 hits in a season only once (2007), a figure that has been achieved by many Mets.  One might argue that Posada's hit total would be lower than most hitters because of all his time spent as a catcher.  To those people, I submit the fact that Mike Piazza, also a catcher, reached the 150-hit plateau three times as a Met and eight times in his career.  Posada also hit 30 or more doubles four times, reached 30 home runs once, walked 100 times once, drove in 100 runs once and never scored 100 runs in any of 17 seasons.  Several Mets players have reached those numbers multiple times, except for walks, where John Olerud is the only Met to walk 100 times in a season.

Had Jorge Posada played his entire career as a Met and produced the same numbers, he'd be considered the greatest offensive player in Mets history and would be counting down the days till his number joined Nos. 37, 14 and 41 on the left field wall at Citi Field.  Instead, he is just one of many Yankees who had very good careers in pinstripes.  Is this a testament to the fact that the Yankees have been Slugger Central over the past century or have the Mets just done poorly developing and keeping their offensive stars?

There's a reason why Tom Seaver is referred to as "The Franchise".  It's not because he's the sole player in the Hall of Fame with a Mets cap on his plaque.   It's because the Mets have a tough time producing elite players, and when they do, they end up trading them or letting them walk via free agency.  Tom Seaver was an elite player with the Mets for 11 years.  Since 1983, when Seaver played his last game as a Met, the only player developed in the Mets' minor league system who spent over a decade in Flushing was Dwight Gooden.  The only hitters originally drafted by the Mets who played over a decade in New York were Ed Kranepool, Cleon Jones, Bud Harrelson and Ron Hodges.  That's not exactly a Murderer's Row we're talking about there.

Perhaps one day the Mets will develop a player in their minor league system, watch him become an All-Star in Flushing and keep him around for a while.  Jose Reyes could have been that player.  David Wright could still be that player if the Mets don't decide to keep their pennies to themselves.  Jorge Posada was that type of player for the Yankees.  Had he been a Met, he'd be atop the team's all-time leaderboard in a plethora of categories.  See what a little loyalty can do for you?

Monday, January 23, 2012

One Season Wonders: Roger Cedeño

When the Mets acquired Mike Piazza from the Florida Marlins in 1998, the writing was on the wall for Todd Hundley.  Hundley was one of only two Mets left on the team who had played for Davey Johnson (John Franco was the other), but had spent the first three months of the 1998 season on the disabled list while recovering from major reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.  Needless to say, Hundley was not happy that the Mets were giving up on him, especially after he had given the team his best two seasons in 1996 and 1997.

Surprisingly, Hundley was not traded immediately upon his return from the DL in July.  Instead, the Mets moved him to left field, displacing Bernard Gilkey, whose poor performance (.237, 3 HR, 24 RBI in 64 games at the time of Hundley's return) moved him to the bench and eventually to the Arizona Diamondbacks three weeks later.  Despite the Mets' willingness to play Hundley, an outfield neophyte, on a regular basis, his performance at the plate suffered.  Hundley finished the injury-shortened 1998 campaign with his poorest line (.161, 3 HR, 12 RBI in 53 games) since his first full season in the majors in 1992.

Finally, after months of speculation, the Mets traded Hundley to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two players.  One of the players was All-Star catcher Charles Johnson, who was immediately shipped off to Baltimore for reliever Armando Benitez.  The other was a 24-year-old utility outfielder who had played parts of four seasons in Los Angeles, never establishing himself as a full-time player.  But once he came over to the Mets, his game took off (literally) and he became a key contributor on a team that was trying to make its first postseason appearance in 11 years.  That player was Roger Cedeño.

Before Jose Reyes wowed Mets fans with his speed, there was Roger Cedeño.

Roger Leandro Cedeño had never accumulated more than 240 at-bats in any of his four seasons as a Dodger.  He also had never shown the ability to be a prolific base stealer in the major leagues.  In 311 games with the Dodgers, Cedeño stole 23 bases, with a career-high of nine of 1997.  However, he was a base-stealing threat in the minors, as evidenced by his 121 stolen bases from 1992-1995.

At the time of the trade, it was assumed that Cedeño would not be the answer to the team's leadoff hitter conundrum.  His career on-base percentage was .317 and he was not a good contact hitter, striking out 158 times in 687 at-bats with the Dodgers.  Therefore, it was not a surprise when the Mets used him primarily as a pinch-hitter and late-inning defensive replacement over the first month of the season.  But that all started to change once May rolled around.

From Opening Day to May 2, Roger Cedeño played in 24 games.  However, he only started nine of those games, as he appeared in eight games as a pinch-hitter, two games as a pinch-runner and five games as a defensive replacement.  As a result, he didn't get much of an opportunity to establish himself as an offensive threat.  Through May 2, Cedeño was hitting .289 with five stolen bases, but had only picked up 45 at-bats.  Then came a rare start on May 3 against the Houston Astros.  It was a night that turned Cedeño's season around.

Given the opportunity to start a game, Roger Cedeño took full advantage.  Against the Astros, Cedeño went 2-for-4 with a walk, two runs scored and two stolen bases.  He got things started with a leadoff single to center in the first inning, then promptly stole second base.  He took third base on a weak groundout to third, then scored on an RBI single by Mike Piazza.  The Mets batted around in that first inning, scoring four times.

By the sixth inning, the Astros had cut the lead to one, as Richard Hidalgo's two-run homer had turned an early 4-0 lead into a tight 4-3 game.  Once again, a rally started by Roger Cedeño gave the Mets some breathing room.  With one out in the sixth, Cedeño doubled to left, then stole third base, giving Edgardo Alfonzo the opportunity to drive in a run without getting a hit, which he promptly did by lifting a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Cedeño and giving the Mets an insurance run.  The bullpen did the rest, and the Mets held on for a 5-3 victory.

The game against the Astros began a stretch in which Cedeño started 10 times in 12 games.  Given his first chance as an everyday player, Cedeño went on a blistering tear, batting .400 and reaching base 27 times (18 hits, nine walks) in those 12 games.  On May 12, Cedeño went 4-for-4 with a walk, three runs scored and a stolen base against the Phillies.  He followed that up two days later by picking up two more hits, scoring three runs and tying a franchise record with four stolen bases against the Rockies.  Naturally, both efforts led the Mets to victories in each game.

Despite a brilliant first half in which hit .332, had a .432 on-base percentage, scored 53 runs and led the league with 46 steals, Cedeño was left off the National League All-Star roster.  Perhaps feeding off his snub, Cedeño continued to excel after the break.  In his first two games following the Midsummer Classic, Cedeño went 4-for-9 with two doubles, three runs scored, three RBIs and four stolen bases.  The four steals gave him 50 thefts on the year, making him the third Met to reach that mark after Mookie Wilson (1982, 1983) and Lance Johnson (1996).

Mets fans saw this quite often in 1999, as Roger Cedeño was the master of his stolen base domain.

Cedeño tied Mookie Wilson's club record for steals when he stole his 58th base on August 10 against Padres' reliever Donne Wall.   He then waited nearly three weeks to break Mookie's mark, but when he did it, he made sure it occurred in a game Mets fans would never forget.

On August 30, the Mets were leading the Astros, 2-0 in the second inning when Cedeño stepped up to the plate after a home run by Darryl Hamilton.  Cedeño followed Hamilton's homer with a single up the middle.  After a strikeout by Rey Ordoñez and a sacrifice bunt by Masato Yoshii, Cedeño stole third base, breaking Mookie Wilson's club record.  The stolen base rattled Astros' starter Shane Reynolds, as he proceeded to give up an RBI single to Rickey Henderson, a single to Edgardo Alfonzo, a two-run double to Robin Ventura and a two-run homer to Mike Piazza.  By the time the inning was over, the Mets had taken a 7-0 lead and the onslaught was on.  The Mets went on to defeat the Astros, 17-1, but the lead story was no longer Cedeño breaking Mookie Wilson's single-season stolen base record, but Edgardo Alfonzo's one-for-the-ages performance, as Fonzie went 6-for-6 with three home runs, a double, two singles, six runs scored and five RBIs.

A week after breaking the stolen base record, Cedeño's batting average had fallen to .306, threatening to dip below the .300 mark for the first time since the day after he became an everyday player in early May.  But then Cedeño turned it up a notch for the stretch run, hitting .359 over the team's final 22 games.  He also reached base at a .431 clip, scored 13 runs and stole six bases as the Mets clinched the wild card berth in a one-game playoff against the Cincinnati Reds.  It was on to the playoffs for the Mets and Cedeño's first postseason experience was one both he and the Mets would always remember.

After starting 106 of the team's final 138 games, Roger Cedeño only started one game in the NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  But in Game 4, Cedeño kept the Mets' hopes alive with a crucial at-bat.  After the Mets had fallen behind on a two-out, two-run double by Arizona shortstop Jay Bell in the top of the eighth inning, the Mets were six outs away from having to go back to the desert to face eventual Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson in a fifth and deciding game.  But an error by rightfielder Tony Womack gave the Mets hope and put two runners in scoring position for Cedeño, who had entered the game one inning earlier as a defensive replacement for Benny Agbayani.  Cedeño came through in the clutch, driving in the tying run with a sacrifice fly.  With the new life afforded to them via the bat of Roger Cedeño, the Mets were able to win the game and the series when Todd Pratt hit a walk-off homer to straightaway center over the not-completely outstretched glove of Steve Finley in the bottom of the tenth inning.

Cedeño and the Mets were now off to the National League Championship Series to face their division rivals in Atlanta.  This time, manager Bobby Valentine made sure to get him more playing time.  Cedeño made sure to save the best for last.

The Mets lost the first three games of the NLCS to the Braves, even with Cedeño hitting .429 over the first two games (he did not play in Game 3).  Just like they did in Game 4 of the NLDS, the Mets let a one-run eighth inning lead slip away in Game 4 of the NLCS, as Brian Jordan and Ryan Klesko hit back-to-back home runs off Mets' starter Rick Reed after Reed had faced the minimum 21 batters through the first seven innings.

With the Mets six outs away from elimination, Roger Cedeño led off the bottom of the eighth with a single off Braves' starter John Smoltz.  After Rey Ordoñez popped out on a failed bunt attempt and Benny Agbayani struck out against reliever Mike Remlinger, the Mets were only four outs away from ending their season prematurely.  But Cedeño wasn't about to let the season end without a fight, as he stole second base to put the tying run in scoring position.  Needing to pitch more carefully, Remlinger walked Melvin Mora, putting the go-ahead run on base and setting the stage for volatile closer John Rocker to come into the game to face John Olerud.  In an instant, Cedeño and Mora pulled off a daring double steal, putting two runners in scoring position for the Mets' first baseman.  Olerud then stroked a single to center, giving the Mets a lead they would not relinquish, a lead made possible by the bat and legs of Roger Cedeño.

As Roger Cedeño and Melvin Mora celebrated scoring the tying and go-ahead runs behind him, John Rocker was left to ponder what time he could catch the 7 train out of Shea.

The Mets and Braves battled for 15 innings in Game 5.  Although Cedeño didn't play in the first 14 innings, he did find himself in the right spot at the right time, coming into the game as a pinch-runner for Matt Franco in the 15th.  Cedeño ended up scoring the winning run on Robin Ventura's Grand Slam Single, the only run the Mets needed to take a 4-3 victory over the Braves.

Unfortunately, Cedeño's season ended earlier than it did for his teammates, as he was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning of Game 6, as the Mets were rallying from an early five-run deficit.  The Mets had already scored three runs in the sixth and had the tying run at the plate in Cedeño when Bobby Valentine decided to go with a power threat in Benny Agbayani.  The Mets failed to tie the game in the sixth inning and Cedeño was out of the game, five innings before the Mets' season ended when Kenny Rogers gambled and threw ball four to Andruw Jones in the 11th inning.  Who knows if Cedeño would have provided the Mets with a key hit or stolen base in extra innings had he remained in the game?

Despite the disappointing end to the 1999 season, Cedeño had sparkled in the postseason.  Although he started only five games against the Diamondbacks and Braves, the speedster batted .421, scored three runs, drove in three more and stole three bases.  Cedeño had just completed a memorable season, one in which he finally established himself as an everyday player in the major leagues.  His fabulous postseason followed a regular season in which he hit .313, scored 90 runs and stole a franchise-record 66 bases.  So what did the Mets do to reward him for his efforts?  They traded him.

After one season in New York, the Mets dealt Roger Cedeño, Octavio Dotel (who was the winning pitcher in Game 5 of the NLCS) and minor leaguer Kyle Kessel to Houston in exchange for 22-game winner Mike Hampton and rightfielder Derek Bell.  Both Hampton and Bell were one-and-done in New York, as Hampton signed an eight-year free agent contract with the Colorado Rockies following the 2000 season and Bell inked a one-year deal with Pittsburgh.

Cedeño played one injury-plagued season in Houston, batting .282 with 54 runs scored and 25 stolen bases in 74 games before signing a one-year contract to play in Detroit in 2001.  He returned to his past glory in the Motor City, hitting .293 with a career-high 11 triples and 55 stolen bases in 131 games.  Once again, Cedeño was a free agent following the 2001 campaign and the Mets were looking for a speedster.  This time, however, it was a match that should never have been made.

On December 17, 2001, the Mets signed Roger Cedeño to a four-year, $18 million contract.  However, Cedeño showed up at training camp overweight and out of baseball shape, and it showed during the regular season.  In his first year back with the Mets, Cedeño batted .260, had a .318 on-base percentage and only stole 25 bases.  Going into the 2003 season, the Mets were hoping that Cedeño could return to his 1999 self.  Instead, they got more of the 2002 version, as Cedeño batted .267 and reached base at a .320 clip.  However, his stolen bases dropped to 14 despite playing in 148 games and his 60.9% success rate was also the worst of his nine-year career.

Those orange batting practice jerseys weren't very slimming, nor did they help Roger Cedeño recapture the form he once showed for the Mets in 1999.

Finally, after two years of high expectations and an endless stream of boos from the Shea faithful, Cedeño was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 for Wilson Delgado.  The Mets did agree to pay all but $1 million of the remaining $10 million left on Cedeño's contract, but they were finally rid of him.

Roger Cedeño came to New York in 1999 after never establishing himself in Los Angeles.  He then put together one of the most unexpected seasons in club annals, helping the Mets reach the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.  Almost as quickly as he got here, Cedeño was gone, traded to Houston for a pitcher who helped the team make it back to the postseason in 2000.  However, despite his comeback season in Detroit in 2001, Cedeño was never as good as he was for that one wonderful season in 1999.  The Mets made the mistake to re-sign him following the 2001 season and the team suffered in the standings, finishing in last place in both years of Cedeño's second stint in New York.

Sometimes it's best to quit when one is ahead.  The Mets and Roger Cedeño were ahead of everyone but the Braves in 1999.  Three years later, both parties were behind everyone in the NL East.  It just goes to show that sometimes a one-season wonder should stop after that one wonderful season.

Note: One Season Wonders is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting those Mets who had one and only one memorable season in New York.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:
January 2, 2012: Bernard Gilkey
January 9, 2012: Terry Leach 
January 16, 2012: George Stone

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sandy Alderson Is Trying To Avoid The Year "2" Blues

As the dawn of the new millenium arrived, while people were talking about whether Y2K was going to give them the blues, the Mets were one of the best teams in the National League.  They were in the middle of their only back-to-back playoff appearances in franchise history and things appeared to be on the up-and-up.

Only two years later, the Mets were at the bottom of the NL East standings, becoming laughingstocks of the league and making regular appearances on David Letterman's Top Ten lists due to their futility on the field.  How did the Mets fall so quickly from their perch atop the National League?  Blame it on Y2B, otherwise known as the Year "2" Blues, a condition that occurs every time the calendar ends in a "2".

The Year "2" Blues has taken other forms in the past.  In the Mets' inaugural season of 1962, fans were happy to have National League baseball back in New York.  However, the product on the field was more Little League than National League, as the Mets lost a record 120 games.  Ten years later, the 1972 Mets actually did well, posting an 83-73 record (six games were erased due to the first players' strike in MLB history) and finishing in third place in the NL East.  However, during that strike, the team suffered through the tragedy of losing their manager, Gil Hodges, to a fatal heart attack.

Then came the 1982 season, and Y2B as we know it today hit the Mets will full force.  It all began when the Mets were looking for a power hitter and thought they found one in George Foster.

Don't look at us like that, George.  You were the one who sucked as a Met.

Prior to the 1982 season, George Foster was one of the premier home run hitters in the National League.  In 1977, he became the first player since Willie Mays to hit as many as 50 home runs in a season when he banged out 52 long balls for the Cincinnati Reds.  He followed that up by pacing the NL in homers (40) and RBI (120) in 1978.  In the six years prior to 1982, Foster was a five-time All-Star who averaged 33 HR and 112 RBI per season.  He wasn't just a home run hitter, as he batted over .300 three times and finished the six-year stretch with a .297 batting average.

In his final year in Cincinnati (1981), despite one-third of the season being wiped out by a players' strike, Foster still managed to collect 22 HR and 90 RBI, good for third place and second place in the league, respectively, and earning him his first Silver Slugger Award (the award did not exist prior to 1980).  George Foster was at the top of his game after the 1981 season, making him the top trade target for then-Mets' general manager Frank Cashen.  Oops.

On February 10, 1982, Cashen traded three players to the Reds for George Foster, hoping that this trade with Cincinnati would work out better than the ill-fated 1977 trade of Tom Seaver, which sent the Mets into the chasm they were still in.  Foster responded by turning in the worst full season of his career, batting .247 with 13 HR and 70 RBI in 151 games.  Needless to say, the Mets finished the 1982 season in last place.  Although Foster recovered to pick up 28 HR and 90 RBI for the 1983 Mets, his batting average continued to go down (.241), and his 38 walks kept his on-base percentage down to a career-low .289.  The dozens of fans at Shea Stadium had seen enough of George Foster, and he became the prime target of boo birds until his final game in New York in 1986.

The Mets did win the World Series in 1986, but by then Foster was long gone, having been released by the team in August.  After their championship season, the Mets remained in contention until 1991, when they suffered their first losing season since 1983.  Again, the front office felt a change was needed to bring the team back into contention in the NL East, so they opened their wallets and spent freely in 1992.  What they got in return was The Worst Team Money Could Buy.

Bobby Bonilla.  Bret Saberhagen.  Eddie Murray.  Jeff Torborg.  All four had participated in the postseason for other teams prior to 1992.  All four became Mets to try to recapture their prior successes in New York.  All four tanked in 1992.

For Bobby Bonilla, his free agent signing meant he was coming back home.  In his final season in Pittsburgh, the future Bronx tour guide hit .302 with a league-leading 44 doubles, 18 HR, 100 RBI and 102 runs scored.  Once in New York, his play deteriorated, as he hit .249, drove in 70 runs and scored 62 times.  His 23 doubles were barely half of his 1991 total, although he did improve his home run output by an earth-shattering one (19 HR in 2002).

Bret Saberhagen and Eddie Murray also did poorly in their first seasons in New York, as Saberhagen won only three games in an injury-plagued season and Murray batted only .261 with 16 HR, despite playing in 156 games.  As a result, the Mets lost 90 games for the first time in nine years and did not finish above .500 again until 1997.

Clearly, former Manager of the Year Jeff Torborg did not have a clue how to keep his expensive bunch of underachievers focused as Bonilla became an earplug-wearing, error-questioning, reporter-threatening malcontent, Saberhagen tried to get bleach throwing to become an Olympic event and Murray became the Sultan of Sulk.

One would assume the Mets would have learned their lesson after being hit by the Y2B bug for the second time in 1992.  But we all know what happens when you assume.  We also know that the Mets sometimes have a hard time learning from past mistakes.

In 2002, the Mets were only two years removed from the franchise's fourth World Series appearance.  They followed up their pennant-winning campaign with a disappointing 2001 season, finishing 82-80 and needing a strong final month just to push their record above .500.  General manager Steve Phillips, who wasn't present for the previous Y2B infestations (the Mets were transitioning from Frank Cashen to Al Harazin in 1992), felt the Mets were just a few trades away from erasing the mediocrity of 2001 and returning to the playoffs.  Things didn't work out exactly as planned.

Phillips sought to improve the right side of the infield by acquiring former All-Stars Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar.  He also wanted to add power and speed to the outfield.  Enter former Mets Jeromy Burnitz and Roger Cedeño.  Four words can summarize how each player did for the 2002 Mets.

Bust.  Bust.  Bust.  Bust.

If only Mo Vaughn's batting average had been higher than his weight, things could have turned out differently for the 2002 Mets.  Or not.

Mo Vaughn was the only one of the foursome who had anything resembling a productive year for the Mets in 2002 (.259, 26 HR, 72 RBI).  Of course, that came from a player whose average season from 1995-2000 (.306, 38 HR, 118 RBI) left a little more to be desired.

Roberto Alomar, on the other hand, had just come off an MVP-caliber season in 2001 (Vaughn missed the entire 2001 season with an injury).  Alomar hit .336 with 34 doubles, 12 triples, 20 HR, 100 RBI, 113 runs scored and 30 stolen bases for the Cleveland Indians in 2001 and was poised to become the best all-around second baseman in Mets history.  That title still belongs to Edgardo Alfonzo, as Alomar was a shadow of himself in 2002.  In fact, his numbers in 1½ seasons as a Met (.265, 13 HR, 75 RBI, 22 SB) were less than what he produced in his final season in Cleveland.

From 1997-2001, former Met outfielder Jeromy Burnitz was among the most consistent power threats in baseball.  Playing five years in Milwaukee, Burnitz averaged 33 HR and 102 RBI per season and hoped to become the first legitimate power threat in right field for the Mets since Darryl Strawberry switched coasts following the 1990 season.  That did not happen, as Burnitz collected only 19 HR and 54 RBI in 154 games in 2002, while watching his batting average dip to .215.  Burnitz did follow Strawberry in one respect, as he became a Dodger in 2003 after being traded to Los Angeles in July.

Roger Cedeño came out of nowhere to have an amazing season with the Mets in 1999, batting .313 and setting the franchise record with 66 stolen bases.  He was then included in the trade that netted the Mets Derek Bell and 2000 NLCS MVP Mike Hampton, but came back to New York in 2002 to join fellow ex-Met Jeromy Burnitz in the outfield.  He thanked the Mets by reporting to camp out of shape and becoming the worst speedster acquisition since Vince Coleman.  Cedeño finished the 2002 season by batting .260 and stealing only 25 bases in 149 games.  In addition, his once-fleet feet produced only 19 doubles and two triples, but they did develop the uncanny ability to generate boos from the Shea faithful, boos that continued to be heard until the Mets' next winning season in 2005.

That was then.  This is now.  The year is 2012.  It's a Y2B season.

Second-year general manager Sandy Alderson is not falling into the trap his predecessors couldn't avoid jumping into.  There have been no blockbuster trades featuring former All-Stars to report this offseason and the only acquisitions of note have been to strengthen the bullpen (Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Frank Francisco) and outfield (Andres Torres).  Scott Hairston was re-signed to a one-year deal and four arbitration-eligible players (Mike Pelfrey, Manny Acosta and the aforementioned Ramirez and Torres) were signed as well.

This is not your father's Mets team.  Nor is it Frank Cashen's, Al Harzin's or Steve Phillips' team.  It's a new Mets team with a different general manager who, unfortunately, is restricted by what he can do by the owners' ongoing financial problems.  However, even if the team did not have money woes, Alderson was not going to be the type of GM to make big-ticket moves just to make a splash in the free agent and trade market.  He is a thinking man's GM who takes fiscally reasonable risks, rather than ones that can blow up in his face.

Is Sandy Alderson the general manager who finally has developed immunity to the Y2B bug?  Only time will tell, but the way things are being set up for the 2012 Mets and beyond, the team on the field isn't going to be laden with malcontents and aging has-beens.  The Mets are a young team that's going to play their hearts out for the fans.  They may not produce all the wins the fans would like, but they are going to be a team that's fun to root for.  That's a lot more than could be said for the teams of George Foster, Bobby Bonilla, Roberto Alomar, et al.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rockies Get A Second Sacker; It's NOT Justin Turner!

Earlier this week, it was reported that the Colorado Rockies were looking at Mets' utility infielder Justin Turner as a trade option to compete for their open second base position.  Turner would have competed with a number of in-house candidates for the opportunity to be Troy Tulowitzki's double play partner.  However, that deal appears to be deader than Fausto Carmona's career.

According to a tweet by Jim Bowden, the Rockies have acquired middle infielder Marco Scutaro from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for journeyman pitcher Clayton Mortensen.

Scutaro will take over at second base for the Rockies, while the Red Sox will use Mortensen as a starter.  However, with Scutaro's $6 million salary now off the Red Sox's books, Boston might use that money to pursue a more attractive starting pitcher (Roy Oswalt?), as Mortensen has never been very impressive in the major leagues (4-8, 5.12 ERA in 95 IP).

Long-time Mets fans might remember Scutaro for being a part of the 2002 and 2003 teams.  If they don't, it's because they were too busy cursing out Steve Phillips for his not-so-brilliant acquisitions of Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz, Jeff D'Amico and Shawn Estes.

Scutaro is entering his 11th major league campaign and will be playing in the thin air of Denver.  The air around Justin Turner, however, is thick with sighs of relief, as he would most likely not have received much playing time in Colorado had he been traded there.  Instead, he appears to be staying on the Mets, competing for the second base job and spelling David Wright at third whenever he needs a day off or steps on Ike Davis again.

Justin Turner had a fine rookie season for the Mets last year.  In 117 games, he banged out 30 doubles and drove in 51 runs.  He also was one of the toughest players to strike out on the team, fanning only 59 times in 487 plate appearances.  His ability to play anywhere in the infield and his penchant for making contact will make him a valuable asset on the 2012 Mets, especially since the team still hasn't figured out how not to continue racking up injuries.

Good luck to the Rockies and their new 36-year-old second baseman.  We'll be just fine in New York with our 27-year-old redhead.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Strikeless In Seattle

In case you missed it, former Met "pitcher" Oliver Perez signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners yesterday.  That cheer you heard from the Pacific Northwest was from Starbucks, who can now blame people's jitters on Perez's performances instead of their highly-caffeinated drinks.

Last year, the Mets paid Perez nearly $12 million to play minor league ball in the Washington Nationals' organization.  In 15 starts for AA-Harrisburg, Perez went 3-5 with a 3.09 ERA.  The usually erratic Perez found his control in Double-A, as he walked 27 batters in 75⅔ innings for Harrisburg.  However, Perez has not won a game in the majors since August 18, 2009, or 44 walks ago.

We're not sure why the Mariners chose to sign Ollie, but perhaps it has something to do with their recent left-handed pitching acquisitions.

In 2007, southpaw Erik Bedard had a spectacular season for the Baltimore Orioles, going 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA and 221 strikeouts.   That off-season, the Mariners sent five players to Baltimore to acquire Bedard and he rewarded his new team by winning 15 games.  Unfortunately, it took him four years to collect those 15 victories, as repeated trips to the disabled list held Bedard to six wins in 2008, five wins in 2009, no wins in 2010 (Bedard missed the entire 2010 due to injury) and four wins in 2011.

Following the 2009 season, the Mariners went shopping for another lefty, Cliff Lee.  Lee had just helped the Phillies advance to the World Series, dominating opposing hitters along the way.  Naturally, the Mariners traded three young players to Philadelphia for Lee, hoping he'd bring sunnier days to Seattle.  Lee won a total of eight games as a Mariner, as he spent the first month of the 2010 season on the disabled list and was traded to Seattle's division rival in Texas, where he helped the Rangers advance to their first World Series.

Every two years, the Mariners try to bring in a lefty who has just completed a tremendous season.  They did it after the 2007 season and went back for seconds in 2009.  Now that the 2011 season has been tucked away, it's time for them to strike again.  But since Bedard and Lee weren't able to repeat their previous successes after becoming Mariners, perhaps all Seattle needed to do was sign a southpaw who had no expectations; someone who had fallen so far off the radar that even the Nationals didn't feel he was good enough for their Double-A team.

Seattle hasn't made the playoffs in over a decade.  They've tried to improve their team by adding quality left-handed starters to pitch in spacious Safeco Field.  That hasn't worked.  So they added Oliver Perez instead.

It could be worse.  They could have signed Aaron Heilman as well.  Oh, wait.  They did.

So the Mariners' minor league system will now have the pitcher who threw the first pitch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS and the pitcher who threw the worst pitch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.  Looks like the road to the major leagues has just been made easier for all of the other pitching prospects in the Mariners' system.