Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ken Griffey Jr. Once Rejected a Trade to the Mets For a Rejected Met

Imagine if a scene like this had happened at Shea Stadium with Griffey wearing a Mets uniform.  (Elaine Thompson/AP)

With today's news that Seattle legend Edgar Martinez failed to garner the votes necessary for Hall of Fame election, that leaves Ken Griffey Jr. as the only player with a Mariners cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.  But nearly two decades ago, a deal was in place that could have seen Griffey change the "S" on his cap to an interlocking "NY".  That is, if Griffey hadn't rejected the trade.

According to the Seattle Times, Mariners general manager Pat Gillick and his Mets counterpart Steve Phillips had discussed a trade in December 1999 that would have brought Griffey to New York to join fellow 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Mike Piazza in the middle of a formidable Mets lineup that had come within two wins of a National League pennant just two months earlier.  But Griffey was adamant about only playing in Seattle or Cincinnati, where he grew up and went to high school.  As a 10-and-5 player (ten years in the majors, the last five with his current team), it was Griffey's right to reject any trade he didn't approve of, which he did after the Mariners asked for his approval of a potential move to New York.

Who would the Mets have sent to Seattle for the future Hall of Famer?  Well, Roger Cedeño would have taken his .313 batting average and then-club record 66 stolen bases to the Pacific Northwest in the nixed deal.  So would Octavio Dotel, who ended up pitching for a major league record 13 teams in his 15 major league seasons.  A third player would also have been jettisoned to Seattle to go with the speedy Cedeño and the peripatetic Dotel.  That player would have been Armando Benitez.

Yes, that Armando Benitez.

Benitez had become the Mets' closer in 1999 after John Franco was lost for two months with an injury.  Although Benitez had a dominant regular season (22 saves, 1.85 ERA, 128 Ks in 78 IP), he was just ordinary in the postseason, blowing a save in the division series (a game the Mets eventually won in extra innings) and failing to hold a one-run lead in the tenth inning of Game Six of the NLCS (the Mets lost that heartbreaker to the Braves).

Booooo!!!   (Gregory Bull/AP)
Had Griffey just said yes to the Mets, Benitez would have been in Seattle in 2000.  That means he wouldn't have allowed a game-tying three-run homer to the Giants' J.T. Snow in the ninth inning of Game Two of the 2000 NLDS.  And he certainly wouldn't have blown a ninth inning lead to the Yankees in Game One of that year's World Series, which completely changed the course of that Fall Classic.  And let's not forget how Benitez allowed eight runs in two late-season appearances against the Braves in 2001, coughing up a three-run lead and four-run advantage in those ill-fated outings, all but ending the Mets' unlikely post-9/11 push to a potential division title.

Benitez remained a Met until 2003, which was more than enough for him to incur the wrath of long-time Mets fans as well as recent converts.  Dotel and Cedeño, who were two-thirds of the rejected trade for Griffey in 1999, were eventually traded that winter to the Houston Astros for Derek Bell and Mike Hampton, with Hampton eventually being named the Most Valuable Player of the 2000 National League Championship Series.  Fortunately for Hampton, Benitez didn't blow any of his leads in his two NLCS starts, although Benitez did allow two runs in the ninth inning of Hampton's first NLCS start, turning a comfortable 6-0 lead into a 6-2 final.

Could the Mets have won the 2000 World Series if Griffey had okayed the trade?  Would John Franco have gone back to being the Mets' closer and would he have held the leads that Benitez blew in so many crucial situations?  We'll never know.  But the thing we can say with certainty is that every person who booed Benitez would have cheered for Griffey.  And Mets history would have looked a whole lot different.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

If Studious Metsimus Had a 2018 Hall of Fame Vote...

On Wednesday, January 24, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will call several worthy inductees and tell them to book a flight to Cooperstown in the summer.  Those new members will join former Detroit Tigers teammates Jack Morris and Alan Trammell on the stage, as those former players were inducted via the Modern Baseball Era ballot last month.

Last year's class saw the inductions of Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez, as well as executives John Schuerholz and Bud Selig.  Going by this year's early indications, the Hall of Fame stage in 2018 may be just as crowded.

A total of 14 players have returned to the ballot this year, after earning at least 5% of the vote in previous elections, but not quite receiving the 75% needed for enshrinement.  Among them are three former Mets (Jeff Kent, Billy Wagner, Gary Sheffield).  In addition to those players, there are 19 first-timers on the ballot, including two former Mets pitchers (Jason Isringhausen, Johan Santana).  And of course, there's a former Met killer on the ballot named Larry; no nicknames or surnames needed for him.

According to Hall of Fame ballot tracker Ryan Thibodaux, a total of 424 ballots will by cast by those BBWAA members who are fortunate enough to have a vote.  For all you kids out there, that means 318 votes will be needed for players to receive that snazzy Hall of Fame jersey.  That also means a player will need the support of 22 voters to avoid falling off the ballot.

Had Studious Metsimus gotten a vote, the number of ballots cast would have jumped to 425.  But since the "W" in BBWAA stands for "writers" and not "wannabes" (as a blogger, I suppose I fall under the latter category), I won't be able to help some poor athlete worth tens of millions of dollars achieve legendary status.  Then again, perhaps it's best that I don't get a vote, especially since I'd enshrine Jeff Kent just to get his CHiPs era mustache into the Hall.

And now, before you get a chance to search on eBay for a vintage Ponch and Jon poster, it's time to reveal the ten former players who would have been on Ballot No. 425 had such a vote existed, focusing on the three players I loved to watch play the most, followed by the remaining seven in condensed form.

Baseball Mecca.  (Photo courtesy of the Cooperstown/Otsego County website)

Edgar Martinez

Face it, the only reason he's not in the Hall already is because he played a significant portion of his career as a designated hitter.  How else can you explain a lifetime .312 hitter with a .933 OPS and OPS+ just short of 150 not having a plaque in Cooperstown yet?

The voters of this generation who use the DH argument to foil the case of Martinez are like the previous generation's voters who couldn't bear to see relief pitchers making the Hall.  "If they can't pitch more than a few innings, I can't vote for them," those misinformed voters would say.  But relievers such as Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter (all Hall of Famers) paved the way for the one-inning closer to get recognition from the Hall.  Dennis Eckersley has a plaque in Cooperstown.  John Smoltz's three-and-a-half year period as a dominant closer also helped fuel his candidacy.  Trevor Hoffman (more on him later) is knocking on the Hall's door.  And who's going to keep Mariano Rivera out of Cooperstown once he's eligible in 2019?

The same people who are now accepting one-inning closers as potential Hall of Famers now need to focus their attention on players who left their gloves at home.  Frank Thomas, who started more than 100 games at first base in just three of his 19 seasons and played in over 1,300 games exclusively as a designated hitter, was a first ballot Hall of Famer.  Why is his lifetime .301/.419/.555 slash line considered worthy of enshrinement and Edgar's .312/.418/.515 isn't?  Is it because Thomas produced the sexy hits (521 HR) and Martinez didn't (309 HR)?  It's true Thomas had 11 seasons with 100+ RBI while Edgar had just six.  But did you know the great Mickey Mantle only had four such seasons?  No one used that argument against Mantle and no one should.  But had he played in the DH era, Mantle's knee injuries would have relegated him to "leave your glove behind" status and then people would be questioning what should have been obvious about him; that he is undoubtedly a Hall of Famer.

Martinez won two batting titles.  He was also a league leader in runs scored, RBI, OPS, OPS+ and finished first multiple times in doubles and on-base percentage.  For seven seasons (1995-2001), which coincided with all of the Mariners' postseason trips in franchise history, Martinez's averages per 162 games were mindboggling.  He produced a .329/.446/.574 slash line.  That's a 1.020 OPS in 1,020 games.  And if that's not good enough, how about his 162-game average of 47 doubles, 32 homers, 123 RBI and 111 runs scored during the seven-year stretch?

There's a reason why the annual outstanding designated hitter award is named after Edgar Martinez.  That's because he was the best at what he did.  And those who are the best deserve to be with the best in Cooperstown.

Even Jeff Kent's mustache can't compare to Edgar Martinez's classic lip fuzz. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Larry Walker

Similar to Edgar Martinez, Walker hasn't gotten as much support as he should because of one nagging element.  Martinez has failed to get votes because of the DH factor, while Walker has the Coors Field factor looming over him.

Prior to becoming a Colorado Rockie, Larry Walker was already a good hitter and complete player.  In his final three years in Montreal, Walker had a .294 batting average, .371 on-base percentage and .516 slugging percentage, averaging 33 doubles, 21 HR, 88 RBI and 21 SB.  He was also an All-Star, won a Silver Slugger Award and two Gold Gloves while in Montreal.  Although those numbers are not quite Hall of Fame worthy, they were still very good.  Then he signed with Colorado and became one of the best players in the major leagues.

In his first season with the Rockies (1995), Walker hit .306 with 36 HR and 101 RBI.  His .607 slugging percentage was second in the league and he helped lead the third-year Rockies to their first-ever playoff appearance.  Year two in Colorado was fraught with injuries, as Walker only played in 83 games but still managed 18 HR, 58 RBI and 18 SB in half a season's worth of games.  Fully healthy in 1997, Walker's career took off into the stratosphere.  Walker's 1997 numbers (.366 batting average, 46 doubles, 49 HR, 130 RBI, 143 runs scored, 33 SB, .452 OBP, .720 SLG, 1.172 OPS) almost looked like they came straight from a video game.  But Walker wasn't done after his phenomenal '97 campaign.  Over the next five seasons, Walker won three batting titles (1998, 1999, 2001), finished second another year (2002) and had a combined .350 batting average over those five seasons.  Basically, he was Tony Gwynn with power and Gwynn was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

In ten years as a Rockie, Walker posted a .334 batting average, .426 on-base percentage, .618 slugging percentage and 1.044 OPS.  Only 24 players in major league history finished with a higher career batting average than what Walker put up in that ten-year span.  Of those 24, the only three who finished with a higher on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS were Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, all first ballot Hall of Famers and all legends of the sport.

Larry Walker played 17 years in the major leagues.  However, because of injuries, he only had four seasons in which he played at least 140 games.  From 1994-2005, Walker missed an average of 44 games per season, failing to play more than 103 games in five of those 12 campaigns.  Despite his multiple trips to the disabled list, Walker finished his career with 2,160 hits, including 471 doubles and 383 HR.  He also stole 230 bases, scored 1,355 runs and drove in 1,311 more.  His combined averages (.313 BA, .400 OBP, .565 SLG) are among the highest career marks of anyone not already in the Hall of Fame, as is his 72.6 bWAR.  And he wasn't just a product of Coors Field.

Walker played in 674 games for the Expos prior to his time in Colorado and 144 games for the Cardinals after leaving the Rockies, which is approximately five full 162-game seasons.  In those 818 games in non-Rockies uniforms, Walker posted an .851 OPS and 129 OPS+, averaging 63 extra-base hits and 21 steals per 162 games.  And those numbers weren't fueled by the thin air in Denver.

All told, Walker was a five-time All-Star, won seven Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger Awards.  He also finished in the top 20 in the MVP vote seven times, winning the 1997 MVP Award.  Not all of his awards and accolades came as a member of the Colorado Rockies, proving that Walker was an exceptional player before and after his time in Colorado.  Simply stated, Larry Walker has earned the right to become the first player with a Rockies hat on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Larry Walker sticks out his tongue to all those who won't vote for him.  (David Seelig/AllSport)

Vladimir Guerrero

He didn't reach 3,000 hits.  He didn't hit 500 homers.  He didn't collect 1,000 extra-base hits.  He didn't score 1,500 runs, nor did he drive in that amount.  And despite having a feared throwing arm, he somehow never won a Gold Glove.  (Too bad there's no Gold Arm Award.)  None of that matters.  Because Vladimir Guerrero is definitely a Hall of Famer.

Guerrero played only 14 full seasons in the major leagues.  (He played a total of 99 games between the 1996 and 1997 campaigns.)  But he was a feared player both at the plate and in the field.  Guerrero never batted lower than .290 in any of his full seasons and was a .300 hitter in 11 of the 12 years he qualified for the batting title, becoming one of just 30 players to have that many .300 campaigns.  Although he never won a batting title, Guerrero had four years with 200+ hits, leading the league in 2002.  Guerrero also had eight seasons with 30+ homers and an incredible ten years with 100+ RBI, making him one of only 18 players to have double digit seasons with triple digit RBIs.  In addition, Vlad was a nine-time All-Star and eight-time Silver Slugger recipient.

Opposing pitchers feared facing Guerrero, as evidenced by the five seasons in which he was the league leader in intentional walks.  Only Barry Bonds (12 times) and Wade Boggs (six times) led the league in intentional passes more often.  Guerrero was walked intentionally 250 times - the fifth highest total in major league history.

It wasn't just moundsmen who hated to face him; opposing base runners were afraid to run on Guerrero as well.  Guerrero had 126 outfield assists, leading the league in 2002 and 2004.  He could have thrown out many more runners, but they got the memo later in his career and stopped trying to run on his cannon.

And in case you thought it's just me singing his praises, in 2004 Guerrero won the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award.  Nice, right?  Well, that season was one of a dozen years in which the right fielder received MVP votes.  That's just about every year he played in the big leagues, meaning Guerrero was recognized as one of the best players in the game for nearly the entirety of his career.

2,590 hits.  477 doubles.  449 homers.  181 stolen bases.  1,328 runs scored.  1,496 runs batted in.  A .318 lifetime batting average.  A .553 career slugging percentage.  Never striking out 100 times in a season.  Two 30 homer/30 steal seasons.  Lots of accolades.  Lots of respect.

Without question, Vladimir Guerrero is a Hall of Famer (and he should have gotten in on the first ballot last year).

Vladimir Guerrero terrorized the Mets at Shea Stadium and other teams at their parks.  (Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated)

In addition to Edgar Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero and Larry Walker, my other seven Hall of Fame selections would be:

  • Chipper Jones:  He didn't just destroy Mets' pitching; he hit every team's pitchers.  Jones is one of 21 players with 1,600+ RBI and 1,600+ runs scored.  Fifteen of the other 20 are already in the Hall.  The other five are not yet eligible or had steroid suspicions.  Jones is not part of that latter group and should become part of that first group.
  • Jim Thome:  Anyone who hits 612 HR and drives in 1,699 runs without any talk of steroid use has earned his pass to Cooperstown on the first ballot.  Nine seasons of 100+ walks and a .402 lifetime OBP also help his case, as do his nine 100-RBI seasons and eight campaigns with 100 or more runs scored.
  • Trevor Hoffman:  A reliever with 30 saves in a season is considered dependable.  If that dependable reliever collects 30 saves every season for two full decades, he would still fall short of Hoffman's career total of 601.  In over 1,000 innings pitched during an era that catered to hitters, Hoffman produced a 2.87 ERA and 1.058 WHIP.  That's not Hall of Very Good.  That's Hall of Fame.
  • Curt Schilling:  Like Hoffman, he posted an impressive WHIP during an era known for its offense.  From 1992 to 2004, Schilling was the owner of a 1.091 WHIP, while averaging 202 strikeouts and just 44 walks per season.  In fact, of all pitchers with at least 3,000 strikeouts, no one posted a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Schilling's 4.38 K/BB (3,116 K, 711 BB).  And then there's this posteason thing; the one with him going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 0.968 WHIP in 19 starts.  He's one of the all-time greats.
  • Mike Mussina:  Schilling is considered one of the best pitchers of his era.  Modern metrics says Mussina was a better player, as his 83.0 bWAR puts him ahead of Schilling's 79.9 bWAR.  Mussina finished in the top-six in Cy Young Award balloting nine times and won seven Gold Glove Awards.  And of all pitchers who made at least 500 starts, only Hall of Famers Christy Matthewson, Pete Alexander, Randy Johnson and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Roger Clemens posted a higher winning percentage than Mussina's .638 mark.
  • Billy Wagner:  It's a shame Wagner hasn't gotten more recognition, as he was far more dominant than Hoffman ever was.  Hoffman got the job done as effectively as any other closer who ever lived.  But Wagner would eat a hitter up and spit him out.  Injuries curtailed Wagner's career, but any pitcher who averaged nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings, four whiffs per walk and finished his career with a WHIP under 1.00 (Wagner's WHIP was 0.998) deserves Hall of Fame consideration.  And I didn't even mention his 422 saves and 2.31 ERA.  Okay, maybe I just did.
  • Jeff Kent:  Kent was more than just a mustache.  He was one of the best hitting second basemen of all-time.  For a guy whose career didn't take off until his age-29 season, Kent finished just 16 extra-base hits shy of 1,000.  The pressures of playoff baseball didn't faze him, as Kent posted an identical .500 career slugging percentage in the regular season and postseason.  And let's not forget his eight seasons with 100+ RBI, the 1,518 runs he drove in for his career and the title of all-time leading home run hitter at the second base position.

Those are my ten Hall of Fame selections.  Some will get in.  Some won't.  And some will want to know Jeff Kent's grooming techniques.  (Or Edgar Martinez's, circa 1990.)  As always, some candidates didn't make my cut.  (Yes, I know Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens aren't among my ten guys.  They'll be there ... someday.)  But every player on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2018 had an outstanding career and all of them had qualities that at the very least put them in the Hall of Fame conversation.

Who will get in?  And who will have to be like Johnny Damon and buy a ticket for themselves?  That will be revealed on January 24.  Until then, we'll just follow the advice of Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby and just stare out the window, waiting for spring to arrive.