One Line Summary: “Alomar Shrugged” or “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fired.”
General manager Steve Phillips’s youth-for-veterans deals seemed inspired when the Mets had talented young players to trade, but it got ugly when the prospects started drying up. He tried trading his problems for other teams’ problems, as if an address change would make the player better. Trading Mel Rojas for Bobby Bonilla in 1999, for example, was far worse than simply cutting the ineffective Rojas; the Mets endured the petulant Bonilla’s distractions in his second go-round until they worked out deferred payments that would generate a seven-figure annual income for Bobby Bo into his 50s.
The 2002 deal of Kevin Appier for Mo Vaughn was a similar train wreck. Phillips had erred in giving $40 million for four years to the mediocre righthander the previous year. To get rid of Appier, Phillips took on Vaughn, whose contract was nearly as bloated as the once feared slugger’s frame. Phillips signed Roger Cedeno, Mike Stanton, and David Weathers to multi-year contracts. Even can’t-miss deals—Roberto Alomar from Cleveland and Jeromy Burnitz from Milwaukee in exchange for several nondescript players—missed horribly.
Alomar, a future Hall of Fame second baseman, was coming off an MVP-caliber year in Cleveland with 20 homers, 100 RBI, and 36 steals. Those numbers were cut in half as a Met, in almost the same number of plate appearances, while batting 70 points lower and lopping 165 off his slugging. Shea Stadium was never confused with Jacobs Field as far as hitting environments go, but Alomar fell off a cliff when he joined the Mets and some even questioned the 10-time Gold Glover’s desire. Burnitz, traded by the Mets to the Indians in 1995, landed back at Shea seven years later and likewise suffered a Flushing power outage.
A trade for former 20-game winner Shawn Estes also misfired—literally. Mets fans had salivated for three seasons for the opportunity of seeing Roger Clemens in the batter’s box in Flushing after his ball- and bat-throwing incidents with Mike Piazza in 2000. Estes faced the Yankees fireballer at Shea in June. Estes missed hitting Clemens, though he did hit a home run off The Rocket—as did Piazza in a Mets romp. Later that year Estes was traded to Cincinnati for four minor leaguers, one of whom was ultra-durable southpaw Pedro Feliciano.
The Mets were saddled with so much dead weight that they collapsed, becoming the first Mets team to go an entire month without winning a home game (0-13 at Shea in August). Then throw in a 12-game overall losing streak, a six-game losing streak the final week of the season, and not one but two issues regarding players smoking marijuana. Ownership fired Valentine and kept Phillips. The GM had won the five-year battle, but the war was already lost.
By Matt Silverman