Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Trade Deadline Approaches ...

Fans love the trade deadline. Every team within 10 games of first place deludes themselves into believing they are a potential playoff team and find themselves acting accordingly on the trade market. It's all very exciting, because fans naturally like to believe that their favorite team is just one or two players away from a league pennant. The reality, of course, is that most of these teams are fooling themselves and are only hurting their chances at future success by not committing to a long-term improvement plan.

This is not the case for the Mets, who play in a relatively weak division in a relatively weak league. When you're in first place after nearly 110 games, it's a sign that your team is a playoff contender, regardless of how mediocre the National League East might be. The Mets are one of the five best teams in the National League, but they clearly trail the Cubs and the Brewers on that list.

Still, don't expect to see any new players in a Mets uniform before 4 pm tomorrow. The Mets simply don't have any trade chips they're willing to part with, and the 10 0r 15 sellers on the trade market have no obligation to part with their better players at cut-rate prices just to satisfy Mets fans.

The Mets are in their fifth straight year as “buyers,” although they really had no business doing so in 2004 and 2005. Mets’ brass completely misread their team’s fortunes in 2004; despite being three games under .500 and owning the fifth-worst record in the National League, ownership and fanbase alike were seduced by what it perceived to be a slim 6.5-game deficit in the NL East.

(That sounds a lot like what the Rockies are doing right now, which is another reason why there's no reason to believe Brian Fuentes will be wearing a Mets uniform this season.)

Another ignominious chapter in franchise history was the result – the Mets made three trades involving some of their best prospects for players who would not only fail to push the Mets into a playoff berth, but would also end up having undistinguished careers in New York.

The first deal actually didn't turn out so badly, in the long run. The Mets traded Ty Wigginton and two highly regarded prospects to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger. Wigginton had no place on the team with the emergence of David Wright, but Huber and Peterson were two of the Mets' better prospects and seemed destined for a bright future (think Carlos Gomez and Phil Humber in terms of where each player ranked in the system at the time). Neither panned out, a break for the Mets and typical luck for the Pirates.

Benson, meanwhile, pitched reasonably well for the rest of the 2004 season and was a capable mid-rotation starter in 2005, but he will be best remembered for his wife and the fact that the Orioles eventually gave the Mets John Maine in exchange for Benson's services. Keppinger was never given a chance for New York and was eventually swapped for Ruben Gotay, who was released at the end of Spring Training this year. Keppinger simply hits everywhere he goes and has finally settled in as a valuable utility player for the Cincinnati Reds.

It was, of course, the other deal that resonates to this day. Emerging superstar Scott Kazmir and a nondescript middle reliever was traded to the then-hapless Devil Rays for Victor Zambrano and a nondescript middle reliever. To make matters worse, I remember nearly driving off the road on Yellowstone Boulevard and shrieking in horror at the radio when the trade was announced.

Never before has a trade gone so lopsided so fast, and the Mets were understandably spooked into paralysis at the 2005 trade deadline.


tim said...

Seems like you cut yourself off here.

Judge Roughneck said...

Ha! I was going to do a quick retrospective of the last four years at the trade deadline, and suddenly decided that I didn't care about it. If I don't care about it, I figure the readers sure as hell don't either.

tim said...

But it ends so abrubtly, at least put a finish on it.

I see you passed on the Piazza thing.

Judge Roughneck said...

No, I wrote half the column last night and realized that we needed a trade deadline article more, so I'm shelving it until August 6.