If you read this blog often or even from time to time you may know that I am a Mets fan. Yes, thank you for your sympathies. While flipping back and forth between Steven Strasburg's debut and the Mets-Padres game last night, I heard Mets' color man Ron Darling mention some of the bad trades the Metropolitans have made in their history. The one he mentioned got me thinking of another and suddenly it hit me that New York may own a bad piece of MLB transactional history.
The trade Darling was referring to was the 1971 trade that sent Nolan Ryan to the California Angels for Jim Fregosi. The Mets also threw in Frank Estrada, Don Rose, Leroy Stanton. Fregosi never panned out for the Mets, while Ryan went on to win 138 games for the Angels and averaged 272 innings per season. Ryan would eventually end up with 324 wins throwing 7 no-hitters and holding the seemingly untouchable strikeout record with 5,714. The Mets cannot be blamed for trading Nolan in his prime, but Ryan had started to come around under the tutelage of Tom Seaver. Whatever the situation was, Ryan was not happy in New York and asked the team to trade him. Now some people say to get rid of player right away when they say something like this, but this was not one of those cases, even though that insight comes from hindsight.
The Mets failure here was the inability to recognize what Ryan was and what he could become. Maybe that was a little on the coaches, or maybe the front office personnel with their hands in player development. Whichever it was, Ryan was dealt and it would not be until years later the error in Mets' foresight was visible.
The other trade was more of black mark on the Mets' history. It was so bad the trade itself has a moniker. "The Midnight Massacre" occurred on June 15, 1977. Seaver was sent to the Reds for the memorable ballplayers known as Pat Zachry, Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn, and Dan Norman. Home run hitter and fan favorite Dave Kingman was also traded the same night. The trade was the culmination of friction between Seaver and chairman M. Donald Grant. After beloved owner Joan Payson passed away her daughter gave more control to Grant and by the late 70s, Grant had basically total authority over the team's roster management. Seaver had been the the ace and the icon of the franchise. He won the Cy Young award 3 times, and lead the team during their 1969 World Series and 1973 NL pennant. From 1968 until the trade he had never struck out less than 200 batters in a season.
Seaver wanted top pitcher money, and why should he have gotten different? Grant refused to budge and the some writers in the press turned on Seaver. Talks between the two parties completely broke down. Seaver went 14-3 for Cincinnati the rest of the season, including a shutout against the Mets. The next season Seaver threw his first career no-hitter. The Mets have still yet to have a no-hitter in their history. He did return to the Mets for the 1983 season but was picked up in the compensation draft by the White Sox denying his 300th win coming as a Met.
These two trades were under different circumstances and were to varying degrees of misjudgment by the Mets front office. The fact that the Mets did not get much if any value for the trades does not help their legacy. Yet the fact remains that the Mets traded away two 300 game winners while both had good,quality baseball years left in their arms. Ryan had yet to reach his potential but he had the greatness in him. Seaver was on the latter side of his prime but still a terrific pitcher not to mention the face of the franchise. There are only 24 pitchers in the 300 club, and the Mets might be the only team to trade 2 of them while not in the twilight of their career. Not a desirable footnote in your team's history.