The venerable “Below the Belt Sports Blog” editor, Nick Costanzo, recently wrote a great post in which he listed the Yankees’ all-time “Past Their Prime” team. I think it was a brilliant idea, so, as a Mets fan, I have decided to do the comparable for the Mets.
There is, however, one glaring difference between the Yankees’ team and the Mets’ team. Most of the people on the Mets’ list are notorious for how disappointing they were for the Mets, while there are many on the Yankees’ version whom I had forgotten even played for the Yankees (ex: Andruw Jones, Matt Holliday, Kerry Wood). In truth, the Yankees’ list could probably go on much longer than the Mets’ list, as a Yankees’ “past their prime” rotation could include Javier Vazquez, Carl Pavano, and Randy Johnson! That said, because the Yankees have been so dominant for most of my time as a baseball fan (which dates back to 1990…..and the Yankees have more or less been dominant since 1993-4), the Yankees’ past-their-prime guys become footnotes in Yankees’ history….while the Mets’ past-their-prime guys become the main stories.
For my list, I am including players who meet the following criteria:
- They must have played for the Mets in 1990 or later. (This way, I am judging from my own experience as a fan.)
- The player must have actually had a legitimate prime. (For example, the 2003 Mets employed aging shortstop Rey Sanchez, and the 2004 Mets employed aging shortstop Ricky Gutierrez. However, neither of those guys were ever anything great, so their nondescript Mets tenures were in line with their nondescript tenures on previous teams.)
- When the Mets acquired the player, the team and fans had high hopes that the player would be a good and important part of the team. (Thus, I would not include someone like Jeff Conine, who was acquired simply to be a backup outfielder at the end of 2007 at the tail end of his career.)
Without further ado, let us dive into the lineup:
1B: Mo Vaughn: There is an old adage, “The most important ability is availability.” This was the case with Mo Vaughn. As much as Mo Vaughn is a symbol of the litany of disappointing moves that GM Steve Phillips made in 2002 and 2003, the truth is that Big Mo actually was impressive when healthy. Maybe I am biased because I was at Shea Stadium in 2002 when he hit the longest homerun I think I have ever seen in person. That said, his 2002 season (.259 batting average, 26 homers) was not terrible when considers that he was replacing an aging Todd Zeile and that the Mets acquired Vaughn for an aging Kevin Appier. However, Vaughn played only a handful of games in 2003, and his career was over. For a guy who had been one of the dominant hitters in the American League (for mainly Boston but also Anaheim) from 1993 to 2000, Vaughn clearly belongs on this team.
Honorable Mention: Eddie Murray
2B/SS: Roberto Alomar and Carlos Baerga: I don’t think any Mets fan will fault me for tweaking the rules on this one. No two people represent the spirit of this list better than these two guys. It is rather remarkable that, in the span of 5.5 years, the Mets twice traded with Cleveland for Top-5 second basemen, only to have the guy fall apart when coming to New York. Carlos Baerga was a budding superstar with Cleveland, and I thought it was a steal for the Mets to acquire him in 1996 (with utility-man Alvaro Espinoza) for “only” Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino. Of course, Jeff Kent would go on to be a borderline Hall-of-Famer mainly at second base, while Jose Vizcaino would provide the game-winning hit for the Yankees against the Mets in Game 1 of the 2000 World Series. All the while, Carlos Baerga was an average-at-best second baseman for the 1996-1998 Mets. As for Roberto Alomar, the Mets knew he was a Hall-of-Famer when they acquired him in 2002. The Mets hoped that acquisitions like Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, Roger Cedeno, and him would rejuvenate the franchise. Unfortunately, all of these guys were finished. Alomar underwhelmed in 2002 and 2003, and the Mets sent him packing during the 2003 season. There is not a great candidate for a true shortstop on this list, so I will let Alomar and Baerga decide who slides over to shortstop.
Honorable Mention: Luis Castillo
3B: Todd Frazier: Sorry, I hate to do this. He is one of the few guys for whom Mets and Yankees fans both have affection. He was on the 1998 Toms River (NJ) Little League WS squad, and he played collegiately at the State University of New Jersey – Rutgers. In Frazier’s prime (2012-2016, mainly with Cincinnati), he did not hit for great average, but his .213 average in 2018, his first Mets season, was low even for his standards. 18 homers were not enough to make up for the low average. He hit .251, a marked improvement, last season, with 21 homers. However, I think every non-pitcher hit at least 21 homeruns last year. The truth is that, while Frazier is a good guy, he disappointed more often than not in his time as a Met.
Outfield: Roger Cedeno, Jeromy Burnitz, Jason Bay: You knew that more guys from 2002 were coming. Bob Klapisch famously wrote a book, The Worst Team Money Could Buy, about the 1992 Mets. Ironically though, that title would be better suited (in my opinion) for the 2002 edition. The Mets’ big pickups in 1992 were Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray, and Bret Saberhagen. Those guys were not terrible, but too much of the rest of the team was. Meanwhile, I have already mentioned the four big offensive acquisitions for 2002, and they were all greatly disappointing. I was very excited when the Mets brought back Roger Cedeno, who had excelled for the 1999 Mets, and Jeromy Burnitz. Burnitz came up with the Mets in 1993 and ended up being a solid player for Milwaukee. However, both were at the end of the line when they came to the Mets in 2002. As for Jason Bay, I feel bad for him; I really do. After a fantastic career in Pittsburgh with a layover in Boston, he came to the Mets. When he arrived in Flushing in 2010, the fences remained ridiculously far away, and poor Jason suffered a concussion a few months into his Mets’ tenure. I always sensed that he never truly recovered from the concussion. Thus, while his .234 Mets batting average and 26 homers across three seasons were disappointing, I do believe injuries played a role in his demise.
Catcher: Yogi Berra: Sorry, I had to break the rules here and go with a guy whose only Mets playing experience was 9 at-bats in 1965. This is a testament to the quality of Mets’ catchers over the years. Outside of pitcher, catcher has been the Mets’ most consistent bright spot over the years. From top-shelf guys like Mike Piazza and Gary Carter to solid players like Jerry Grote, John Stearns, Todd Hundley, and Paul LoDuca; the Mets have always had strong catchers. Plus, they have never brought in a major “past his prime” guy for the position. Thus, I will give Yogi the honorary nod.
Starting Pitcher: Tom Glavine: Yes, he was a serviceable #2/#3 starter for five years for the Mets, but this came after he pitched like a Hall-of-Famer for more than a decade in Atlanta. I will give him credit though – While many Mets fans think of him first in terms of his last Mets start, Game 162 of the 2007 season; Glavine was the Mets’ best pitcher in 2006 and 2007. No, Mets Glavine was not vintage Glavine, but he was the surest starter the Mets had in the 2006 NLCS and throughout much of 2007 (unless he went up against a top-flight offense like Detroit’s that year).
Relief Pitcher: Jose Valverde: In modern baseball, it is easy to forget about dominant closers not named “Mariano”. However, Jose Valverde was actually one of baseball’s better closers from 2004-2013 with three different teams. Then, the Mets signed Kyle Farnsworth and him to be a 1-2 punch out of the bullpen in 2014. By the time I was giving the “Below the Belt” editors their Pre-Calc final that year, these two guys had already left Flushing. Farnsworth moved on to Houston where he vowed to get revenge on the Mets. Farnsworth would end up pitching six games for Houston to an E.R.A. of 6.17, and that was it for his career. I wonder when that revenge will finally come.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Farnsworth, Frank Francisco