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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Pearlman: Trading for George Foster…Frank Cashen’s Best Move

Was Lee Mazzilli overrated at the time of the deal?

One thing that, to me, stands out about Cashen: When folks try and figure out the biggest trade of his 12 years with New York, they focus upon Keith Hernandez being lifted from the Cardinals for two pitchers, or Gary Carter coming via Montreal in exchange for Hubie Brooks and a bunch of mediocre youngsters. They’ll mention David Cone’s acquisition from Kansas City for Ed Hearn; maybe even Ron Darling and Walt Terrell being taken from Texas for an overrated Lee Mazzilli.

All those deals were important. No, monumental.

Yet the most groundbreaking swap—the one that truly changed the trajectory of a sad-sack franchise—took place on February 10, 1982, when Cincinnati Red slugger George Foster was sent to New York in exchange for Greg Harris, Jim Kern and Alex Trevino. Shortly thereafter, Foster and the Mets agreed to a five-year, $10.2 million deal—making the outfielder baseball’s first $2 million player.

Did Foster ultimately live up to the billing? Not even close. He hit 13 home runs in his first season, and never slugged more than 28 as a Met. By 1986, he was a clubhouse pariah; an unwanted presence who was released midway through a glorious season. Yet with his addition, Cashen was telling long-frustrated Metropolitan loyalists that the organization now meant business; that the Mets would be players in free agency and contenders for the playoffs. Before long, pieces began filling in around Big George. Young bucks. Free agents. The Mets became a force.

It all started with George.

Repoz Posted: July 01, 2014 at 01:16 PM | 18 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, mets

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   1. paulierice Posted: July 01, 2014 at 01:57 PM (#4740845)
I get that Pearlman's M.O. is to be a trolling, contrarian jackwagon, but...just no. I think you can argue the Foster trade was an important move in terms of the statement it made to fans, but best move? Not even close. The Keith Hernandez trade was the single biggest impact trade that Cashen made that got the Mets on the road to the World Series.
   2. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: July 01, 2014 at 02:36 PM (#4740935)
And the Dave Cone trade was highway robbery - against a HOF GM in John Schuerholz no less. Cashen saw a wild-armed reliever and was able to get him for an oft-injured catcher who looked good for two months. That's knowing when to sell high and find a gem misused in another organization.
   3. AROM Posted: July 01, 2014 at 02:40 PM (#4740946)
Before long, pieces began filling in around Big George. Young bucks. Free agents. The Mets became a force.


What free agents? Gooden was drafted. Darling and Fernandez were traded targets as minor leaguers. Ojeda was also traded. Straw, Dykstra, Mookie, Mitchell, and Backman were already in the organization at this point. Keith and Gary were traded. So was Ray Knight.

The free agent who contributed most to the 1986 Mets was Rafael Santana. He became a free agent when the Cardinals released him, and went on to hit .218 with a 52 OPS+ for that team, though with good shortstop defense.

Foster was irrelevant. All these pieces were already in New York, or would arrive their through a trade and no choice of their own. Whether they had Foster or not, once those actual productive players arrived, the fan base would have figured out they were serious about winning.
   4. JJ1986 Posted: July 01, 2014 at 02:47 PM (#4740956)
Lee Mazzilli put up a 137 OPS+ and did sign with the '86 Mets as a free agent...to replace Foster.
   5. Batman Posted: July 01, 2014 at 03:54 PM (#4741068)
By WAR, the most valuable free agent for the 1986 Mets was current Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson, who I don't remember at all as a player. Anderson was drafted by the Mets in 1978 and then re-signed as a free agent in 1985. If he doesn't count, Santana and Mazzilli are tied.
   6. Ray Odyssey Posted: July 01, 2014 at 04:01 PM (#4741087)
At the time of the Darling/Terrell for Mazzilli deal (which I'm pretty sure is what Repoz is referring to) Mazzilli absolutely was overrated by Mets fans. A good looking Italian kid from Brooklyn who had recently had 180 hits in a season...hell he was the face of the franchise at the time. Darling and Terrelll were totally unknown to the average Mets fan.
   7. Swoboda is freedom Posted: July 01, 2014 at 04:21 PM (#4741127)
Mazzilli absolutely was overrated by Mets fans. A good looking Italian kid from Brooklyn who had recently had 180 hits in a season...hell he was the face of the franchise at the time. Darling and Terrelll were totally unknown to the average Mets fan.

Darling took over the role as the good looking kid totally overrated by the fans. Though he was from Hawaii.
   8. Randomly Fluctuating Defensive Metric Posted: July 01, 2014 at 04:24 PM (#4741138)
You know what's surprising about Darling? His lifetime minor league .WHIP was 1.5. His two years with the New York affiliate (Tidewater) weren't very impressive. The Mets showed faith in his arm and that paid massive dividends.
   9. AROM Posted: July 01, 2014 at 04:38 PM (#4741177)
I don't know if Mazzilli was overrated. He was a fine player from 1978-1980. It's not just the hits, he took a ton of walks (to which probably 2-3 fans at the time paid attention to) and hit 15-16 homers per year, around 30 doubles, and stole 20-40 bases. He did this from ages 23-25. He had an off year in 1981, average dropped to .228 though the rest of his skill were about the same. Send a sabermetrician back in time and he'd tell you Mazz was a good player who just had an off year, and you shouldn't sell low on him. He was only 27, the strike screwed with everyone, and of course he's due to be comeback player of the year in 1982.

That was it though, while Mazz had some moments after that, he was never again a productive regular.

   10. paulierice Posted: July 01, 2014 at 04:49 PM (#4741204)
I was really surprised to learn that Darling's career ERA+ was only 95. Some of that is dragged down by his last few crummy years with the A's, but he only had two seasons with the Mets where his ERA+ was over 100. I always had the impression of him as being a lot better than that. His numbers really benefited from Shea Stadium.
   11. Walt Davis Posted: July 01, 2014 at 05:09 PM (#4741244)
I don't know the answer but was it extensions rather than FAs per se? For example, Foster was acquired by trade but the key point was the 5/$10 extension that kept him out of FA. I'd guess Carter was gonna be an FA too ... looks like he got a 5/$10-ish extension as well. That might be it though.

In terms of a team-building strategy or the message it sends fans, I don't think there's a massive difference between trading for then extending a near-FA (Foster, Johan Santana, Adrian Gonzalez, etc.) and signing an FA.
   12. bobm Posted: July 01, 2014 at 08:14 PM (#4741555)
http://www.nytimes.com/1982/02/08/sports/the-mets-best-hitter.html

Dave Anderson on the pending Foster trade/extension:

NOW that the Mets are about to turn 21 years old, their batting order finally has grown up. On the assumption that George Foster will soon arrive in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds, the Mets will have obtained the best hitter they've ever had. Shea Stadium archeologists will shout that the Mets had Willie Mays and Yogi Berra and Duke Snider, each a Hall of Famer, but each swung for the Mets in the sunset of his career. George Foster will be swinging his black bat in the early afternoon of his career. [...]

But the most significant aspect of the Mets' apparently imminent acquisition of George Foster is that Nelson Doubleday, the club chairman, did not shy away from investing more than $5 million in the best player available. When the new owners purchased the franchise two years ago for $21.3 million, they understood that they had just begun to spend. To keep faith with their fans, and to keep the Yankees from monopolizing baseball interest in New York, they had to do something big. And now apparently they have.


That's sweet, but no real comparison to the impact of the Hernandez acquisition in this NYT column by Kevin Dupont:

http://www.nytimes.com/1983/06/17/sports/hernandez-trade-a-first-step.html

Hernandez, who made plans yesterday to fly out of St. Louis this morning, will wear his Met uniform for the first time tonight when New York plays at Montreal. And, if all goes the way the Mets would like, Hernandez could finish out the decade as the club's first baseman.

The question remains, however, what would Hernandez like? The 29-year-old hard-hitting and slick-fielding first baseman was unavailable for comment yesterday as he was attempting to close out his life in St. Louis, thinking about tonight's starting Montreal pitcher and planning a new beginning for himself, his wife and their two young daughters. [...]

The Mets' franchise could not be structured around Allen, however, the way they feel it might be around Hernandez.

A Building Block for Mets

The Mets need many things, but first a building block, at least as a first step. Strong, contending teams often have the basic structure: a 20-game winner, a good-hitting, strong-armed catcher and a couple of .300 hitters who can break open games. Relief pitching, speed and defense are all important but usually attain little if the basic formula is not there.

''We haven't had much of anybody the last two years who can come in and blow a game open,'' said Jim Frey, the Mets' batting instructor. Hernandez is the kind of player who could begin to change that.


That two years included Foster's arrival.
   13. Walt Davis Posted: July 02, 2014 at 01:02 AM (#4741715)
'We haven't had much of anybody the last two years who can come in and blow a game open,

Hernandez was a good hitter but not this type of hitter.
   14. PreservedFish Posted: July 02, 2014 at 01:16 AM (#4741719)
I was really surprised to learn that Darling's career ERA+ was only 95. Some of that is dragged down by his last few crummy years with the A's, but he only had two seasons with the Mets where his ERA+ was over 100.


Agreed. I'm kind of amazed. He was a stalwart of one of the best rotations in baseball. In hindsight he looks like, I dunno, Mike Leake.
   15. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: July 02, 2014 at 01:28 AM (#4741721)
Agreed. I'm kind of amazed. He was a stalwart of one of the best rotations in baseball. In hindsight he looks like, I dunno, Mike Leake.


Or, a slightly lesser version of the '86 Mets NLCS nemesis. Each pitched 13 years, with a little more than 2,000 innings and similar W-L and ERA+ figures.

   16. Dr. Vaux Posted: July 02, 2014 at 02:20 AM (#4741726)
It's been discussed on this site quite a bit that the fewest runs that can be allowed in a game is zero, which means that in lower run environments, it's harder to have a really high ERA+. In other words, allowing 3 runs per 9 innings is at least decent pitching in most historical run environments, yet much more above average sometimes than other times. A 95 ERA+ in the late '80s might well equate to a 110 ERA+ in the early '00s. And Shea Stadium was a pitcher's park, so it was even harder to have a high ERA+ there.

(I don't think that necessarily diminishes the accomplishments of the great sillyball era pitchers, though, because what they did was that far above average. It's just that there isn't as much room above average to be in some run environments.)
   17. odds are meatwad is drunk Posted: July 02, 2014 at 04:21 AM (#4741732)
Fyi bobby bonilla got his yearly paycheck from the mets on the first.
   18. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: July 02, 2014 at 08:38 AM (#4741748)
The thing that surprised me about Darling is that, according to "Dollar Sign on the Muscle", there are some teams that moved him down on their draft boards because he had an Ivy League education. They thought he was too smart.

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