The mega deal that is effectively ending any hopes of a budding Marlin dynasty last week can cause a Met fan to look back at Met related fire sales that are around the same magnitude.
The first one that comes readily to mind is June 15th 1977, the Midnight Massacre. While the Mets were not exactly poised to do much in 1977, and beyond the deals made pretty much sealed the fate for the end of the de Louret era. After all, you trade your big offensive threat Dave Kingman for Bobby Valentine and Paul Siebert and flip Mike Phillips for Joel Youngblood, you are making a case for getting younger and cheaper. Of course the ultimate bombshell of the evening was sending The Franchise, Tom Seaver to Cincinnati for Doug Flynn, Pat Zachry, Dan Norman and Steve Henderson. Whatever chance the Mets may have had at a mediocre at best record in 1977 was ended. And while it had been a few years since 1973, the 1969 era effectively ended that day.
While probably not a fire sale in the traditional sense, and one could make a case for some of the deals making baseball sense, one might consider the moves rookie GM Joe McDonald made in the 1974 offseason as much of a purging of the 1969/1973 era as much as his predecessors had made tinkering deals to help strengthen the era in the previous years. After all, how much did Tug McGraw’s fun loving antics lead to his, along with Don Hahn and Dave Schneck, to Philadelphia for Del Unser, John Stearns and Mac Scarce?
Okay, flipping dependable backstop Duffy Dyer to Pittsburgh for outfielder Gene Clines and hoping Joe Torre still had enough left in the tank to send Ray Sadecki and Tommy Moore to St. Louis for him might have seemed like sound deals at the time, but considering the flurry of activity, was it more to just to give the team a complete makeover rather than a little tinkering and bolstering to continue the run? After all, a year later would see Clines be traded to the Texas Rangers for Joe Lovitto the same day as the Rusty Staub (along with Bill Laxton) trade to the Detroit Tigers for Mickey Lolich and Billy Baldwin. And while the Seaver trade in 1977 was the symbolic closing of the 1969 era, the trading of Jon Matlack and John Milner to the Rangers for Willie Montanez, Ken Henderson and Tom Grieve was pretty much the last “blockbuster” deal the Mets would be making in this sort of fire sale “genre” (for lack of a better term).
In a way, some of Frank Cashen’s deals in 1981 can be seen in the same vein as the aforementioned 1974 transactions. While a fire sale implies selling off high price talent in an effort to get younger and cheaper, here Cashen seems to be selling off pieces from the old regime to try and get what he’d hope would be part of the Mets’ turnaround. On April 6 Ed Glynn and Mark Bomback were dealt in separate one-for-one player deals, and Butch Benton was sold outright to the Cubs and on May 29th Dan Norman and Jeff Reardon were traded to the Expos for Ellis Valentine, and in December separate deals saw the Mets trade Doug Flynn and Frank Taveras in separate deals, and by April Alex Trevino and Lee Mazzilli would also be gone.
Of course conspiracy theorists would suggest December of 1986’s trade of Kevin Mitchel (along with Stan Jefferson and Shawn Abner) and 1989’s trade of Roger McDowell and Len Dykstra as part of a “fire sale” to get the Mets to conform to a certain “attitude” and Met fans do suggest that it was those deals, either both or specifically as the “final nail” in the 1986 era’s coffin. But the Samuel trade didn’t work out, the McReynolds one did, and it is clear that both trades were done in the mindset of keeping the team competitive, rather than simply selling off pieces.
The Mets would find themselves in rebuilding mode after the transactions heading into the 1992 season failed miserably. The Mets first actual “trading a free-agent to be from a team hopelessly out of it to a contending club” deal was on August 27th when David Cone was sent to Toronto for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson. Though as strange as it may seem, somehow the Mets were in addition mode as All-Star Tony Fernandez would be acquired from a fire selling San Diego for Wally Whitehurst, Raul Cassanova and D.J. Dozier. It was the early 1990s, doesn’t seem to be too much rhyme or reason for the Mets way of wheeling and dealing! Seems like there were a lot of transactions in this period that were more “sideways” in terms of getting back same level of talent, and in some cases better talent. After all, it wouldn’t be until 1995 that Bobby Bonilla and Bret Saberhagen would be sent packing in two separate deals.
With the Mets’ mid 1990s resurgence, 1996 through 2002 would see the franchise clearly established as buyers when it came to trades and free agent signings. Say what the conspiracy theorists will about the Alex Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero negations, the team was playing fast and loose with its purse strings during these years.
But by 2003 the Mets would again be viewed more as sellers, and so Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz, Armando Benitez, Graeme Lloyd and Rey Sanchez were sent in separate mid-season deals, and keeping with what seems to be true fire sale tradition, of the 11 players the Met organization would get in return, only 4 would play for the Mets, with Victor Diaz (from the Dodgers in the Burnitz deal) being the only one that made any sort of impact.
The Mets would go right back to making transactions as if they were contenders in 2004, even though it would be another year before Omar Minaya was hired, so it would be quite a while before the Mets could be considered sellers again. And while the Minaya era fell apart after the 2008 season and the Mets have been in rebuilding mode ever since, there really hasn’t been too many instances of the Mets making that sweeping fire sale purging of a roster. Oh sure Billy Wagner and Carlos Beltran were dealt in midseason deals, and the Mets effectively ate the contracts of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, but at the same time, just as they did in the 1990s, with deals like Jason Bay and Francisco Rodriguez, seem to make that sort of “rebuild on the fly” sort of mentality rather than pure fire sale mode.
Whether this is successful or not is of course dependent on player performance. Sometimes scorched earth policies have worked with franchises, and other times teams have had successful, long run of competitive baseball with roster tinkering here and there. Will this work, again, for the Marlins? Who knows, but time will tell on that one.