Ike Davis and the rare April trade

Ike DavisApril trades are fairly rare in baseball. This is because teams, for the most part, don’t know what they are going to be yet. Are they going to be in the playoff race, working to develop a team for the future or be totally out of it and looking to make trades for the future at the trade deadline? April is way too early to make any kind of evaluation on a team or for a player to build value, leaving April as a month where trades don’t often occur. This is the Mets 53rd season in existence and they’ve only made 15 in season April trades in all of that time.

As we all know, on April 18th, 2014, minutes before the start of their next game, the Mets announced that they had traded Ike Davis to the Pirates for minor league relief pitcher Zack Thornton and a player to be named later. Reports state that the unknown player will be significant, leading to speculation that the player was a draft pick from the Pirates the year before. We will see. This trade can’t be evaluated yet, not until we see what Davis becomes, if Thornton plays a role in the Mets bullpen, who this unknown player ends up being and if that player ever contributes to the Mets at all.

What we can evaluate is the Mets history in making such in season April trades. So here they are.

April 26th, 1962

The Mets trade Bobby Smith to the Cubs for Sammy Taylor.

Smith was one of the true original Mets as he was taken in the 1961 expansion draft. Smith was not a bad selection as he looked like a player who, if given some playing time, could be productive. He was 27 (turning 28 in season), was an excellent fielder and had come off back to back seasons where he had been solid at the plate in a part time role. Smith would get off to an awful start as a Met, batting .136 over eight games and 22 at bats. The outfield wasn’t the big weakness of the 1962 team as they had Frank Thomas, Jim Hickman, Richie Ashburn and Gus Bell already on the team at the time, with fellow 1961 draftee Joe Christopher, who had more upside than Smith, in the minor leagues. What the Mets sorely needed was a catcher and Taylor had shown promise in the past as a catcher with power. This wouldn’t manifest itself with the Mets, but at least they got something for a player in Smith that wouldn’t have gotten much playing time anyway. The Cubs would get nothing out of Smith, other than flipping him for Don Landrum, who became a semi-regular for them for the next few years. Taylor would help the Mets get Jesse Gondor in 1963, the best catcher the Mets had until Jerry Grote arrived in 1966. As a final assessment, this one is a wash.

April 23rd, 1964

The Mets trade Bobby Catton, Chico Fernandez and Cash to the White Sox for Charley Smith.

This is a classic needs based trade. The Mets had not been able to man third base with anybody productive, on a regular basis, for the team’s first two years in existence. Starters at third base for the Mets in 1962 and 1963 included Don Zimmer, Cliff Cook, Felix Mantilla, Charlie Neal, Rod Kanehl, Thomas, Sammy Drake, Rick Herrscher, Hickman, Pumpsie Green, Ted Schreiber, Fernandez and even Ron Hunt. It was the beginning of what would be a long term problem for the Mets, but for a short period in 1964 and 1965, Smith would provide some stability. Over those two years, Smith would hit 36 home runs and start 209 games at third base of the 324 games the team played. Smith would also get time at short stop and left field, but would primarily be a third baseman. The Mets would then package Smith and Al Jackson to the Cardinals for Ken Boyer prior to the 1966 season. Smith would go on to have two more solid years in the majors, first with the Cardinals and then with the Yankees after he was traded for Roger Maris, before back problems ended his career. Just being traded in back to back seasons for two of the elite players of that generation puts Smith in a fairly unique historical status.

In fact, you could argue that Smith was the best Mets third baseman until Howard Johnson inherited the position from Ray Knight in 1987. On top of this, the Mets gave up nothing to get Smith. Catton was a career minor league catcher and Fernandez was at the end of a decent career as a short stop. Why did they get Smith for so little? Smith had been a solid Dodgers prospect and decent starter for the Phillies before the White Sox acquired him in 1962 to be their starting third baseman. Smith had failed miserably with the White Sox and been banished to the minors for the remainder of 1962 and nearly all of 1963. This is one of the better early trades made by George Weiss and, historically is on the positive side of the ledger for the Mets.

April 10th, 1970

The Mets send a player to be named later to the Phillies for Ron Allen

Nearly six years later, the Mets would acquire Allen, one of Dick Allen’s two, less talented brothers. On May 26th, 1970, the Mets would send key 1969 sub Bobby Pfeil to the Phillies to complete the trade. Allen would never play in the majors for the Mets and Pfeil would actually be fairly productive in a short stint with the Phillies in 1971, his last time in the major leagues. This could be called a loss for the Mets but that would be lowering the definition of loss.

April 15th, 1975

The Mets trade Mac Scarce to the Reds for Tom Hall

Scarce had been one of the players the Mets acquired from the Phillies, along with John Stearns and Del Unser for Tug McGraw in the offseason. Scarce had been a decent left handed relief pitcher for the Phillies and was only 26 years old, so it was thought that he could help bolster the Mets bullpen moving forward. Scarce didn’t impress and would allow the winning hit to the Pirates in his one appearance for the Mets on April 11th. Four days later, he would be dealt for Hall, a veteran left handed reliever, and would go down as one of those infamous statistical anomalies, a pitcher who threw one game and no innings for the team. Hall wouldn’t be that good as a Met, but at least he actually pitched for them and got them some cash back on the deal the next season when he was trade to the Royals. Since the rest of the McGraw deal worked out fairly well for the Mets, you could say that this goes a very slight win for the Mets in regards to April trades.

April 26th, 1977

The Mets trade a player to be named later and cash to the Rangers for Lenny Randle

A little over a year later, the Mets would take on Rangers problem child Randle. On May 20th, 1977, they would send Rick Auerbach, a veteran good field, no hit shortstop who was lingering in the minor leagues for them, to the Rangers to complete the trade. Randle was a talented speedster who had worn out his welcome in Texas. In his first year with the Mets, Randle would hit .304, get on base 38% of the time and steal 33 bases, ending the season with an OPS of 787, the best season in his career. He would be the Mets primary third baseman for 1977 and 1978, although his 78 season would be much less productive as his average slipped to .233 and his OPS dropped to 650. The Mets would subsequently release Randle in March of 1979, but since they got a two year starter who had one excellent year for basically nothing, this goes in the win column.

April 19th, 1979

The Mets trade Tim Foli and Greg Field to the Pirates for Frank Taveras

This one is sort of a mind boggling move. Normally April trades tend to be about need. In this case, the Mets got a shortstop for a shortstop, not exactly a needs based move. Taveras was a totally different player than Foli. Foli was a gutsy, hard-nosed player and an elite fielding shortstop. He had been solid at the position for the team in 1978 and had been acquired for nothing (a cash deal with the Giants). Foli was also younger than Taveras and the superior fielder. The only advantage Taveras had over Foli was terrific speed. Taveras wasn’t a bust. He would have two solid years as a Met, but this seems like a classic late 70’s move by the Mets in the sense that it didn’t advance the team forward and was more about money than anything else. Foli would help the Pirates win the World Series in 1979 and have several more productive years as a starter, including a return to the playoffs as the starting shortstop for the Angels in 1982. Field would never player in the major leagues. This one goes in the loss column.

April 18th, 1983

The Mets trade Steve Ray and a player to be named later to the Yankees for Tucker Ashford

Ashford had been a top prospect in the Yankees system who reportedly fell out of favor with George Steinbrenner in spring training of 1983 after committing an error in an exhibition game against the Mets. The Yankees would then complete a rare deal with the Mets, sending Ashford to their cross town rivals for minor leaguer Ray. On May 3rd, the Mets would send minor league shortstop Felix Perdomo to the Yankees to complete the trade. Neither player the Mets sent would play in the major leagues, but Ashford wouldn’t become anything but a blip on the screen for the Mets, only really remembered because of the Steinbrenner story and because he was brought up from the minor leagues on the same day as Darryl Strawberry. This one falls in the category of the Allen, Pfeil deal from 1970, not even worth putting in a win or loss column.

April 25th, 1986

The Mets trade Joe Redfield to the Orioles for Rick Lockwood

Neither benefited either team. This is one of those trades that makes one wonder why a general manager would even waste their energy making the necessary phone calls to make such a move.

April 12th, 1992

The Mets trade Julio Valera to the Angels for Dick Schofield and a player to be named later

This falls in the context of the Smith deal from 1964. The Mets were in dire need of a shortstop and the veteran Schofield was available. The Angels used that leverage to get a good pitching prospect in Valera from the Mets. On October 6th, 1992, the Angels would send minor league relief pitcher Julian Vasquez to the Mets to complete the deal. Vazquez had been named a top one hundred prospect prior to 1992, but never pitched in the major leagues. Schofield would man short as the classic no hit, good field shortstop in 1992 while Valera would post a 3.73 ERA in 28 starts for the Angels. Valera would have arm problems after 1992 and Schofield would be allowed to leave as a free agent the following offseason. With all of that in mind, this one is a wash.

April 8th, 1996

The Mets trade a player to be named later to the Cubs for Matt Franco

On June 11th of that year, the Mets would send low level pitching prospect Chris DeWitt to the Cubs to complete this trade. DeWitt would never make it to the major leagues while Franco would become a key bench player for the Mets form 1997 through 2000, mostly as a pinch hitter and one of the best in Mets history. As a pinch hitter, Franco, over 271 appearances, would bat .254 with a 735 OPS. Those aren’t staggering numbers in general, but excellent for a pinch hitter. Considering the Mets got a solid bench player that stayed with them for over four years for nothing, this is a solid win for the Mets.

April 30th, 1997

The Mets trade John Carter and Erick Ojeda to the Pirates for Ramon Espinosa and Wes Chamberlin

Ok, this falls under the same auspices as the April 1986 trade. Only Chamberlin ever played in the major leagues and that was prior to the trade. He would never appear in a Mets uniform. Again, why even put in the time on a deal like this?

April 3rd, 2002

The Mets trade Gary Matthews Jr. to the Orioles for John Bale

This appears to be a move where the Mets were trying to acquire relief help for a player they didn’t really need. Bale would never pitch for the Mets and Matthews would go on to have a solid career with the Rangers and Angels before returning to the Mets for a forgettable 2010 campaign. This is a loss for the Mets.

April 5th, 2002

The Mets trade Bruce Chen, Luis Figueroa, Dicky Gonzalez and a player to be named later to the Expos for Scott Strickland, Phil Seibel and Matt Watson

This looked like an excellent trade at the time as Strickland was a quality back end of bullpen pitcher, while all of the other players in the deal, except for Chen, were borderline major leaguers. The Mets would complete the deal by sending Saul Rivera to the Expos on June 6th, which means almost nothing as Rivera was never productive in the major leagues. Unfortunately for the Mets, Strickland would get hurt in 2003 after a solid 2002 and would never pitch for the Mets again. Chen is still in the major leagues and has put together a solid career as a starter, relief pitcher and long man. Due to that fact, this is a loss for the Mets.

April 4th, 2004

The Mets trade Roger Cedeno to the Cardinals for Wilson Delgado

In the last Mets April trade prior to the Davis one a week ago, the Mets dumped a bad contract on the Cardinals for a reserve infielder. Cedeno had been brought in as a free agent in 2003. It was hoped that the Mets were going to get the Cedeno from 1999, who had been an excellent catalyst at the top of the lineup, good enough that the Mets had been able to trade him as part of a package for ace starter Mike Hampton, a key move that lead the Mets to the World Series in 2000. Cedeno wasn’t terrible in his return to the Mets, but he wasn’t good either and the Mets just wanted to cut ties with him in 2004. Delgado ended up having a productive year as a bench player and fill in starter for the Mets, while Cedeno was productive as a back-up outfielder for the Cardinals. Considering they got out from under Cedeno’s contract and got a productive bench player in return for a year, this one looks like a very slight win.

The interesting thing about all of these moves are that none of them are like the Davis trade. Some were pointless, but most were needs based moves or moves that appeared to land the team a solid veteran to help out. The Davis deal falls more in line with an offseason or trade deadline move, where a team wants a veteran to help them fill a need. Since Sandy Alderson was shopping Davis all winter long, this deal is an extension of that, but it’s still out of place in April.

There were multiple other deals made by the Mets in April, but they were before the season started, most notably being the Rusty Staub trade in 1972. However, as Mets fans, we need to hope that the Davis trade is as productive as the only other one that is remotely close to it in terms of acquiring prospects for a veteran. That trade occurred on April 1st, 1982, when the Mets acquired Ron Darling and Walt Terrell for Lee Mazzilli. We all know what Darling became and Terrell, after a solid year as a Mets starting pitcher, ended up bringing the team Howard Johnson. To get Johnson and Darling for Mazzilli, a player the Mets would bring back in 1986 for nothing, is one of the best deals the Mets made in the history of the franchise. Let’s hope the Davis deal looks like that one when things are all said and done.

4 comments for “Ike Davis and the rare April trade

  1. Chris F
    April 25, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    was this really an april trade?

  2. Sean Flattery
    April 25, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Julio Valera, Wow! The Mets were so high on him. Classic 1990s failed prospect.

    As for Scott Strickland, I always remember Steve Phillips talking about him like he was the next Goose Gossage. Ahhh, memories

  3. Jim OMalley
    April 25, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    The Lenny Randle deal worked out for us.

  4. Patrick Albanesius
    April 28, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Nice investigating!

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