Say the date June 15, 1977 to any Mets fan over the age of 40 and you will undoubtedly see a pained expression crawl over his face. For the uninitiated, that is the day the Mets traded both Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman. For younger fans, the closest they can come is July 30, 2004. That is the date when the Mets, in an ill-advised push to make the playoffs, traded Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano.
Since then, Kazmir has produced a cumulative 17.3 FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) including a 5.3 mark in 2007, when his presence would have meant another playoff appearance.
But while everyone focuses on Kazmir, the Mets pulled off other deals on that day, too. They also acquired Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger in exchange for Matt Peterson, Ty Wigginton and Justin Huber. At the time, most people were upset with giving up Wigginton but I was dismayed that they gave away Huber, who was a catcher in the minors who was just promoted to Triple-A after putting up a .901 OPS as a 21-year old in Double-A.
But the Pirates did not want Huber. So the Mets had to go out and get someone else to complete the deal. New York sent Huber to the Kansas City Royals for the player the Pirates wanted – Jose Bautista.
Now, if that name sounds familiar, that is because Bautista currently leads the majors with 49 home runs while playing with the Toronto Blue Jays. So for a few minutes in 2004, Bautista was essentially a member of the Mets, although he was not ever assigned to a club, much less suit up in uniform for any Mets team, either majors or minors.
Bautista played parts of five seasons with the Pirates but never put up an OPS greater than .755 before being traded to Toronto during the 2008 season. Bautista continued his middling performance with the Blue Jays until September of last year, when he foreshadowed his 2010 performance by hitting 10 HR in his final 98 ABs of the season.
But it is hard not to wonder how Bautista would have looked in a Mets uniform this season. David Wright leads the club with 24 homers while Ike Davis is second with 18. No other player has hit more than 12.
However, it is unlikely that Bautista would be enjoying his breakout season if he was still on the Mets. Like most hitters on the Blue Jays, Bautista has done most of his damage in Toronto. He has hit 30 of his 49 homers at Sky Dome, where he is batting .293 for the year. In road parks, Bautista sports a .238 AVG and 19 HR.
At least the Mets received more production out of Benson and his legacy than they did from Zambrano. Benson contributed 2.2 fWAR before being dealt along with his controversial wife to the Orioles for John Maine and Jorge Julio. Maine delivered 5.0 fWAR for the club while Julio contributed 0.1 fWAR before being flipped for Orlando Hernandez, who chimed in with 2.8 fWAR. That was a total of 10.1 of fWAR.
Meanwhile, Zambrano delivered a 2.0 fWAR in parts of three seasons with the Mets.
We know what became of most of the players from those 2004 deals, what ever happened to Huber? An injury suffered in August of 2004 ended his career as a catcher. He hit well in the minors in 2005 but was unable to establish himself as a major league hitter. In 394 PA in the majors, Huber has a .580 OPS. In 2010, Huber left to play in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp.
Now Kazmir is trying to resuscitate his career with the Angels, Benson is likely done as a useful pitcher and is currently on the 60-day DL with a shoulder strain and Zambrano has been out of organized ball since the end of the 2007 season. Ty Wigginton hit like Barry Bonds at Minute Maid park but lost his usefulness after the Astros refused to re-sign him.
Keppinger was finally given a chance in 2008 and has put up some high-average, empty everything else seasons since then, with wOBA of .291 and .307 the past two seasons and a current mark of .332 thanks to a career-high 9.0 BB%. Peterson never made the majors and spent this season in the Marlins organization, splitting time between Double and Triple-A.
So, after all the virtual ink spilled at the time over the Benson and Zambrano trades, by 2010 the most valuable property was Jose Bautista. There’s one that no one saw coming. And to think, it was the Pirates who wanted him, even if they didn’t keep him.
Bautista currently sits with a 6.4 fWAR, which is tied for the seventh-best mark in the majors. It’s a better season than Kazmir ever put up and better than what Benson and Zambrano have done in their combined careers since the 2004 trade deadline.
So, there you go. Jose Bautista, yet another star the Mets let get away.