If you’ve been a Mets fan for any amount of time, you’ve no doubt heard about how the team’s been involved in some horrible trades. There is no shortage of articles online with titles like “Top 10 worst trades in Mets history.” It’s tough to lose talent. So, it may comes as a surprise to know that there is a decided lack of articles talking about the talent that the Mets lost to free agency since the beast was created in the mid-1970s. But we’re here to rectify that today.
Every year, there are multiple impact free agents to switch teams. So, it’s a bit surprising that closing in on 50 years of free agency that there aren’t more than a handful that jump to mind who left the Mets for greener pastures. Maybe that’s because they traded them. Or perhaps they’ve done a better than average job of locking up guys so they don’t leave when they have the chance. A malcontent might suggest that they have fewer good players so it makes sense they have fewer leave.
10. Dave Magadan – The owner of a lifetime 122 OPS+ as a Met, Magadan left after the 1992 season to sign with the Marlins. His career in Miami didn’t last long, as he was traded mid-season to the Mariners. Magadan played nine more years in the majors, including several above-average seasons. But he never approached his 1990 season with the Mets. He was replaced in Queens by Eddie Murray, who drove in 100 runs for the Mets in 1993.
9. Dwight Gooden – The bloom was pretty much completely gone by the time Gooden left for free agency. But there was still some decent pitching left, including a no-hitter and appearances in three more postseasons. Gooden and his 127 ERA+ in 1998 would have been more useful for the Mets than Hideo Nomo.
8. Noah Syndergaard – From afar, it seemed like the Mets wanted him back and Syndergaard himself gave quotes to indicate he wanted back, too. But he left for Anaheim and there was definitely bitterness from the fanbase over the fact he didn’t come back. And it’s that bitterness that gets him this high on the list.
7. Frank Viola – The Mets gave up a lot to get Viola and he didn’t bring them back to the World Series. But he was a strong pitcher in his time in New York, with two All-Star appearances. In his first two seasons after leaving the Mets and signing with the Red Sox, Viola made 64 starts and had a 133 ERA+. An elbow injury ruined his third season in Boston and he was never the same after that.
6. Michael Conforto – There was plenty of teeth-gnashing after the Mets were unable to sign Conforto to an extension. But he was lousy for most of 2021 and then he remained unsigned all of 2022, due partially to a right shoulder injury. He’s still young enough to bounce back and seems to have greater upside at this point than Syndergaard.
5. Edgardo Alfonzo – In his final season in New York, the 28-year-old Alfonzo put up a 128 OPS+. He was a fan favorite, a two-way star who could play both 2B and 3B. He seemed one of the safer, most attractive free agents on the market. But after leaving the Mets, Alfonzo was a shell of his former self. He never posted another triple-digit OPS+ and in his post-Mets career, he had just an 83 OPS+ and his MLB career was over after his age-32 season. It still hurt to lose him.
4. Jose Reyes – Most Mets fans were resigned to losing Reyes to free agency. Their anger was more directed at the club for not trading him during his career-best 2011 season. Mets fans thought Reyes was a superstar and while he was in 2011, he wasn’t one for the vast majority of his career. Thru the 2011 season, Reyes had a lifetime 107 OPS+. His next five seasons, Reyes posted a combined 103 OPS+.
3. John Olerud – He was terrific in his three seasons with the Mets and the club wanted to re-sign him. But Olerud chose to go home to the Pacific Northwest and few criticized him for that decision. The next three years in Seattle, Olerud put up a 131 OPS+, which certainly would have been useful for the Mets. But it wasn’t a completely happy ending, as he fell off the next year and in the following season he was traded back to the East Coast. Olerud finished his career with the Yankees and then Red Sox.
2. Mike Hampton – He only played one season with the Mets but he was terrific and a big reason why they made it to the World Series. The Mets very much wanted him back but allegedly, his wife preferred the school systems in Denver so Hampton gave his career the kiss of death by willingly pitching in Colorado. After posting a 142 ERA+ with the Mets in 2000, Hampton posted marks of 99 and 78 in Colorado before they gave up on him and traded him to the Braves. Hampton rebounded to go 32-20 the next three years until an elbow injury cut short his 2005 season and cost him the next two years, as well. Hampton came back to pitch parts of three seasons but he was never the same. Meanwhile, even with getting David Wright as one of the compensation picks when Hampton left as a free agent, any Mets fan’s blood pressure will rise if you mention the Denver school system.
1. Darryl Strawberry – The Mets had never developed a home-grown hitter like Strawberry, so losing him was a real blow. And losing him to the Dodgers, who had just beaten the Mets in the NLCS a few years earlier, felt particularly cruel. Strawberry’s first year in L.A. was just as good as what he did his last year with the Mets but then he fell off considerably, as personal problems continued to mount. Strawberry made it back to be an effective part-time player, first with the Giants and then with the Yankees.
This was a surprisingly hard list to create and you can have a vastly different order and you’d get no argument from me. In my opinion, there are two tiers. You can probably list the top five in just about any order. And then there’s a dropoff to the bottom five, who could probably be listed in about 100 different ways, too.
Honorable mention to Gary Carter, Sid Fernandez, Keith Hernandez, Howard Johnson, Al Leiter, Pedro Martinez and Mike Piazza. Most of these guys were done when they left the Mets and wanting them back was more of a case of sentimentality than anything else.
If any and all of the four remaining current free agents listed at the beginning of this article leave, they would all make this list and be in the top tier.