Unlike last season, the Mets were proactive in replacing an injured player on their roster when the obtained James Loney from the San Diego Padres to replace Lucas Duda who was slated to be on the disabled list for a long time with a broken back.
Coming into the season, Loney was a .285/.338/.411 hitter who averaged 10 homers and 64 RBI in a season. His OPS+ was 105 meaning he was roughly a league average hitter. In his 55 games with the Mets, Loney has been a slightly better version of himself hitting .289/.339/.443 with six homers and 23 RBI. His OPS+ is 108, which is what Mo Vaughn‘s OPS+ was as a Met. Long story short, Loney is the perfect stopgap, but he is not a difference maker. The problem is he was taking over for a difference maker in the lineup.
Since Duda became the Mets everyday first baseman, he has hit .249/.350/.483 while averaging 28 homers and 82 RBI. His OPS+ over that stretch is 133 meaning he is batting at an All Star caliber level, and he is a difference maker at the plate. To put it into context, David Wright‘s career OPS+ is 133.
Essentially, the Mets have gone from a David Wright level of production at first base back to the days of Mo Vaughn. This drop in production goes a long way to explain why the Mets offense has been struggling since Duda has gone down with the broken back.
With the grim prognosis for Duda this season, and with the trade deadline having gone by, the Mets never made the necessary upgrade at first base. If the Mets were to shift Jay Bruce (128 OPS+ this season) or Michael Conforto to first base (129 OPS+ last year), they would go a long way to replacing that production. It is certainly worth a shot. The time for stopgaps is over. The Mets now need to find a real replacement for Duda’s offense. That isn’t Loney. Hopefully, it could be Bruce or Conforto.
One of the biggest punchlines about Steve Phillips tenure as the Mets GM has been this:
December 27, 2001: Mets acquire 1B Mo Vaughn for pitcher Kevin Appier. pic.twitter.com/Vvo9v8zlRO
— Mets Rewind (@metsrewind) December 27, 2015
Not his personal conduct. No, he’s routinely mocked for the Mo Vaughn trade. To this day, I do not understand the vitriol over the deal. I guess it’s because Mets fans do not realize the Mets won that trade. Seriously.
First, keep in mind the Mets gave up Kevin Appier. That’s it. Yes, the same Kevin Appier the Mets signed after they lost the World Series instead of making big moves to improve the team. Yes, I’m talking about the 2000 offseason, not this one. Appier signed a four year $42 million contract with the Mets.
In his only year with the Mets, Appier was decent going 11-10 with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.185 WHIP. He would then be traded for Mo Vaughn. Appier was good again in 2002. He has a ring despite having a historically bad World Series start. Appier was bad, really bad, in 2003. Despite being owed over $15 million on his deal, he was released. Appier would go back to Kansas City, where he would pitch only 23 innings more between 2003 and 2004 before retiring and putting an end to a very good big league career.
In exchange, the Mets got the impressive batting practice hitter Mo Vaughn (the last Met to wear 42). Say what you will about Mo Vaughn. You’re probably right. His 2002 wasn’t as bad as people remember with Vaughn hitting .259/.349/.456 with 26 homers and 72 RBI. It was good for an OPS+ of 115. It’s more impressive when you consider he missed the 2001 season due to injury. Like Appier, his 2003 was a nightmare. Like Appier, his career was effectively over after the 2003 season.
So why did the Mets win the trade? No, it was not because of this homer:
I was at that game. It was awesome. However, this was Vaughn’s line highlight. In reality, Vaughn’s play had nothing to do with the Mets winning this trade.
No, the Mets won the trade due to Vaughn’s insurance policy. Vaughn’s arthritic knee prevented him from playing again. Like Appier, Vaughn was terrible in 2003, and his career was effectively over. The Angels paid Appier $12 million in 2004 alone to go away. The Mets only owed Vaughn $4.25 million over the next two years. The remainder of the $17 million owed was paid by insurance.
The Mets didn’t do anything with the money found that offseason, but they would invest it the next offseason when they signed Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. So overall, the Mo Vaughn deal was really beneficial to the Mets regardless of whether or not anyone wants to recognize it.
There are still reasons to mock Steve Phillips, but this trade wasn’t one them.
Did you ever hear of the saying, the more things change the more they stay the same? The saying drives me absolutely nuts. Inherently, something that is static cannot also be idle at the same time. However, for the first time I am starting to understand this saying.
I believe this season is starting to resemble 2005. Sure there was some optimism before that season with the signings of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. This was also going to be the first full season David Wright and Jose Reyes were going to play together. That team also had some holes: Doug Mientkiewicz had a great glove but not the bat to play 1B, Kaz Matsui was being shifted to play 2B after he showed he couldn’t play SS the prior year, and let’s not forget the closer was Braden Looper in a largely ineffective bullpen. However, I don’t know of anyone that expected the Mets to realistically make the playoffs that year.
At that point, the Mets fans were suffering. In 2001, the Mets rallied around the city, but they fell short of making the playoffs in an otherwise disappointing season. In 2002, we watched Steve Phillips attempt to recreate the team as an offensive juggernaut with the likes of Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz, and Roger Cedeno. This lead to three years of just bad baseball. Now, the Mets fans were clamoring for a move to be made. We wanted to see Piazza go out on his last year with the Mets with a winner. At the Trading Deadline, the Mets found themselves only 4 games out of the Wild Card.
However, Omar Minaya stayed the course. The Mets made no trades. He kept his bullets for the offseason. If you recall, that was a magical offseason with the additions of Paul LoDuca, Carlos Delgado, Jose Valentin, Xavier Nady, Endy Chavez, Julio Franco, Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez, John Maine, Jorge Julio (was was then traded in season for El Duque), Darren Oliver, and Billy Wagner. Omar showing restraint permitted the Mets to build that great 2006 team the fans loved.
Now, Mets fans have been suffering longer than they were in 2005, and they are begging for just one bat (which I don’t think will do the trick). While Mets fans were disappointed in 2005, I don’t remember them being a distraught as they are now. I think the difference is trust. We trusted that ownership and Omar would spend the money to get the players that were needed. In fact, they just come off of a spending spree that netted Pedro and Beltran. Now, fans don’t trust that ownership will spend the money. I believe this is the trust gap that is the biggest sense of frustration with this team.
It’s a shame too because I remember 2005 being a fun season. So far, I think 2015 has been gut-wrenching with all the tight, low-scoring games. My only hope is that if the Mets don’t make a move now, they have a plan for what can be realistically accomplished this summer. There will be LF available who can really help the team in the short term, but the market is scarce on middle infielders. My fingers are crossed. I want to be able to go to a playoff game with my father and son.