Since 1989, you would tune into the occasional New York Mets broadcast, and you would hear Howie Rose incredulous another Mets player wearing the number 17. With the New York Mets announcing Keith Hernandez‘s 17 will now be retired, we will be forever robbed of those moments, but we can look back at the players who wore the number after Hernandez left the Mets.
David Cone – Cone would change his number from 44 to 17 in honor of his teammate. It would be the number Cone wore when he led the league in strikeouts and tied Tom Seaver‘s then National League record of 19 strikeouts in a game.
Jeff McKnight – McKnight became the first player assigned the number after Hernandez wore it, and you could argue it was even more of an eyesore because it was the year the Mets had the underscore jerseys. Believe it or not, McKnight just had a knack for wearing great numbers. He would also wear David Wright‘s 5, Jose Reyes‘ 7, Carlos Beltran‘s 15, and Darryl Strawberry‘s 18.
Bret Saberhagen – Saberhagen changed from his usual 18 with the Kansas City Royals and the number he first had with the Mets after his good friend Cone was traded to the Toronto BLue Jays. While Saberhagen did have some success with the Mets, he was probably the player least suited to wearing the number after the bleach incident.
Brent Mayne – Again with the former Royals wearing 17. Mayne’s first hit with the Mets was a walk-off RBI single off Dennis Eckersley to take the opening series of the season. Even after that, he still couldn’t get recognized on the 7 line on the way to the park.
Luis Lopez – Lopez was a utility player for the Mets for three years including the beloved team. His biggest hit with the Mets was the time he punched Rey Ordonez on the team bus. Hearkening back to the team photo incident between Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry, this may be the most Hernandez moment any of the subsequent players to wear the number 17 ever had.
Mike Bordick – Bordick was supposed to be the key pickup for the Mets to replace the injured Ordonez at short. He gave us all hope as he homered in his first Mets at-bat, but things would end badly as he would be benched for Kurt Abbott in the World Series, and he would return to the Baltimore Orioles in free agency. Worse yet, 1999 postseason hero Melvin Mora, who was traded for Bordick, would go on to be a star for the Orioles.
Kevin Appier – With Cone, Saberhagen, and then Appier, it seemed Royals pitchers really liked wearing 17 with the Mets. Appier came to the then pennant winning Mets in the hopes of winning a World Series, but unfortunately, he is forever known as the key piece sent to the Angels for Mo Vaughn.
Graeme Lloyd – Lloyd was one of the few who thrived with the Yankees who pitched well for the Mets. He didn’t last a full season as he and many of the 2003 Mets who battled under Art Howe was moved at the trade deadline.
Wilson Delgado – Mets fans were thrilled to obtain Delgado in 2004 as he would be the return for Roger Cedeno. Delgado played 42 games for the Mets in 2004. He’d never appear in a Major League game after that.
Jose Lima – The 2006 Mets pitching staff was so injured that we’d get Lima Time! for four starts. After struggling mightily, this marked the end of his MLB career as he then played internationally.
David Newhan – There really isn’t much to tell with Newhan. In his one year with the Mets, he proved himself to be that classic Four-A guy who annihilated Triple-A pitching but struggled in the majors.
Fernando Tatis – Omar Minaya first signed Tatís as an amateur and would bring him to the Mets organization. Tatís rewarded Minaya’s faith by winning the 2008 NL Comeback Player of the Year. For a franchise known for “what ifs,” you can’t help but wonder if the Mets don’t collapse for a second straight season if Tatis didn’t injure his shoulder. While Tatís had many memorable moments with the Mets, perhaps, his most memorable was his being one of the few actually capable of hitting it over the Great Wall of Flushing.
After Tatis, the Mets had finally said enough was enough. They were taking the number 17 out of circulation like they had done in the past with Willie Mays‘ 24. That meant the number was not going to be worn again. That is, unless, the next Rickey Henderson came long. However, now, with the number being officially retired, no one will ever wear Hernandez’s 17 again.
In their history, the Mets have had a number of truly awful free agent signings. Their foibles on the free agent market have inspired books, and they have led to the Mets having prolonged down periods which have led to the team being under .500 for extended periods and eventually rebuilding. Their mistakes are not limited to just any position. Really, they have made mistakes across the diamond:
C Rod Barajas (1 year, $500,000) – In the Mets history, they have had just four free agents catchers as their Opening Day starter with Barajas being one of them. With respect to Barajas, he was the cheap option in a truly uninspiring free agent group of catcher, and he would not last the season getting released towards the end of August.
1B Eddie Murray (2 years, $7.5 million) – Murray was the first piece the Mets locked down in what was to be known as the Worst Team Money Could Buy. In his previous stops, he was a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the best switch hitters to ever play the game. With the Mets, Murray had two disappointing seasons where he hit .274/.330/.446.
2B Luis Castillo (4 years, $25 million) – In 2007, the Mets needed a second baseman, and the team was able to get Castillo for nearly nothing. While that team collapsed, Castillo was hardly to blame hitting .316/.404/.418 over the final month of the season. To that end, it made sense to bring him back but not for the extreme overpay which was immediately panned by everyone. Castillo would disappoint from that point forward, and eh woudl become a symbol of what was wrong with the team with the seminal moment being his dropping Alex Rodriguez‘s pop up leading to the Mets losing a game to the Yankees.
3B Todd Frazier (2 years, $17 million) – After a year in which Frazier had his first ever trips to the deisabled list and he had a careeer worst .390 SLG and .693 OPS, he was an obvious candidate. Frankly, the choice was much easier when you consider how well Robin Ventura played during his Mets tenure and the Mets predominantly using homegrown players or trades to fill the position.
SS Kazuo Matsui (3 years, $20.1 million) – Despite the presence of Jose Reyes, the Mets opted to sign Matsui to be their shortstop. It looked like a great move when Matsui homered in his first ever at=bat, but it was all downhill from there as Matsui disappointed at the plate and in the field. Matsui dealt with injuries, was moved to second base, had a negative WAR in his last two years with the Mets, and he was eventually traded for Eli Marrero, who lasted just two months with the Mets.
LF George Foster (5 years, $10 million) – The Mets first free agent splash was Foster, and in many ways, Foster set the tone for some for the big moves the Mets would make in the future. Foster would go from being an All Star who hit .295/.373/.519 to someone who hit .252/.307/.422 in a Mets uniform. Overall, Foster had a rocky tenure with the team, and he would be released in 1986 after making comments to the press.
CF Vince Coleman (4 years, $11.95 million) – It wasn’t enough the Mets let Darryl Strawberry go to the Dodgers they replaced them with Coleman, a player who tortured the Mets. If Mets fans didn’t despise him enough when he wore a Cardinals uniform, they certainly did during his Mets tenure which featured not just poor play but also throwing firecrackers at a group of fans.
RF Roger Cedeno (4 years, $18 million) Cedeno wasn’t just an important part of the 1999 team, but he would also serve as a key piece of the trade which brought the Mets Mike Hampton. When he was a free agent, the Mets pounced to bring him back. Just three years later, he was a shadow of the player he was leading to his being traded to Wilson Delgado.
SP Oliver Perez (3 year $36 million) – After being obtaine by the Padresx, Perez was great in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, won 15 games in 2007, and gave the Mets every chance to win in the final game every played in Shea Stadium. Despite all of that, there were red flags everywhere, and Perez predictably failed after getting his big free agent deal. He struggled, and he would refuse a stint in the minors leading to the team freezing him out. His Mets career would end in infamy as he was brought into the 14th inning of the final game of the season after not having pitched in nearly a month. He’d be released after the season with a one year and $12 million left on his deal.
RP Francisco Rodriguez (3 years, $37 million) -Needing a close, the Mets went out and signed the closer who just set the single season saves record to a massive contract. In his first year in the deal, he had the second most blown saves in the NL and a then career worst ERA, strikeouts, WHIP, HR/9, BB/9, and K/9. In the second year of his deal, he was placed on the restricted list after being arrested for assaulting his girlfriend’s father in the family room at Citi Field. The Mets finally traded him in the last year of his deal to accomplish both rebuilding and to prevent an onerous option from being activated.
In Brodie Van Wagenen’s first offseason as Mets manager, it is incumbent upon him to navigate through the minefield of potential free agent busts which are lurking. The success of the 2019 Mets and his success during his tenure as the Mets General Manager depends on it.