NEW YORK -- Baseball’s Winter Meetings often conjure images of general managers sketching out trades on cocktail napkins, or stealthily meeting with agents in quiet corners of hotels. While that’s not always the reality in the present day -- and certainly won’t be this year, on account of COVID-19 -- the Meetings do have a long history of intricate deals and unexpected signings.
Here are the five most significant involving the Mets over the past six decades:
Early in the 1984 Winter Meetings in Houston, the Mets traded starting pitcher Walt Terrell to the Tigers for a young slugging infielder named Howard Johnson. While that move would prove to be fruitful for the Mets, at the time, it seemed relatively minor. It was not, as manager Davey Johnson told the New York Times, the “big deal'” that could transform the Mets “from a contending team to a dominant team.”
The big deal came three days later, when the Mets gave up four players for Carter -- an elite catcher and future Hall of Famer who was coming off his sixth consecutive All-Star season. GM Frank Cashen, who had negotiated the trade in Houston before flying to Florida for Carter’s approval, called it “a banner day for the New York Mets.” He wasn’t wrong. Combined with the team’s acquisition of former National League MVP Award winner Keith Hernandez one year earlier, the trade indeed turned the Mets into one of the NL’s top teams. Less than two years later, it was Carter who leapt into Jesse Orosco’s arms as the Mets celebrated their second World Series title.
2. Mets sign Pedro Martínez to a four-year, $53 million contract
Date: Dec. 14, 2004
Winter Meetings site: Anaheim
Martínez was already a surefire Hall of Famer when he became a free agent after the 2004 season, in which he finished in the top four in Cy Young Award voting for the seventh time in eight years. Heading into the winter and what most figured would be his last chance at a significant payday, it wasn’t clear if the 33-year-old Martínez would re-sign in Boston -- where he had spent seven seasons and played an instrumental role in the first Red Sox World Series title in 86 years -- or head elsewhere.
The Mets were banking on elsewhere. In the midst of a years-long spending spree that would see them acquire Tom Glavine, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltrán, Billy Wagner, Paul Lo Duca and plenty of others, the Mets did enough at the Winter Meetings to land Martínez as well. Although the deal wasn’t technically consummated until days later, Red Sox officials departed the Meetings telling reporters that Martínez was going to sign with the Mets.
“We put our best foot forward,” then-Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. “We made a fair and generous offer. My understanding is there will be no more offers.”
Rather than keep their team intact following their World Series victory, the Mets made a bold move in December 1986 when they dealt a key piece of their offense -- the right-handed Mitchell, who had been a powerful platoon bat for them -- in an eight-player swap for McReynolds. It was a miscalculation on the part of Cashen, who did not envision Mitchell developing into the NL MVP Award winner just three years later, hitting 47 home runs in '89 for the Giants. McReynolds enjoyed a fine and often underappreciated career himself, producing 15.8 of his 30.1 career WAR with the Mets, but he never unlocked the superstar potential many saw for him as the sixth overall pick in the '81 Draft.
Regardless of how history judges the trade, it was one of the most significant blockbusters the Mets have ever made at the Winter Meetings.
This was a prominent trade at the time and even more so in retrospect. The Mets essentially dealt Myers, one of the top left-handed relievers in the Majors, for Franco, who statistically was even better. As a Brooklyn native and St. John’s alumnus, Franco was reportedly thrilled at the trade. And although Myers saw plenty of success in Cincinnati and elsewhere, making four more All-Star teams and thrice finishing in the top eight in NL Cy Young Award voting, Franco became an institution in New York. In addition to setting a franchise saves record (276) that no one has come close to breaking, Franco served as team captain for four years (a rare honor for a pitcher), was the pitcher of record in the Mets’ only Subway Series win in 2000 and was instrumental in the team’s community efforts following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
It was the sheer size of this transaction -- three teams, a dozen players -- that stood out when the Mets, Mariners and Indians agreed to it at the 2008 Winter Meetings. Seeking a closer, the Mets opened the Meetings by signing Francisco Rodríguez to a three-year contract. Then they dealt for Rodríguez’s new setup man, Putz, in what GM Omar Minaya called “an old-fashioned baseball trade.”
“All I kept on hearing in the streets of New York when you go get bagels in the morning was, ‘Omar, please address the bullpen,’” Minaya famously said at the time. “Well, to all you Mets fans, we’ve addressed the bullpen.”
The deal didn’t quite work out as the Mets had hoped, as Putz struggled through injuries while two of the seven players the Mets traded away -- Joe Smith to the Indians and Jason Vargas to the Mariners -- went on to provide significant value in their new homes. (The Mets also sent fan favorite Endy Chávez, among others, to Seattle.) It was, nonetheless, a significant deal for the Mets and the talk of the Meetings, as one of the largest -- in size, if not significance -- trades in baseball history. (In that regard, honorable mention goes to the Dec. 8, 1977, four-team deal that saw the Mets deal Jon Matlack to the Rangers in an 11-player swap.)