Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Did Mets win the Mike Piazza trade?

@HarriganMLB
May 22, 2020

May 22 is one of the most important dates in New York Mets history, marking the anniversary of the team's trade for Mike Piazza. The deal, which went down on May 22, 1998 (22 years ago today), saw the Mets receive Piazza from the Florida Marlins for Preston Wilson, Ed

May 22 is one of the most important dates in New York Mets history, marking the anniversary of the team's trade for Mike Piazza.

The deal, which went down on May 22, 1998 (22 years ago today), saw the Mets receive Piazza from the Florida Marlins for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz.

You’re forgiven if you don’t remember Piazza’s tenure with the Marlins. Florida acquired the All-Star catcher alongside Todd Zeile from the Dodgers just over a week prior to its trade with New York, sending Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson, Jim Eisenreich and Manuel Barrios to Los Angeles in a blockbuster deal.

Piazza played just five games with the Fish, collecting five hits and five RBIs in 19 plate appearances.

Piazza, of course, went on to become one of the greatest players in Mets history, and he chose to be depicted in the team’s cap on his Hall of Fame plaque when he was inducted in 2016.

Meanwhile, Wilson had a solid but unspectacular Marlins career, producing 104 home runs with 87 steals and an .806 OPS in 588 games. Yarnall threw only 20 innings in the Majors, none for Florida. And Goetz never made it to the big leagues.

Based on that information, we can declare the Mets the clear winner of the Piazza trade, right? Not so fast. The ensuing events, including those that led to the Marlins winning a World Series title in 2003, are worth a closer look before we make a final call on which team got the better of the four-player deal.

The case for the Mets

Piazza made an immediate impact after joining the Mets, hitting .419/.455/.484 over his first seven games as the club went 7-0. Overall, he recorded a .348 average, 23 homers, 76 RBIs and a 1.024 OPS in 109 games with New York that season. The Mets had a one-game lead over the Cubs in the National League Wild Card race as late as Sept. 20, but a five-game losing streak to end the year kept them out of the postseason.

After the season, the Mets signed Piazza to a seven-year, $91 million contract -- the richest deal in baseball history at the time. The next year, he led the club in homers (40), RBIs (124) and OPS (.936) over 141 games, and the Mets won the NL Wild Card with a 97-66 record.

New York defeated the D-backs in the NL Division Series, winning a posteason series for the first time since the 1986 Fall Classic, before falling to the rival Braves in the NLCS. Piazza went just 4-for-24 (.167) in the series, though he did hit a game-tying, two-run homer off John Smoltz in the seventh inning of Game 6, a contest the Mets would ultimately lose in 11 innings.

The Mets captured the Wild Card again in 2000, winning 94 games behind Piazza's team-leading 38 homers, 113 RBIs and 1.012 OPS. The backstop finished third in the NL MVP race behind the Giants' Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds.

New York ended up defeating San Francisco in the NLDS, and Piazza hit .412 with two homers, three doubles, five walks, four RBIs and a 1.487 OPS as the Mets toppled the Cardinals in five games in the NLCS. He likely would have been named MVP of the series if Mike Hampton hadn't thrown 16 scoreless innings, including a three-hit shutout in the clincher.

The Mets came up short in the World Series against the crosstown Yankees, with Piazza making the final out of the Series in Game 5, hitting a fly ball to deep center field against Mariano Rivera while representing the tying run. Still, Piazza was one of the team's best bats in the Subway Series showdown, producing two homers, two doubles, four RBIs and a .909 OPS.

The 1999 and 2000 seasons were the only two times the Mets made the postseason during Piazza's time with the team, but it was the club's most successful stretch in more than a decade.

Piazza remained a powerhouse at the plate in 2001 and '02, hitting .291/.372/.559 with 69 home runs and 192 RBIs in that span.

Piazza also delivered the most memorable hit of his career in 2001, slugging a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning against the Braves in the first professional sporting event in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The emotional moment provided a small victory for a city trying to recover from tragedy.

All told, Piazza spent eight seasons with the Mets, making six All-Star teams and winning four Silver Slugger Awards in that time. He ranks third in franchise history in homers (220) and RBIs (655) and second in OPS (.915).

Piazza was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2016, earning 83% of the vote in his fourth year on the ballot, and became the second player to be inducted as a Met after Tom Seaver. The Mets retired his No. 31 a week after the Hall of Fame inductions, making him the second player (after Seaver) so honored in Queens.

Piazza is a Mets icon, and rightfully so. He accomplished a great deal in a relatively short career with the team. But he never helped the Mets get over the hump and win a World Series championship. Meanwhile, the Marlins' 2003 title traces back to the Piazza trade, at least in part.

The case for the Marlins

Wilson's solid stats aside, the Marlins' immediate haul from the Piazza trade may not have done much for the organization's fortunes. However, Florida was able to turn two of the three players it got in the Piazza deal into key contributors on their 2003 club.

It started on Feb. 1, 1999, when the Marlins shipped Yarnall and two other Minor Leaguers to the Yankees for Mike Lowell, New York's 20th-round pick in the 1995 MLB Draft. Lowell had risen up the prospect ranks by 1999, having hit over .300 with 56 homers in the previous two Minor League seasons.

With the Marlins, Lowell became one of the most productive third basemen in baseball, leading the position in doubles (190), ranking fifth in RBIs (473) and Wins Above Replacement (15.0, per Baseball-Reference), and tying for seventh in homers (123) from 2000-04. He made the All-Star team in each of the last three seasons during that span.

In 2003, Lowell recorded personal bests in homers (32) and OPS (.881) and posted 105 RBIs, winning his lone Silver Slugger Award. Lowell then had multiple clutch home runs in the 2003 NLCS against the Cubs. In Game 1, his pinch-hit solo blast in the top of the 11th inning broke an 8-8 tie and set up Florida to take a 1-0 series lead. Then, in Game 5, he hammered a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning, putting the Marlins on the board.

Florida went on to win, 4-0, as Josh Beckett fired a two-hit shutout. With the victory, the Marlins staved off elimination and sent the series back to Wrigley Field, where they took Games 6 and 7 to capture the NL pennant.

The starting center fielder on that 2003 Marlins team? Juan Pierre. Florida acquired the speedster from the Rockies one year earlier in a six-player trade that sent Wilson to Colorado. Along with Pierre, the Marlins took back Hampton and some of the remaining money on the eight-year, $121 million contract he had signed in December 2000, though Florida quickly flipped the left-hander to Atlanta for Tim Spooneybarger and Ryan Baker.

Pierre provided an instant spark at the top of the order for his new team, tallying 204 hits and stealing 65 bases while batting .305 with a .361 on-base percentage in 2003. He had 22 more hits in the postseason, including four in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Giants and three in Game 6 of the NLCS.

Pierre tripled off Kerry Wood to lead off NLCS Game 7, igniting a three-run first inning for the Marlins. And in Game 1 of the World Series against the Yankees, he laced a two-run single to left field off David Wells in the top of the fifth, giving the Marlins a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

He ended up reaching safely in all six World Series games, posting a .333 average with a .481 OBP in the Marlins' triumph over New York. The footage of an overjoyed Pierre racing in from center field after the final out is one of the lasting images from the team's championship run.

During his initial stint with the Marlins, Pierre didn't miss a single game and racked up 606 hits, 167 steals and 296 runs scored in three seasons.

The Piazza trade tree continued to bear fruit later in the decade, when Lowell was packaged with Beckett and Guillermo Mota in the Marlins' 2005 trade with the Red Sox that brought Hanley Ramírez and Aníbal Sánchez back to Florida. Ramírez ranks second on the club's all-time WAR list.

The trade tree is actually still alive to this day in the form of Pablo López, a promising young right-hander. The Marlins acquired López in the 2017 trade that sent David Phelps to the Mariners. Previously, the team picked up Phelps along with Martín Prado in a deal that saw Nathan Eovaldi head to the Yankees. The Marlins initially acquired Eovaldi from the Dodgers, with Ramírez going to Los Angeles.

So, who won the trade?

The Mets got a Hall of Famer who nearly took the franchise to the promised land. The Marlins, meanwhile, planted the seeds that would eventually sprout into a title. Flags fly forever, but Piazza's Hall of Fame plaque -- complete with a Mets cap -- will hang in Cooperstown for eternity.

While Piazza never raised the Commissioner's Trophy, we're giving the nod to the Mets here. Pierre and Lowell may have been integral to the Marlins' 2003 World Series title, but so were plenty of others, like Beckett, Iván Rodríguez, Dontrelle Willis, Derrek Lee, Luis Castillo and Miguel Cabrera.

Piazza for Wilson, Yarnall and Goetz is far from the rout it appears to be on the surface, but the Mets still got the better of the trade. Case closed.

Thomas Harrigan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @HarriganMLB.