On December 11th, 1991, the New York Mets made a five-player deal with the Kansas City Royals that brought two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen to New York.
With Dwight Gooden recovering from rotator cuff surgery and Frank Viola departing via free agency, Mets GM Al Harazin was looking for an ace and he thought he’d found one.
“I was with [Saberhagen] at the 1990 All-Star Game, and I warmed him up,” Jeff Torborg, the manager of the Mets and a former catcher told New York Times reporter Joe Sexton. “He had as good stuff as anyone on that All-Star staff. A lot of times, until you get close, you don’t know how good a guy is.”
Saberhagen’s tenure with the Mets was marred by injuries – just once in four seasons did he exceed the 150 inning mark with New York. Saberhagen’s best year with the Mets was 1994, when he was named to the All-Star team and finished with a 14-4 record with a 2.74 ERA in the strike-shortened season.
When I think of Saberhagen as a Met, I tend to remember a practical joke gone wrong from the nightmare 1993 season. He filled a squirt gun with bleach and got three reporters who were interviewing Gooden, though Saberhagen said that he was actually aiming for a team employee who had played a practical joke on him earlier.
Of course, I hated the trade as soon as I heard about it. Sure, Saberhagen had a good track record, and the Mets were getting utility infielder Bill Pecota (who I probably had never heard of) as a throw-in.
But they were giving up one of my favorite players, Gregg Jefferies, as well as scrappy utility player Keith Miller and 1988 NL MVP candidate Kevin McReynolds. (Ok, I wasn’t all that upset about McReynolds leaving – he always gave me the impression that he’d rather be off hunting than playing baseball.)
Jefferies was hyped to such a degree that he would have had to be Ted Williams to live up to everyone’s expectations. He was brought up to the big leagues before he was ready to be there; while he had major league baseball skills, his people skills were not quite up to the task of dealing with his veteran teammates or the New York media.
“He’s upset, in a state of bewilderment,” Rich Jefferies said of his son, Gregg, late last night. “It’s a surprise because he wanted to go back to New York. He realizes he didn’t live up to the expectations of others, but in his heart he believes he played as hard as he could. If that’s not good enough, too bad. I know he doesn’t have a clue about the American League. It’s going to take more than an hour, a day, for this all to sink in.”
I can’t really recall another instance where a baseball player’s parent was quoted to get a reaction to a trade.
The Mets actually came out better in the deal. According to Baseball Reference, Saberhagen was worth 11.5 Wins Above Replacement in his four seasons with the Mets. Pecota contributed 0.2 Wins Above Replacement in his one season, and earned the footnote distinction of becoming the first position player to pitch in a game for the Mets.
Jefferies gave the Royals 1.5 Wins Above Replacement in one season; McReynolds contributed 1.5 Wins Above Replacement over two seasons, and Miller added 0.8 Wins Above Replacement over four seasons.
Though this is far from the worst trade in Mets history, it’s one I’d think about undoing if somebody granted me that magic power.