December 10th is the anniversary of two New York Mets trades involving future Hall of Famers.
Forty years ago today, the Mets sent a 24-year-old pitcher named Nolan Ryan and three other prospects to the California Angels for a past-his-prime All-Star shortstop named Jim Fregosi.
At the time, the deal made a certain amount of sense. The Mets had a perennial problem at third base and hoped that Fregosi could provide the answer. He had been an All-Star as recently as 1970, and Baseball Reference calculates that he was worth 44.1 wins above replacement during his 11 seasons with the Angels.
Meanwhile, Ryan was coming off a 10-14 season with a 3.97 ERA for a team that had an incredibly strong pitching rotation. During five years with the Mets, in which he bounced between the rotation and the bullpen, Baseball Reference calculates that Ryan was worth 3.7 wins above replacement.
With the benefit of hindsight, we know the Mets should not have made this trade. Fregosi was a bust in New York, hitting .233 with five home runs and 43 RBI in 146 games before moving on to Texas and Pittsburgh to finish out his career as a bench player.
Ryan went to his first All-Star Game in 1972, finishing the year with a 19-16 record for a 75-80 fifth place Angels team. He led the American League with nine shutouts and 329 strikeouts, and had a sparkling 2.28 ERA. That year alone, Ryan was worth 6.3 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.
We all know where Ryan’s career went from there. What we don’t know is what might have happened if he stayed with the Mets… would Ryan have put up the same numbers and helped the Mets win a few more World Series trophies? Would he have pitched his record six no-hitters in the orange and blue? Or would he have continued to bounce between the rotation and the bullpen… or maybe worse – would he have been another part of the 1977 midnight massacre trades?
Twenty-seven years ago today, the Mets made a better deal. They acquired All-Star catcher Gary Carter from the Montreal Expos for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans.