It's never mentioned as meriting inclusion amid the subterranean pantheon of terrible Mets trades. It may not be down there with Otis for Foy or Ryan for Fregosi let alone Scott for Heep or Brogna for Borland & Jordan or Isringhausen for Taylor or Bay for Steve Reed or Cone for Kent & Thompson or Kent & Vizcaino for Baerga or Trammell for Wall or…well, you get the idea. But four years after the fact, can you think of a more singularly useless transaction than the Mets sending Todd Pratt to the Phillies for Gary Bennett?
A trade can be judged any number of ways. Most immediately, did it make sense at the moment it was executed for Team A? For Team B? Did you give up something to get something and did they do the same? Did it fill a need for what was then now or what would eventually become later? Can it be justified even if it went sour on you? Is there any value in a trade that isn't the rare and sublime steal for you and bust for the other guy? They can't all be Hearn for Cone, Allen for Hernandez, even Person for Olerud.
It's easy (and either fun or frustrating depending on your mood) for a fan to find fault with his team's trades that blow up upon later inspection. But it's only fair to take the long view on any of them to try and understand to the best of our ability why they were made.
• Was there anything about the little-known throw-in who went on to win the 2004 N.L. Rookie of the Year award that should've set off alarms? It's been said Jason Bay was unremarkable in the minors; I say it was the front office's job to know better and not give him up for a marginal middle reliever named Steve Reed who didn't hang around long to be recognized readily by his last name.
• Was it possible to look at the pitcher you were giving up after he struggled for you and realize he was fixable and that he would ultimately be too high a price to pay for a good pinch-hitter because he would go on to nearly stifle your dream of a pennant? I say Mike Scott was miserable here and until he learned to master sandpaper in Houston that Danny Heep was fair value. I wasn't thinking that the afternoon of October 15, 1986, however.
• Was there too little patience demonstrated in the face of an onrushing trade deadline and playoff push considerations? Jason Isringhausen's promising debut was four years in the rear view when he was sent to Oakland for Billy Taylor. Izzy had been through four or five lives by then, none of them well-pitched since the first one. The Mets were riding the bullpen hard. Taylor was an experienced hand. It makes no sense now but it made more than a shred of sense then. Doesn't make it any better now.
• Was the big-name player you were getting in return for a couple of to-date middling middle infielders no longer living up to his reputation? Carlos Baerga seemed worth the risk even though the Mets wound up essentially giving away one of the best-hitting second basemen of all time. But do you think Kent would've developed that way in New York? (If you do, that makes Al Harazin look like a genius for poaching Kent from Toronto for Cone…nah, it would take more than that.)
• Was there a numbers game at play? The Mets had a trio of young outfielders that had helped them win a pennant when Steve Phillips (only a matter of time before his name came up) deemed Bubba Trammell expendable. Enough outfielders and never enough pitching. Thus Wall. It begs another question: How bleeping stupid was Steve Phillips anyway? That's a topic that could take a month. The barebones outline of a rationale doesn't necessarily hold up to the light of day when you look at everybody involved. The young Mets outfield of 2000 (Agbayani, Payton, Perez) disappointed tremendously in 2001 (leading to the “need” to send the real Reed to Minnesota for Matt Lawton [shiver]) while Bubba Trammell had the year of his life for San Diego. As for Donne Wall, pick up the white phone — we just found your i (if not your curve).
• Does one trade look particularly bad by itself but not so bad in the overall scheme of things because of another deal you made around the same time? This schematic impels us to pair a “good” and a “bad” trade and view them as Brogna and Person for Olerud, Borland and Jordan, thus canceling each other out. Kind of. Not really. No. Rico Brogna for Toby Borland and Ricardo Jordan? [shiver again]
Why exactly did we trade Todd Pratt to the Phillies for Gary Bennett? I have no justification for this one even if I vaguely recall some of the talking points.
1) It was a salary dump. Todd Pratt was making $600,000 in 2001 and was signed to make $650,000 in 2002. Hefty numbers for a backup catcher? I don't know. Sounds like it, but he was, all things considered, the best backup catcher the Mets ever had. This was no mean scrubeenie slot. Mike Piazza was on the cusp of predictably breaking down a little more rapidly every year. Todd Pratt wasn't simply caddying. He was playing. He was more than day games after night games.
2) It cleared a space for Vance Wilson. In the long and illustrious history of the Mets overrating their own prospects, Vance Wilson would be in the Top 10 of “ohmigod, he's gonna be Gabby Hartnett someday!” Well, he was gabby. Defended Mike against those sexual orientation rumors by insisting “Mike leads a moral life” (as Mike does adore Rush Limbaugh, maybe he appreciated that). Acted all pissy last year when Ed Coleman asked him some innocuous post-game question along the lines of “do ya think your homer today proves you deserve more playing time?” “I've already proven myself,” the defensive catcher answered defensively, though where that proof exists I have yet to find. In advance of the 2001 season, the Mets reluctantly put Wilson through waivers. Gary Cohen practically cried after a spring training game that obviously the Mets were going to lose this gem for nothing, that surely the Braves, who were strapped for catching at the time, would grab him. They didn't. Nobody did. Shoulda been a tipoff.
3) Tank had worn out his welcome. To be honest, I don't remember anybody directly saying this, but I sensed he was one of Bobby's boys and this didn't go over well with the GM (who, you'll recall, was bleeping stupid). Remember a year later when Valentine was in one of his classic meltdowns and he talked about his guys who were no longer here and he mentioned “Todd” and everybody thought he meant Zeile and since the Mets were in Colorado Zeile was asked and Zeile said “not me, buddy” and Bobby clarified, “I meant Pratt”? By varying accounts, Tank could be an ornery cuss with little patience for opposing viewpoints or whatever ticked him off on a given day, as evidenced one afternoon at Fenway in 2000 (imagine him and Daubach on the same team now). It's easy for front offices to label guys they don't want around as clubhouse lawyers and clubhouse cancers. I don't know that Phillips found a way to blame Pratt's personality for the morass of mid-2001 — and it's dangerous for fans to divine what goes on behind closed doors — but I wouldn't be surprised if Tank was rolled as part of a personality cleansing.
4) Todd Pratt wasn't that good. Sure, the home run, we all know about that and celebrate it periodically. (And if you like the Mets winning in a walkoff, check out Mark Simon's site — what an awesome concept!) But he was batting .162 when he was traded. I'm still analyzing the trade of a guy batting .162?
So what's happened since then? Let's see…
1) The Mets' payroll is in triple-digits. Todd Pratt is making $750,000. Carlos Beltran could spend that much on Mountain Dew and wouldn't miss it.
2) Vance Wilson is batting .106 for the Tigers.
3) Todd Pratt has yet to wear out his welcome in Philly. He's been with them since late July 2001. We'll probably see him start Thursday afternoon at Shea. How bad an egg could he be?
4) Todd Pratt is batting .233 for the Phillies. Not great but twice as good as Vance Wilson. More to the point, he's been serviceable and then some as a backup to Lieberthal these last five seasons. He knows and accepts his role. He certainly did where Mike (Piazza, as if I had to clarify that) was concerned. He wasn't going to kvetch and/or moan about playing time. So few role players are actually content to fill their roles. When you have a guy like that, one who was happy to be anywhere after managing a Domino's, it's careless to let him go.
Plus, c'mon, it's Tank. Tank! No disrespect to Ramon Castro, who's absolutely adequate once in a while and could be the lost, third Agilar brother from the original Bad News Bears, but Tank! This isn't just about the Mantei/Finley dagger in the playoffs. He was a presence. A force. We could feel him. His first home run as a Met came against a future Met (Leiter) and his last home run as a Met was against a former Met (Person). Those were in his respective first and last at-bats here. I don't know what it means, but I find that captivating. Also, Tank loved being a Met. Loved Shea. Uttered the most pro-Shea quote I ever read from a ballplayer:
“Anybody can say whatever about Shea — I love it. When it's full and the fans are behind us, it's the best.”
When they need an epitaph for the joint, you could do no better than that one.
Gary Bennett? One at-bat as a Met. A hit. Then sent down. Then traded. For Ender Chavez, currently a former Brooklyn Cyclone. Never to be seen at Shea at least as a Met. Ender's brother Endy was another Met farmhand. He was let go. Went to the Expos. Punished us there. He's with the Phillies now. As with Tank, I expect bad things to happen when he plays at Shea this week. Bennett's now a competent backup catcher to Brian Schneider on the first-place Washington Nationals. They lead the last-place Mets by seven games.
Somebody find me some good in Pratt for Bennett. I dare ya.
By the way, where the hell's our Merc Cup for winning the Subway Series last year and not losing it this year? The Merc Cup, you ask? More at Gotham Baseball.