In retrospect, this was a godawful trade for New York. They surrendered two future All-Stars for a couple inconsequential ballplayers … but at the time, it didn’t seem like a bad deal.
The Mets needed to get rid of third baseman Ty Wigginton somehow, as David Wright was waiting in the wings and ready to take over at that position. They also needed a boost in their rotation, so acquiring a player like Kris Benson, the underperformer that he was, seemed like a good idea.
If only they had known what they were giving up. Wigginton spent about two full seasons in New York, slashing .302/.354/.526 in 46 games in a promising 2002 debut. He slipped to .255 in 156 games the next year, but still hit 36 doubles and 11 home runs, earning some Rookie of the Year support.
After beginning 2004 with 12 home runs, 42 RBI and a .285/.334/.487 line in 86 games, he was shipped with a little-known prospect named Jose Bautista and minor league pitcher Matt Peterson to the Pirates on July 30.
Peterson, once a top prospect, spent ten years in the minors but never reached the big leagues. No loss there.
But Wigginton and Bautista. Boy oh boy.
Wigginton went on to hit 140 home runs the rest of his career, averaging 15 per year from 2005 to 2013 for a handful of teams. He eclipsed 20 dingers four times, with a high of 24 in 2006, and made the All-Star team in 2010.
His departure was and wasn’t a loss, depending on how you look at it. It paved the way for David Wright, a future Mets Hall of Famer who made seven All-Star teams and hit .296 with 242 home runs in 14 years with the club. Glass half full.
But, considering his solid performance with the Mets and afterwards, what Wigginton netted the club was paltry and meaningless. Glass half empty.
And that wasn’t even the worst part of the deal.
Granted, there is no way the Mets could have known what they had in Bautista at the time. No one could have. He was an itinerant before reaching the majors and a lackluster player in the majors for the first part of his career.
Signed by the Pirates in 2000, he was taken by the Orioles in the 2003 Rule 5 Draft and made his big league debut with them on April 4, 2004. On June 3, he was selected off waivers by Tampa Bay, then was purchased by Kansas City on June 28. On July 30, the Royals shipped him to the Mets for Australian utilityman Justin Huber.
To that point, his rookie line was unimpressive—with the Devil Rays, he hit just .167—but he did jump from A-ball to the majors, so growing pains were to be expected. And though his minor league numbers weren’t stellar, he did slash .301/.402/.470 with the Single-A Hickory Crawdads in 2002. That mirrors the sort of line he’d post with the Blue Jays a few years later …
But to his big league clubs, it was a throwaway season and he was a throwaway player.
And so he was to New York. His time as a Met was brief—a few hours—because later that day, they shipped him off to Pittsburgh with Wigginton and Peterson.
For six years, he seemed like no loss. From 2004 to 2009, he hit a measly .238, averaging just 10 home runs and 35 RBI per year. But then again, there is a reason why the Pirates and, later, the Blue Jays kept giving him try after try after try.
*You think the Mets made a bad deal: The Pirates shipped Bautista to Toronto for a player to be named later on August 21, 2008. It ended up being catcher Robinzon Diaz, who ended up spending all of 44 games in the majors, 43 of them with Pittsburgh.
Then, in 2010, he arrived. Exploding onto the scene with a league-leading 54 home runs and 351 total bases, he finished fourth in MVP voting and was just one of three players to earn a first place vote. In 2011, he again paced the loop in dingers with 43, as well as slugging percentage (.608) and OPS+ (182).
For each of those six years, he was an All-Star, averaging 38 home runs, 97 RBI, 95 runs and a 156 OPS+ per campaign. He won three Silver Sluggers; he finished with four top-ten MVP finishes.
In 2016, he slipped to .234 with 22 home runs in 116 games, then in 2017, he fell to .203 with 23 dingers.
After the Blue Jays gave him his walking papers following the season, he signed with Atlanta, but was released in May.
And who should come calling but the Mets. A few years late there, huh guys?
Not surprisingly, his time in the Big Apple, when it finally arrived, was not a good one. He hit just .204 with 9 home runs in 83 games, but because he could still draw a walk, his on-base percentage was a respectable .351. In late August, they shipped him to Philadelphia for a player to be named later or cash; he wrapped up his career with them.
What did the Mets get in return for those three ballplayers?
Benson gave them a middling season-and-a-half, going 14-12 with a 4.23 ERA in 39 games. In his one full year with the club, 2005, he was 10-8 with a 4.13 ERA in 28 starts; his ERA+ was 100, meaning he was the archetype of average. Not what you’d expect from a former number one overall draft pick.
He was a ho-hum, almost-decent hurler for a ho-hum, almost-decent team. The Mets went 83-79 that year.
On January 22, 2006, he was sent to the Orioles for reliever Jorge Julio and starter John Maine. For once a trade went the Mets way. Julio was a dud, but Maine played a big role in New York’s ’06 playoff run and won 15 games for them in 2007.
Keppinger was a non-factor in New York, hitting .284 in 33 games in 2004. He was shipped to the Royals on July 19, 2006 for infielder Ruben Gotay. Gotay had a solid single season with the Mets in 2007, but I also rank that a stinker of a deal.
But another disastrous deal went down that day, as well. In addition to discarding Bautista and Wigginton for what amounted to rentals, they traded top pitching prospect Scott Kazmir to the Devil Rays for mediocre hurler Victor Zambrano.
They’re still waiting to get Kazmir back.