Worst trades in Mets history, #8: Dan Wheeler for Adam Seuss

Okay, okay. What I consider “worst” is very arbitrary. If I liked a player and he got sent packing, that’s a deal that goes in my pile of worst trades.

I made a similar face when I saw how well he did when he left the Mets. (Wikipedia).

Such is the case of reliever Dan Wheeler, whom New York traded to the Astros for minor league outfielder Adam Seuss on August 27, 2004.

Granted, to that point in his career, Wheeler hadn’t done much, not even with the Mets. From 1999 to 2001, he pitched sparingly for the Devil Rays, allowing 94 hits in 71 1/3 innings for a 6.43 ERA. He spent all of 2002 in the minors, then New York took a flier on him, signing him in February 2003.

Everything about the ’03 squad was horrid, including their pitching. Five guys finished with ERAs over 10 and their 4.48 club mark was 10th in the National League. Tom Glavine, brought on the help revive the team after a 75-86 2002, went 9-14 with a 4.52 ERA. The Mets lost 95 games that year.

With such a mediocre pitching staff, ample opportunities cropped up for men to try their hand at keeping the ship from sinking any further. Wheeler was one of them. Debuting with New York on June 18 against Florida, he went 3 innings, struck out 2 batters and didn’t allow a hit or a run. Welcome aboard, Dan.

Carrying a 2.31 mark through his first 15 appearances, Wheeler looked like the cog New York needed. Until he fell apart. On July 29, he allowed 4 earned runs in 4 innings for the loss; in his next appearance, he surrendered 5 earned runs in a single frame and his season ERA skyrocketed to 4.76. Though he carried a 2.38 mark from that point forward, his season totals—marred by two horrendous games—were an underwhelming 3.71 ERA and 114 ERA+ in 35 appearances.

It was even worse in 2004. In 32 games, he gave New York a 4.80 ERA and 11.5 H/9 IP ratio. The Mets had had enough and shipped him to Houston in late August for the little-known Adam Seuss (no relation to the doctor).

Seuss spent a couple games in the Mets system, never advancing beyond Single-A. They cut him loose and he re-signed with Houston for 2005, which proved to be his final professional campaign.

Wheeler became a whole new man after joining the Astros. In 14 games in 2004, he had a 2.51 ERA, then didn’t allow a run in 5 postseason appearances. In 2005, he had an All-Star quality campaign, posting a 2.21 mark and 192 ERA+ as Houston’s best relief pitcher not named Brad Lidge. The Astros won 89 games that year, snagged the wild card and—with the hurler producing a 2.08 ERA in the NLDS and not allowing a run in the NLCS—took home the pennant. They lost in the World Series to the White Sox; Wheeler had a 13.50 ERA. As Dan went, so went Houston.

The Astros slipped to just 82 victories in 2006, but Wheeler didn’t slip at all. In 75 games, he had a 2.52 ERA and 177 ERA+. After posting a 5.07 mark through 45 appearances in 2007, he was shipped to his old home, Tampa Bay, for former Mets third baseman Ty Wigginton (himself involved in one of the team’s worst trades ever).

From 2008 to 2010, he was one of the Rays’ most reliable relief pitchers, averaging a 3.24 ERA, 68 games and 20 games finished per season. Though he tanked in the ’08 postseason (6 earned runs allowed in 8 2/3 innings) it was on the back of his solid pitching that Tampa Bay got there in the first place.

After a couple more middling seasons with Boston and Cleveland, Wheeler wrapped up his career after 2012.

His totals after leaving the Mets: 492 games, 3.54 ERA, 157 games finished, 43 saves. In the playoffs, he had a 3.38 mark in 21 appearances, averaging more than a strikeout per inning.

Ahhh, what refreshingly respectable numbers the Mets could have used in the mid- and late-2000s, when they were vying for spots in the postseason and trying to establish some level of legitimacy. Instead, they kept the likes of the always-mediocre Aaron Heilman (see here) and Scott Schoeneweis around, as well as experiments like Dae-Sung Koo. Instead, they built a core that led to miserable collapses in 2007 and 2008.

Would Wheeler alone have prevented the Mets woes of that always promising, but perpetually disappointing, era? Maybe not. One relief pitcher does not change the fortunes of an entire team, unless he’s Tug McGraw.

But hey, he would’ve done more than Adam Suess and his one hit at Single-A.

Looks like we made it, pt. 1: Celebrating the old guys who finally reached the majors in 2021—Mickey Jannis.

Thus far in the 2021 season, 221 players have debuted in the majors. Eighty-three weren’t yet 25 when they ran onto a big league field for the first time, and 172 were younger than 27.

It’s common sense—as prospects age (and lose the prospect tag), their chances of reaching the major leagues dwindle year-by-year. By the time they’re in their late 20s, they should already be in the big leagues. By the time they’re in their 30s, many men are already seasoned veterans.

For many players, however, the call isn’t easy to come by. They toil on the farm, waiting for someone to say their name’s been picked … but no one ever does. Many guys give up and walk away.

But some keep pushing with the fire burning in their hearts and that goal—that dream of playing in the majors—drawing them back season after season. As so many of their counterparts grow old, are cut loose, retire or just fade out of sight, they keep going.

Some, even, after they reach 30 years of age.

Like 33-year-old Mickey Jannis, who finally made his debut with the struggling Orioles on June 23. For a minor league veteran like him, playing in a flailing team’s farm system was to his benefit. Those on the big league roster aren’t playing well—which is why the team is doing so poorly—so they get demoted and swapped out regularly.

All that shuffling around, all that throwing stuff at the wall to see if it will stick, inevitably leads to the club giving even the unlikeliest of candidates a try.

And Jannis was the archetype of unlikely. Drafted by the Rays in the 44th round of the 2010 amateur draft, he remained in their system for only a couple seasons before being cut loose. It’s not like he performed poorly—his ERAs were 2.52 and 3.30, respectively—but Tampa Bay moved on anyway.

From 2012 to 2014, he played in independent baseball, becoming a familiar face in the Frontier and Atlantic Leagues; he even spent a winter in Australia, going 2-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 44 1/3 innings with the Brisbane Bandits.

After an excellent stint with the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks in 2015 (6-2, 1.18 ERA in 83 2/3 IP), the Mets inked him to a contract midseason. He proceeded to go 2-3 with a 3.55 mark in 11 games (10 starts) between Single- and Double-A. Earning a stint in the Arizona Fall League, he had a 2.33 mark in 6 starts there.

Double-A seemed like his peak. In 2018 and 2019, he had ERAs of 3.60 and 3.10 at that level, respectively. At Triple-A, where he pitched briefly both years, his marks were 14.63 and 22.95.

And the clock was ticking. Jannis was 31 in 2019.

The Orioles signed him in January 2020, though he didn’t play that year due to the coronavirus causing the cancellation of the minor league season.

Back in the Orioles system in 2021, the hurler’s line on the farm was hardly enviable. He was 0-1 with a 6.60 ERA in 3 Double-A starts, and 0-5 with a 4.98 mark in 13 Triple-A games (5 starts).

But the Orioles were so bad, so desperate for anyone who could provide anything, they gave him the call.

On June 22, he was added to the 40-man roster as they designated struggling righty Mac Sceroler for assignment.

At that point in the season, Baltimore was already 21 games back at 23-50. Whether they were using Jannis because they thought he could truly help them, or if they were just giving him his gold watch and long-awaited debut because, hey, why not—it’s not like doing so would hurt their playoff chances or anything—doesn’t really matter.

On June 23, Mickey Jannis became a major leaguer.

Entering a blowout against Houston in which Orioles starter Thomas Eshelman surrendered 6 runs in 4 innings, Jannis took the mound and, skilled baseball veteran that he was, struck out his first batter, Yordan Alvarez. Then he got the next man, Carlos Correa, to flyout. Kyle Tucker walked but was caught stealing.

Easy peasy.

Also, beginner’s luck.

In his next frame, he surrendered two singles and a walk, allowing a run to score. Still not too bad, his ERA for the day was, at that point, 4.50.

In the top of the seventh, Alvarez avenged his earlier strikeout with a leadoff home run. Then Jannis surrendered a double, a walk, a home run (to Abraham Toro) and a walk before even recording an out. The next batters went down one-two-three.

He began the top of the eighth by inducing a weak pop fly off the bat of Taylor Jones, but then Chas McCormick launched another dinger, followed by a Robel Garcia single and Kyle Tucker double.

Mercifully, he was pulled, but not after giving up 7 earned runs in 3 1/3 innings.

On June 25, he was designated for assignment.

The  Jannis Era began with such hope and anticipation—on his end, at least—and ended with a thud. His line includes 8 hits and 3 home runs allowed, 4 walks and an 18.90 ERA.

If Jannis ever returns to the majors remains to be seen. But after spending more than a decade in pro ball, playing all over the globe—

At this point, to even have the potential to return, well, that’s got to be the greatest feeling in the world.

Worst trades in Mets history, #6: Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano

Imagine Scott Kazmir in the Mets rotation in 2006, instead of Steve Trachsel or Pedro Martinez. They could’ve won the World Series that year! (Wikipedia).

Mets fans the world over rue this most terrible of trades, in which New York sent 20-year-old top prospect starting pitcher Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for perpetually mediocre hurler Victor Zambrano.

To this day, those in Mets-dom don’t understand the team’s convoluted thinking when they made that fateful transaction. Kazmir was a kid with a world of promise and upside that they were just giving away for a pitcher who had a 4.47 career ERA prior to the deal.

Sure, Zambrano had experienced some success in the minor leagues while pitching in Tampa Bay’s system. Before everyone was a strikeout pitcher, he was K-ing people with ease—he averaged more than a strikeout per inning in each of his first four professional seasons, and even in his first try in the majors, he did the same. With the Devil Rays in 2001, he struck out 58 batters in 51 innings in relief.

Key word there: Relief.

To that point, he had been nothing but a reliever, starting no more than 4 games in a professional season. Things took a turn for the worst when he shifted to the rotation.

Hits weren’t an issue, nor were home runs, but wildness killed him. In 114 innings in 2002, he surrendered 68 walks, threw 10 wild pitches and hit 5 batsmen. And the next year, he tossed 188 1/3 innings and led the league with 106 walks, 15 wild pitches and 20 HBP.

Between 2002 and 2003, his K/BB ratio was just 1.18.

Tampa Bay gave him one more shot in 2004, but by the trading deadline, had had enough. On July 30, they shipped him to New York with 29-year-old rookie hurler Bartolome Fortunato (himself wracked with control issues) for Kazmir and righty Jose Diaz (who was no major loss).

Zambrano had pitched 128 innings and walked a league-leading 96 batters at the time of the deal. No, he didn’t just lead the American League in bases on balls at the time of the trade, he paced the loop for the entire season, despite spending the second half of it in the NL. He also had 15 hit batters and a refreshingly low (lol) 5 wild pitches before his departure.

He pitched just one full season in New York, 2005, and for his part, managed to get his control under … uh … control, kind of. In 166 1/3 innings, he surrendered just 77 walks, but still clobbered 15 batters, which was second in the National League behind Jeff Weaver. And his 8 wild pitches were eighth in the league. To add insult to injury, he committed three errors, which were fourth-most among pitchers.

Hey, look guys, it’s Victor Zambrano! Boooo! Hiss!! (Wikipedia).

Dammit Zambrano, couldn’t you do anything right?

In 2006, he tortured Mets fans with only 5 mediocre starts before a bum elbow that eventually needed Tommy John surgery took him out of commission for the rest of the year. And Mets fans breathed a sigh of relief.

He was non-tendered following the campaign and granted free agency, but somehow fooled the Blue Jays into signing him for 2007. He had a 10.97 ERA with them before being let go. The Pirates signed him, but thought better of it and sold him to Baltimore, who threw him at the wall to help make their 4th-place, 69-93 season even worse, and it worked. He posted a 9.49 ERA in 12 1/3 innings there to finish out 2007, giving him a 10.17 mark for the year. In 23 innings, he allowed 22 walks to just 16 strikeouts.

Colorado signed him for 2008, but he was released without appearing in a game; the Yankees picked him up, but they, too, granted him free agency before he donned a big league uniform, because he performed too poorly in the minors (2-7, 7.17 ERA between 4 teams) for their liking.

And that is how all this comes full circle: Way back in 1993, Zambrano signed as an infielder by none other than the Yanks. He didn’t even play beyond rookie ball before they cut him loose—the first time—because his performance was so lackluster. So he converted to pitching.

And because New York tossed him aside, the ball started rolling, the gears were set into motion and here we are now, nearly 30 years later, writing an article about a terrible Mets trade involving Zambrano the failed infielder-turned-pitcher.

Isn’t that called, like, the butterfly effect or something?

For his part, Bartolome Fortunato, the other piece the Mets received, spent parts of two seasons with New York and had a 27.00 ERA in his last one.

As for Kazmir—did I say he was a top prospect? Now, that doesn’t do him justice. He was among the very, very best prospects three years in a row. Going into 2003, Baseball America ranked him number 11 in all the land, ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Zack Greinke. In 2004, he fell a spot to number 12, but was still ahead of Greinke, Cole Hamels and Adam Wainwright. And in 2005, he was rated at number 7—among the top ten percent of the very best prospects in the minor leagues—and he was still only 21 years old.

So, of course, it would make sense to trade him for such mediocrity that had flunked out of the minor leagues once already.

And though Kazmir never became a superstar—he didn’t even earn a Cy Young vote—he did rattle off a streak of four solid seasons from 2005 to 2008 in which he averaged 11 wins, 172 innings and 186 strikeouts per year, while posting a 3.51 ERA and 127 ERA+. In those few seasons, he made a couple All-Star Games and led the league in strikeouts in 2007, with 239.

He stumbled from 2009 to 2011 and didn’t play in the majors at all in 2012. Upon his return in 2013, however, he managed a run of three campaigns in which he averaged 11 wins, 177 innings and a 3.54 ERA per year; in 2015, he went 15-9 and earned his third All-Star selection.

The injury bug bit after 2016 and he pitched only briefly in the minors the next year, and not at all in 2018 or 2019.

But the desire to play was still there. After briefly appearing for the Eastern Reyes del Tigre of the independent Constellation Energy League in 2020, Kazmir mounted a major league comeback attempt and signed with San Francisco in February 2021. On May 22, he returned to a big league mound, tossing four innings, and surrendering just one run, against the Dodgers.

While Zambrano flamed out just a few years after joining New York, Kazmir went on to win 108 games and become the strikeout pitcher Zambrano was meant to be.

Kazmir has lost 97 games in his career. The Mets lost a whole lot more.

Random autograph of the day: Dan DeMent

Though he went undrafted, Dan DeMent had a productive professional career. He spent 8 seasons in the minors, reaching as high as Triple A. His best season was 2005, when he hit .324 with 14 home runs and 52 RBI. I think we’ll be seeing a Dan DeMent big league debut yet—as a coach. He’s worked his way up the Rays’ ranks and spent 2018 and 2019 at Triple A. Now the club’s minor league hitting coordinator, Dement isn’t too many steps away from being part of Tampa Bay’s field staff.