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.
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.