As the Mets look to retool their roster this offseason, a couple of familiar names have been mentioned in the media as potential free agent signings. Specifically, Jay Bruce and Neil Walker, both traded this past August, would be helpful additions to a Mets team looking to fill holes at right field and second base.
It is rare that a player returns to the team that traded him the previous season, but the Mets are in a unique position. Injuries forced the Mets to be a seller at the trade deadline, and both Bruce and Walker were players on expiring deals that proved attractive to teams making a playoff push. However, the Mets think they can return to being playoff contenders this year, and they think that both players could potentially contribute to that.
There are a number of moments in team history in which players eventually returned after having been traded, albeit not within a matter of months. Let’s look back on some of the more notable returns to New York.
The 1977 trade of Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds is the most controversial in team history. After months of dispute between then-chairman of the board M. Donald Grant, Seaver okayed the trade, now known as The Midnight Massacre, that sent the franchise plummeting toward one of the worst eras in team history. The haul for the most iconic pitcher in team history was largely unremarkable: Pat Zachry (the 1976 Rookie of the Year), Doug Flynn (owns a -6.9 WAR for his career…nice), Steve Henderson (9.3 WAR in four years with the Mets), and Dan Norman (out of the league by age 27). There was one All-Star appearance among those four players, while Seaver himself made two with the Reds.
Seaver remained with the Reds until December of 1982, when he was traded back to the Mets for Lloyd McClendon, Jason Felice, and Charlie Puleo. Seaver went 9-14 with a 3.55 ERA in 231 innings upon his return to New York, but the team was otherwise terrible and again finished in last place. The following offseason saw the Chicago White Sox snatch Seaver away from the Mets, who had left Seaver unprotected in the free agent compensation pool. Then-general manager Frank Cashen admitted to making a “calculated and regrettable gamble,” that did not pay off, and Seaver was gone again.
Bay’s four-month stay in the Mets minor league system was merely a frequently referenced anecdote upon his free agent signing before the 2010 season. But Bay was acquired from the Expos in March 2002, and then packaged in a deadline deal to San Diego for Jason Middlebrook and Steve Reed. The Padres sent Bay to the Pirates in August of 2003 (along with Oliver Perez) in order to acquire Brian Giles, and Bay finally panned out and won the Rookie of the Year award in 2004 with Pittsburgh.
After posting 22.7 WAR from 2004 through 2009 in Pittsburgh and Boston, the Mets set out to make a splash in free agency and signed Bay to a four-year, $66 million contract. As we know, the subsequent three years were mired by struggles at the plate and frequent trips to the DL. Following the 2012 season, Bay and the Mets agreed to terminate his contract a year early.
After the Mets acquired Cedeno from the Dodgers in December of 1998, the speedy outfielder became one of the most exciting young ballplayers of the excellent 1999 team. At 24-years-old, Cedeno slashed an impressive .313/.396/.408, stole a then-team record 66 bases, and played a major role in the team’s first trip to the NLCS in 11 years. The following offseason, the Mets sent Cedeno to Houston as part of a package for Mike Hampton and Derek Bell.
Cedeno had a brutal year for Houston after he broke his wrist sliding into first base (you hear that, young ball players?), then was shipped to Detroit, where he bounced back in his walk year, setting the stage for his return to Flushing. Prior to the 2002 season, Cedeno signed as a free agent with the Mets, and hoped to recapture the magic of his 1999 season. However, after he gained a significant amount of weight, his speed had dropped precipitously, and his biggest weapon all but disappeared. Cedeno spent two years with the Mets before being sent to St. Louis 2004, and was out of the league by the age of 30.
One-third of Generation-K, Isringhausen’s early career was marked by a promising rookie season in 1994, followed by a litany of injuries. When healthy, Izzy struggled mightily as a Met, and as the team was chasing a Wild Card berth in 1999, he was shipped to Oakland in exchange for reliever Billy Taylor. Taylor gave up 12 earned runs in 18 innings for the Mets, and Isringhausen’s transition to the bullpen led to two All-Star appearances and a reputation as one of the league’s most reliable closers.
In 2011, after he had spent the previous year recovering from his third Tommy John surgery, the Mets signed Isringhausen to a minor league deal. He returned to the Majors on April 10th, and he stayed up with team for the rest of the season, where he not only notched his 300th career save, but acted as a mentor to the team’s young bullpen arms, notably future closer Bobby Parnell. He appeared in 53 games that season and posted a 4.05 ERA.
Jesse Orosco was acquired from the Minnesota Twins in a deal that saw them send away Jerry Koosman, and it paid massive dividends. Orosco spent eight seasons with the Mets that saw him achieve two All-Star appearances and a World Series ring, where he famously recorded the final out by striking out Marty Barrett.
In December 1999, the Mets shipped Chuck McElroy to Baltimore in exchange for Orosco. It had all the makings of a feel-good story for a beloved player from the team’s most successful era. The reunion, however, was short-lived. On the final day of Spring Training, without him throwing a single meaningful pitch for his first major league team, the Mets sent Orosco to St. Louis for utility man Joe McEwing.