On the night of July 29, two days before the MLB trade deadline, it was calm at Citi Field. The New York Mets were hosting the San Diego Padres. As rumors swirled around the stadium, it appeared the Mets had finally made their move. In the seventh inning with New York losing 7-2, it was reported that the Mets made a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers to bring centerfielder Carlos Gomez to the Mets, the team that originally signed him as an international free agent in 2002 when Gomez was a young 16 years old. The Brewers in return were receiving starting pitcher Zack Wheeler, recovering from Tommy John, along with the New York’s opening day shortstop Wilmer Flores.
As news of the blockbuster deal went viral, unfortunately it found its way to Wilmer Flores. Flores appeared to have tears running down his face as he stood at short in the top of the eighth inning. While it looked as if the New York careers for Wheeler and Flores were likely coming to an end, the Mets pulled the plug on the deal in the late hours. It’s reported that Mets GM Sandy Alderson did not trust Gomez’s ailing hip, which had caused him to miss several games back in June. However, other reports believe that Alderson was hesitant on paying the entirety Gomez’s contract, which would have been $12 million over the next year and a half.
On the day of deadline, the Mets were trailing the Washington Nationals by two games in the NL East. About twenty minutes before the non-waiver trade deadline passed, the Mets acquired slugger Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for two minor league pitchers — RHP’s Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa. Cespedes was hitting .293 with 18 home runs and 61 RBIs in 102 games for the Tigers, but was highly touted as a free agent at season’s end.
Since that magical day in Queens that saw Cespedes put on a Mets uniform, New York is heading to the postseason while the Nationals are turning in one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory. New York couldn’t have done this without the help of Cespedes. Since joining with the Mets, the team has gone from 3.54 runs per game to a league leading 6.14 runs per game. The Mets would not be where they are now had Alderson followed through with the trade with Milwaukee. Gomez, who ended up getting traded to the Houston Astros, hasn’t lived up to expectations, slashing a measly .234/.282/.379 with only four HR and a dismal 13 RBI in 40 games. Since joining the Mets, however, Cespedes owns a slash line of .294/338/.624, popping 17 HR while driving in 44 RBI in 52 games.
The unlikely hero of the “trade that never was” is Wilmer Flores. Since mid-July, Flores has had the best few months of his short career by slashing .278/.309/.428 with six home runs, none bigger than the walk-off he hit against Washington just two days after he was “traded” away. Come June 2016, fans will be praising the decision to pull the plug even more when highly touted flame thrower Wheeler returns to join Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz in what could be the most feared pitching staff since the ’95 Braves.
Cespedes has not only put up the numbers to impact the team, but his presence alone has changed the way opposing pitchers have pitched to the Mets. With Cespedes providing protection for David Wright, Daniel Murphy, or Lucas Duda, he is allowing the other Mets hitters to see more fastballs and get more pitches to hit. With Cespedes’ flair, talent, and love of the spotlight, it seems the Mets have found their biggest trade icon since acquiring Mike Piazza in 1998.
The difference is clear. With Cespedes riding his MVP worthy season, the Mets are making their first playoff appearance since 2006. With a powerhouse pitching staff and a lineup that can finally produce runs, this Mets team has all the tools to make a serious run for the pennant.
Article co-written by Eric Morrissey and Mathieu Kozlowski