Baerga Trade Wasn’t Great for the Indians, but Was Even Worse for the Mets
Vince Guerrieri | On 08, Aug 2018
It’s really easy to make fun of the Mets.
Like, almost as easy as it is to make fun of the Browns.
They’re still paying Bobby Bonilla. They’ve completely lost their way this season after an 11-1 start. And they seem to have a disproportionate amount of terrible trades. Amos Otis for Joe Foy. Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi. And one right around this time of year 23 years ago with the Indians.
Carlos Baerga had come to Cleveland in a great trade by the Indians, who dealt Joe Carter before they’d lose him to free agency. Carter went to San Diego, and coming to Cleveland was Sandy Alomar Jr. (who was a skilled catcher, but wasn’t going to see a lot of playing time since the Padres had Benito Santiago), Chris James, and Baerga – who was insisted upon by the Indians and quickly became not just a productive everyday player, but a fan favorite.
Baerga’s ascent coincided with the rise of the Tribe, who were a game out of the American League Central lead and in position for the new wild card in 1994 when the season was cut short by a strike, and then advanced to the World Series the following year, falling to the Braves in six games. Baerga was part of the team’s success that year, batting .314 from the third spot in a formidable lineup.
But he reported to camp overweight the following year, and his productivity was off. Still, the Indians were humming along, and it seemed like another division title and deep playoff run was a fait accompli. But at the deadline, he and Alvaro Espinoza were dealt to the Mets in exchange for second baseman Jose Vizcaino, and a prospect who came over in the David Cone trade and never lived up to the expectations that entailed: Jeff Kent.
Baerga was distraught, saying, “Leaving the Cleveland Indians is going to be like taking my heart away.” But he also felt like he had something to prove.
He couldn’t deliver. Baerga was limited to 26 games for the Mets in 1996, and in his next two seasons, never had the productivity that he’d had in Cleveland – or the productivity the Mets had hoped for when assistant general manager Steve Phillips said the day after the trade, “Baerga will step right into the middle of our lineup and bring something that we lack — leadership. This makes us a better team right now.”
Sadness at being dealt turned into anger by the end of the season for Baerga, who said the Indians “tried to humiliate me,” but those hard feelings seem to have vanished, as Baerga – still a fan favorite – makes regular appearances on the team’s behalf in the Cleveland area.
Making the deal even more disastrous for the Mets (on top of the fact that they paid Baerga nearly $5 million a year for his lack of offense) is the player that Jeff Kent turned into – although it wasn’t for the Indians. At the end of the 1996 season, both he and Vizcaino were dealt to San Francisco for Matt Williams, who was productive for the Indians in 1997 as they returned to the World Series, but that was his only year in Cleveland.
Second base, once so ably held down by Baerga, turned into a revolving door. When the Indians acquired Joey Cora for the 1998 stretch run, he was the 15th second baseman for the Tribe since the Baerga deal. The position got a little stability that off-season – if not an upgrade even from Baerga’s peak years – when the Indians signed Roberto Alomar.
Alomar held down second base for the last gasp of the Tribe’s glory years before he, too, was traded to the Mets. It was a strange bit of symmetry: That deal didn’t make the Indians much better in the long run, but the Mets payroll took a hit thanks to another once-great player in his waning years.