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Looking Back at the Mets Trading David Cone

By Mike Silva ~ August 27th, 2011. Filed under: New York Mets, NY Baseball Memories.

Nineteen years ago today the Mets sent David Cone to Toronto for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson. Cone may be remembered today more for his time with the Yankees, but he became an elite pitcher across town with the Mets. Acquired on March 27th, 1987, along with Chris Jelic, for Rick AndersonMauro Gozzo, and Ed Hearn, Cone would join an already loaded rotation that included Dwight GoodenRon DarlingSid Fernandez, Bobby Ojeda, and Rick Aguilera.

How stacked were the Mets in 1988? Cone began the year in the bullpen as the sixth starter. Aguilera would go down with an injury, leading to Cone taking his spot in the rotation. He would finish the year 20-3 with a 2.22 ERA.

From 1987-1992, Cone produced a record of 81-51 with a 3.22 ERA. The fans at Shea loved him, dressing up as “coneheads” during his starts. Cone was a hot-headed individual during his time in Queens. He would often get rattled on the mound, leading to embarrassing moments like when he argued with an umpire in Atlanta while base runners scored behind him. There was also the infamous incident during the ’88 NLCS where he fired up the Dodgers by calling closer Jay Howell a “high school pitcher.”

Off the field he was a wild child. Towards the end of the 1991 season he was accused of a lewd act in the Shea bullpen, and later accused of rape. He actually struck out 19 Phillies the final day of the season knowing he could be arrested after the game.

Cone was entering his walk year in 1992. He was having his best season since ’88, and was leading the National League in shutouts (5) when then GM Al Harazin traded him to Toronto for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson. The deal would go down with the Mets acquiring a future MVP and potential Hall of Famer; only he did it after leaving New York. Jeff Kent’s best days would be in San Francisco, as he would struggle with his transition to the big city.

Why was Cone dealt? Harazin felt it was no better than 50/50 they could sign him in the offseason (see video below). For a team that spent wildly the prior winter, it seems preposterous they couldn’t afford the 3 year/$18 million dollar deal that he wound up signing with Kansas City.

How good was Cone during his Mets days? His ERA+ of 112 was good for 9th in the National League over a five year period. He was fifth in wins, fifth in innings pitched, fourth in complete games, and sixth in ERA. The Mets gave up an elite pitcher for a kid second basemen and a toolsy outfielder. In hindsight, the package was good, considering Toronto was trading for just 5 regular season starts and the postseason. The decision to trade Cone should have happened a month earlier to obtain maximum return. A better alternative was to sign him to an extension as you would be getting his prime age 29 to 32 years. I am most surprised at the fact that he was able to sneak through waivers and get all the way to the first place Blue Jays. Looking back, the Mets really had no leverage other than the fact Toronto believed they were a pitcher short in their quest for their first World Series title.

Cone actually was a better pitcher from 1993-1999 than at any point of his career. He went 96-51 with a 3.27 ERA. His ERA+ of 143 was good for second in the American League during that span. Only pitcher better was a man by the name of Randy Johnson. He was third in wins, sixth in innings, sixth in games started, and tenth in complete games. Remember, this second phase of his career was done in the heavy hitting American League riddled with steroids. He would also pitch a perfect game against Montreal in 1999. Amazingly, the Mets traded away a pitcher that still had his best years in front of him. He would make a cameo return in 2003 after a brief retirement, but there was nothing left in the tank. He would retire just three months into the season.

The Mets made a number of bad personnel decisions between 1989-1993, but trading Cone, the timing of the deal, and the return was ill advised. The Mets would have been better to have him anchor their rotation going forward.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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3 Responses to Looking Back at the Mets Trading David Cone

  1. 86mets

    I always hated the Cone trade. I never liked Kent at all (nor did many of his teammates at times as it turns out) and Thompson, well he had the Hot Dog (with LOTS of mustard) attitude of Deion Sanders combined with the on field production of Colonel Sanders. I like your analysis of why it was preposterous that the Mets couldn’t afford to re-sign Cone. Maybe the owners were getting leary of talented, yet combustible players who MIGHT embarrass the team. Due to recent events I’ve started to wonder if that very reason was what prompted them to trade Roger McDowell and Lenny Dykstra to the Phillies in ’89. Was that a factor in dealing Cone? I doubt very seriously that money was truly the reason behind the trade.

    But if it is, it’s funny they would acquire another guy in Kent who would earn a reputation throughout his career as, shall we say, abrasive, to many teammates. And then there’s Thompson who thought his ticket to Cooperstown was punched the day he made the Major Leagues. Granted, they’re issues were limited to on the field attitudes rather than poor citizenship off of it.

    The bottom line is that this organization has tried to sell the fans a team with good citizens, yet they also fail to do due diligence many times and end up acquiring the very types of people they claim to want to avoid. After apparently dealing the likes of Dykstra, McDowell, and Cone at least partly due to character issues, they go and sign Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman, and trade for Bret Saberhagen. All of who would go on to embarass the organization FAR more than the remants of the ’86 team did. On the one hand, you have allegations of rape against Cone, but then there’s Colemans’ firecracker incident, and Saberhagen’s bleach spraying incident. Okay, rape is millions of times worse than bleach, but Cone was never convicted while there’s no denying Saberhagen’s guilt.

    I guess my point is that this ownership group through the years has been very inconsistent with no clear cut plan to build and maintain a winner. Whether it’s properly evaluating a player’s mental capacity to handle NYC (Bonilla, Saberhagen, Coleman) or bidding against themselves for a player few teams were really interested in (Jason Bay anyone?) the owners of this team have never really had a coherent plan for this team. Can anyone tell me what the Mets mission statement is? I have no idea what it is myself.

  2. Chuck Johnson

    Sometimes players get traded because while they are very good, the opportunity to get better players in return makes the risk worthwhile.

    Sometimes players get traded because, despite their positive contributions on the field, they are such a monumental distraction off the field the team can’t risk the possibility of negative publicity or a seven figure lawsuit.

    Cone falls into the latter category.

    I loved Cone as a player, even in his early days with the Royals. I enjoyed watching him pitch as much as anyone I can remember.

    But if I was sitting at a hotel bar with some hot supermodel getting ready to deliver the clinching up to my room line and Cone walked in…I’d walk out.

    The risk of association wouldn’t be worth the extra two minutes.

  3. UncleMario

    Looking back, was the memory of Strawberry walking away after the 1990 season still fresh in the mind of the Mets hierarchy?

    I think the Mets getting rid of “questionable character” players began before Roger McDowell and Lenny Dykstra was traded. Maybe it began with Kevin Mitchell being traded to the Padres for Kevin McReynolds.

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