Was Mo Vaughn Trade So Bad for Mets?

MLB Trade Rumors was kind enough to remind us that today marks the 11th anniversary of the ill-fated Mo Vaughn-Kevin Appier deal between the Mets and the Angels. The trade is often mentioned as one of the poor moves by Steve Phillips that led to the undoing of the team. Certainly it did  not work out the way the Mets had planned, but I contend that it was not so bad.

mo vaughn
Mo Vaughn — he was a big guy!

Let me explain.

Coming off their World Series appearance in 2000, the Mets suffered through a miserable 2001, winning just 82 games. They needed hitting badly, so Phillips went out and got Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz, Roger Cedeno and Vaughn — bold moves that all eventually failed. Mo Vaughn was the centerpiece of the makeover; a former MVP slugger who had missed the previous season with a knee injury.

After making his infamous trip with Bobby Valentine and Omar Minaya up to Connecticut to see Vaughn hit in a batting cage, Phillips pulled the trigger on the deal, sending Appier to Anaheim.

Appier had only been a Met for a season. After pining for him for years, Phillips signed Appier to an overpriced four-year, $42 million deal, panicking after losing Mike Hampton to the Denver school system. Appier was perfectly adequate in 2001, going 11-10 with a 3.57 ERA, but he was really nothing special.

Seeing an opportunity to trade a journeyman pitcher for a potential difference maker, Phillips took the chance. Vaughn was due around $50 million over the following three seasons, but Appier was owed $30 million — both hefty prices.

Vaughn was not terrible in 2002, hitting 26 home runs with 72 RBIS, both second on the team to Mike Piazza. The Mets would have liked more production for the money, but at least he was far better than Alomar, Burnitz and Cedeno. Appier went 14-12 with a 3.92 ERA as the Angels won their first World Series championship.

Vaughn played in just 23 games in 2003 before his knees gave out, ending his career. Appier was healthy but bad — so bad that the Angels released him midway through the season. He was due around $20 million; at the time it was the most money a team had eaten.

So both players only gave their teams one year of quality service. As far as the money, it was pretty much a wash because the $17 million Vaughn was owed for 2004 was insured.

When you come right down to it, this was basically an almost equal swap of bad contracts. The Mets were gambling that if Vaughn could come all the way back, he would offer far more than Appier ever could. It wasn’t an awful gamble. It’s not as if the Mets gave up promising prospects for Vaughn — it was just Kevin Appier. As it happened, both players were on their last legs.

Phillips would get fired midway through the 2003 season, in part because of the Mo Vaughn trade and those other deals. But you know what? Phillips went for it, at least attempting to do something to make the team better. I wish the team’s current timid, do-nothing general manager had some of that boldness to him.


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