Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jeff Kent: The Hall of Famer who got away

The Mets have never had a position player go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Mets cap. At least an argument could have been made for Gary Carter. And Mike Piazza's candidacy is yet to come. But Jeff Kent's retirement means that in a few years, Nolan Ryan is likely to have company as a future Hall of Famer the Mets gave up on too soon.

Granted, it's not as if Kent was showing Ryan-like flashes of greatness during his time at Shea. ESPN's David Schoenfield says of Kent:

He's had one of the more remarkable careers of this -- or any -- generation. Through age 28, he had 78 home runs, 583 hits, 318 RBIs and a career average of .278. The odds of a player with that profile becoming a Hall of Famer would have been somewhere well short of 1 percent.

What could have happened to Kent at age 28 that started him on his Hall of Fame path?

Naturally, that was the year the Mets traded Kent away. On July 29, 1996, the Mets sent Kent to Cleveland.

Unlike Ryan, at least Kent didn't immediate become a star with his new team. After the 1996 season, the Indians traded Kent to San Francisco, where his career took off.

But trading away Kent seems to have put a curse on second base for the Mets.

In return for Kent, the Mets got back second baseman Carlos Baerga, who was 27 and had been an All-Star three times. But Baerga hit .193 the rest of the season with the Mets and his career went in the opposite direction as Kent.

In 2002, the Mets traded for another Cleveland second baseman, Roberto Alomar, who had finished fourth in MVP voting the previous year. During his brief time with the Mets, it's safe to say Alomar didn't get any MVP votes.

In 2004, the Mets signed Kaz Matsui, who contributed to the Mets' second-base curse in two ways. First Matsui's signing resulted in the dubious move of Jose Reyes to second. Then Matsui took over second base himself, and eventually the Mets had to eat his contract.

The Mets' latest big-name second base acquisition is Luis Castillo, and we know all too well how that has turned out.

Whether or not the Mets finally bite the bullet on Castillo, the second-base curse is likely to continue a year from now, since Rob Neyer predicts that the most likely player to make the Hall of Fame in 2010 is Alomar.

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