Like Halloween, Justin Turner shows up every October to haunt the Mets.
It has been seven seasons since Sandy Alderson took him off the Mets’ 40-man roster, and this is Turner’s seventh straight postseason with the Dodgers since then. On Friday night, he tied Duke Snider for the franchise record of 11 postseason homers. Yes, he did it in 153 more at-bats than Snider, whose only postseason was playing in the World Series and not multiple rounds.
But Turner still has a claim as one of the best postseason performers in the club’s history, with an .894 OPS in 69 games. He also has an .886 OPS as a Dodger, leaving him with a 139 OPS-plus, which is sixth all-time (minimum 3,000 plate appearances) in franchise history just behind, yep, Snider at 142.
This got me to thinking about who has done the best after leaving the Mets without much distinction. A ground rule: Like Turner, I wanted to limit this to mainly players with limited or no accomplishments with the Mets, who then transformed into something special after their exit. So that removes Tom Seaver, for example, but also David Cone, Lenny Dykstra, Daniel Murphy and Tug McGraw. Hubie Brooks had a third-place Rookie of the Year with the Mets before going onto better things and Gregg Jefferies twice finished top six for Rookie of the Year before liberation from his Mets torture chamber.
The Mets, their fans and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen will close their eyes and hope Travis d’Arnaud and Jarred Kelenic never end up on this top 10 list:
1. Nolan Ryan: He had his moments with the Mets, especially with two brilliant relief appearances during the 1969 postseason. But he is nevertheless the before-and-after epitome, leaving the Mets for the Angels in their worst trade ever (for Jim Fregosi) en route to seven no-hitters, becoming the symbol of power pitching forever and the Hall of Fame.
2. Jeff Kent: After coming to New York for Cone, Kent actually posted two 20-homer seasons and a 107 OPS-plus in parts of five Mets seasons. Then he was traded for Carlos Baerga and became among the preeminent power-hitting second basemen in history, winning the 2000 NL MVP.
3. Nelson Cruz: Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Mets in 1998, he never appeared for the big league club before being traded in 2000 to the Athletics for shortstop Jorge Velandia, who hit .149 in 47 Mets games. Cruz has 417 career homers and three AL MVP top-10 finishes.
4. Turner: Others may have accomplished more in bulk than Turner after he left the Mets, but the year-to-year impact he has had as a two-way third baseman who performs well in October elevates him to this place on the list.
5. Amos Otis: He had a couple of cups of Mets coffee before they turned him into Joe Foy in possibly the second-worst trade in organization history. For the terrific Royal teams of the late 1970s/early 1980s, Otis would have four top eight AL MVP finishes and win three Gold Gloves in center field.
6. Jose Bautista: Within a few hours on July 30, 2004, the Mets traded Bautista (whom they had just obtained from the Royals) and Scott Kazmir in separate trades, before they had ever played for the team, to acquire Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano.
7. Mike Scott: He was 14-27 with a 4.84 ERA as a Met and was traded to Houston for Danny Heep. As an Astro, he won a Cy Young, finished second and single-handedly nearly kept the Mets from advancing to the 1986 World Series.
8. Paul Blair: The Mets left him unprotected after his first minor league season and Blair was taken by the Orioles in the 1962 first-year draft. He went on to win eight Gold Gloves and is on the short list for greatest center fielders ever.
9. Ken Singleton: He would be higher, but the Mets did get Rusty Staub in exchange for the Mount Vernon native. Here is the list of switch-hitters who came to the plate 8,000 or more times in the modern era who have a better OPS-plus than Singleton’s 132: Mickey Mantle (172), Chipper Jones (141) and Reggie Smith (137).
10. Kevin Mitchell: There were a whole bunch of closers to consider at No. 10 such as Rick Aguilera, Jason Isringhausen, Randy Myers and Jeff Reardon. Jim Bibby had a nice career after being dealt by the Mets and Jason Bay was a Met who went on to excellence with the Pirates and Red Sox before a horrible Mets return. And here is a hat tip to you, Melvin Mora, Darren O’Day and Octavio Dotel.
But the nod goes to Mitchell, who finished third for Rookie of the Year with the 1986 Mets and was performing well in 1987 before being traded as part of a large package to the Padres for Kevin McReynolds. The Mets, among other things, wondered if he was a bad influence on Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Away from multiple positions in New York, Mitchell settled in mainly as a left fielder. He won the NL MVP with the Giants in 1989 to begin a six-year run in which only Frank Thomas (184) and Barry Bonds (174) had a better OPS-plus than Mitchell’s 160.
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