Welcome to the All-Franchise Starting Lineup, where we review each of the 30 current MLB franchises to determine the best players by position in franchise history. Next up on our tour is the New York Metropolitans, better known as the Mets, a franchise that has seen its share of controversy.
The Ground Rules
- Each player’s WAR with the franchise was the primary driver of the selections. We used two WAR calculations, one from Fangraphs and the other from Baseball-Reference. When the WAR between players was similar, we considered other factors, such as stats and awards, to break the tie.
- We only considered statistics earned with the franchise in question for each player. For example, Albert Pujols wasn’t the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played with them for part of a season near the end of his career.
- Players with multi-position eligibility can play any position they played for a reasonable period in their career.
- Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes sense defensively – especially for center field.
- Since we have universal DH now, we will assign one DH per team. Doing so also allows us to get more deserving hitters into the lineup who played at a log-jammed position.
- Three pitchers will be named – one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.
The Mets were born in 1962, along with the Houston Colt .45s, when the NL added two teams a year after the AL expanded. The franchise finished in either ninth or tenth place (last) over their first seven seasons. In 1969, the NL and AL split into two divisions, with the Mets residing in the NL East. The realignment agreed with the Metropolitans as they won 100 games and the division that season on their way to a World Championship. The “Miracle Mets” of 1969 are among the greatest underdog winners in the sport’s history.
The club slipped back to the middle of the pack for the next three seasons before returning to the October Classic in 1973. This time the club came up short, losing in seven games to the Oakland Athletics. It took another 13 years for the franchise to return to the playoffs, but when they did, they dominated. The 1986 Mets won 108 games and took home the franchise’s second World Championship after defeating the Red Sox in a classic (and unfortunate for Bill Buckner) series. The high-riding club returned to the playoffs two seasons later but was upset by the Dodgers in the NLCS.
The Mets have made six postseason appearances since 1988, including two more losing trips to the World Series in 2000 and 2015. In 2022, they lost to the San Diego Padres in the Wild Card Round, but the club is built to win and should contend in the National League again in 2023.
Catcher: Mike Piazza
Mike Piazza is considered by many to be the greatest offensive catcher of all time. He holds the HR title among catchers with 427 and has the highest OPS of any catcher in history. We ranked Piazza sixth on our list of the Top Ten Catchers of All-Time, and he was an easy choice as the Mets’ backstop.
Famously drafted by the Dodgers as a favor to family friend Tommy Lasorda, Piazza converted to catcher in the minor leagues and never looked back. He won Rookie of the Year in 1993 after batting .318 with 35 HRs and 112 RBI. Despite being a perennial All-Star, Silver Slugger, and MVP candidate, the Dodgers traded Piazza to the Marlins in 1998. He played only five games with Florida before moving on to the Mets, where he spent most of the rest of his career.
Piazza was an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger in his first four full seasons in New York from 1999 to 2002. In the 2000 NLCS, Piazza slashed .412/.545/1.487 with two HRs and four RBI in the Mets’ five-game defeat of the Cardinals. He slugged two more homers and drove in four more runs in the “Subway” World Series, which the Mets lost in five games to the Yankees.
After an injury-plagued 2003, Piazza returned to the All-Star game in 2004 and 2005. However, his offensive production was fading, and his defense, which was never his strong suit, was becoming a liability. The Mets toyed with Piazza at first base, but he wasn’t comfortable there. After the 2006 season, the club let their star walk, and he joined the Padres as a free agent. Piazza retired two seasons later, and in 2016 the BBWAA elected him into the Hall of Fame in his fourth year of eligibility. That summer, the Mets retired his #31.
First Base: Keith Hernandez
Keith Hernandez had already won five Gold Gloves, attended two All-Star games, and won a batting title, a Silver Slugger, and the NL MVP by the time the Cardinals traded him to the Mets in June 1983. The Cardinals had just won the World Series, but Hernandez was causing problems in the clubhouse, and as a rumored substance abuser, they felt they were better off without him. It worked out well for Hernandez and the Mets, whom he helped turn from a struggling into a contender and eventual champion.
Hernadez won another six Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger in New York and made two more All-Star appearances. More importantly, the Mets went from a 68-win ball club in 1983 to the World Champion 108-win club just three years later. The arrival of young superstars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden may have been the primary driver of the Mets’ turnaround. Still, Hernandez’s steady offense and stellar defense were critical to their success.
The 1986 season almost didn’t happen for Hernandez, who faced a year-long suspension for substance abuse if he didn’t follow MLB’s program. He agreed to the terms and went on to finish fourth in the MVP voting that year and win his second ring. Hernandez played well in 1987, but injuries limited him to 170 total games over the subsequent two seasons. He struggled in 1989, and the Mets let him walk as a free agent after the season. After one more year with the Indians, Hernandez retired. Though not a Hall of Famer, the Mets honored Hernandez by retiring his #17 in a ceremony last summer (July 2022).
Second Base: Edgardo Alfonzo
Edgardo Alfonzo’s career is often overlooked, but he had a tremendous tenure in New York, handling second and third base for the Mets in the late 1990s. Alfonzo debuted for the Mets to start the 1995 season, which started late due to the players’ strike that canceled the 1994 World Series. He played a utility role for the club over his first two seasons but evolved into their starting third baseman in 1997. His permanence in the lineup coincided with a breakout year at the plate for Alfonzo, who hit .315, scored 84 runs, and drove in 72 that season.
In 1999, the Mets shifted Alfonzo to second base, and he proceeded to slug 27 HRs, score 123 runs, drive in 108 runs, and hit .308 en route to winning his only Silver Slugger. He was an All-Star the following summer and had another fine year at the plate, hitting a career-high .324 with 109 runs, 25 HRs, and 94 RBI. He struggled in the 2000 World Series after an electric NLCS when he hit .444/.565/.611 against the Cardinals. Though he never won a Gold Glove, Alfonzo was a stellar defensive player on top of his offensive contributions.
After the 2002 season, Alfonzo left the Mets via free agency, joining the Giants. He played four more seasons for three clubs before his time as an MLB player ended in June 2006. Alfonzo ranks fifth in hits and runs, sixth in doubles, and seventh in RBI on the Mets’ all-time list.
Shortstop: José Reyes
José Reyes debuted for the Mets in June 2003 and showed off his amazing speed by stealing 13 bases in half a season. He followed that up in 2004 by stealing 19 in only 53 games. In 2005, Reyes became the Mets’ everyday shortstop and led the league in plate appearances, triples, and stolen bases. The speedster was on his way to stardom, leading the NL in steals twice more and triples thrice more. He also made four All-Star appearances with the Mets, won a Silver Slugger in 2006, and a batting title in 2011. Reyes was among the best lead-off men in the sport in his early years.
After winning the batting title, Reyes hit free agency and left the Mets to join the Marlins, who were trying to make a splash around the opening of their new stadium. Unfortunately, the team won only 69 games in 2012 and conducted one of their patented fire sales after the season. Reyes found himself in Toronto, and a few years later, the Blue Jays traded him to Colorado. After the 2015 season, Reyes was arrested on charges of domestic violence. Eventually, the legal case was dropped, but MLB suspended Reyes for the first half of the 2016 season. Upon his activation, Colorado DFA’d him.
At this point, Reyes made his way back to the Mets. He played the final three seasons of his career in New York in a bench role and retired in 2018. Reyes is the Mets’ all-time leader in stolen bases and triples and ranks second in runs scored to our third baseman, David Wright.
Third Base: David Wright
If the Mets didn’t already have a mascot named “Mr. Met,” the moniker may have been attached to David Wright, who spent his entire career in Queens and was the face of the franchise for over a decade. Wright debuted on July 21, 2004, and hit 14 HRs with 40 RBI in only 69 games. The Mets had a star on their hands, and Wright lived up to the billing for the next decade. From 2005 through 2013, Wright made seven All-Star teams and won two Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers. He averaged 23 HRs, 93 RBI, 90 runs, and 20 stolen bases over this stretch while slashing .302/.384/.505.
In 2014, fate began to turn against Wright. A shoulder injury sapped his power, and he hit only eight HRs that season. Injuries plagued him for the rest of his career, as he could only muster 77 more games over three more seasons. Wright did manage to play in the 2015 postseason when the Mets lost to the Royals in the World Series. He had an excellent NLCS but struggled in the series (as did much of the team). After missing all of 2017, the Mets activated Wright in September 2018 for a few final appearances to say goodbye to the Mets’ faithful. He retired as the franchise leader in plate appearances, hits, doubles, runs, and RBI after the season.
Left Field: Cleon Jones
Left field proved a tough choice as several Mets outfielders with a similar WAR to Cleon Jones could have been slotted in, including Mookie Wilson, Brandon Nimmo, and Michael Conforto. Ultimately we chose Jones due to his longevity and significant moments with the franchise, but eventually, Nimmo will probably surpass him, given his shiny new eight-year contract.
Jones played six games for the Mets in 1963 when he was only 20, but he wasn’t quite ready. Two years later, he made the opening day roster, but he still needed more seasoning and logged only 30 major league games that year. Finally, in 1966, Jones assumed a starting role and never looked back. His season was good enough for him to finish fourth in the Rookie-of-the-Year voting, and it looked like he was there to stay. He struggled in 1967 but upped his average to .297 the following season and stole 23 bases. In the miraculous 1969 season, Jones hit .340 and made the All-Star team. Though he struggled in the World Series that year, he played a pivotal role in Game 5 when a pitch hit him on the foot (proved by the ball being scuffed with shoe polish) in the sixth inning before Donn Clendenon stroked a two-run HR. The Mets eventually won the game and became World Champions, with Jones catching the last out.
Jones had another two solid seasons before injuries limited his 1973 season to 92 games. After a bounce-back in 1974, his career fell apart in 1975. First, Jones was charged with indecent exposure in May after being caught cheating on his wife. This drew the ire of Mets’ management, and later, in July, he got into a shouting match with manager Yogi Berra. The Mets released Jones shortly after the incident. Jones played a few games for the White Sox the following year, but his career was over. The end was not pretty for Jones in New York, but he still sits high on their all-team leaderboards, ranking fourth in hits and triples, seventh in runs, and tenth in doubles.
Center Field: Carlos Beltrán
Carlos Beltrán joined the Mets via free agency in 2005 when he was 28 years old. He spent most of his career before that with the Royals, where he was Rookie of the Year in 1999 and an All-Star in 2004 (after Kansas City traded him to the Astros in late June). In the playoffs with Houston, Beltran put on a show, slugging eight HRs and driving in 14 runs with a .435 batting average over 12 games. He was in for a big payday and got one from the Metropolitans.
Now playing in New York, Beltran became a star. He was an All-Star five of the seven summers he spent with the Mets and won three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers while with the franchise. His best season came in 2006, when he slugged 41 HRs, scored 127 runs, drove in 116, and stole 18 bases with a .275 average. Beltran finished fourth in the MVP voting that season, the only time the Mets made the playoffs during his tenure. After a quiet NLDS, Beltran had another huge postseason series in the NLCS, hitting .296 with three HRs, eight runs, and four RBI.
Injuries limited Beltran’s playing time in 2009 and 2010, and the Mets slipped from contenders to also-rans. After a strong first half in 2011 and with free agency approaching, the club traded him to the Giants at the deadline for Zack Wheeler, which worked out pretty well for the franchise. Though he was now in his mid-30s, Beltran still had a lot left in the tank. He played six more seasons on several postseason clubs with the Cardinals, Yankees, Rangers, and Astros before retiring in 2017. Beltran played the fewest games with the Mets of any other player to make our lineup, but his combination of excellent offense and defense gave him one of the highest WARs in Mets’ history.
Right Field: Darryl Strawberry
The Mets took Darryl Strawberry with the first overall pick in the 1980 draft out of high school, where he had already begun to make a name for himself. He made his debut in Queens in May 1983 when he was still only 21. Many thought he wasn’t ready, but “The Strawman” proved otherwise, slugging 26 HRs, driving in 74 runs, and stealing 19 bases on his way to Rookie of the Year honors. After that, Darryl became a perennial All-Star, attending the Midsummer Classic for the next eight seasons (his last one with the Dodgers). Through 1990, his final year with the Mets, Strawberry never hit less than 26 HRs in a season. His apex came in 1988 when he led the league in HRs/SLG/OPS, finished second in the NL MVP balloting, and won his first of two Silver Sluggers.
Strawberry played on two postseason clubs in Queens. The first was the 1986 World Championship club, and the second was the 1988 squad that was upset by Los Angeles. Strawberry slugged four HRs and had 12 RBI in 20 playoff games for the Metropolitans. He left the Mets to join his hometown Dodgers as a free agent after the 1990 season, bringing his demons with him. After a solid first year in Los Angeles, Strawberry fell apart. The rumors of alcohol and substance abuse that had dogged him for years proved true and, combined with a back injury, ended his tenure in Dodger blue after only three seasons.
Straw played another six seasons after that, most with the Yankees, where he won two more rings. However, his health and personal problems continued, including a bout with cancer in 1999, and he retired after the World Series that season. It took several years, but Strawberry eventually got clean. The promise of his early career fizzled, but Straw remains the franchise leader in HRs and is second in RBI to David Wright.
Designated Hitter: Howard Johnson
There were several options for our last roster spot, including some of the outfielders we mentioned earlier. As DH is an offense-only position, it came down to the two best offensive players not already in the lineup, John Olerud and Howard Johnson. Olerud was only with New York for three seasons, but he was terrific in his brief stay and has one of the highest WAR/162s in Mets history. On the other hand, Johnson played most of his career with the organization and had a few tremendous seasons of his own. For that reason, “HoJo” got the nod.
Johnson began his career with the Detroit Tigers in 1982 and won a ring with the team in 1984 despite only one plate appearance. The Tigers traded him to the Mets that offseason, and in 1985 he platooned at third base with Ray Knight. Injuries limited his playing time in 1986 when he served as a backup infielder for the eventual champions. HoJo won his second ring that year, this time amassing a whopping five at-bats.
Everything changed for Johnson after that. Knight departed as a free agent, and Johnson evolved into the Mets’ regular third baseman. He slugged 36 HRs and drove in 99 in 1987, cementing himself in the lineup for the next several years (despite allegations that he corked his bat). His two best seasons came in 1989 and 1991. Both years he played in the All-Star game, won a Silver Slugger, and finished fifth in the NL MVP vote. Hojo led the NL with 104 runs in ’89, hit 36 HRs, and compiled 101 RBI with a .287 average. In 1991, his 38 HRs and 117 RBI led the league in both categories. HoJo was also an excellent base stealer, swiping as many as 41 bags in 1989.
Injuries limited Johnson in 1992 and 1993, prompting the Mets to let him walk via free agency. HoJo played two more years with the Rockies before retiring in 1995. Johnson ranks fourth on the Mets’ all-time leaderboard in HRs/runs/RBI and third in stolen bases.
Right-Handed Starter: Tom Seaver
The strength of the Mets’ franchise has been its pitching, particularly its right-handed starters. Tom Seaver was sixth on our list of the Top Ten Pitchers of All-Time and has the highest WAR of any Met ever. Thus, he was the obvious choice as our righty starter, but his inclusion meant that other Mets’ greats, most notably Dwight Gooden and Jacob DeGrom, were left out of the lineup.
Seaver debuted in 1967 in the so-called “Second Deadball Era” when pitching was dominant. Some argue that this diminishes his greatness, but it shouldn’t, as his WAR never dipped below five wins in his tenure with the club. Seaver was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1967 and an All-Star, compiling 16 wins, a 2.76 ERA, and 170 Ks in 251 innings. He didn’t cool off after that, making the All-Star game every summer he spent as a Metropolitan except one. During his ten full seasons in New York, Seaver led the NL in wins twice, ERA thrice, strikeouts five times, and complete games once. “Tom Terrific” won three Cy Young awards during his New York tenure and finished as the MVP runner-up in 1969. Seaver struggled in his first World Series start that October, losing Game 1, but pitched a gem in Game 4 when he allowed only one run over ten innings to earn the complete game victory. In the 1974 series, Seaver compiled 18 ks in 15 IP with a 2.40 ERA but didn’t win two low-scoring affairs.
He was off to another impressive start in 1977 amidst a contract dispute with management. Rather than pay him his worth, the Mets traded Seaver to Cincinnati in June. Tom Terrific had several good seasons left in him, but he never attained the same heights in his four-and-a-half seasons with the Reds. Before the 1983 season, the Mets re-acquired the 38-year-old Seaver. He threw 231 innings with a 3.55 ERA that year but finished with a 9-14 record. Seaver played three more seasons after that with the White Sox and Red Sox, retiring in 1986. The Mets retired his #41 two years later, and the BBWAA made him a near-unanimous Hall of Fame selection in 1992. Seaver is the Mets’ all-time leader in games started, wins, innings, and strikeouts.
Left-Handed Starter: Jerry Koosman
It was a three-horse race for our lefty starter between Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlock, and Sid Fernandez. All three had outstanding runs in New York with similar ERAs, FIPs, and WHIPs. Koosman was the choice due to his longevity with the club. Only Seaver has thrown more innings for the Metropolitans than Jerry Koosman.
Koosman debuted the same year as Seaver, in 1967. He only threw 22 ineffective innings that season but flourished in 1968 and ’69. He was an All-Star both years and won a combined 36 games. Koosman won both of his starts in the ’69 World Series, including the clincher in which he hurled a complete game. He pitched well again four years later, winning one of his two starts in the seven-game series defeat to the A’s. Koosman never made another All-Star squad after 1969 but was a consistent force for the Mets. From 1970 through 1978, “Kooz” averaged 31 starts, 12 wins, and 159 Ks with a 3.29 ERA. His best season during this stretch was 1976 when he was the Cy Young runner-up after winning 21 games with a 2.69 ERA in 247 innings.
The Mets finished last in their division in 1977 and 1978, and the 35-year-old Koosman asked for a trade. New York granted his request, moving him to Minnesota. Kooz continued to pitch until 1985 when injuries prompted him to retire. It took a long time, but the Mets finally retired Kooz’s #36 in 2021.
Reliever: Jesse Orosco
Picking the Mets’ reliever was a coin flip. Heads, Jesse Orosco. Tails, John Franco. Franco is the Mets’ all-time saves leader, but Orosco’s numbers were superior. The tipping point for us was the two saves Orosco recorded in the 1986 World Series, but if you prefer Franco, we wouldn’t argue too hard.
There’s also a great segue with Orosco, as he was the “player-to-be-named-later” in the trade that sent Jerry Koosman to the Twins. Orosco was only 22 and had yet to pitch in the big leagues, but the rebuilding Mets gave him a shot in 1979. He threw 35 mediocre innings that season but wasn’t ready and spent most of the year in the minors, not returning until September 1981. The Mets tried Orosco as a starter but became convinced the bullpen was his future in 1982. It was the correct call, as by the following summer, Orosco was an All-Star and had taken over the closer role. He finished third in the Cy Young voting that year, compiling a 1.47 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 17 saves in 110 innings.
Orosco saved 31 games in 1984 and represented the Metropolitans at the All-Star game for the second consecutive year. The closer role was still developing, so Orosco wasn’t the prototype one-inning reliever we are used to today. From 1982 to 1987, he averaged 91 IP per season and often pitched multiple innings. Orosco dominated in the ’86 World Series, allowing no runs or walks and only two hits in five and two-thirds innings. He earned two saves in the series, including the conclusive Game 7, when he closed the game by retiring the last six batters.
After a rough 1987, the Mets traded Orosco to the Dodgers. At 31 years old, it appeared his best days were behind him, but they weren’t. Orosco pitched another 15 years for eight franchises before retiring in 2003 at the age of 46.
We’ll be taking a brief hiatus as we begin to preview the 2023 season, but when we return, we’ll head across town to the Bronx and take on the winningest franchise in MLB history, the New York Yankees. If you love baseball as much as we do, check out the We Love Baseball section for more great content!
Featured Image Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)