Astros: Reviewing the 1999 Mike Hampton trade with Mets
We take a look at the trade in which the Houston Astros sent Mike Hampton to the Mets.
The 1999 Houston Astros won 97 games and another NL Central division title, though they again failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs. Perhaps the frustration stemming from that is what led them to trading away their best player from that team, pitcher Mike Hampton.
Hampton led the Astros in WAR that season thanks to a great season on the mound and a .311/.373/.432 batting line at the plate. On the mound, he went 22-4 with a 2.90 ERA in 34 starts, leading the league in wins and winning percentage and finishing second to Randy Johnson in the Cy Young Award voting. Despite that, GM Gerry Hunsicker traded him away after the season.
On Dec. 23, 1999, an early Christmas present of sorts, Hunsicker traded Hampton and outfielder Derek Bell to the Mets for outfielder Roger Cedeno and pitchers Octavio Dotel and Kyle Kessel. There’s plenty to unpack in this one.
What the Astros Got
It’s easy to see why they wanted Cedeno. The 25-year-old outfielder was coming off his first year as an everyday player, and it was impressive. He hit .313/.396/.408 with 66 stolen bases. He offered almost no power, but he could get on base at a strong clip and steal a bunch of bases.
Unfortunately his 2000 season was limited to 74 games as he missed nearly three months with injury. He wasn’t bad when he played, as he hit .282/.383/.398 with 25 steals in 36 attempts. Incredibly, he hit only two doubles in 305 plate appearances. He was traded to the Tigers after the season in a six-player deal bringing Brad Ausmus back to Houston.
Dotel had struggled in the rotation in his debut season of 1999, and he did the same with the Astros in 2000. But they moved him to the bullpen permanently in 2001 and he responded by becoming a dominant workhorse reliever for three and a half years before being traded to Oakland in the three-team Carlos Beltran deal, which we recently examined in detail. He pitched to a 2.42 ERA from 2001 to 2004 with the Astros.
Kessel never reached the major leagues. He made it up to Triple-A in 2001 but pitched to a 7.90 ERA there, and that would prove to be his last season in affiliated ball.
What the Astros Gave Up
The biggest loss was Hampton, of course. He’d pitched to a 3.40 ERA in six seasons with the Astros and had put up three straight seasons of 32-plus starts and 211-plus innings. He was still just 27 years old and coming off his best season yet, but he was also a year away from free agency.
With the Mets, Hampton was as expected, going 15-10 with a 3.14 ERA in 33 starts and winning his second of five straight Silver Slugger awards. He signed a massive eight-year deal with the Rockies after the 2000 season but struggled mightily, pitching to a 5.75 ERA in two seasons before playing out the rest of the contract in Atlanta and missing two seasons due to injury. He returned to the Astros in 2009 but went 7-10 with a 5.30 ERA in 21 starts.
Bell had been a solid offensive contributor for the Astros from 1995 to 1998 after coming over in the Ken Caminiti trade, which we also reviewed in detail. But he struggled in 1999, hitting just .236/.306/.350 in 128 games, and he was on the wrong side of 30 and also a year away from free agency.
He rebounded a bit with the Mets in 2000, hitting .266/.348/.425 in 144 games. He signed with the Pirates for the 2001 season but hit only .173/.287/.288 in 46 games, and those would be the final games of his major league career.
The Final Verdict
The Astros got 0.5 WAR from Cedeno and 11.0 WAR from Dotel in their Houston tenures. The Mets got 5.3 total WAR from Hampton and 1.7 from Bell. So in total, the Astros got 11.5 WAR and the Mets got 7.0 WAR. From that standpoint, it would appear that Houston won.
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But that may not be the best way to look at it. For one, Dotel’s WAR was spread out over several seasons while the Mets return lasted only one year. For the 2000 season alone, the Mets certainly got the better end of the deal. The fact that they didn’t re-sign Hampton or Bell is what limits their incoming WAR total.
In fact, the Mets got exactly what they were hoping for. They only acquired one year of each player, and Bell’s numbers rebounded while Hampton was as good as advertised. Dotel morphed into a great reliever, but Cedeno never caught on and was pushed out after one season thanks to the breakouts of Richard Hidalgo and Lance Berkman.
The 2000 Astros went just 72-90 thanks to what had to be the worst pitching staff in franchise history. Having Hampton in that rotation might not have been enough to make them a playoff team, but his absence was clearly felt. The 2000 Mets, meanwhile, made it all the way to the World Series.
Of course there’s the question of whether the Astros would have signed Hampton to such a huge contract if they hadn’t traded him. I highly doubt he would’ve pitched as poorly in Houston as he did in Colorado, so perhaps things would have gone differently. Or perhaps the contract would have been Houston’s albatross. It’s an interesting what-if scenario.
In the end, I’ll call the trade a win for the Mets. They got what they were hoping for in both players they received, while the Astros did not. Dotel became a strong reliever beginning in 2001, but Cedeno didn’t live up to expectations and Kessel never reached the show. I guarantee the Mets would make this trade over again.