Mets get cream of deadline crop in Thomson

By Josh Boyd
July 31, 2002

The Mets came away with the best player who changed teams on the Wednesday trade deadline when they picked up John Thomson from the Rockies. New York also received Mark Little in exchange for Jay Payton, Mark Corey and Triple-A slugger Robert Stratton.

After showing some promise as a rookie in 1998, Thomson struggled in 1999 and missed the majority of the 2000 season because of labrum surgery. He regained his arm strength and resurfaced in the majors in the second half of 2001, finishing strong with two Coors Field shutouts in September. He went 7-8, 4.88 in 21 starts for the Rockies this year, with a 76-27 strikeout-walk ratio in 127 innings. The 28-year-old righthander throws a heavy mid-90s sinker, plus a breaking ball and changeup. He’s 27-43, 5.01 in 102 big league games. His career ERA away from Coors is 4.38, including a 4.12 mark in seven starts at Shea Stadium. He’s making $1.1 million in 2002 and will be eligible for arbitration after the season.

After Payton was a supplemental first-round pick in 1994, he won batting titles in each of his first two pro seasons. Elbow and shoulder injuries slowed his career, and at one point it seemed unlikely he’d do much in the majors or even reach that level. But he fought his way to New York and hit .291-17-62 as a rookie center fielder during the Mets’ 2000 World Series run. The 29-year-old Payton hasn’t approached that effectiveness since, batting .284-8-31 in 87 games this year. He has decent tools, but lacks the power, speed or on-base ability to play regularly for a quality club. He’s solid in center field, though he lacks arm strength after repeated surgeries during his minor league days. His career totals are .278-33-128 in 368 big league games. Payton’s 2002 salary is $362,500 and he’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason.

Corey, a 27-year-old righthander, made his major league debut last September after toiling in the minors for nearly seven years. A fourth-round pick by the Reds in 1995 out of Edinboro (Pa.) University, he joined the Mets in a 1999 trade for Ralph Milliard. He throws his fastball in the 89-93 mph range, and also has a good curveball. Corey posted a 4.50 ERA in 12 games with New York this year, but made more news when he had a seizure after smoking marijuana in June. He also has spent time at Triple-A Norfolk in 2002, going 3-1, 1.03 with seven saves in 25 games.

Stratton, 24, has become a minor league legend both for the distance of his home runs and the frequency of his strikeouts. The 13th overall pick in 1996 out of a California high school, he has hit 126 homers and fanned 765 times in 537 games, including a Double-A Eastern League-record 201 whiffs in 2001. This season he has hit .246-20-46 with 84 strikeouts in 73 games at Norfolk. He’s not much of a runner but is an average right fielder with the requiste arm for the position.

Little, 30, is a journeyman reserve outfielder. He hit .341 in a part-time role last year but has dropped to .200 in 2002. In 119 major league games, he has batted .252-3-18.