He was 29, left-handed and had already won 112 games in the bigs. He was coming off of a Cy Young award and was one of the best pitchers in the game.
The main part of the package for him was one of the brightest prospects in the game having gone 12-4 with a 1.80ERA the previous season at AAA with 143 K’s in 160 innings. He had made a nice start in the bigs the season before and entered the season with a decent chance to make the team out of camp. It didn’t happen to the howls from the fans, but he continued his dominance at AAA going 7-4 with a 2.37 and 69K’s in 87 innings. He had struggled in the majors after getting called up in July, but on that fateful trading deadline in 1989, there was no doubt that this guy would be a future star.
The Minnesota pitcher was Frank Viola of course who went to the Mets for five players Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, Tim Drummond, Jack Savage and the aforementioned prospect, David West.
I was thinking about that deal today when I thought more about Hughes. I went back and read some news reports from the late 80’s to check my memory and I think it is fair to compare the hype for Hughes today with the hype for West then. He was going to be the next big thing, the guy who would sit atop the Mets rotation and provide a dominant lefty to go alongside Dwight Gooden. (how’s that for irony?)
But, the 1989 Mets were not patient. Injuries to Keith Hernandez and Dwight Gooden had them struggling along in late July and after their playoff loss in 88, they wanted to get back to October, so they pulled the trigger on their second blockbuster of the season. (In June they had sent Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell to Philadelphia for Juan Samuel)
Viola won 38 games for the Mets in almost 2 1/2 seasons before getting 3 years/$14 million from the Red Sox in free agency.
West ended up winning 31 games in his career and was out of baseball after pitching two innings for the 1998 Red Sox. The Twins definitely won the trade because Tapani became a big part of the rotation and Aguilera became one of the best closers in baseball.
I am not saying that history will repeat itself if the Yankees send Hughes to Minnesota for Santana, but I wanted to relate that tale for those of you preparing to climb out onto the ledge. If this trade happens, the way to judge it will be down the road when we see what happens with both teams. If the Yankees win the World Series because of Santana, will you really care what happens with Hughes? In 1989 it certainly looked like Viola would lead the Mets to the World Series and it didn’t happen. Likewise, it was thought West was the best part of the trade and he wasn’t. Our perceptions today could be very wrong, on both sides.