Ricco recalls 2006 Trade Deadline scramble

Ricco recalls 2006 Trade Deadline scramble

Imagine if, instead of reporting on Punxsutawney Phil, learning French and repairing his love life, Bill Murray spent his time in "Groundhog Day" running the Mets. What would he alter? What would he do? In honor of the real Groundhog Day, MLB.com asked executives from all 30 teams which moments they would most like to go back and change.

NEW YORK -- The call came early on the morning of the 2006 non-waiver Trade Deadline, rousing Mets assistant general manager John Ricco from sleep. Duaner Sanchez, a cog in one of baseball's best bullpens, had been in a taxicab accident on Interstate 95 while traveling to a Dominican restaurant in Miami. Sanchez had separated his pitching shoulder. His season was over.

"I guess if I could do it again," Ricco said ruefully, "I'd convince him to eat at the hotel."

At the time, coming off a sweep of the Braves in Atlanta and flying high in the National League East, the Mets knew they were losing a key piece of their bullpen. Opening the year with a 21-inning scoreless streak, Sanchez was the Mets' undisputed eighth-inning setup man at the time of his injury, posting a 2.60 ERA in 49 appearances. Losing him was impactful.

What the Mets could not have known was how much the injury would wind up affecting other areas of their club. On the eve of the Trade Deadline, Ricco and then-general manager Omar Minaya went to sleep hopeful they could land a front-line starter such as Houston's Roy Oswalt. Hours later, they reversed course, scouring the market for relief help instead. The Mets wound up acquiring Roberto Hernandez from the Pirates, dealing Xavier Nady for him and a lesser starting pitcher, Oliver Perez.

Though Hernandez proved helpful down the stretch, he was not Sanchez. And though Perez did deliver the Mets to the seventh inning of NL Championship Series Game 7 with a 1-1 tie in hand, he wound up living in infamy after signing a relatively fruitless three-year contract extension years later.

It may be impossible to know how Oswalt would have fared in Flushing by comparison, but it's worth noting that to acquire him, the Mets were considering dealing away players such as outfielder Lastings Milledge and Aaron Heilman -- the former a first-round Draft pick who ultimately fizzled, the latter a reliever who gave up Yadier Molina's tiebreaking home run in NLCS Game 7.

Minaya and Ricco, of course, couldn't know any of that at the time. They just knew that they were losing Sanchez, a critical part of the team who never truly recovered from his injury, retiring three years later.

"Our bullpen was among the best in baseball at that point, and Duaner was a huge part of that," Ricco said. "Not only did we lose him, but it kind of changed our whole view of what we needed to do. On a number of levels, it ended up changing that team that had been rolling. We ended up going to the NLCS, but who knows what happens if that didn't?"

Until last season, the Mets hadn't been back to the playoffs, let alone the NLCS.

"It was one of those things, out of nowhere," Ricco said. "You go to bed feeling great. We were cruising along. And then something like that happens."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.