Hernandez, general manager Omar Minaya said, would set up Billy Wagner. But by the end of the season -- for better or worse, as it turned out -- Hernandez had been displaced by Guillermo Mota. And Mota wasn't acquired until the Mets claimed him off waivers from the Indians and negotiated a deal on Aug. 20, 2006.
All of which is to say that the Mets' lack of an acquisition before the 4 p.m. ET Deadline on Thursday, and in the days preceding it, is not so critical a void. Wonders can be worked with the waivers wire. So as empty-handed as Minaya is at the moment, it is hardly a given that the Mets, as presently constituted, will be the same Mets that begin the gun lap of the pennant race, September.
"There'll be some guys who are available," Minaya said on Thursday after the Deadline had passed. "Some guys who will clear waivers."
Chances are none will be of the caliber of those who did changes teams -- and possibly division races as well. The Mets expressed interest in some of them -- Nady, Manny Ramirez, Arthur Rhodes and Jason Bay. But as he explained why the Mets had done nothing, Minaya repeatedly said he saw no wisdom in acquiring a "rental player" for one or two prospects. And he noted that some of the prospects the Mets wouldn't deal now could be needed for deals in the offseason once the club knows what will happen with Pedro Martinez, Perez and Carlos Delgado.
Speaking on a conference call on Thursday, Minaya said he had spoken with the Red Sox about Ramirez, the player he seemed to covet most during his time with the Mets.
But he noted: "What Boston was looking for, we couldn't provide -- a Major League-ready outfielder." That player was Bay.
Even if the Red Sox were willing to accept a package without a big league outfielder, Minaya wasn't about to deal for Ramirez -- if he considered Ramirez a rental player.
"We can't continue to give up two or three players," he said, "for a rental player."
Minaya also acknowledged he spoke with the Pirates about Bay -- "They wanted a very premium-plus prospect," he said -- and with the Mariners about Rhodes, and he seemed to indicate that he had contacted the Rockies about reliever Brian Fuentes. He said there was no fit with the Mariners, who dealt Rhodes to the Marlins.
So the Mets' needs persist: a corner outfielder, preferably one with some pop; a setup relief pitcher, preferably one who can deal with left-handed and right-handed batters; and a genuine middle reliever, preferably one who could start if a need arose.
Minaya won't suspend his contact with other clubs just because the Trade Deadline has passed.
He likely will face the same obstacles that have existed for weeks -- and actually since the four-for-one deal that moved Johan Santana to the Mets' rotation in February -- a lack of personnel he can move to import what the team needs. The Mets have outfielder Fernando Martinez and few other young players that other clubs covet. The names of reliever Eddie Kunz and starters Jonathon Niese and Robert Parnell have gained some profile in recent weeks, mostly because Minaya has said he is reluctant to include them in deals, not because other clubs have clamored for them.
If the four are, for the sake of argument, special prospects the Mets should retain, the club still lacks players on the next level down, the kind the Yankees sent to make their deal with the Pirates for Nady and reliever Damaso Marte. Had the Mets been able to import the two, Minaya might have been able to spend Thursday at the beach with his cell phone off.
Instead, the GM was working as he did last year, when he traded for second baseman Luis Castillo, hopeful of obtaining players who will have greater positive impact than Hernandez, Mota and Castillo have had.
Even when -- and an "if" still exists in this equation -- Ryan Church is cleared to return, the team will be short one bonafide corner outfielder. Fernando Tatis has been a revelation, and manager Jerry Manuel has identified him as the left fielder. But if another outfielder -- one with the skills of, say, Bubba Trammell, the outfielder the Mets acquired shortly before the Deadline in 2000 -- were to become available to them, they probably would work to make the acquisition, even if the new man were not to displace Tatis.
The need for another setup reliever appears to increase with each passing game. Aaron Heilman has pitched three and two innings in his two most recent appearances. Extending that level of workload would render him useless -- or at least ineffective -- before Sept. 1.
Joe Smith appears to have hit a wall of late. His three most recent appearances have produced six hits, three walks, five runs and five outs. Pedro Feliciano and Scott Schoeneweis are limited in what they can do effectively -- face left-handed batters; Sanchez has been removed from the eighth-inning role that had been his, partially by default; and Carlos Muniz is miscast in long relief.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.