Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Baseball's Most Poorly Conceived Transactions (Concluded)

Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez
In a recent post, I discussed the Expos' penchant for trading away great players. In 1989, they made an unforgivable error when they dealt left-hander Randy Johnson to the Mariners after he got off to an 0-4 start. 300 wins, five Cy Young Awards and nine strikeout titles would follow.
A few years later, the Expos missed the boat on another Hall of Famer. After capturing a Cy Young Award with Montreal in '97, Pedro Martinez was shipped to Boston, where he enjoyed his most dominant seasons. Together, Martinez and Johnson combined for 522 career victories and over 8,000 strikeouts. Kind of makes you wonder where the Expos would have ended up if they had hung on to these guys.

Greg Maddux
It's hard to imagine what the Cubs were thinking when they granted Maddux free agency after the '92 slate. Maddux, who had won his first Cy Young Award that year, signed with Atlanta. Three more Cy Young selections would follow as the right-hander went on to capture eighteen Gold Gloves and collect at least 15 wins in seventeen straight seasons--a major league record.

Ryne Sanberg
How could the Phillies do it? After a productive season at the Triple-A level in '81, future Hall of Famer Ryne Sanberg was called to Philadelphia that September. Demonstrating zero patience, the Phillies traded him to the Cubs when he didn't sparkle in his debut. Sanberg developed into one of the greatest second basemen in Chicago history with ten All-Star selections, nine Gold Gloves and seven Silver Slugger Awards to his credit. The Cubs' sacrifice was minimal as they sent Ivan DeJesus, who had hit just .194 in '81, to Philly. DeJesus was a highly competent shortstop, but he was no Sanberg. 

Nolan Ryan
With 324 wins, 5,714 strikeouts and seven no-hitters on his resume, it's mind-boggling to think that this iconic pitcher was ever traded. But in '71, the Mets dealt him to the Angels in exchange for journeyman infielder Jim Fregosi. In November of '79, the Angels allowed him to sign with the Astros and, in December of '88, the Astros sat on their hands as "The Ryan Express" departed for Texas. In all, Ryan logged more than two decades of quality major league experience.

John Smoltz
Somebody should have lost their job over this one. Midway through the 1987 campaign, the Tigers traded twenty year old pitching prospect John Smoltz to the Braves for veteran right-hander Doyle Alexander. Alexander filled an immediate need, going 9-0 in 11 starts for Detroit that year, but his age began to show over the next two seasons as he posted a 20-29 record with a 4.38 ERA. Meanwhile, Smoltz became an integral part of the dominant pitching trio that led the Braves to a slew of consecutive playoff appearances. Smoltz ended up saving 154 games in addition to his 200-plus career victories--a rare combination that landed him in the Hall with Atlanta staff mates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.  

Mark McGwire
McGwire was the heart and soul of the A's offense during the late-'80s/ early-'90s. After launching 52 homers in '96, he was off to another productive start the following year when the Cardinals offered to part with three players to obtain his services. None of those three had a major impact in Oakland as "Big Mac"--with the help of performance enhancing substances--entered his prime slugging years. His epic home run race with Sammy Sosa in '98 has become legendary.  During his five seasons in St. Louis, he averaged 44 homers and 95 RBIs per year.

Jeff Bagwell
Based on his minor league stats, the Red Sox had no reason to believe that Bagwell would be anything but spectacular. Still, they traded him to the Astros in August of 1990 for pitcher Larry Andersen. Andersen had a long and moderately successful career as a relief pitcher, toiling in relative anonymity for several clubs. Bagwell, on the other hand, became a household name in Houston. Over fifteen seasons, he averaged 30 homers and 102 RBIs--presumably without the aid of steroids. His lifetime on-base percentage of .408 is among the top forty totals of all time. Last year, he received 55.7 percent of the Cooperstown vote. 

Jay Buhner
The trade of Buhner to Seattle in July of '88 was so ill-advised that it was referenced on the Seinfeld show. The Yankees got Ken Phelps in the deal, who hit just .240 with 17 homers over portions of two seasons with New York. In contrast, Buhner became one of the most popular players on the Mariners. He smashed 305 homers and drove in 946 runs in a thirteen-year span. His finest stretch came between '95 and '97, when he averaged 41 bombs and 123 ribbies per year. On "Buhner Buzz Cut Nights," fans who showed up at the park with shaved heads received free admission and t-shirts that read: "Bald is Buhnerful" or "Take Me Out to the Bald-Game."

Barry Bonds 
 After winning his second MVP Award in '92, Bonds decided to test the free agent market. The Pirates were foolish enough to let him go as he entered the prime of his career in San Francisco. Bonds was a five-time MVP winner with the Giants, inspiring fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers. Between 2002 and 2004, he was intentionally walked 249 times. In the latter campaign, his on-base percentage was a staggering .609. Baseball's all time leader in homers and walks, he ranks among the top ten in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, total bases and RBI's. A fact that is often obscured by his steroid-fueled offensive numbers, he won eight Gold Gloves. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Baseball's Most Poorly Conceived Transactions (Part II)

After being swept by the Boston Braves in the World Series,  Philadelphia A's owner/manager Connie Mack decided to liquidate his roster, releasing two of his best pitchers--Chief Bender and Eddie Plank (Hall of Famers both). Mack then proceeded to target his coveted "$100,000 Infield," sending Cooperstown-bound second baseman Eddie Collins to the White Sox. Frank "Home Run" Baker, Mack's star third baseman, (who would eventually join Collins in Cooperstown) opted to sit out the 1915 campaign on the heels of a bitter salary dispute. Other disastrous transactions would follow, including the loss of sure-handed shortstop Jack Barry. As a result, the A's wallowed in the American League basement for seven straight seasons.

Although the rise of Babe Ruth helped fans forget, the Red Sox made a huge mistake when they traded Hall of Fame center fielder Tris Speaker to Cleveland during the spring of 1916. Speaker had won an MVP Award (then known as the Chalmers Award) with Boston in 1912 and was still very much in his prime. In his first season with the Indians, he led the American League in hits, doubles, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He spent eleven years in Cleveland altogether, compiling a cumulative .354 batting average while helping the Indians to the first championship in franchise history (during the 1920 slate).

Nearly everyone has heard about Red Sox owner Harry Frazee's misguided sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees before the 1920 campaign. But Ruth was not the only player that Frazee cast aside to keep his business interests afloat. In July of 1919, he allowed temperamental pitcher Carl Mays to jump to the Yankees, provoking the ire of AL President Ban Johnson in the process. In 1921, Frazee sent catcher Wally Schang and Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt to the Bronx. In 1922, he added Sad Sam Jones and Bullet Joe Bush to the Yankee rotation. Shoring up the Yankee infield, he included marquis shortstop Everett Scott in the deal. Midway through the '22 campaign, Frazee sent third baseman "Jumpin' Joe" Dugan to New York as well. And then, completing a series of ridiculously generous transactions, the impulsive Red Sox owner donated Hall of Fame moundsman Herb Pennock to the Yankee cause in 1923. The BoSox sank like a stone while the Yankees, making the most of their acquisitions, appeared in three consecutive World Series from 1921-1923.

It wasn't like Giants manager John McGraw to miss the boat when it came to spotting talent. But his roster was so cluttered with stars already, he traded twenty-five year old center fielder Hack Wilson to Toledo of the American Association in September of 1925. Wilson forged a Hall of Fame career mostly with the Cubs, packing his best seasons into a seven-year span from 1926 through 1932. He averaged 30 homers and 127 RBIs per year in that stretch. His 191 runs-batted-in during the '33 slate are still an all time record.   

Rogers Hornsby had a lot of undesirable traits. He was mean and prickly. He tended to alienate teammates and engage in salary disputes with owners. Still, it's hard to believe that baseball's greatest second baseman was traded as often as he was. Hornsby began his career in St. Louis, where he won six straight batting titles. After the 1926 campaign, he was dealt to the Giants. He hit .361 in New York while scoring a league-high 133 runs. The following year, he was shipped to Boston, where he won a batting crown and led the NL with a superhuman .498 on-base percentage. His travels continued in '29 as he hit .380 for the Cubs while pacing the circuit with 409 total bases. The Cubs were smart enough to hang onto him until his skills went into decline. To date, Hornsby's lifetime batting average is the second highest of all time behind Ty Cobb. 

Connie Mack was faced with some tough decisions during his fifty years at the helm of the A's. With his team in decline and the Great Depression putting the squeeze on him, he was forced to part with his best offensive player before the '36 campaign. First baseman Jimmie Foxx, winner of consecutive MVP Awards in '32/'33, had several more phenomenal seasons after leaving Philadelphia, narrowly missing a second triple crown with the Red Sox in 1938. Though Foxx's lifetime total of 534 homers has been surpassed by several players, he was second on the all time list when he retired.

During the 1970s, the A's became the first team outside New York to win three consecutive World Series titles. A's owner Charlie Finley--among the most tight-fisted executives in baseball history--began dishing off most of his high-priced players shortly afterward. Catfish Hunter was the first to go, signing with the Yankees for the '75 campaign. Reggie Jackson was the next in line, defecting to Baltimore in '76. With free agency in full swing, Finley attempted a full scale roster purge, trading closer Rollie Fingers and outfielder Joe Rudi to the Red Sox in June of '76. On the same day, he dealt staff ace Vida Blue to the Yankees. Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided both deals, citing that Finley's fire sale was "not in the best interest of baseball." Rudi and Fingers left after the '76 slate anyway. Finley tried to get rid of Blue again the following year, trading him to the Reds, but Kuhn  intervened a second time, commenting that the deal would tip the balance of the NL West. Determined to part ways with his star southpaw (who had averaged 17 wins per season between '71 and '77), Finley sent Blue to the San Francisco Giants before the '78 slate. By then, every starting player from the '74 championship squad (with the exception of outfielder Bill North) was gone.

Dave Winfield began his career with San Diego, slowly emerging as one of the premier outfielders in the National League. After four consecutive All-Star appearances, the Padres granted him free agency. The blockbuster contract Winfield signed with the Yankees in 1980 made him the highest paid player in baseball. For nearly a decade, he lived up to expectations, getting named to eight All-Star teams while adding five Gold Gloves to his collection. But tempestuous Yankee owner George Steinbrenner didn't like Winfield. In the wake of a World Series defeat in '81, he referred to Winfield as "Mr. May"--a derogatory comparison to slugger Reggie Jackson, who had earned the prestigious title of "Mr. October" for his World Series heroics with the Yankees. After Winfield sued the club for failing to contribute to a charity bearing his name (a stipulation of his contract), Steinbrenner hired gambler Howard Spira to dig up "dirt" on the high-priced outfielder. When Commissioner Fay Vincent found out, he banned Steinbrenner from day-to-day management of the Yankees. Winfield later requested that he be enshrined at Cooperstown as a member of the Padres. He became the first San Diego player to make it to the Hall.            

Monday, June 1, 2015

Baseball's Most Poorly Conceived Transactions (Part I)

Twenty-three year old Cy Young (then known as "Dent" which was a shortened version of his first name) was pitching in the Tri-State League for a team from Canton, Ohio. The owner was so financially strapped, he traded the hurler to the Cleveland Spiders for $300 and a new suit. Young became baseball's all time wins leader and ended up having a prestigious award named after him.

A young Lefty Grove was still learning the ropes for a Blue Ridge League team known as the Martinsburg Mountaineers. The team's stadium was in need of a new outfield fence since a storm had blown the old one down. Baltimore Orioles owner Jack Dunn offered to cover the cost in exchange for Grove. After dominating the International League, Grove ended up with the Philadelphia Athletics, winning a pair of triple crowns and seven consecutive strikeout titles.  

For a period of time, Frankie Frisch served as team captain of the New York Giants. He was among manager John McGraw's favorites. But McGraw was notoriously hard on his players and Frisch grew tired of being berated in front of teammates. He left the team for a little while and McGraw ended up trading him to the Cardinals in December of 1926 for Rogers Hornsby. Frisch spent eleven seasons with St. Louis--several as a player/manager. He guided the club to four World Series berths and wound up in the Hall of Fame. Hornsby hit .361 for the Giants in '27, but didn't stick around New York long enough to make a lasting impression. He signed with the Braves for the 1928 campaign, receiving a $4,500 salary increase.

Braves owner Emil Fuchs offered an aging Babe Ruth a position as "Assistant Manager" and "Vice President" before the '35 slate. Fuchs's $25,000 salary offer was a substantial pay cut for the Babe, but the two worthless titles appealed to his vain and arrogant nature. Ruth played in just 28 games and hit .181.  He quit the team in early-June.

During his first ten seasons in Cincinnati, slugger Frank Robinson averaged 32 homers and 100 RBIs per year. Reds GM Bob Howsam made a vast miscalculation when he said that Robinson was "an old thirty" before the 1966 campaign. Traded to the Orioles, Robinson made Howsam regret that statement by capturing a triple crown. He was named MVP. Several more fruitful seasons would follow.

 Though he struggled with control issues, Nolan Ryan averaged roughly a strikeout per inning during his time with the New York Mets. When he posted a 10-14 record with a 3.97 ERA in 1971, the Mets gave up on him, trading him to the Angels for Jim Fregosi. Ryan collected more than 300 victories, tossed seven no-hitters and became baseball's all time strikeout leader.

In the prime of his career, Reggie Jackson left Oakland for a significant pay raise. He led the league with a .502 slugging percentage in '76 with Baltimore. Enamored with the slugger's talents, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner personally wined and dined Jackson, ultimately convincing him to come to the Bronx. Just as Reggie had predicted, a candy bar was named after him. He became a World Series legend in New York. The Orioles were in contention throughout the decade and it will never be known what Jackson's prolonged presence might have done for them.  

Rod Carew had established himself as the American League's top hitter with seven batting titles to his credit before the '79 campaign. But the Twins were non-contenders and the Angels had money to throw around, quadrupling Carew's salary while additionally parting with four players. Carew made six consecutive All-Star appearances with California and compiled a .314 batting average over a seven-year span. The four players the Twins received have all been forgotten (deservedly so).

By the end of the '81 season, Ozzie Smith was universally recognized as the National League's premier defensive shortstop. The Padres clearly missed the boat, sending him to St. Louis in a multi-player deal. The Padres did get Sixto Lezcano and Garry Templeton, but neither player made an impact significant enough to justify losing a future Hall of Famer who would end up setting the all time record for assists at his position. Smith helped St. Louis to three World Series appearances and won thirteen consecutive Gold Gloves.