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. 

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