It's been a long time since I really followed a baseball season very closely. In 2008 I hardly even noticed the season go by, never knew who won the World Series or big post-season awards until long after the fact (Phillies won the World Series? Dustin Pedroia was the AL MVP? Really? Lincecum and Lee won the Cy Young awards? Wow.).
The fact that the Mariners were awful didn't really help. Now things have calmed down a bit, and the Mariners have decided not to suck quite so badly, it's interesting to look forward to what might happen in the next month or so in the run up to the trading deadline. Will the Mariners cave in and end up trading away their veterans? (Oh, wait, we don'thave any tht anybody would want.) Or will they hang in there and decide to go buy a piece or two to make the team better down the stretch? It's finely balanced, with Mariners leading the league in pitching, but dead last in hitting. So, what to do?
Trades, especially deadline trades, are the stuff of legend. However, they are almost always judged by the end of the season, rarely long after. Right now the Mariners could trade for a veteran hitter or two, but at what cost?
Past trades tell us that veteran hitters often don't hit, which is why they're the ones that are available. And that makes us feel bad for the prospects we gave away who we were sure were going to turn into the next Babe Ruth, or in Seattle's case, the next Ken Griffey Jr. But then, more often than not, they turn out to be middle of the road players or worse.
There's a great list over at Seattle Sportsnet from 2009 of ostensibly the worst 30 trades in Mariners history (the great trade list is way shorter). I don't agree that many of them are even bad trades. Some were made due to circumstances at the time, like a player had just got one too many DUI's for management's liking. Some looked reasonable at the time, but seemed worse immediately afterwards because who we acquired simply lost the ability to play (yeah, I'm looking at you, Jeff Cirillo). Some were just veterans for veterans trying to juggle odd pieces around. Only 11 truly involve trading away prospects for veterans. These are (in chronological order):
Mike Hampton and Mike Felder to Houston for Eric Anthony (12/10/93)
Hampton looked brilliant for a couple of seasons, eventually got one of the biggest contracts ever, but then fell off a cliff and was bad abd/or injured most of the time. Anthony couldn't hit. Bad trade, but looked much worse at the time. Felder was a nonentity.
Shawn Estes and Wilson Delgado to San Francisco for Salomon Torres (5/21/95)
None of these players amounted to much, ever.
David Arias to Minnesota for Dave Hollins (8/29/96)
Well, this looks bad in hindsight. Arias was, of course, the guy we now know as David Ortiz. Awful trade, wouldn’t you say? But it took Ortiz three years to be a regular and another four after that before he became DAVID ORTIZ aka Big Papi. Overall this was not necessarily a bad trade.
Jose Cruz, Jr. to Toronto for Paul Spoljaric and Mike Timlin (7/31/97)
At the time, Seattle fans saw Jose Cruz Jr. as the next Ken Griffey Jr. Both were sons of retired major league players - it seemed inevitable he would be great. Spoljaric and Timlin were brutal for the Mariners, so it added to the misery. But in the end, Cruz was just a major league spare part for his mediocre career. Call this a wash in hindsight.
Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek to Boston for Heathcliff Slocumb (7/31/97)
This was a terrible trade, no doubt. We knew it at the time. Two highly regarded prospects, both of whom are still playing today, fourteen years later (albeit in the twilight of their careers) for a terrible, terrible reliever. If Slocumb had been good, even great, even the best there ever was, this would still have been a terrible trade.
Brian Fuentes, Denny Stark, and Jose Paniagua to Colorado for Jeff Cirillo (12/16/01)
This wasn't a bad trade on paper. Nobody predicted Cirillo would forget how to hit completely. Sure, Fuentes turned out to be a decent closer eventually, but it's not like he's elite or anything. Only the sheer majestic awfulness of Jeff Cirillo made this a terrible trade in hindsight. Stark and Paniagua were makeweights.
Matt Thornton to Chicago White Sox for Joe Borchard (3/20/06)
While Thornton is a decent reliever(eventually) , and Borchard is long gone from baseball, this trade was basically a wash. Thornton's career up to this point was a big tease - lots of promise, little substance.
Asdrubal Cabrera to Cleveland for Eduardo Perez (6/30/06)
This and the next are undeniably the worst trades in this list. Is Bill Bavasi the worst GM there has ever been? Perez was a washed up DH who couldn’t hit and retired at the end of the season. For this we gave away a top rated middle infield prospect because he was blocked by – wait for it - Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez. How did that work out? Seems laughable now. Today Betancourt and Lopez are two of the worst hitters in baseball, barely clinging to jobs (thankfully with other teams), while Cabrera is stud in the middle of Cleveland's offense.
Shin-Soo Choo and Shawn Nottingham to Cleveland for Ben Broussard (8/24/06)
To add insult to injury, Bill Bavasi gave away another very good prospect for the other half of Cleveland's "can't hit the side of a barn" DH platoon. Admittedly, Choo had seen a glimpse of major league time without overwhelming anyone, and Broussard wasn't as washed up as Perez, but again, Broussard was quickly out of baseball and Choo, along with his buddy Cabrera, is now a mainstay of the Cleveland offense.
Rafael Soriano to Atlanta for Horacio Ramirez (12/7/06)
Bavasi certainly had a knack for super-disastrous trades. In this case he needed a starter. Atlanta had a very bad one they wanted to get rid of (but hey, he's a lefty! But so is my Aunt Fanny and we didn’t give away a stud reliever for her.) The wrinkle here is that Soriano had occasional elbow problems while with the Mariners. For whatever reason, rather than get him properly checked out, the team labeled him a malingerer, and to be disposed of ASAP. Hence, despite much talent already demonstrated, off he went, for possibly the worst pitcher ever to play in the majors.
Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Kam Mickolio, and Tony Butler to Baltimore for Erik Bedard (2/8/08)
This trade was widely decried by the baseball cognoscenti (aka statheads) at the time. Adam Jones was, you guessed it, the next Ken Griffey Jr. You don't just give him away, along with a valued lefty reliever, a promising starter a promising reliever and yet another pitching prospect for two seasons of the admittedly very good Erik Bedard! Looking at it now, if Erik Bedard had stayed healthy this trade would probably have been a win for Seattle. At least a wash. Jones is good, but he's no superstar. Sherrill is a journeyman lefty who is OK, but now two teams removed from the Orioles. Tillman is just breaking in as a full time starter with a career ERA of 5.35 over 160-ish innings. Mickolio is also no longer with Baltimore and has a total of 31 innings pitched in four years in the majors. Butler is still struggling to get out of A ball. Meanwhile, Bedard, when healthy, has been the quality starter Seattle expected. The problem is, he hasn't been very healthy. And despite the local media taking a dislike to him because he doesn’t play by their rules in interviews, he has stayed with the Mariners through his injury recovery, posting excellent numbers this year until he just went on the DL a couple of days ago (but not arm related, so fingers crossed.)
So looking at that list there are a few general lessons. Of the eleven trades, I would say only four were truly disastrous and could be seen to be so at the time. Three of those were Bill Bavasi's crowing achievements of 2006:
Cabrera, Choo and Soriano for a bit of string, a piece of used chewing gum and a rusty spittoon.
Woody Woodward had previously tried to set the record with:
Lowe and Varitek for the opprtunity to bang your knee on that awkward piece of furniture you're always walking into.
All of the others looked OK at the time (yes, even the Bedard-Jones trade.)
So the keys to successful trading are:
1) Don't trade for washed up, over the hill players.
2) Prospects are nearly always over-rated, especially by the home town fans.
3) Don't be Bill Bavasi.
4) If you actually get in performance what you thought you wanted, it wasn't a bad trade.