July 2, 1998
Chain Chain Chain
The Giants' two trade chains, from the '70's to today
Before that, the deal that really bothered me was when the Giants traded Gaylord Perry and Frank Duffy to the Indians for Sudden Sam McDowell. It's not that I had an inkling that Perry was going to be an instant Cy Young Award winner for Cleveland, or that I knew that McDowell's best days were long behind him. I didn't. I just knew that one of the familiar faces was leaving.
Perry. Mays. McCovey. Marichal. All gone, eventually. And not just them, of course; they were the big ones, and frankly, the only one whose departure really hurt the team was Perry -- the rest were shadows of their former selves.
But little did the Giants or I know how much fun this deal would provide: it set off a chain of subsequent trades that has been unbroken to this day, nearly 24 years later. By "chain" I mean, "Guy A is traded for Guy B; Guy B is traded for Guy C; Guy C is traded for Guy D, etc." Though this kind of thing can't be unique, I only know of two such long-term chains since the Giants have been in San Francisco -- the other one began with Tito Fuentes just after the Bonds trade.
Take a look at the abbreviated chains to the right of this page. See what's happened lately?
Contrast these with this recent chain: Kirt Manwaring for Rick Wilkins for... nobody -- all within a year. I'm sure that this type of chain is much more common, especially now that trades are more difficult to make, and players often leave via free agency rather than trade.
The hitch in this story now is that unfortunately it leads to a marginal backup outfielder in the majors and, by all accounts, another one in the minors. This does not bode well for the trade chain. It was a cool story in 1989, when the premise could've been, "Would you trade Bobby Bonds for Kevin Mitchell? The Giants did -- sort of...." I almost had this story sold in 1991, but the timing was hosed by the Giants trying to unload Kevin Mitchell -- which they did, eventually, and somehow a "Bonds for Swift, Jackson, and Burba" piece didn't have the same ring to it (to say nothing of a "Bonds for Jones" piece).
Then once Swift and Jackson departed via free agency, only Burba kept the chain alive, so I was convinced that the team needed to trade him. Naturally I was thrilled that they did -- if only to perpetuate the chain. (Plus I wasn't crazy about Burba anyway.) I was even more pleased -- at first -- when I realized that including Darren Lewis in the deal meant that the Fuentes chain was still alive and that the two chains had converged. Later, however, I realized what this meant: if one chain dies, they both die.
The two chains have involved over fifty players, with Lewis being the common link. Other illustrious names include broadcasters Mike Krukow, Duane Kuiper, and Joe Morgan; four-time batting champion (though none of those titles came with the Giants) Bill Madlock; former Cy Young Award winner Mark Davis (again, not an award won with the Giants); and Dave Dravecky. The player traded with Fuentes, Butch Metzger, was in camp with the Giants as a replacement player in 1995.
The Bonds chain is fairly complicated, as you'll see in the figure, while the Fuentes chain is fairly linear. Here are the full details:
Solely for entertainment's sake, it's important to me for the Giants to keep the chain intact, and since 1995 it's looked as though it would be harder and harder to do. Dave McCarty? Jalal Leach? Rickey Pickett? How are you supposed to keep this thing alive with those guys?
But alive it is, with Chris Jones being the chain's only by-product in the major leagues right now -- not only that, but every other link in the chain had been acquired for someone who had played for the Giants at the major league level. (Pickett later broke through with the Diamondbacks, to their eventual chagrin, but they dumped him quickly.) Scott Smith is still in the Giants' system, but I can't imagine the team has high hopes for him. Jalal Leach got a long look in spring training, but he doesn't look much like a prospect either.
So now, somehow, some way, the Giants must trade Chris Jones for somebody with some staying power. I'm thinking he needs to be part of the team's next big trade, and that the guys the Giants pick up have to be seriously marketable major leaguers who aren't in the last year of their contracts (and thus about to enter the free agent market).
Otherwise, the trade chain will die, and that's just not right.