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June 5, 2009

Transaction Retrospectus

Super Deals

by Christina Kahrl

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The Rangers are on top in the AL West, surprising some more than others, and now that we're a third of the way into the season, you can take their bid for post-season play seriously. Contributing to that success have been a few of the players picked up in the Mark Teixeira trade made at the July trading deadline with the Braves in 2007, and while they're just part of flow of talent that's got Texas riding high, it's fair to suggest that the sheer quantity of quality added in the deal has made a significant difference for the Rangers-while also coming well shy of propelling the Braves into the postseason for Braves fans wondering if the deal was really worthwhile.

Consider the benefits the Rangers are getting at present. While rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia aren't yet starring at the plate, Andrus' play in the field has contributed to the Rangers' rise up to second in the major leagues in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, mimicking the Rays' much-touted similar climb on their way to a division title and playoff glory last season. Saltalamacchia's delivering well enough at the plate and behind it to help the club stabilize a position that seems as if it's been in flux since Pudge Rodriguez left town. But wait, there's more? Because not only did the Rangers get a pair of quality position players with upside, they got pitching worth bragging about as well, with Matt Harrison doing a passable job at the back end of the Rangers' rotation, and if Neftali Feliz already looked like one of the 10 best prospects in baseball before the season, his impressive work as a 21-year-old in Triple-A might put him into the picture to help the Rangers down the stretch, either in the rotation, or perhaps in a David Price-like post-season cameo.

Clearly, something might go wrong with any one of these guys-injuries sap potential, not every player develops the way you might expect, and sometimes frustration sets in and the beneficiary of this kind of franchise-making trade trades someone too soon. When the White Sox made their then-infamous "White Flag" deal in 1997, it looked like they'd gotten a decent return for Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez, and Danny Darwin, and while Keith Foulke and Bob Howry both turned out relatively well, Lorenzo Barcelo didn't end up delivering on his promise, and shortstop Mike Caruso fizzled out fast after an electric rookie season after being elevated all the way from A-ball in 1998. Setting aside classic one-fers like Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell, Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz, or even Dave Parker for Jose Rijo, history provides us with plenty of other examples of these so-called "super deals," where a team adds multiple talents that help them turn things around. Consider these exchanges:

  • The Expos get Bartolo Colon (and Tim Drew) from the Indians for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Lee Stevens, June 27, 2002. The Tribe got the players who would become their best starter and best position player, and that for a few months of Colon's time in a last-gasp bid for relevance in Montreal. Lee now has a Cy Young Award, Sizemore's the kind of player you could see winning an MVP award, and both players are All-Stars. While the Tribe subsequently gave up on Phillips, the middle infielder has blossomed as a premium defender and solid hitter with the Reds; Indians fans can be forgiven day-dreaming of what Asdrubal Cabrera flipping to Phillips on the deuce might have looked like.

    When the deal didn't deliver a trip to the postseason for the Expos, a bad deal got worse. GM Omar Minaya played wheeler-dealer again that winter by subsequently flipping Colon in his last pre-free agency season to the White Sox for Orlando Hernandez, Jeff Liefer, and Rocky Biddle; adding injury to insult, El Duque missed the season.

  • The Orioles trade Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch, and Steve Finley to the Astros for Glenn Davis, January 10, 1991. A disaster for the Birds, since Davis managed just 24 homers across parts of three seasons, and while the Astros didn't get to reap the full rewards of this deal by getting frustrated with Schilling and swapping him away for Jason Grimsley a year later, Finley was a premium center fielder on his way to becoming an offensive star as well, while Harnisch developed into a top starter in his own right before he was undermined by injuries.

  • The Mets get Frank Viola from the Twins for Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, David West, Tim Drummond, and Jack Savage, July 31, 1989. Making their play for the postseason (and coming up short), the Mets sent the Twins two top pitching prospects in Tapani and West plus an established big-league starter in Aguilera; Aguilera had been squeezed out of the Mets' rotation, and while the Twins initially made him a starter again, he'd be the closer on Minnesota's 1991 championship team, while Tapani was one of the team's top starters. West, one of the most touted talents in the minors when dealt, didn't work out so well with the Twins, but after getting dumped on the Phillies, he was the key set-up man in the pen for their pennant-winning '93 team.

  • The Astros trade Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke, and Ed Armbrister to the Reds for Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Jimmy Stewart, November 29, 1971. It's inconceivable that the Big Red Machine would ever have gotten into gear without adding Morgan, the future Hall of Fame second baseman, but getting the leadoff terror plus a workhorse starting pitcher in Billingham plus a brilliant defensive center fielder in Geronimo gave the Reds three key regulars. May was the only key cog added by the Astros in the deal, and while he had another eight years of slugging in the majors to look forward to, he was nothing like the kind of impact player Morgan had been and continued to be.

Now, you might be wondering where Billy Beane is all of this, given his reputation as a general manager, but generally speaking, however deserved Beane's reputation for masterstrokes might be, his deals have tended to bring more transitory benefits to the A's. Suffice to say that we'll have to see how well the Danny Haren deal works out; even with outfielder Aaron Cunningham and lefties Dana Eveland and Brett Anderson showing up in green and gold this spring, it's too soon to say if any of them will star in The Show, while Chris Carter's slugging in the minors gives further reason to wait on issuing any final edicts on the deal. Add in Beane's already packaged two of the six players acquired-outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and lefty Greg Smith-to get outfielder Matt Holliday from the Rockies, we'll have to take our time waiting to see what comes of what might end up being another super "super deal."

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

22 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Regarding the Joe Morgan trade, don't you mean that "(i)t's inconceivable that the Big Red Machine would ever have gotten into gear without adding Morgan, the future Hall of Fame second baseman...."

Jun 05, 2009 12:55 PM
rating: -1

He never batted lead-off for the Reds.

Jun 06, 2009 07:42 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

He did, actually, but only briefly in '79, so still bad on me; initially he was in the two-hole most of the time, and later transitioned to the third slot.

Jun 06, 2009 09:32 AM

Dan Haren has gotten even better since his move to the Diamondbacks-that trade might be a win for everyone.

Jun 05, 2009 13:05 PM
rating: 1

There was another Haren deal that fits in this class as well, namely the one that brought him (and Daric Barton and Kiko Calero) to Oakland in the first place, for Mark McGwire. Christina, what's your take on that one? St. Louis could certainly be happy with what McGwire gave them while he lasted, but the problem was that he didn't last very long. How much of a "success" was this quantity-for-quality move from the A's point of view?

Jun 05, 2009 13:28 PM
rating: -1

I think they came over in the Mark Mulder deal, not the McGwire deal.

Jun 05, 2009 14:45 PM
rating: 2

OK, well maybe I should read further. Or you other jerks should use the reply button. :P

Jun 05, 2009 14:45 PM
rating: 1

Bill, I think the trader you're think of was for Mark Mulder

Jun 05, 2009 13:37 PM
rating: 0

They were traded for Mark Mulder, not Mark McGwire.

Jun 05, 2009 13:40 PM
rating: -2

Doesn't the Pierzynski Deal have to be in here somewhere? Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser, IIRC?

Jun 05, 2009 14:14 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

Nah, see, I think if you drill down to that level--a great closer, and two somewhat sporadically useful starters (so far, but who might do more, and who might not), then you may as well also bring in getting Mel Hall and Joe Carter for Rick Sutcliffe, for example, or whether or not the A's got enough of value for Rickey Henderson (Jose Rijo, Jay Howell, Eric Plunk, Stan Javier, and Tim Birtsas). The point of the exercise (as it was handed to me) was to look at deals that involved a profusion of goodies, not merely good deals.

One I really thought about including, though, was the Kevin Mitchell trade between the Mariners and Giants, as the Giants got Billy Swift, Dave Burba, and Mike Jackson for Mitchell and Mike Remlinger. I'm also always impressed by the Indians' getting Brook Jacoby and Brett Butler (and Rick Behenna) for Len Barker, but that's probably more one of my favorite trades to think back on than anything else.

Jun 05, 2009 14:59 PM

I know this wasn't a rebuild trade, but as far as Billy Beane deals go, doesn't A.J Hinch, Angel Berroa, Jesus Colome, and Ben Grieve for Johnny Damon, Corey Lidle, and Mark Ellis deserve mention?

Jun 05, 2009 14:37 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

Damon was supposed to be the key component, but that didn't turn out all that well, and while Ellis and two years of Lidle has a lot of redemptive value, Lidle was discarded two years later, really reducing the deal to one year of Johnny Damon, two with Lidle, and Mark Ellis for stuff that didn't turn out to be much better in terms of shelf lives. A good deal? In the broad strokes, yes, and one that was definitely worth doing on the day and not regretting, but it wasn't exactly something that ended up having the impact many of us anticipated.

Jun 05, 2009 15:03 PM

The Morgan-May trade is my all time favorite for an example of teams taking the wrong lessons from relying on Steve Garvey statistics (avg-hr-rbi). At the time you could see the Astros thinking "we don't hit enough home runs" and trading for Lee May, a solid, proven power guy -- to play in the least friendly hitter's park of the era, one that would blunt the player's best asset. They gave away a guy who was ideal for a park like the Astrodome -- speedy, high OBP, gap power, and improving defense. I don't think anyone in 1971 thought at the time that Morgan was going to develop into a Hall of Fame player, but all of the players in the deal indicated that Astros managment was trying to sail into the wind, fighting against their park characterics instead of building to them.

Jun 05, 2009 17:03 PM
rating: 2

I was remembering a trade and eventually had to look it up. in 1982, the Rangers traded for Lee Mazzilli from the Mets and gave up Walt Terrell and Ron Darling. Then in August they traded Lee Mazzilli for Bucky Dent. ouch. Darling won 99 games over 7 seasons for the Mets and Terrell won 19 games over 3 years before being traded to Detroit for Howard Johnson. Thanks Mr Corbett.

BTW, the same day as the Teixeira deal, the Rangers also dealt Eric Gagne plus cash to the Red Sox for David Murphy, Kason Gabbard, and Engel Beltre.

Also note that two additional names were involved in the Teixeira deal. The Rangers also gave up Ron Mahay, Eternal LOOGY, and received Beau Jones, who they got because Matt Harrison was hurt at the time of the trade. (he was actually named about a week later.)

Jun 05, 2009 18:05 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

Keep in mind that there's nothing about Murphy, Kason "Return to Sender" Gabbard, or Beltre yet that speaks out about all that much substantive value the Rangers have yet to really have cause to appreciate. Neat that they flipped Gagne for something? Sure. For all that much? Well, time will tell, ideally in Beltre's instance in heaps.

Jun 05, 2009 21:39 PM

One other two for one deal was Heathcliff Slocomb from the Red Sox for Derek Lowe and Jason Veritek. Just to rub some sea salt into the wounds of the Mariner Fans.

And for those Mariner fans out there, theres the Mark Langston and Mike Campbell for Gene Harris, Brian Holman, and some random tall guy.*

* ok, it was Randy Johnson

Jun 05, 2009 18:12 PM
rating: -1

In terms of the 2009 season, at least, I think of this trade.

Delmon Young and Brendon Harris to the Twins for Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza to the Rays.

That trade turned out particularly lopsided. For 2009, perhaps the best fielding & hitting shortstop & one of the best ten or twenty starting pitchers in the AL, in return for perhaps the most underachieving prospect in the league & a serviceable, poor-fielding shortstop.

Jun 05, 2009 22:41 PM
rating: 0
Jay Taylor

The funny thing about that trade was how everyone thought the Twins had won it. I remember a bunch of articles talking about how the team that gets the best player is usually the winner and that the Twins got that best player.

it's a scary proposition to trade prospects for prospects.

Jun 08, 2009 10:54 AM
rating: 0

January 27, 1982: Philadelphia Phillies trade Larry Bowa and Ryne Sandberg to the Chicago Cubs for Ivan DeJesus.

In 1981, the 28 y.o. DeJesus compiled a line of .194 (yes ... .194) /.276/.233 (yes ... he slugged .233), and made 24 errors in 106 (strike-shortened season) games, for a .959 fielding pct.

Bowa was a 35 y.o. SS who managed to compile a .283/.331/.339 line in '81. (17 XBH in 391 PAs). He had a .975 fielding pct. (11 errors).

Sandberg was 21 y.o. in '81 and compiled a .293/.352/.397 line with 32 SBs in Triple-A.

What a deal . . . I still can't reconcile it to this day.

Jun 05, 2009 23:03 PM
rating: 0

So, this isn't about deals that turned around a franchise, but your introduction made me think of something else.

" it's fair to suggest that the sheer quantity of quality added in the deal has made a significant difference for the Rangers"

"Quantity has a quality all its own."

I always thought that if your minor leagues featured one or two big prospects they might not develop because they would be treated like the Carolina league version of Barry Bonds, where every plate appearance would become an exercise in watching high and outside pitches sail by. (One of my teachers was a high school baseball coach in Maryland who faced Harold Baines' team, and he threatened to kick anyone who threw Baines a strike off the team.)
Quantity forces, or allows, the opposition to play the game, whereas isolation of talent encourages the talent to fester without leveled competition instead of develop... or at least that is my belief.
Evidence? How could you know?

Is the return of the Rangers minor league as a source of talent an illusion based on the big names they got from Atlanta or is it a demonstration of the wisdom of the old Dodgers method of bringing up cadres of young talent in groups, or just happy coincidence?

Jun 06, 2009 14:13 PM
rating: 0

December 9, 1982: Philadelphia Phillies trade Jay Baller, Julio Franco, Manny Trillo, George Vukovich and Jerry Willard to the Cleveland Indians for Von Hayes.

No profusion of goodies there?

No, not really, I guess -- jsut a profusion.

Jun 15, 2009 10:31 AM
rating: 0
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