A two-time Cy Young Award winner traded before the age of 30-where have we seen that before? It's only happened twice prior to this week's Johan Santana trade to the New York Mets by the Minnesota Twins.
The first time came on October 9, 1970, when the Detroit Tigers traded Denny McLain to the Washington Senators for Ed Brinkman, Aurelio Rodriguez, Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan. They also sent along Elliott Maddox, Norm McRae, and Don Wert. The circumstances of McLain's departure are much different than Santana's. For one thing, McLain was even younger: Santana turns 29 on March 13, while McLain was six months from his 27th birthday at the time he was dealt. For another, there was no impending free agency hurrying the process along. Also, Santana, while not coming off his best season, is still near the peak of his abilities. McLain, on the other hand, was coming off of a miserable 1970 season that saw him suspended for consorting with mob types and missing time to shoulder problems. He had thrown 661 innings in the two seasons he won the Cy Young, 1968 and 1969, starting 82 games in the process and going all the way in 51 of them. He was also known as someone who enjoyed the nightlife. In 1970, he was reduced to 14 starts and under 100 innings. He was, in other words, someone a new team might want to approach with great caution.
Not Bob Short's Senators, though. In the process of going after him full-bore, they made one of the worst trades ever. McLain was able to return to near full duty, starting 32 games, but his WARP3 of 1.3 indicates that his questionable effectiveness at this point in his career, which didn't have much longer to run. His trademates didn't light up the sky, either: McRae never played for the Senators, while Wert went 2-for-40 in 20 games. Maddox was the only thing like a productive player for Washington, totaling 7.0 worth of WARP3 in the three seasons he was there before being sold to the Yankees.
Had the trade been McLain for Jim Hannan straight up, you would probably nod your head and say, "I get that." Hannan was a 30-year swingman who was about at McLain's level at the time of the trade. Of course, he hadn't won 31 games in 1968, so McLain brought more to the Tigers in the trade-much more. Hannan turned out to be the very least of the deal going the other way to the Motor City Kitties. While Rodriguez (third base) and Brinkman (shortstop) were never wizards with the bats-posting career EqAs of .230 and .218, respectively-they nailed down their side of the infield until it was airtight. Both had great arms and lots of range. Rodriguez was with the Tigers for the rest of the decade, while Brinkman was good for a 16.9 WARP3 in his four years in Detroit.
Either one of them by themselves would have tipped the trade in Detroit's favor, but adding in what Joe Coleman did for the Tigers makes it a massacre. Over the next four seasons, he won 76 games and amassed a WARP3 of 26.1. The Tigers won their division in 1972, thanks in part to the players picked up in the McClain deal, while the Senators/Rangers lost 301 games in the three seasons following the trade. As blockbuster deals go, it was a real short-term franchise-gutter.
The second example of a pre-age-30 deal involving a multi-Cy Young guy came on December 11, 1991, when the Royals sent 1985 and 1989 winner Bret Saberhagen to the Mets for Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies, and Keith Miller. People talked of little else in Kansas City when this trade was made. At the time, it seemed unthinkable to have sent away the popular Sabes, although the trade's defenders pointed to Jefferies-then just 23, but already the veteran of over 450 big league games-as something of a catch. In the end, nobody in the trade ever quite lived up to expectations. Saberhagen had one season with the Mets (1994) that was reminiscent of his best work in Kansas City. McReynolds faded fast, and Miller's career was killed by injuries. Jefferies never lived up to anybody's expectations and became something of a Flying Dutchman, doomed to wander from team to team, not hitting with enough power to play a corner position, nor playing defense well enough to play up the middle.
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