“You Could Look It Up” is a weekly look at the game’s present through the funhouse mirror of the past. Today we begin an experiment in unguided writing, an experiment in blue sky time travel without a thesis. From now until shortly after the non-waiver trading deadline, YCLIU will examine the key mid-season trades for each franchise (mid-season being generously described as June 15 to the end of the regular season) and evaluate each deal to see what a mid-season addition is really worth–and if possible, to discern patterns and discover which deals really help and which are of little or even negative value.
After we break down each trade, we’ll come to a “snap judgment,” a hasty conclusion. At the end of the series, we’ll see if those judgments add up to any helpful conclusions. In each installment we’ll highlight a team or two, alternating American and National League clubs. The first two installments will highlight the opponents of the 1992 World Series, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
BEWARE THE TRADER: Every deal described below was the work of former Blue Jays’ executive Pat Gillick.
TRADE: Bought LHP Ron Musselman from the Texas Rangers.
RECORD AT TRADE: 36-19 (.654), 2nd Place, -5.5
AFTER: 53-54 (.495)
FINISH: 89-73, (.549), 2nd Place, -15
INTENDED UPGRADE: The bullpen, which was about as organized as the Democratic Party.
RESULT: The Jays had a strong starting rotation and a developing offense (the George Bell/Lloyd Moseby/Jesse Barfield outfield was coming into its own), but no bullpen to speak of. At times, rookie Jimmy Key was the only lefty in the pen, occasionally joined by the spectacularly ineffective Bryan Clark. The first place Tigers had gotten off to a historically fast start, going 35-5 through May 24, and that gave them a frisson of invincibility. In fact, the Blue Jays were still within striking distance and the Tigers were about to slow down. Rather than go for an aggressive solution, the Jays settled for the wild Musselman and it was they who slowed. Over the winter they would add two relievers, Bill Caudill and Tom Henke, and won the American League East.
SNAP JUDGMENT: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
TRADE: Dealt 1B/DH Len Matuszek to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for 1B Al Oliver.
RECORD AT TRADE: 51-32 (.614), 1st Place, +3.5.
AFTER: 48-30 (.615)
FINISH: 99-62 (.614), 1st Place, +2.
INTENDED UPGRADE: DH. Bobby Cox’s initially platooned Matuszek and Jeff Burroughs. Burroughs, though technically productive, was at the end of the line, while Matuszek, who had the tools to hit for power but little else, had two home runs in 151 at bats.
RESULT: Oliver, 38, had nothing left in the tank, and didn’t hit. The Jays had won without a DH to that point, and continued to do so. Both Kelly Gruber and Cecil Fielder received cup of coffee-call-ups, with Fielder hitting .311/.358/.511 in 81 plate appearances, but it wasn’t enough to win a job. Cliff Johnson, acquired in an August 28 trade, was the DH in the ALCS loss to the Royals.
SNAP JUDGMENT: Once again, a half-hearted attempt at a solution failed to produce appreciable results.
TRADE: Sent RHP Oswaldo Peraza and a PTBNL to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for LHP Mike Flanagan; Baltimore later received RHP Jose Mesa.
RECORD AT TRADE: 77-54 (.587), 2nd Place, -1.0.
AFTER: 19-12 (.613)
FINISH: 96-66 (.592), 2nd Place, -2.0.
INTENDED UPGRADE: Starting rotation. The Jays had three good starters at the top of the rotation, but the fourth and fifth spots were rotated amongst John Cerutti, Jose Nunez, Joe Johnson, and a 48-year-old, one-foot-in-retirement Phil Niekro, who went 0-2 with an 8.25 ERA in three starts.
RESULT: Flanagan, the longtime Oriole, had been sidelined by elbow problems and had not pitched well when healthy. In fact, he hadn’t pitched well since 1984. He showed some life with the Blue Jays, starting seven times and posting a 2.37 ERA along with excellent peripherals: 49 innings pitched, 46 hits, 15 walks, 43 strikeouts. Unfortunately, Niekro’s three starts had done a great deal of damage in the hair-thin race between the Jays and the Tigers. The knuckleballer’s first loss had allowed the Tigers to close within half a game of the first place Jays. His second perpetuated a first place tie on a day when the Tigers lost, and his third dropped the Jays a game behind the Tigers. Niekro was released the same day Flanagan was acquired. Flanagan’s first Jays start on September 5 against the Mariners produced seven shutout innings and brought the Jays within a half-game of first place. Then, on the second-to-last day of the season, with the Tigers and Jays tied for first place, Flanagan pitched 11 innings, holding the Tigers to two runs…but Jeff Musselman lost the game in relief. That loss set up the dramatic confrontation on the last day of the season, where Detroit’s Frank Tanana outdueled Jimmy Key 1-0. (As a side note, the two prospects surrendered in the deal were minor; Mesa, meanwhile, had just finished acting as the Southern League’s bitch, a role which he took to the American League and performed with gusto through his transfer to the bullpen in 1994.)
SNAP JUDGMENT: Flanagan paid off, but the Jays needed the help a month earlier.
TRADE: Sent LHP Jeff Musselman and P Mike Ryan to the New York Mets in exchange for OF Mookie Wilson.
RECORD AT TRADE: 52-53 (.495), 2nd Place, -3.0
AFTER: 37-20 (.649)
FINISH: 89-73 (.549), 1st Place, +2
INTENDED UPGRADE: Dear God, give us this day our daily bread and spare us from Junior Felix (and from Lloyd Moseby too).
RESULT: Wilson hit .298 but was actually fairly bad, walking just three times in 247 plate appearances and slugging just .370. The same day that Wilson was acquired, the Jays also claimed the Mets’ Lee Mazzilli on waivers and had somewhat better results, albeit in a far smaller role. Though the Jays took off after the trade, it was the pitching that picked up, not the offense.
SNAP JUDGMENT: A conservative solution leads to conservative rewards.
TRADE: Sent OF Pedro Munoz and 2B Nelson Liriano to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for LHP John Candelaria.
RECORD AT TRADE: 53-46 (.535), 1st Place, +1.0
AFTER: 33-30 (.524)
FINISH: 86-76 (.531), 2nd Place, -2.0
INTENDED UPGRADE: The bullpen’s nonexistent anti-lefty component.
RESULT: David Wells had been the sole lefty in the bullpen–no Jays LOOGY in 1990, if the LOOGY had even been invented. When Wells moved to the rotation in late May (replacing Flanagan, who had given his last the previous fall), the relievers were lonely for a southpaw, at least in theory. The 36-year-old Candy Man had held lefties to .196/.222/.255 in 34 games and didn’t come with a high price tag–Munoz had some ability to hit but had limited patience and almost no defensive ability, while Liranio was an inoffensive second baseman. Unfortunately, Candelaria was a disaster in 13 Toronto games, losing three, saving one, winning none, and posting an ERA of 5.48.
SNAP JUDGMENT: Who says you have to have a LOOGY when you have Duane Ward and Tom Henke?
TRADE: Sent 2B Jeff Kent and a player to be named (OF Ryan Thompson) to the New York Mets in exchange for RHP David Cone.
RECORD AT TRADE: 73-55 (.570), 1st Place, +2.5
AFTER: 23-11 (.676)
FINISH: 96-66 (.593), 1st Place, +4.0.
INTENDED UPGRADE: Add an ace to a starting rotation lacking one, unless you count Juan Guzman.
RESULT: Cone, the owner of an 80-48 (.625), 3.08 ERA record at the time of the trade, and an impending free agent, was well worth the wager of Kent, a rookie infielder with intriguing power possibilities but a shaky defensive portfolio, and Thompson, of whom much was expected for no particular reason. As a Jay, Cone put up a fine 2.55 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance. Though the Jays were just 4-3 in Cone’s starts, Cone was a boon to a shaky pen, pitching seven or more innings in five starts.
SNAP JUDGMENT: Kent turned out to be quite a good player, but Roberto Alomar, 24, had him blocked in Toronto. Dealing one fungible prospect for an established ace capable of driving the team to a championship was a no-brainer.
TRADE: Sent OF Darrin Jackson to the New York Mets in exchange for SS Tony Fernandez.
RECORD AT TRADE: 35-26 (.573), 2nd, -3.0.
AFTER: 60-41 (.594)
FINISH: 96-67, 1st, +7.0.
INTENDED UPGRADE: Shortstop. The Blue Jays didn’t have one. They had already sorted through Alfredo Griffin, Dick Schofield Jr., and Luis Sojo.
RESULT: As would be true again in 1995, the Tony Fernandez that New York saw was not the same one enjoyed by the rest of baseball. In just a few months he had become a pariah at Shea Stadium due to the perception of lackadaisical play, and the Mets were eager to take the supremely untalented Jackson, 30, to get him off of their hands. The Jays had acquired Jackson earlier in the season, sending Derek Bell and Stoney Briggs to the Padres in an effort to shore up their shaky left-field situation, despite Jackson’s historic 1992 (.249/.283/.392). The Mets are a special team to trade with; apparently they used up all of their trading karma acquiring Cone for Ed Hearn. Fernandez reverted to form with the Jays, batting .306/.361/.442 in 94 games, patching a position that had sunk below replacement level.
SNAP JUDGMENT: The Jays were desperate to solve their shortstop situation, the Mets were giving Fernandez away, and Jackson had already failed to help in the outfield. Besides, the Jays had a line on solving that problem, as discussed in the final entry below…
TRADE: RHP Steve Karsay and a player to be named (OF Jose Herrera) went to the Oakland A’s in exchange for LF Rickey Henderson.
RECORD AT TRADE: 60-45 (.571), tied for 1st.
AFTER: 35-22 (.614)
FINISH: 95-67 (.586), 1st, +7.0
INTENDED UPGRADE: Left field had decided to phone in sick that year.
RESULT: Rickey had had a great season for Oakland but was a terrible Jay, batting .215/.356/.319, and was perhaps a bit worse in the playoffs. Still, it was a great idea on paper, and the Jays won the championship anyway.
SNAP JUDGMENT: A former first round pick, Karsay was as delicious a pitching prospect as any that had come along in years. Thing is, there is no such thing as a pitching prospect (TNSTAPP). Since Karsay was a pitching prospect, but according to our theology could not be one, he was wholly mythological, non-existent, and the Jays were correct to trade this mere wisp of rumor to Oakland for the Hall of Fame leadoff man who was apparently still in his prime.
NEXT TIME: John Schuerholz and the Braves.