FOR THOSE WHO CAME IN LATE: From now until shortly after the non-waiver trading deadline, “You Could Look It Up” will examine the key mid-season trades for each franchise (with “mid-season” being generously defined as “June 15 to the end of the regular season”) and evaluate each trade 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.
- DATE: 06/15/1957
TRADE: Traded 2B Danny O’Connell, RHP Ray Crone, and OF Bobby Thomson to the New York Giants in exchange for 2B Red Schoendienst.
RECORD AT TRADE: 32-21 (.603), 1st Place, +1.5.
AFTER: 73-38 (.658).
FINISH: 95-59 (.617), 1st Place, +8.0.
INTENDED UPGRADE: Second base.
RESULT: No discussion of deadline deals would be complete without the famous deal that was considered to have brought the Braves their first Milwaukee pennant…The Schoendienst deal has some application to this year’s Yankees in that the Braves were such a good club that it was arguable that they could get by without brushing up at second base. O’Connell wasn’t doing a terrible job, and with Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews around, who really cared what the second baseman hit? The Braves chose to take nothing for granted and picked up the best second baseman in the National League, a very strong defender with a reliable singles/doubles bat (Schoendienst was a career .290 hitter at the time of his acquisition; he hit .310 and slugged .434 for the Braves). He didn’t cost much, as Thomson, the best player of the lot, was 33 and had not played well since suffering a broken ankle in 1954. At this point, very early in our survey, it should be noted that you can make this generalization about most trades of prospects for veteran stars: They don’t cost much. Trading a prospect for an All-Star is trading an uncertainty for a certainty. There are exceptions, and we’ll get to those. For now, keep this rule in mind and test it as we research further examples.
SNAP JUDGMENT: Note to aspiring Baseball Prospectus writers: in execution of your job, you may be asked to type “Schoendienst” repeatedly in the space of just a few sentences. As for the Braves, they bought the best kind of insurance.
TRADE: Traded OF Mickey Rivers and LHP Clint Compton to the California Angels in exchange for RHP Hoyt Wilhelm and RHP Bob Priddy.
RECORD AT TRADE: 76-65 (.539), 4th Place, -2.0.
AFTER: 17-4 (.810).
FINISH: 93-69 (.574), 1st Place, +3.0.
INTENDED UPGRADE: Bullpen depth, natch.
RESULT: The trade worked pretty well, to the extent that it was responsible for sequential six-game and 10-game winning streaks. The incumbent closer, Cecil Upshaw, had done well all year, saving 27 of 32 opportunities, but there wasn’t much else. At the same time, manager Luman Harris wasn’t having anyone other than Phil Niekro complete their starts. The innings had to go somewhere, and Wilhelm, the 45-year-old knuckleballing closer, was the solution. He and Wilhelm shared the closer’s role for the last three weeks of the season, Wilhelm saving four games in five chances. The only downside to the trade was that it happened after postseason rosters were set…This trade is one of the strangest ever in terms of the age disparity of the participants. Wilhelm was close to qualifying for social security. Rivers, 20, and Compton, 18, were qualified to serve in Vietnam.
SNAP JUDGMENT: Compton didn’t pan out, but in trading Rivers, who had been drafted by the Braves about six minutes before the trade went down, the Braves consented to forego the services of a centerfielder who hit .295 (.274 EqA) in just under 1500 career games. Of course, there was no way of knowing that–Rivers was just some kid who had just come out of a community college in the secondary phase of the June, 1969 draft. Sure, he hit .307 at Magic Valley of the Pioneer League, but Rivers, whose mind was sort of a Magic Valley of its own, also fielded .872. An outfielder who makes 11 errors in 67 games at any level? Maybe you trade that guy.
TRADE: Sent LHP Larry McWilliams to Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for RHP Pascual Perez and a player to be named later (SS Carlos Rios).
RECORD AT TRADE: 45-29 (.608), 1st Place, +3.0.
AFTER: 44-44 (.500).
FINISH: 89-73 (.549), 1st Place, +1.0.
INTENDED UPGRADE: The starting rotation, which was composed of Phil Niekro, Rick Mahler, and various guys with one-syllable surnames like Walk, Camp, and Boggs, which pretty much described what happened when they pitched.
RESULT: McWilliams was an Atlanta bust. The sixth overall pick in the January, 1974 amateur draft (could have had Ken Phelps or Roy Smalley, guys), McWilliams had a strong debut in 1978 but immediately fell off, going 25-23 with a 4.47 ERA through the time of the trade (elbow problems may have played a part). If Atlanta could flip the 28-year-old lefty for Pittsburgh’s 24-year-old righty flake Perez, then what the hey, though one questions just how much the Braves knew about Perez and flake, the pharmaceutical variety–Perez would be suspended for drug use with three different teams: Braves, 1984; Expos, 1987; Yankees, 1992–as well as the personality kind–in addition to, or perhaps because of his drug problems, Perez had an erratic personality that led to a number of incidents best left undescribed here. Sadly, when both healthy and sane he was a very good pitcher–with 1985, the year in which he went 1-13 then jumped the team, the only campaign in which he performed poorly. Ironically, the Braves might have never made the deal if they had realized that legendary pitching coach Johnny Sain had just altered his delivery. McWilliams went 33-24 with a 3.10 ERA for the Pirates through 1984…Perez, meanwhile, pitched decently for the Braves, possibly better than McWilliams would have done, and the team drifted towards a flag in a division no one wanted to claim.
SNAP JUDGMENT: Did the Braves do their due diligence? The smart money says no. A great example of caveat emptor.
TRADE: Traded three players to be named later (RHP Rick Behenna, OF Brett Butler and 3B Brook Jacoby) and $150,000 to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for RHP Len Barker.
RECORD AT TRADE: 76-54 (.584), 1st Place, +0.5.
AFTER: 22-20 (.524).
FINISH: 88-74, 2nd Place, -3.0.
INTENDED UPGRADE: The starting rotation, which still lacked depth.
RESULT: Barker had led the American League in strikeouts in 1980 and 1981, but he had never posted a strong ERA. At the time of the trade, Barker was 8-13 with a 5.11 ERA, but the Braves chose to see that as being symptomatic of Cleveland baseball rather than a sign of a weary arm. In actuality, it was both. Barker pitched poorly down the stretch, then remained with the Braves for two more injury-plagued seasons, finishing at 10-20 with a 4.64 ERA in 1985. Sadly, the Braves had earlier been offered lefty Rick Honeycutt (14-8, league-leading 2.42 ERA at that time) in exchange for Behenna and Jacoby and turned it down. The Rangers then dealt Honeycutt to the Dodgers for Dave Stewart. This meant that the Braves felt compelled to deal for Barker because the Dodgers were then just 3.5 games behind the Braves for the NL West lead. As Billy Beane has observed, it’s when you feel that you have to do something that mistakes are made. Behenna never developed, but Butler became one of the best leadoff men of his time, while Jacoby was a serviceable third baseman for a number of years. “If we win the division, the trade will be worth it,” Braves manager Joe Torre said at the time. They didn’t win the division. Word got out that Butler was part of the deal, meaning that he had to play through the 1983 stretch run knowing that the Braves had already dealt him away. Fans, who loved the young Butler for his hustle, circulated petitions against the move.
SNAP JUDGMENT: If there was someone in the Atlanta front office who said, “We can’t mortgage the future,” he wasn’t heeded. They not only mortgaged the future, they crippled it. Eight months later the Braves were leading off Rafael Ramirez and playing Randy Johnson–the wrong Randy Johnson–at third base. The trade was essential to making the Braves the doormats of the National League from 1985 to 1990. Easily one of the worst trades in the history of baseball.
- DATE: 08/28/1991
TRADE: Dealt LHP Tony Castillo and a player to be named later (RHP Joe Roa) to the New York Mets in exchange for RHP Alejandro Pena.
RECORD AT TRADE: 70-56 (.555), 1st Place, +1.0.
AFTER: 24-12 (.667).
FINISH: 94-68 (.580), 1st Place, +1.0.
INTENDED UPGRADE: Closer. “Senor Smoke” Juan Berenguer had been shelved by a shoulder injury.
RESULT: Pena won two games and saved 11 more in 11 chances.
SNAP JUDGMENT: A clear case of an available player matching an obvious need, and as usual the Mets weren’t asking for much.
- DATE: 07/18/1993
TRADE: Traded OF Melvin Nieves, RHP Donnie Elliott and OF Vince Moore to the San Diego Padres in exchange for 1B Fred McGriff.
RECORD AT TRADE: 53-40 (.569), 2nd Place, – 8.0.
AFTER: 51-18 (.739).
FINISH: 104-58 (.642), 1st Place, +1.0.
INTENDED UPGRADE: The Sid Bream/Brian Hunter platoon at first base just wasn’t producing anything. If they were a cookie factory, they’d have been making Oreos without the creamy filling.
RESULT: This deal was part of the celebrated dismantling of the Padres that took place when the then-owners discovered that baseball teams were darned expensive to own. There’s not a lot to discuss here. The Braves dealt three obviously limited prospects– Nieves, the best of the bunch, was 21 and had maybe a 5% chance of taking the Wily Mo Pena career path but never could cut down his strikeouts enough to play–for one of the best home run hitters of the era, who was then just 29. McGriff did his part by hitting .310/.392/.612 in 68 games and helping the Braves through 1997.
SNAP JUDGMENT: An obvious no-brainer.
- DATE: 08/28/1996
TRADE: Dealt 1B Ron Wright and a player to be named later (RHP Jason Schmidt) to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for LHP Denny Neagle.
RECORD AT TRADE: 82-49 (.625), 1st Place, +11.0.
AFTER: 14-17 (.452)
FINISH: 96-66 (.593), 1st Place, +8.0.
INTENDED UPGRADE: Overkill? Actually, the Braves were trying to head off some possible starting rotation problems in the playoffs. Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz were their usual selves, but Steve Avery was injured and ineffective and rookie Schmidt had missed time with a fractured rib and a general inability to get people out. The remaining potential starter, Terrell Wade, was walking six batters per nine innings. The Braves needed a reliable fourth starter, preferably a lefty, and Neagle, who had gone 27-14 with an ERA of 3.26 since the beginning of 1995, fit the bill.
- RESULT: Wright looked like a slugger in the making, but back problems permanently derailed his career. Schmidt ultimately emerged as a top-flight pitcher, but not until after the usual assortment of young pitcher injuries and an escape from Pittsburgh in 2001. Pre-Giants, Schmidt was 49-53 with a below-average ERA of 4.58. With the Giants, Schmidt is, to date, 50-17 with an ERA of 2.90 with 623 strikeouts in 603 innings. Must be something in the water. Meanwhile, Neagle struggled in 1996 but gave the Braves two strong seasons of over 200 innings pitched and solidly below league average ERAs before being traded to Cincinnati for Bret Boone and Mike Remlinger, which seemed like a good idea at the time.
SNAP JUDGMENT: Value given up, value received, even if Neagle didn’t pitch terribly well directly after the trade.
- DATE: 07/31/1999
TRADE: Traded LHP Micah Bowie, Ruben Quevedo and a player to be named later (LHP Joey Nation) to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for SS Jose Hernandez and LHP Terry Mulholland.
RECORD AT TRADE: 63-43 (.594), 1st Place, +0.5.
AFTER: 40-16 (.714).
FINISH: 103-59 (.636), 1st Place, +6.5.
INTENDED UPGRADE: Find a sub for DL poster boy Walt Weiss.
RESULT: They didn’t. Hernandez had hit superficially well for the Cubs from 1997 through 1999, but with the Braves he sank to replacement level. There was a small degree of success; Hernandez was better than Weiss’ previous replacement, Ozzie Guillen. He was allowed to leave as a free agent after the season. Mulholland, however, served as a very nice swing man for the balance of the season. He never pitched as well again, though we’re still holding out hope of a miraculous return to his 1991-1993 form. As long as he keeps pitching, we’ll keep praying. Meanwhile, all three pitchers the Cubs received were about as unsuccessful as pitchers can be, particularly Bowie, who was beaten like an infidel in the holy land.
SNAP JUDGMENT: Hernandez was the best shortstop available. The Braves made the playoffs even with a dead fish for a shortstop. Weiss returned during the playoffs. All three prospects blew up. As the Bob Dylan song goes, “nothing was delivered.”
- DATE: 06/22/2001
TRADE: Sent LHP John Rocker and 3B Troy Cameron to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for RHP Steve Karsay and RHP Steve Reed.
RECORD AT TRADE: 38-34 (.527), 2nd Place, -3.5.
AFTER: 50-40 (.556)
FINISH: 88-74 (.543), 1st Place, +2.0.
INTENDED UPGRADE: Get rid of John Rocker, who had become a major distraction due to his progressive attitudes, while upgrading the bullpen at the same time.
RESULT: The Indians took the bait! Better, they sent back Karsay, a pitcher who had a 0.85 ERA and had held opposing batters to a .188 average over 31 games. Karsay was less effective in Atlanta, but he and Reed still helped pitch the Braves into the post-season. Cleveland, 43-27 at the time of the deal, declined to 48-44 after.
SNAP JUDGMENT: No matter how you slice it, a steal for the Braves.
NEXT: The Twins and perhaps another team not the Twins.