Jack Of All Trades: Fred McGriff

What do you think of when you hear Fred McGriff's name? For me, the answer is Terry McGriff, whose baseball card I often pulled from a pack of Topps, Donruss or when desperate for my baseball card fix, Score. The excitement over getting the Crime Dog quickly gave way, as I wondered who, exactly, Terry McGriff was.

For others, McGriff's name brings to mind the blissfully consistent first baseman who hit 30 home runs ten times (and hit 28, 27 and 27 in three others).

But for a surprising number of teams, McGriff conjured up the phrase: trade him.

This is not to say that McGriff was considered a clubhouse cancer, or even an unskilled player. But He was traded four times and sold once en route to the same number of career home runs as Lou Gehrig. Let's take a look at who got the best of those deals – in nearly every case, the answer is "whichever team got Fred McGriff."

  • The Yankees selected McGriff in the ninth round of the 1981 draft. But in an inexplicable deal, they traded him, along with Dave Collins, Mike Morgan and cash, to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Dale Murray and Tom Dodd on December 9, 1982. If one trade could represent the excesses of the Yankees at their worst, it is this one. The Yanks brought in Collins as a high-priced free agent the season before to replace Reggie Jackson. After Collins hit .253/.315/.330, the Yankees shipped him out. McGriff, of course, had just hit .272/.413/.456 in rookie ball. Mike Morgan, who will be the subject of a future Jack of All Trades piece himself, had another 20 years and 2,532.1 innings left in the tank. And what did the Yankees get? In Dodd, a slugger with a career .295 on-base percentage in the minor leagues, and Murray, a veteran swingman whose ERA never saw the good side of 4.00 again.
  • Fast forward to December 5, 1990. McGriff has by now developed into an elite player, posting an OPS+ of 166 in 1989 and 154 overall as a Blue Jay. But in a four-player trade, Toronto traded McGriff and Tony Fernandez to the Padres for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. It's easy to say Toronto got the best of this deal, since Carter and Alomar were essential parts of two world championships. John Olerud replaced McGriff at first base, so the Blue Jays kept getting production. But McGriff complicates the assumption that the Blue Jays won this trade. He continued his essential McGriff-ness, posting a 149 OPS+ in three seasons with San Diego. Carter's best single-season OPS+ was 124, and his overall OPS+ with the Blue Jays was 104. Even Alomar posted just an OPS+ of 123 with Toronto, though that stat tells just part of the story, since Alomar was a terrific defender and baserunner. Ultimately, Carter plus Alomar probably beats McGriff plus Fernandez (who wasn't very good with San Diego). But McGriff might have been the most productive player of the four after the trade.
  • And yet, the Padres dealt the 29-year-old McGriff on July 18, 1993 to their division rival, the Atlanta Braves, for a trio of young players: Vince Moore, Donnie Elliott and Melvin Nieves. It is fair to say Atlanta won this trade, though Nieves eventually put up a pair of 20-plus home run seasons with the Tigers. McGriff hit .310/.392/.612 for Atlanta after the trade, then showed it was no fluke by hitting .318/.389/.623 in 1994 over what approximated a full season. Three decent seasons of 115 OPS+ hitting followed, before the Braves unceremoniously sold McGriff to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
  • McGriff alternated between decent seasons and excellent ones with Tampa Bay. And in his fourth year in Tampa, hitting .318/.387/.536, the Chicago Cubs decided they could use him for the stretch run. McGriff decided he wasn't so sure about the Cubs and invoked his no-trade clause. He eventually relented and the Cubs acquired him on July 27, 2001 for Manny Aybar and Jason Smith. The Cubs finished third in 2001 and fifth in 2002, but it was no fault of McGriff's. He posted a .282/.383/.559 line after the deal in 2001, and had his last McGriff-like year in 2002, with a line of .273/.353/.505 and 30 home runs.

Put simply, no one who ever traded for Fred McGriff had reason to regret it.

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