We remember 1996. Keep in mind, as you hear all the names of yesteryear exchanged- this was the last year the National League won the All-Star Game before last night. That's right, the previous time the NL won, the following players were active: Andre Dawson, Rick Honeycutt, Tony Pena, Rob Deer, Alan Trammell, Otis Nixon and Frank Viola.
Meanwhile, these were the hot deals during the summer of 1996…
- It's not well-remembered, but the San Diego Padres and Detroit Tigers made a five-player deal on June 18 that helped propel the Padres to the NL West title. John Flaherty and Chris Gomez went to San Diego, while Brad Ausmus, Andujar Cedeno and Russ Spear headed to Detroit. All Flaherty did was hit .303/.327/.451 after taking over as the regular catcher. Gomez was solid at shortstop, while Ausmus and Cedeno did little with Detroit. This was a key trade.
- An unorthodox signing took place on July 4, George Steinbrenner's birthday, incidentally. The Yankees inked a power hitter who was hitting .435 with 18 home runs for the Northern League's St. Paul Saints: Darryl Strawberry. Straw hit .262/.359/.490 to help the Yankees win their first World Series since 1978.
- In a trade that would haunt the Mets for years, New York shipped Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino to Cleveland for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinosa on July 29. Baerga was just 27, but his best days were behind him. Meanwhile, Kent, dealt to San Francisco after the 1996 season in a deal for Matt Williams, had his best years still to come. How bad was this deal? Consider that the sum of the home runs Baerga hit before joining the Mets and the home runs Kent hit after leaving the Mets is 406. The two had a total of 85 home runs for the Mets.
- In a deadline deal that had delayed benefits, the San Diego Padres acquired Greg Vaughn (along with Gerald Parent) from Milwaukee for Bryce Florie, Marc Newfield and Ron Villone. None of the three players San Diego gave up became stars (though Villone is still around), and Vaughn hit just .206 with 10 home runs after the trade in 1996. But after slumping through 1997, Vaughn went on to hit .272/.363/.597 with 50 home runs the following season. Vaughn credits Tony Gwynn with helping him, according to his son Cory, who played for San Diego State and is now in the New York Mets system and making me feel old.
- In a massive overpay, the Texas Rangers acquired John Burkett on August 8 for then-prospect Ryan Dempster and Rick Helling. The deal isn't massively upsetting to Rangers fans, since Helling was re-acquired for Ed Vosberg before Helling's 20-win season. Burkett was fine for Texas, posting a 4.06 ERA in 68.2 innings, but the Rangers lost in the playoffs anyway, as was their destiny at the time.
- The Pirates horribly mis-timed a pair of pitchers in an August 28 deal. Pittsburgh traded Denny Neagle to the Braves for Ron Wright, Corey Pointer and Jason Schmidt. One year after the Pirates traded him, Neagle went 20-5 with a 2.97 ERA for Atlanta. Schmidt pitched to a 4.39 ERA over six seasons with the Pirates, but he posted a 3.36 ERA with the Giants after Pittsburgh traded him during the 2001 season.
- Finally, on August 31, the Seattle Mariners acquired veteran infielder Dave Hollins from Minnesota for a player to be named later who turned out to be David Ortiz. Big Papi managed a .266/.348/.461 line over five seasons in Minnesota, playing sparingly. His line after Boston picked him up via free agency? .287/.388/.577.
- BONUS! by popular demand, we must include the acquisition of Cecil Fielder on July 31 by the Yankees. New York sent Matt Drews and Ruben Sierra to Detroit. Fielder was a classic Yankee stretch-run addition, hitting .260/.342/.495 in 228 plate appearances. And, as befits the Yankees, Sierra eventually returned, providing a power bat off the bench in 2003-2005.