This man, born on December 25, inspired cheering in many cities over a long period of time. You may think I'm referring to Rickey Henderson or Jesus, but the man in question is actually Manny Trillo. The longtime second baseman deserves to be remembered more today than he is. Trillo collected four All Star appearances, three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers at second base.
And yet, like some other players in my Jack Of All Trades series, Trillo managed to get traded quite a bit- five times in his career. Moreover, Trillo, a useful commodity, often became part of package deals-including an eight-player, six-player and four-player transaction. Let's travel back to a time when "Manny being Manny" simply meant strong up-the-middle-defense and a reliable bat.
Trillo signed as an amateur free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1968. After two seasons in the minor leagues, the Oakland Athletics stole him away in the minor-league portion of the Rule V draft. He put up numbers pretty similar to what he'd manage in the major leagues for various Oakland affiliates- decent batting average, few walks, home runs in the mid-to-upper single digits, great defense.
That made him a valuable trade chip following the 1974 season. The Athletics acquired the final remnants of Billy Williams' career on October 23 in exchange for Trillo and veteran relievers Darold Knowles and Bob Locker. Williams, a Hall of Famer, fell well short of that standard in Oakland, with a 109 OPS+ over two seasons at age 37-38 as a Designated Hitter. Locker and Knowles each had one standout season for the Cubs- though, this being the Cubs, they didn't happen during the same season.
And Trillo, over the next four seasons, played in at least 152 games each year, gave the Cubs strong up-the-middle defense, even made an All Star team in 1977. He hit just .256/.317/.333 over that time, but considering that he'd replaced the combination of Vic Harris and Billy Grabarkewitz at the position for Chicago, he was an undeniable upgrade. Overall, Trillo was clearly the most valuable player in the deal.
Trillo also rose to the top of a complicated deal between the Cubs and Phillies that can be described as part challenge trade, part pitching prospect grab. On February 23, 1979, the Cubs traded Trillo, outfielder Greg Gross and catcher Dave Rader to the Phillies for second baseman Ted Sizemore, catcher Barry Foote, outfielder Jerry Martin and a pair of minor-league pitchers: Derek Botelho and Henry Mack.
Seeing the challenge trade part of this swap leads one to believe that the Cubs really liked those young pitchers. Trillo, five years younger than Sizemore, won all three of his Gold Gloves and both of his Silver Sluggers over the next four years with the Phillies, while playing a strong second base for the 1980 World Champions. Sizemore played only sporadically for the Cubs in 1979, and his last year in baseball was 1980.
As for the rest of the trade, Gross, considerably younger than Martin, gave the Phillies a decade of 97 OPS+ hitting, primarily as a pinch-hitter. Martin put up a decent 101 OPS+ for the Cubs in 1979 before fading badly in 1980, and bounced around the major leagues for the next few years. Foote and Rader continued in their roles as entirely replaceable catchers for a few more years. And neither Botelho nor Mack did anything significant in the major leagues. That was predictable, given Botelho's pedestrian strikeout rate and Mack's ludicrously high walk rate just before the Cubs acquired them.
It cannot be said that Trillo provided the most value of anyone in the third trade of his career. This time, the Phillies packaged Trillo and outfielder George Vukovich, catcher Jerry Willard, pitching prospect Jay Baller and a young Julio Franco for Von Hayes. This trade is well-known in Philadelphia circles, with Hayes roundly booed by Phillies fans for failing to become Ted Williams, despite being acquired for five players.
Hayes did manage to give Philadelphia nine years of 118 OPS+ hitting while playing all three outfield positions, first base and even a bit of third base. Fun fact- over the remaining length of Hayes' career, his OPS+ of 116 for the Phillies and Angels in 1983-1992 is better than Julio Franco's 112 OPS+ mark for Cleveland and Texas in that same span. Still, Franco's subsequent 109 OPS+ in 1993-2007, along with the value from Vukovich, Willard and Trillo made this deal a loser for Philadelphia.
Trillo performed as expected for Cleveland in 1983, putting up a .272/.315/.328 line with the Indians. But with the Montreal Expos looking for middle infield help, the Indians flipped Trillo to Montreal on August 17, 1983 for minor-league outfielder Don Carter and $300K. Carter never made it to the major leagues, while Trillo allowed Doug Flynn to shift to shortstop for an Expos team that ultimately finished eight games back of the Phillies in the National League East.
After the season, Trillo signed as a free agent in San Francisco. Trillo's range began to decline, his batting average dipped to .254 in 1984 and .224 in 1985. With a young Robby Thompson ready to take Trillo's place at second base, the Giants traded Trillo to the Cubs on December 11, 1985 for utility infielder Dave Owen, who can best be described as both a poor man's Spike Owen and as Owen's brother.
Usually, when teams acquire aging middle infielders, the endings aren't happy ones. But Trillo thrived in the role. In 1986, playing first, second and third, he hit .296 and posted an OPS+ of 99. In 1987, he added shortstop to his resume, and hit a career-high eight home runs en route to an OPS+ of 112.
Though he slumped in 1988, leading to his release, and retired following a poor 1989 with the Reds, Trillo provided value to his teams long after glove-first second basemen usually do. So as you enjoy Christmas Day, or whatever other holiday you celebrate, hope that the presents you receive have the durability and value of Manny Trillo, even if, as was often the case with teams acquiring Trillo, it wasn't exactly what you wanted.