Jack Of All Trades: Baseball’s Tallest

As Chris Young found out this week, baseball doesn't pay its players by the yard. Though he checks in at 6'10", Young signed a deal for just $1.1MM guaranteed. Meanwhile, noted tiny person Dustin Pedroia will make $5.5MM in 2011, despite checking in at a generous listing of 5'9". (The rule isn't proportionally inverse, however- 3'7" Eddie Gaedel made just $100 for his one plate appearance).

The Young signing got me wondering: how often is the team getting the tallest player in a trade also getting the best player in that transaction? Let's take a look at trades involving some of baseball's best bets to reach that can on the top shelf.

Currently, the tallest player in baseball history is 6'11" Jon Rauch, who has been dealt three times. In July of 2004, Rauch went from the White Sox, along with reliever Gary Majewski, to the Expos for Carl Everett. Over five seasons in Montreal and Washington, Rauch pitched to a strong ERA+ of 132, becoming one of baseball's better relievers. Everett managed a meager OPS+ of 90 over the rest of 2004, and just 94 in 2005. Is it a coincidence that Everett stands just 6'0?

Chicago dealt Rauch after the 2008 season to Arizona for Emilio Bonifacio, who is a full foot shorter than Rauch. While Bonafacio continued his career-long trend of not hitting, Rauch was awful in the desert, pitching to a 6.56 ERA. Arizona finally sent him to Minnesota in August 2009 for the reasonably-tall 6'2" Kevin Mulvey. Rauch once again thrived. It is hard to say any team that traded for Rauch lost the deal. In this case, the tallest turned out to be best.

As for the aforementioned Young, he's also been traded three times. The Pirates shipped him to the Expos for 5'11" Matt Herges in December 2002. While Herges had a middling season with Montreal, Young continued to pitch well in the minors, leading to a second deal in April 2004. This time Young went to the Rangers with 6'2" minor leaguer Josh McKinley for 6'3" Justin Echols and catcher Einar Diaz, who is not only 5'10", but positionally spends much of his time crouching. And while Young wasn't the best player in the six-person deal that brought him, Adrian Gonzalez and Termel Sledge to San Diego for Billy Killian, Akinori Otsuka and Adam Eaton, he was a strong second to Gonzalez, pitching to a 110 ERA+ over five seasons with the Padres. Again, no one lost out by trading for the really tall guy.

And so it was with the other 6'10" major leaguer, Randy Johnson. At no time did Seattle think, "Oh, to have held on to 6'2" Mark Langston!" The Mariners did get decent value when they traded Johnson, about to hit free agency, for John Halama, Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen. But it wasn't equal value, and neither were the heights- Halama at 6'5". Garcia at 6'4" and Guillen just 6'1". (Can't blame them, really- they didn't have the kind of leverage to land a Jon Rauch.)

Believe it or not, the Yankees got the better of their Randy Johnson trade when they acquired him- Brad Halsey, Javier Vazquez and Dioner Navarro did little for the D'backs, not one of them over 6'2"- and got the short end when dealing him back to Arizona two years later for Alberto Gonzalez, Steven Jackson, Ross Ohlendorf and Luis Vizcaino. (Jackson was 6'5" and Ohlendorf 6'4", but both failed to measure up.)

As for the present day, the tallest-player-as-good-luck-charm is present in the person of Kameron Mickolio. A stately 6'9", Mickolio has been involved in two trades. The first saw Mickolio, along with Tony Butler (minors), Adam Jones, George Sherrill and Chris Tillman travel, hopefully with extra leg room, from Seattle to Baltimore in February 2008 in exchange for Erik Bedard. Obviously, Jones has been more valuable to date, but the Mickolio side is well ahead for many reasons on that one. And we'll get to test the theory once again in 2011: Baltimore traded Mickolio last month, along with David Hernandez, to Arizona for Mark Reynolds.

Will the tyranny of the tall hold once more? Or is there something inherent in the Arizona atmosphere that felled Jon Rauch and will do the same to Kameron Mickolio? I can hardly wait for spring training to find out. Tune in next time for analysis of the transactions involving Jumbo Brown and Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons. Working title? Baseball By The Pound.

 


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