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Author Archives: Howard Megdal
As a fan, free agent compensation draft picks can feel like an extra slap in the face from Major League Baseball.
"You're losing one of your key players. But here, take a guy who can't help you for three or four years, and probably won't help you at all." The just-concluded draft included Mike Wacha to the Cardinals for losing Albert Pujols, Clint Coulter to the Brewers for losing Prince Fielder, and Brian Johnson to the Red Sox for losing Jonathan Papelbon. Cold comfort, at least for now.
But the free agent compensation draft pick can be more than just a consolation prize taken home from a game show you didn't win. At its best, those picks can turn into important contributors. The Mets drafted David Wright, for instance, as a compensation pick for losing Mike Hampton via free agency, a loss they'd gladly experience again.
Usually, it works the other way around. In December 1983, Darrell Evans signed with the Detroit Tigers, after eight productive seasons with the San Francisco Giants. His contribution to San Francisco had been immense — consistent power and defense at third base. He was worth 19.8 wins above replacement (WAR) during his time with the Giants.
When he signed with Detroit, San Francisco got the 24th pick in the 1984 draft, (under a much different compensation system) and selected Terry Mulholland. While Mulholland only pitched in fits and starts from the time he debuted in 1986, he got packaged with third baseman Charlie Hayes and pitcher Dennis Cook in a deal that netted the Giants Steve Bedrosian, their closer in the pennant-winning season of 1989. Mulholland, alas, was worth -0.6 WAR to the Giants over three seasons, so the Evans-Mullholland duo checks in at just 19.2 WAR, total.
For my money, the baseball universe is best when a player contributes for a team, then leaves a compensation pick that also turns into a key contributor. It feels like the departing free agent has planted a tree. Let's take a look at the finest twofers baseball teams have received from this rule.
To paraphrase the prominent philosopher Chico Escuela, "Jason Marquis been berry, berry good to MLB Trade Rumors."
Marquis has played for seven teams, and been rumored to go to countless others. Marquis and the New York Mets have been linked often enough in rumors that it was newsworthy this week, after the Minnesota Twins released him, that the Mets weren't pursuing the Staten Island native.
But the well-traveled Marquis has been traded several times. Let's take a closer look at what actually has transpired for this Atlanta Braves' first round pick back in 1996.
Marquis had established himself in Atlanta as a swingman, but an ineffective 2002 season prompted the Braves to shuttle him between the big club and Triple-A. Still Marquis was young, cost-controlled and his track record included some successes. Accordingly, Marquis became the centerpiece of a December 2003 trade with the Cardinals. St. Louis also received reliever Ray King and pitching prospect Adam Wainwright from Atlanta, giving up catcher Eli Marrero and outfielder J.D. Drew.
That deal was quite a coup for the Cardinals, with most pointing to the success enjoyed by Wainwright, who became a shutdown reliever in 2006, and an elite starter a season later. But Marquis also gave the Cardinals plenty of production. Over three seasons in St. Louis, he averaged better than 200 innings per season, and pitched to a better than league average ERA+ in his first two years. He even won a Silver Slugger award in 2005, hitting .310/.326/.460 for a manager, Tony La Russa, who was happy to bat him eighth.
But Marquis struggled mightily for the 2006 Cardinals. His ERA ballooned to 6.02, and he didn't pitch in the postseason for the eventual world champion Cardinals. St. Louis let him sign with their bitter rivals, the Chicago Cubs, where Marquis resumed his work as a marginally effective innings eater. Then in January 2009, the Cubs dealt Marquis to the Colorado Rockies for reliever Luis Vizcaino, who was on the cusp of breaking down after years of quality pitching.
Marquis, however, was far from finished. He made the All Star team for the Rockies, pitching to a career-best ERA+ of 116 over 216 innings. It was a good time for Marquis to be out of contract, and thus he signed a two-year, $15MM deal with the Washington Nationals. Alas, he promptly broke down himself, pitching to a 6.60 ERA over 58 2/3 innings in 2010 while missing much of the year with elbow problems.
Again, however, Marquis resurrected his career, pitching to a 3.95 ERA for the 2011 Nationals. Arizona needed pitching help, so the Diamondbacks traded minor league infielder Zachary Walters for Marquis at the non-waiver trade deadline. Marquis, three starts in, broke his fibula, costing him the rest of the season. Still, Minnesota decided to give him a $3MM contract to see what he had left in 2012. Earlier this week, the Twins decided it wasn't much.
Now 33, Marquis could be at the end of the line. But he's cheated baseball death before. It wouldn't be shocking to see him not only recover and pitch well, but even get traded once again. Jason Marquis is, after all, the gift that keeps on giving… to MLB Trade Rumors.
Like the rest of you, I resent leap years. An extra day of winter, an extra day of waiting for Opening Day, an extra day before I can start wearing my "It's March!" shirts without getting strange looks… the whole idea is infuriating.
That must be why, when it comes to baseball transactions on this day, the results are so unimpressive. Sure, many of the marquee free agents have signed by this point in the offseason, but that alone cannot explain the black hole February 29 has been for adding useful talent.
Just within the past few years, teams have added valuable players like Pedro Feliciano and Chan Ho Park on February 28 and Bruce Chen and Chad Durbin on March 1. By contrast, consider: just two players signed on Leap Day since 1980 have provided positive value to their new teams that season.
Infielder Ramon Martinez signed with the Dodgers on February 29, 2008, but he didn't get into a single game before Los Angeles released him in July. He ultimately played a few games with the Mets, but the only addition last Leap Day did not prove fruitful for his team.
No one at all signed on February 29, 2004. Can you blame them?
Back on February 29, 2000, San Diego signed the left-handed reliever Alberto Castillo. Just a month later, the Padres released him. Castillo didn't reach the Major Leagues until 2008.
But back in 1996, Don Slaught broke the mold of failure, as he broke so many molds as a player. Sold by the Angels to the Reds, Slaught didn't let the curse of 29 stop him, posting a .313/.355/.428 line and catching 71 games, first for the Angels, then for the White Sox.
However, it was Alan Mills who truly holds the record for most productive player acquired on February 29, a record that stands alongside accomplishments like Cy Young's 511 wins Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, and Matt Franco's single-season record for pinch-hit walks. The New York Yankees sent Mills to Baltimore for pitchers Francisco de la Rosa and Mark Carper.
What did Mills do in Baltimore? He pitched so well, you'd swear he was acquired on February 28. A 10-4 record, 2.61 ERA and a pair of saves in a swingman role makes Alan Mills the king of the February 29s.
Interestingly, Mills tried to recreate this magic by signing with Tampa Bay in February 2004- a leap year. But he did so on the 16th and, unsurprisingly, failed to make the club.
Sadly, recent reports indicate that Ivan Rodriguez will not become the latest high-profile member of this exclusive club. But pay close attention to today's MLBTR stories. Like Haley's Comet, you'll be seeing something that doesn't happen very often in our lifetimes, and works out even less of the time.
It is fairly astonishing that we are entering the month when teams report for Spring Training, and Edwin Jackson remains as homeless as Thomas Jane in Arrested Development.
This is particularly true when we compare Jackson's free agency to the one enjoyed ten offseasons ago by Jason Schmidt. The year was 2001. The Diamondbacks had just beaten the Yankees in the World Series. George Harrison died. Anthrax was in the air.
But none of that stopped Jason Schmidt. The righty, about to enter his age-29 season, had put up an ERA+ of 107 while pitching for two teams. For his career, his ERA+ stood at 99, with career walk rate of 3.8 per nine innings and a strikeout rate of 6.9 per nine innings. He was rewarded with a five-year, $41MM contract from San Francisco.
Fast forward ten years, and look at Edwin Jackson. The righty, about to enter his age-29 season, has just put up an ERA+ of 106 while pitching for two teams. For his career, his ERA+ stands at 97, with a walk rate of 3.7 per nine innings and a strikeout rate of 6.7 per nine innings. And he can't find a job.
If Schmidt is any indication, today's teams are missing an opportunity for a bargain. Over his next five seasons, Schmidt pitched just over 1,000 innings at an ERA+ of 127. He made three All Star teams, finished in the top four of Cy Young voting twice, won an ERA title in 2003, and reduced his walks to 3.2 per nine while elevating his strikeouts to 9.0 per nine. He was well worth that $41MM investment.
Chances are good that Jackson won't approach Schmidt's contract length, and his annual salary could dip below Schmidt's as well, even adjusting for the decade that has passed. Why? Teams fear getting stuck with the other Schmidt deal — the three-year, $47MM contract he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to the 2007 season. For that money, Los Angeles received 43 1/3 innings of 6.02 ERA pitching.
It's been a puzzling winter. Some have speculated that the big winners have been the Miami Marlins or the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Others will hold up the Rangers as the true offseason giant after landing Yu Darvish.
It's all academic, really. The most active team by far over the past two offseasons has been Mystery Team. Some have speculated that this was simply a device used by agents to drive up the price of their clients. But a closer look at Mystery Team's acquisitions makes it clear: an entire lineup and pitching staff has been built that will be the envy of everyone in baseball next year. Let's take a closer look at how Mystery Team stacks up:
At catcher, Russell Martin brings strong playcalling and a decent bat to Mystery Team's forces. He went Mystery Team back in the winter of 2010, living proof that Casey Stengel's phrase, "Without a catcher, you have a lot of passed balls" still holds power over the best front offices.
Newly-acquired first baseman Albert Pujols represents one of the great Mystery Team pickups, with conventional wisdom assigning him to either the Cardinals or Marlins right up until Mystery Team emerged. As you'll see, however, Pujols was merely the final piece in the Mystery Team championship puzzle.
Mystery Team isn't just about the stars, either, and that kind of focus on detail comes through in double-play combination Orlando Hudson, a Mystery Team member since January 2010, and Jamey Carroll, who will play shortstop for Mystery Team after joining the club this winter. This kind of veteran leadership is bound to help this clubhouse find its identity.
At third base, Adrian Beltre has been a reliable contributor to Mystery Team since last winter. Speculation had him in talks with Mystery Team prior to this, but he'd ultimately chosen reality-based clubs too quickly for Mystery Team to swoop in until last year.
In the outfield, the defense is a little shaky. Johnny Damon is the Mystery Team's left fielder (acquired on waivers in August 2010), and Vladimir Guerrero plays right. The question: who is able to cover all that ground between them? Why, none other than the Mysterious Yoenis Cespedes, team unknown. Or is it?
Obviously, the addition of Darvish gives Mystery Team a devastating one-two punch in the starting rotation. Few players make more sense for Mystery Team than Darvish, whose ultimate destination remained a secret for days after teams submitted sealed bids. The entire process would have made Richard Nixon proud.
Darvish will follow Cliff Lee, last winter's biggest Mystery Team pickup, in any postseason series. Lee spurned the Yankees for Mystery Team, and you'd have to figure it was because Mystery Team's GM, whoever he is, told Lee about all his teammates to come.
The rotation has depth as well as star power, with C.J. Wilson slotting in as a strong third starter, Carl Pavano a capable fourth starter, and the fifth starter a competition between Justin Duchscherer and Brandon Webb. Mystery Team is hoping one of them will stay healthy, but isn't counting on both of them. It's called Mystery Team, not Fantasy Team.
The bullpen is anchored by Mystery Team's most engaging personality, Heath Bell. But Bell isn't alone. Mystery Team wanted Chad Qualls so badly, Jon Heyman reported they wanted him two times over. And lefty Joe Beimel is an old reliable Mystery Team standby, filling capably the role of MOOGY (Mysterious One Out Guy).
It's only a matter of time until baseball fans everywhere begin to object to the incredible amount of money Mystery Team is spending to land the finest players at every position (though the exact number is unidentified). What seemed like fun at first has turned into a monster that could threaten competitive balance in the game.
So the next time you see someone wearing the Mystery Team colors, don't just smile and indulge this lark. Your favorite player could be heading their way next. You never know.
Well, it's official: Bobby Valentine will be the next manager of the Boston Red Sox. Lost amidst the stories of fake mustaches and real candor is the reality of just how long it's been since Valentine filled out a major league lineup card: ten years.
That may be surprising, given the extent to which Valentine stayed in the national conversation, but even more odd is how infrequently a Major League manager waited longer than Valentine's ten years between gigs. By my unofficial count, this has happened just seven times, not including Rip Van Winkle, who managed the Washington Catskills to uninspiring finishes, with a 20-year pause between them.
A closer look at the seven gap-happy managers provides insight into the challenge Valentine faces. Let's examine them for signs of a foot-long beard, shall we?
The first manager to experience a decade-plus time off was Burt Shotton, and he certainly managed to trade up in terms of talent. He finished his sixth year as the Philadelphia Phillies' manager in 1933, with a team that posted just a 60-92 record. Outside of Chuck Klein's typical Hall of Fame season, and outstanding offense from outfielder Wes Schulmerich and catcher Spud Davis, Shotton didn't have much to work with. The Phillies fired Shotton, traded Klein… and finished 56-93 in 1934.
Other than a single game in charge of the Cincinnati Reds in 1934, Shotton didn't manage again until taking over the 1947 Dodgers. As gigs go, this wasn't the most typical opening. The job was only available because incumbent manager Leo Durocher was suspended by Major League Baseball for consorting with known gamblers. And Shotton's roster included Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier and incited a possible mutiny among some on the roster. All Shotton did was lead Brooklyn to the 1947 National League pennant before, as was the style at the time, losing to the Yankees in the 1947 World Series.
Shotton took over permanently in 1948, after Brooklyn fired Durocher for getting off to a 35-37 start. Shotton held his own in 1948, took Brooklyn back to the World Series in 1949, and came full circle on the final day of the 1950 season, losing the NL pennant to the Phillies. Clearly, if Valentine's tenure matches that of Shotton, it will be a successful time in Boston.
As for Durocher, he went on to have quite the long rest himself. Not from Brooklyn, however — he quickly joined the rival New York Giants, leading them to two NL pennants and the 1954 World Series title — but once the Giants fired him in 1955. Not until the Cubs came calling in 1966 did Durocher take another team's helm. By the Cubs' standards, Durocher was a success.
He finished 59-103 in 1966, well beneath the 80-74 with the 1955 Giants that got him fired. But while Durocher's final Giants team had Willie Mays, pitcher Johnny Antonelli and little else, his Cubs team had peak Ron Santo and Billy Williams, and decline-phase Ernie Banks (the Cubs had absolutely no pitching besides Ken Holtzman in '66). A year later, the team added Ferguson Jenkins and Joe Niekro to the staff and finished 87-74. By 1969, the Cubs finished 92-70, spent 156 days in first place, and lost the inaugural National League East race to a New York Mets team that won 38 of its final 49 games.
That would be as close as Durocher would come to Chicago glory. After another two-and-a-half seasons hovering just above .500, the Cubs fired Durocher in 1972. If Valentine merely comes close in Boston but fails to make the postseason, it is unlikely that Red Sox fans will think of him fondly. If he fails as Paul Richards did — a 64-97, one-season stint with the 1976 White Sox fifteen years after quitting as Baltimore manager to assume the role of General Manager with the newly-formed Houston Colt .45s — Boston sportswriters should have enough material for a lifetime of books.
Two more recent examples are less encouraging models for Valentine. Frank Robinson, fired after a 13-24 start with the 1991 Orioles, took over the 2002 Montreal Expos. In five years in Montreal, Robinson's Expos finished second, fourth and, for the final three seasons, last in the NL East. Then again, his Orioles only finished higher than fifth once in his three-plus seasons in Baltimore. Hard to blame him for that — he took over a Baltimore team that started 0-21 in 1988, and left a team in 1991 that would go on to see just one starter top 130 innings pitched or pitch to below a 4.84 ERA — the immortal Bob Milacki.
As for Cito Gaston, manager of a pair of World Series winners in Toronto, it is clear he never read much Thomas Wolfe. Fired in 1997, Gaston returned to the Blue Jays' dugout in 2008. Three consecutive fourth-place finishes followed, though when talent drops from Roberto Alomar, Tony Fernandez and Pat Hentgen to Joe Inglett, David Eckstein and A.J. Burnett, one should adjust expectations accordingly.
Two more current managers join Bobby Valentine in the extended time off category: Terry Collins of the Mets, who took over in 2011 after getting fired by the 1999 Angels, and Davey Johnson of the Nationals, who left the Dodgers after 2000, then jumped in for the departing Jim Riggleman midway through the 2011 season. The jury is still out on these two.
So with fully ten percent of current managers in a category occupied by so few in baseball history, what follows will be fascinating. Will they wander into town, unsure of why everyone looks so different? Or will they find acceptance and respect as Rip Van Winkle did, celebrated for his innovative way of avoiding his shrewish wife? History suggests the answer will be similar to how all managers throughout time have been evaluated — it depends, to a huge extent, upon the players on the field.
It is virtually impossible to think of two more closely-related things than baseball transactions and Halloween. After all, the holiday falls just as the baseball offseason dawns. The wrong moves can haunt an organization for years, even decades. Why, even "Trick or treat" is nothing more than a trade offer turned catchphrase.
Accordingly, it is no surprise that baseball's history of moves is littered with fear-inducing tales of horror. Why, teams have traded for Jerry "Casper the Friendly Ghost" Adair and Rick Helling. Even "Bloody" Jake Evans terrorized four seperate clubs. In recent years, the Cincinnati Reds have drafted both Benjamin Mummy and Michael Monster. But to find the truly frightening, it is necessary to take a closer look at transactions occuring on that dedicated day for mayhem: Halloween itself.
Permit me to tell you a tale of a pitcher, Sterling Hitchcock, the namesake of Hollywood's greatest master of suspense. After the Cardinals acquired him in a midseason swap, he started eight games — but by the end of each, had disappeared. Then, on Halloween 2003, Hitchcock was granted free agency. A fresh start, right? Sure. That's what Scottie thought he'd get in Vertigo, too. Hitchcock joined the San Diego Padres, but was instead haunted by memories of his former team. He would have them dress up in red uniforms, referred to Tony Gwynn as "Stan the Man", and made Fredbird uncomfortable by suggesting "he probably tastes like chicken".
Now dim the lights low and prepare to be unnerved by an even more disturbing Halloween transaction. This time, Halloween 1997 was the time. The trade? Mike Bell from the Texas Rangers to the California Angels for the lethal name of Matt Perisho. For the Rangers in 1998, Perisho was stalked by a devastating walks-per-nine ratio of 14.4 — toxic for any pitcher. As for Mike Bell, merely by virtue of being associated with baseball's second-scariest trade made him a pariah, playing for organization after organization — Diamondbacks, Mets, Reds, Rockies, White Sox, Cardinals, Indians — without ever finding a home.
But the most shriek-inducing baseball transaction of all time has to be the deal (I assume signed in blood) that sent Leo Nunez from the Royals to the Marlins for Mike Jacobs on Halloween 2008. At least, the Marlins thought they were getting Leo Nunez… until things went horribly wrong. In the midst of a season in which he'd save 36 games, Nunez suddenly, without any warning… disappeared. Was it… murder?!? As it turned out, it was identity theft… most foul. Leo Nunez is really Juan Carlos Oviedo. And where is Leo Nunez? Still, to this day… nobody knows.
And things were no better for Mike Jacobs. If my interpretation of this scouting report is correct, Jacobs lost both of his legs in a grisly wheat-threshing accident. (Editor's note: Megdal wildly misintrepreted a scout's comment that Jacobs "simply doesn't walk." MLBTR regrets the error.)
So as Halloween approaches, you may be missing baseball already. You may be impatient to see your favorite team sign or trade for solutions to the problems that plagued the roster in 2011. But if you want my advice: should your team try to tinker with its roster on Halloween itself, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Every year at about this time, teams all over baseball prepare for free agency with the understanding that they could lose some of their players. But something feels different this year: the choices seem to be more seismic for the teams.
When I took a closer look at the free agent list, something jumped out at me. Jimmy Rollins. Albert Pujols. Jose Reyes. All of these players had played with only one team. And more to the point: each of them represents the best their teams have ever had at their respective positions.
Take Rollins, for example. Since making his debut in 2000, Rollins has accumulated 34 wins above replacement as the Philadelphia shortstop. That's twice what anyone else has put up for the Phillies, with Larry Bowa's 17.1 from 1970-1981 and Granny Hammer's 16.1 from 1944-1959 the distant second and third place showings. Dave Bancroft posted a 13.5 WAR over just 681 games, a fraction of Rollins' 1636, but that happened way back in 1915-1920. Many fans have forgotten about Bancroft by now, or else lost their 'Bankcroft' memories in the crash of 1929.
So while it is easy to understand Philadelphia's reluctance to give the soon-to-be 33-year-old Rollins the five years he seeks on his new contract, Phillies fans might have an inflated opinion of Rollins' work, with a franchise whose eighth-most valuable shortstop ever is Dickie Thon (3.9 WAR), and whose tenth-best is Luis Aguayo (3.2 WAR).
The man ultimately making the decision? The son of Ruben Amaro Sr., who sits eleventh on the Phillies' list of top shortstops.
The problem is similar in New York, where Jose Reyes and his 29.1 career WAR loom even larger over the shortstops in New York Mets history. Only Bud Harrelson's 14.8 WAR reaches double figures among non-Reyes Met shortstops, and Harrelson's final season with New York — 1977 — came six years before Reyes was born. Third place belongs to Kevin Elster, with a career WAR of just 4.6. Reyes' 2011 alone was worth 5.8 WAR, meaning his 2011 was more valuable than the entire shortstop careers of all but two Mets — and Reyes himself is one of the two.
Albert Pujols casts a similar shadow over all other first basemen in St. Louis Cardinals history. He has a career WAR of 89, all with the Cardinals. Among St. Louis first basemen, Hall of Famer Johnny Mize is second, with a distant 37.8. In Mize's defense, he was traded to the Giants four days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and still put up a career WAR of 70.2 despite missing three full seasons serving in World War II.
Keith Hernandez checks in at 35.1 WAR as a Cardinal, good for third place. Jim Bottomley, another Hall of Famer, is fourth at 32.9. And even icons like Mark McGwire (eighth, 19.8 WAR) and Jack Clark (ninth, 11.4 WAR) don't approach Pujols. Is it any surprise that Cardinals fans can't imagine life without him?
By contrast, Milwaukee fans love Prince Fielder -– but they seemed to have made their peace with Fielder's likely departure. Could Cecil Cooper be responsible? Cooper posted a 29.3 WAR over 11 seasons from 1977-1987, besting Fielder's 20.8 WAR over seven seasons from 2005-2011. Perhaps to Milwaukee fans, finding a slugging first baseman doesn't seem like such an impossible task.
So it appears that the Florida Marlins, a team not known for friendliness to Twitterers, have acquired Ozzie Guillen, one of the most outspoken Twitter users in MLB. It's going to cost the Marlins a pair of prospects: Osvaldo Martinez, an infielder, and Jhan Marinez, a relief pitcher. The two rated among Florida's top five prospects to begin 2011, though both have arguably taken steps back this year.
Still, to get a pair of young, cost-controlled players for a manager represents a pretty significant return. Martinez the infielder profiles as a plus glove at second base and shortstop; Marinez the pitcher struck out 11.5 batters per nine innings this season as a 22-year-old in Double-A.
Given the nature of a manager's contributions, it is hard to see any team swapping players for a manager and coming out ahead. Let's take a closer look at how this value measures up to the other manager-based swaps at the time they occured.
The most recent player/manager swap happened back in 2002, when the Mariners traded Lou Piniella to the Tampa Bay then-Devil Rays. However, this swap had players on both sides. Seattle also sent minor league infielder Antonio Perez to Tampa Bay, receiving outfielder Randy Winn in return. Winn, entering his age-29 season, was clearly a superior player at the time to either player in today's deal. But he was also a good deal more expensive, costing Seattle $3.3MM in salary in 2003, then a three-year, $11MM deal to retain him following the season.
Antonio Perez, incidentally, compares well with Osvaldo Martinez. Perez, at the time of the trade, had posted a .645 OPS in Double-A at the age of 22. Martinez just put up a .618 OPS in Triple-A at age 23. Both impressed with defensive ability, and both had suffered through their share of injuries. Perez appeared to have power Martinez doesn't have, but he'd yet to translate it into performance.
Ultimately, if you take Lou Piniella out of the equation, this sounds a bit like a modern-day Tampa trade, an about-to-be-expensive outfielder for an infielder with upside. That they received a manager as well – they paid Piniella more than Winn, giving him a four-year, $14MM contract - undoes the value completely. It is fair to say that Seattle won this swap, and received the best player in the deal. As for Tampa Bay, receiving Perez mitigates the deal overall, making the Devil Rays come out ahead of the Marlins on the manager end of the comparison.
The deal that saw Oakland send manager Chuck Tanner to the Pirates in November 1976 for catcher Manny Sanguillen and $100K is much easier to evaluate. Tanner was a fine manager; a 1976 Pirates team that won 92 games without him won 96 games with him. Oakland, however, received Manny Sanguillen and enough money that he effectively cost the Athletics $45K for the season. Though he only posted an OPS+ of 81, his versatility at that price was a substantial reward.
A year later, Oakland managed to deal Sanguillen back to the Pirates for three more players – outfield prospect Miguel Dilone, infielder Mike Edwards, and pitcher Elias Sosa, who led the Oakland bullpen with 2.2 wins above replacement in 1978. For his part, Oakland owner Charlie Finley thought the deal was entirely appropriate. "If I'm going to run a finishing school for managers, I want to be paid for it," Finley told the Associated Press. Clearly, Oakland got more for Tanner than Chicago got for Guillen. But the lesson with Tanner, just as with Piniella, is that dealing players for a manager almost never makes sense for the team obtaining the skipper.
There is that time, however, where it seemed to work out perfectly. Back in October 1967, the Mets traded pitching prospect Bill Denehy and $100K to Washington in exchange for manager Gil Hodges. Denehy had just struggled in both his Triple-A and Major League stints as a 21-year-old, but considering his youth and strikeout rates in the minor leagues, still held a good bit of promise. That he did so as a starter gave him more potential upside than Jhan Marinez of the Guillen deal. The $100K meant that in 1968, the Senators received Frank Howard's 170 OPS+ and Camilo Pascual's 109 ERA+ – the team's best hitter and pitcher – for free. Howard made $50K in 1968, Pascual made $42.5K.
Still, no one associated with the Mets at the time regrets the deal. Hodges lifted the Mets to ninth in 1968, then to the World Series in 1969. Many of his players, Tom Seaver included, credit Hodges with being a difference-maker at the helm. New York's talent in 1969 was undeniable, yet it would be a mistake to dismiss Hodges' impact. But a farm system producing players like Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman and many others has to be considered the dominant factor. It even produced enough pitching that a prospect like Denehy could be dealt.
Ultimately, if Ozzie Guillen manages the Marlins to a World Series victory by 2013, no one in Florida will mind if both prospects they traded turn into stars. From a value perspective, however, it just isn't clear that making such a trade ever makes sense.
Earlier this season, Mets owner Fred Wilpon explicitly compared the impending free agency of Jose Reyes to the contract that Carl Crawford signed last winter. That seven-year, $142MM deal was supposed to be beyond Reyes' reach.
But as the season has worn on, it has been Crawford who hasn't been worth "Carl Crawford money". The disappointing left fielder has tallied an OPS+ of 86 and just 18 stolen bases entering Monday's games, and so it has become fashionable to declare that general managers and owners will learn from Crawford, an admittedly similar player to Reyes, and avoid a similar payout in both length and worth of contract to Reyes this coming offseason.
This led me to wonder: had owners ever learned from a disastrous free agent deal before? Simply put, had any first-year collapses in performance by one player kept another, similar player from receiving a similar amount of money?
Take Darren Dreifort, for example. Through the 2000 season, the 28-year-old Dreifort had mediocre career totals – an ERA+ of 98 – but posted a 105 ERA+ just prior to hitting free agency. The Dodgers, intent on keeping him, signed Dreifort to a five-year, $55MM contract.
It didn't take long for the deal to look like a loser – Dreifort pitched to an ERA+ of 78 over half of 2001, then missed the rest of that season and the next one with an elbow injury. If the Crawford/Reyes thesis is to be believed, all of baseball shied away from such contracts for pitchers, particularly ones roughly Dreifort's age with a similar track record of success, right?
Not even if we narrow it to Los Angeles' own division. In the winter of 2001, the San Francisco Giants, who had a front row seat for Dreifort's failings, signed Jason Schmidt to a five-year, $41MM contract. Schmidt was 28, the same age as Dreifort, and his career ERA+ was 99 to Dreifort's 98. Even his breakout season was similar, with a 107 ERA+ to Dreifort's 105. That the Schmidt contract worked out far better than Dreifort's is beside the point; the Giants had no way to know that at the time. They simply had Dreifort's celebrated contract in their short-term memory, and did not hesitate to commit to Schmidt for the same duration anyway.
In reality, we can play a similar game with virtually every terrible free agent contract. Vince Coleman, for instance, signed a four-year, $11.95MM contract with the New York Mets prior to the 1991 season. He played in only 72 games during his first season in New York and saw his stolen base total drop from 77 to 37. Nevertheless, Otis Nixon, a speed-reliant player three years older than Coleman, signed with the Braves a year later for three years, $8.1MM.
That lesson didn't take a decade earlier, either. Speedy outfielder Dave Collins, fresh off of a 108 OPS+ age-28 season, signed a three-year, $2.475MM contract with the Yankees to help replace Reggie Jackson prior to the 1982 season. A year later, the Yankees dumped Collins (along with a package of players that included Fred McGriff) on the Blue Jays when he put up an OPS+ of 80 in New York. And yet, even as Collins was getting dumped, the Houston Astros signed Omar Moreno, an inferior player to Collins (also speed-reliant, and a year older than Collins when he signed) to a five-year, $3.5 million contract.
So forgive me if I don't believe that Jose Reyes will receive a lesser payday thanks to the struggles of Carl Crawford. As usual, Reyes' contract will be dictated by the market for players at his position and whether teams with money have a desire for Reyes, not owners and GMs mindful of recent comps that soured. If a team wants Reyes, that team will conclude this situation is different. It wouldn't particularly surprise me if that team even turned out to be the same one that signed Crawford.