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Jack of All Trades Rumors
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.
Mike Cameron, acquired by the Marlins from the Red Sox for some salary relief this week, will probably be remembered for a trade – and it won't be this one. But a legacy of simply "the guy once traded for Ken Griffey Jr." isn't fair to Cameron.
Cameron's career has been an impressive one – ten seasons with at least 18 home runs, eight seasons with at least 22 steals, and consistently tremendous defense in center field. He's provided a ton of value to his eight teams.
And from a trade perspective, the Griffey swap is one of merely four exchanges involving Cameron. All of them, save the most recent one, had huge impacts on each team involved in every deal. Think of Cameron like a trade Zelig, if Woody Allen could play center field.
The White Sox selected Cameron in the 18th round of the 1991 draft. By 1995, he'd made the major leagues, and by 1997, he'd become the Cameron he'd be for nearly all of the next decade-plus – OPS+ of 109, great defense in center field. But he had his one bad year in 1998, with his OPS+ dropping to 63.
Meanwhile, the Reds had this power-hitting first baseman they'd just acquired that July from the Dodgers for Jeff Shaw: Paul Konerko. On November 11, 1998, the two teams made a one-for-one deal. The White Sox, naturally, have to feel good about the deal – Konerko will represent them in the 2011 All Star game, his fifth such appearance with Chicago. He also won the 2005 ALCS MVP, and yes, a World Series. So, you know, not a bad return.
Interestingly, though, as per Wins Above Replacement, the White Sox lost the deal, if one assumes Cameron would have stayed in Chicago from the deal until today, as Konerko has. While Konerko has posted a WAR of 26.2 with the White Sox – his defense at first base hasn't added much value – Cameron's WAR, due to his defense in center field, checks in at a robust 41.2. Cameron posted a 5.4 WAR in his one season with Cincinnati- roughly a fifth of Konerko's total in the twelve years since the trade.
As to why Cameron played just one year with the Reds, his 1999 was good enough to entice the Seattle Mariners to ask for him as the centerpiece of the Griffey deal. Cincinnati traded Cameron, Brett Tomko, Antonio Perez and minor leaguer Jake Meyer to the Mariners for Griffey. The deal turned out to define the Reds for much of the subsequent decade, with Griffey's injuries keeping him from seriously threatening Hank Aaron's all-time home run mark, as so many expected him to. Both Meyer and Perez were solid prospects, though Perez had the far greater upside, as a power-hitting infielder. Tomko continued to be what he was in all of his many stops – a pitcher with better stuff than results.
Cameron was terrific in his four years with Seattle, hitting home runs, stealing bases, catching everything, and getting underrated by some due to a low batting average and high strikeout total. After the 2003 season, he signed as a free agent with the New York Mets, and had another season-and-a-half of Mike Cameron production, before an ugly head-on collision with Carlos Beltran in San Diego ended his 2005 season.
The Padres were either unfazed or impressed by Cameron's collision, and traded for him that November, giving up Xavier Nady. At first blush, the trade made sense for the Mets, who didn't need Cameron's center field skills with Beltran around. Assuming Nady's bat could make up for his lack of defense, the trade could have been a win-win. But Nady's bat didn't make up for the loss in defense, Cameron won his third Gold Glove in the first of two successful San Diego campaigns and everything that followed for the Mets appears to be retribution for trading Cameron away.
Nady had a solid half-season in New York, but an injury to Duaner Sanchez at the 2006 trading deadline pushed the Mets to deal Nady the the Pirates for Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez. While Perez pitched well for the Mets in 2007 and 2008, the team then signed him to a three-year, $36 million contract, which he's still receiving while pitching for Washington's Double-A team in Harrisburg. Nady's replacement in right field, Shawn Green, even dropped the critical fly ball off the bat of Scott Spiezio that lost Game 2 of the NLCS to the Cardinals. Safe to assume Mike Cameron catches that ball. When the Mets traded Cameron, they stepped on a butterfly that really had it in for them.
Will the trade of Cameron to South Florida produce the same kind of results for both teams involved this time around? It seems unlikely, but then again, at one point it seemed unlikely that Ken Griffey Jr. would stop being the consensus best player in baseball, or that Paul Konerko would play for the same team for a dozen seasons, or that Oliver Perez would make $12 million to pitch against minor leaguers. The world around Mike Cameron trades is a crazy place where fever dreams come true.
After writing about Jose Bautista last week, I got to thinking about some other shocking home run totals that followed trades. And one that isn't getting enough attention is that of Roger Maris, whose 50-year anniversary of hitting 61 home runs happens to take place this season.
To be sure, Maris was no one-hit wonder, having captured the 1960 AL MVP. But were his home run totals to be expected when the Yankees traded for him? I'm not so sure. Let's take a closer look at his career and deals.
Maris signed with the Cleveland Indians as a free agent in 1953. Certainly, he profiled as a strong prospect, hitting 32 home runs in Class B Keokuk as a 19 year old, then 20 home runs the following season, split between Class A and Double-A. But when he got to the big leagues, it looked like batting average would limit his overall offensive profile. He hit .235 with 14 home runs in 424 plate appearances for the 1957 Indians, then .225 with nine home runs in 202 plate appearances in 1958. The Indians played him primarily in center field and he was overshadowed by the young star in right: Rocky Colavito.
Seemingly without a position, Maris became expendable, and the Indians traded him to the Kansas City Athletics on June 15, 1958 with lefty swingman Dick Tomanek and utility player Preston Ward in exchange for defensively extraordinary first baseman Vic Power and Joe McEwing-like Woodie Held. Maris hit another 19 home runs for Kansas City in 1958. Power's best years were behind him, meanwhile, though his glove kept him in the league for many seasons to come.
Maris blossomed in his age-24 season, 1959. He made his first All Star team, raised his average to .273, cut his strikeouts down from 85 to 53, and clouted 16 home runs. He certainly looked like a potential star, but the idea that he, and not Rocky Colavito, would challenge Babe Ruth's record wouldn't have made much sense to contemporaries.
Still, the deal Kansas City made in December 1959 – shipping Maris and throw-ins Joe DeMaestri and Kent Hadley to the Yankees for Hank Bauer, Don Larsen (both past their sell-by dates), Norm Siebern (a hitter without a position on the Yankees) and Marv Throneberry (a future 1962 Met) – looked one-sided at the time. Maris was clearly the best player in the deal. But he didn't profile as any kind of home run champion.
Maris immediately set about proving that conventional wisdom wrong. He hit 39 home runs in 1960. And while it has become common to dismiss Maris' hitting as a product of Yankee Stadium's short right field, the numbers don't bear that out. He actually hit 26 of his 39 home runs on the road in 1960, and 31 of his 61 home runs away from home in 1961. In 1962, when his total dropped to just 33, he hit 19 home runs at home, 14 on the road. Over that three-year period, he hit 71 home runs on the road and 62 home runs at Yankee Stadium. He was no park fluke.
Maris hit 23 home runs in 1963 and 26 in 1964, his last reasonably healthy season. By the time he got dealt one final timen – in December 1966 to the Cardinals, for infielder Charley Smith - even his double-digit home run seasons were behind him. He provided enough defensive value, however, to be an important member of two NL pennant-winning Cardinal teams in 1967 and 1968. His total home run output over 812 plate appearances? 14.
In short, I think the Yankees had greater reason to believe they were acquiring an impact player when they traded for Maris than Toronto did when dealing for Bautista. But the teams were probably equally surprised to receive all-time levels of home run production.
In my new book, Taking The Field, I have an entire chapter devoted to the July 30, 2004 trade of Scott Kazmir. But fascinatingly, Kazmir may not be the most valuable player the Mets dealt on that day. Jose Bautista also became an ex-Met on the day Victor Zambrano arrived in Queens. Based on wins above replacement (WAR), Bautista is well on his way to passing Kazmir. (That assumes Kazmir doesn't add any more value; he's actually lowered his career WAR the past two seasons.)
It has been a fascinating journey for Bautista to 54 home runs last year and an even better start this year. Bautista was with five organizations before he broke out with the Blue Jays – that's more teams than any other member of the 50 homer club belonged to pre-breakout. Only Luis Gonzalez's pre-50 homer travel itinerary came close; he played for three organizations before Arizona, including Houston twice.
Let's chart Bautista's evolution from organizational hot potato to all-time great slugger. The Pirates drafted Bautista in the 20th round of the 2000 draft, a round that produced just two other major leaguers: Carmen Pignatiello and Fred Lewis. With the exception of a terrific 2002 in the South Atlantic League, Bautista profiled about as he did in his pre-2010 Major League career: a .250 hitter with decent plate discipline and a little power. Still just 23 as 2003 ended, he had a good chance, with a season or two of polish, of becoming valuable – if he stuck at a middle infield position, very valuable.
Then, the scourge of reasonable prospect development struck: the Baltimore Orioles took Bautista in the Rule V Draft in December 2003. Suddenly, Bautista needed to make the transition from Class A pitching to the Major Leagues. Not surprisingly, he didn't. He hit a respectable .273 in 12 plate appearances for the Orioles, but Baltimore put him on waivers that June 3. Tampa Bay picked him up, gave him another 15 plate appearances, then sold him to Kansas City 25 days later. A little over a month after that, with 26 more plate appearances in Kansas City, the Royals traded him to the Mets for catching prospect Justin Huber. And the Mets, that very same day (Kazmir Day), traded Bautista, Ty Wigginton and pitching prospect Matt Peterson to the Pirates for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger.
Yes, all that could have been avoided if the Pirates just protected Bautista. Pittsburgh kept him around for another 43 plate appearances, and he didn't hit much back with his first organization, either. His 2004 total line over four organizations (five, including the Mets): .205/.263/.239. Pittsburgh wisely sent him to the minors for more seasoning.
After a strong year at Double-A, and brief promotion to Triple-A, the Pirates called Bautista up as a 24-year-old in 2004, hoping he'd be there to stay. He mostly did, providing value, with the ability to play corner positions (though middle infield was a non-starter) and giving Pittsburgh an OPS+ of about 95 each season. But by August 2008, Bautista was 27, and the chances that he'd become a star seemed nonexistent. So the Pirates, needing a catcher, traded Bautista to Toronto for Robinzon Diaz.
Diaz played one season in Pittsburgh, hit .279/.307/.357, then signed with the Tigers organization. He hasn't played in the Major Leagues since. Bautista provided another of his typical seasons for Toronto in 2009 – .235/.349/.408, good for an OPS+ of 99 – then turned into Jose Bautista as we now know him, baseball super icon.
Let's break down the trade. As of today, Bautista leads Diaz in total home runs hit with his new club, 78-1. However, this is misleading, since Diaz is no longer with the Pirates, and able to add to his total. Diaz does lead Bautista in runners thrown out trying to steal (Diaz had nine; Bautista, not a catcher, has 26 outfield assists with Toronto), and the Pirates undoubtedly lead the Blue Jays in fans shaking their fists angrily at the sky.
Generally, I like to find a moral in these trade paths, but it is hard with this one. Every player in baseball history who profiled like Jose Bautista didn't go on to become a classically great slugger, except for Jose Bautista. Perhaps it is simply a reminder that for all we think we know about how baseball will turn out, it still gloriously has the ability to surprise us – not just on a per-game basis, but on a personal one as well.
It's been a rough week for Oliver Perez, and given his overall tenure with the Mets, that is no small feat. Thanks to his 9.00 spring ERA and inability to throw strikes or reach 90 miles per hour with his fastball, the Mets removed Perez from consideration for the starting rotation. Those difficulties are likely to lead to Perez's failure in the bullpen, too, and his eventual release.
If this is where it ends, Perez will almost certainly be viewed as a cautionary tale from an acquisition perspective. After all, the Mets signed Perez to a three-year, $36MM contract prior to the 2009 season, only to receive 112 1/3 innings of 6.81 ERA pitching. So it may surprise some to find out that both times teams traded for Oliver Perez, they came out ahead.
The San Diego Padres signed Oliver Perez as an amateur free agent back in 1999. By 2002, he made his big league debut as a 20-year-old, displaying both the now-faded ability to strike batters out in droves and his still-present tendency to walk more than his share of hitters. Nevertheless, he offered tantalizing ability, leading to the Padres' decision to trade Perez, a 24-year-old Jason Bay and minor leaguer Corey Stewart to Pittsburgh for a 32-year-old Brian Giles.
While Giles had a decent-but-costly run of strong offense and diminishing defense for the Padres, Perez and Bay quickly made the deal look like a steal for the Pirates. Perez posted a 2.98 ERA in 196 innings, while Bay posted a .907 OPS and won the NL Rookie of the Year.
Put it wins above replacement terms, Perez earned a WAR of 5.1 in 2004, well above Giles' 3.0 and Bay's 2.2. In fact, Perez's 2004 was a more valuable season than any that anyone in the trade would enjoy, other than Jason Bay's 2009.
But contrast the $8.8MM salary Giles earned in 2004 with the $321K Perez took home, and $305K from Bay, and the gap becomes enormous.
Perez did go on to struggle in 2005 and 2006, with Bay carrying the lion's share of the value for the Pirates in subsequent years. Still, when Pittsburgh decided to unload Perez in 2006, it was the receiving team, the New York Mets, who benefited.
On July 31, 2006, New York traded starting right fielder Xavier Nady to the Pirates for Perez and Roberto Hernandez, a relief pitcher tabbed to replace the injured Duaner Sanchez. And while Perez struggled over the remainder of the 2006 season, he posted a 1.4 WAR in 2007 and a 1.5 WAR in 2008. By contrast, Nady provided -0.9 WAR in 2007 for the Pirates, and 1.9 WAR in 2008. Roberto Hernandez even chipped in another 0.2 WAR for the Mets at the tail end of 2006 to even out Nady and Perez that season.
Naturally, there are Mets fans who blame the trade for the subsequent contract debacle, just as a divorced couple often turns on the person who introduced them. Perez, in an odd bit of symmetry, followed his 1.4 and 1.5 WAR seasons in 2007 and 2008 with a -1.4 mark in 2009 and -1.5 in 2010, as if to erase every bit of good he'd done the team.
Still, all that proves is that signing Oliver Perez to a massive free agent contract hasn't been a good idea. Trading for Perez, on the other hand, is a winning proposition. Let this be a lesson to the other 29 teams, who probably have a few weeks at most before the only way they can acquire Perez is for free.
We all have that possession we once paid a lot for, but would now have trouble giving away. Maybe it is a suit we wore too many times that sits in a pile at the back of our closet. Perhaps it is a tiara we thought would set off our eyes, with many of the gemstones long since fallen out. It could even be a sleek sports car that had the exterior of a Porsche, but it turns out, the engineering of a Yugo.
Non-roster invitees are sometimes like that, too. Teams once demanded small ransoms just for the right to negotiate extensions with these players for 72 hours. But now? Teams essentially say, "We won't get mad if you want to hang out for a while. No guarantees, though."
So who among the 2011 NRIs has fallen the furthest? Let's take a look, shall we?
The list has to start with Bartolo Colon, one of the many plus-sized pitchers found in Yankees' camp. Twice in seven months, teams gave up significant treasure for the chance to employ Colon. The Montreal Expos famously traded Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens for Colon and Tim Drew in June 2002. That deal, made by GM Omar Minaya, had a lot to do with the contraction threat hanging over the Expos, making the 2002 season something of a last hurrah for Montreal (though the team would spend two more seasons there before moving to Washington).
Seven months later, however, Colon went with Jorge Nunez from the now-reprieved Expos to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Rocky Biddle, Orlando Hernandez, Jeff Liefer and cash. Contrast that with what the Yankees gave up – a chance to be right up close when George Steinbrenner was honored – and just how quickly eight years passed becomes apparent.
The same can be said of fellow Yankee NRI Freddy Garcia. Back in July 1998, Garcia was a key piece, along with Carlos Guillen and John Halama, in the deal that sent Randy Johnson to Houston. But Garcia proved to be the center of a pair of trades himself. First, in June 2004, Garcia and catcher Ben Davis went to the White Sox for Mike Morse, Miguel Olivo and Jeremy Reed. Remember, Reed was a huge prospect then, rather than a failed Mets first baseman (Reed is now an NRI himself, in Milwaukee). Then, in December 2006, the White Sox shipped Garcia to the Phillies for a pair of pretty solid pitching prospects, Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd.
On the hitting side, watching the diminishing return teams received for Casey Kotchman is like watching a falling meteor, except the meteor is a prospect and can't hit much for a first baseman. Back in July 2008, Kotchman and minor leaguer Steve Marek were all that it took for the Angels to pry Mark Teixeira from the Braves. A year later, Kotchman went from Atlanta to Boston, this time for Adam LaRoche. And in January 2010, the Red Sox dealt Kotchman to the Seattle Mariners, this time for Bill Hall coming off of a down year. Now, he's an NRI. But oh, how recently he was so much more.
A similar dynamic played out with Wily Mo Pena, who appears to be the most-traded NRI. In March 2001, the Yankees traded Wily Mo to the Reds for super-prospects Michael Coleman and Drew Henson. (Trust me, it was epic at the time.) As late as March 2006, a Wily Mo could get you Bronson Arroyo and cash from the Boston Red Sox. But by 2007, the bloom was off the Wily Mo – the Red Sox needed to deal Pena and cash to Washington just to bring back Chris Carter (who is a 2011 NRI with the Tampa Bay Rays).
Many of you probably would have given plenty, years ago, for a Wily Mo Pena. But now, like an outfield version of Norma Desmond, Pena is out begging for work. I don't know, maybe Pena is as big as ever – it's just the rosters that have gotten small.
While much of the attention has been focused on the anniversary that Topps is celebrating- 60 years of selling baseball cards- I, too, reached a milestone. I've been collecting baseball cards for 25 years, going back to the first pack of Topps I opened in 1986, with Glenn Wilson there to greet me first.
My collecting isn't as serious as it was when I was growing up, but it still represents a part of me that stubbornly refuses to mature. After all, I don't get the thrill of trading with my friends anymore. My wife doesn't have any cards I want, and my baby daughter offers little for my best cards, other than future considerations in exchange for the chance to chew on one. (Screw-top cases are the thinking father's teether.)
But when this year's Topps came out, I treated myself to a box. If I couldn't trade them myself, I figured, I could write about just which trades I'd find hidden within a random pack of cards. Here's what I found, from my very first pack in the box.
First up was Kevin Kouzmanoff, a participant in two trades. Back in November 2006, the Indians traded Kouzmanoff and Andrew Brown to San Diego for Josh Barfield. Alas, none of the participants in that trade panned out, and San Diego shipped Kouzmanoff and discipline-rich infielder Eric Sogard to the Athletics for outfielders Aaron Cunningham, who was useful in 2010, and Scott Hairston, who really wasn't. Both from a trade and card standpoint, it was kind of a Glenn Wilson way to start.
Next came Brandon Inge, a man who has worked hard to stay out of MLBTR's web, much like a celebrity who tries to avoid TMZ by wearing underwear. He was drafted by the Tigers in 1998, and that is where you'll find him today. Same goes for my third card, Peter Bourjos, a product of the Anaheim organization still in Anaheim. Bourjos is pictured about to either make a sliding catch, or gift someone a triple.
Fourth up was a special card- recognizing Manny Ramirez for putting up the ninth-best OPS of all time. Ramirez has seen his share of moving around, but only one trade bears his name. It is one of the more underrated moves of the past few years. The Dodgers, as part of a three-way deal, sent Bryan Morris and Andy LaRoche to the Pirates, while the Red Sox traded Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss to the Pirates. The Dodgers got Ramirez. The Red Sox got Bay. Leave aside Bay for a moment- that means the Dodgers got 223 games of a 170 OPS+ from Ramirez for Bryan Morris and Andy LaRoche. That was a steal. I'm putting Ramirez in hard plastic.
Batting fifth, a game-used memorabilia card from Josh Hamilton. He earned the honor for finishing with the highest OPS in baseball last year, while Topps earns major plaudits from me for caring so much about expanded stats. (Get me a Topps card with WAR and we'll really be talking.) The Hamilton deal back in December 2007 was one of my favorites. The Reds got back pitchers Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera. Despite Hamilton's injury struggles since then, he's been significantly more valuable than Volquez, leading to the obvious conclusion: bank on the position ahead of the pitcher in any challenge trade. They are far more projectible.
Batting sixth is Stephen Strasburg, while Andre Ethier takes up the seventh spot. I don't intend to ruin any nights among Nats or Dodgers fans by suggesting that either one has been traded. But I thought of the two as a kind of Hamilton-for-Volquez challenge trade. Which future would you bet on? The smart money is probably on Ethier, even with the dramatically higher ceiling Strasburg offers.
Rounding out the pack was a CC Sabathia card, inviting me to unlock some digital Topps cards. I admit to being confused by the idea of virtual cards-isn't that just eBay cards I look at but can't afford?- but will happily see what the online fuss is all about. Having a virtual CC Sabathia is probably what the Milwaukee Brewers felt like they had after dealing Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta, Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson for him in the summer of 2008, only to see the Yankees snap him up that winter.
Overall, it was not my strongest pack of all time- that would be a 1989 Donruss pack I got on a trip to a bagel establishment long since defunct in Marlton, NJ, which contained eight all stars in 15 cards, if memory serves. But the pack served a vital purpose- by the time I finished looking, baseball season was that much closer.
As someone who shares a birthday with Michael Jordan, Lou Diamond Phillips and Paris Hilton, the talents I bring to the table should be obvious. Yet I look to those baseball players born on my birthday constantly for affirmation and for ammunition in my ongoing effort to convince my wife that my birthday team will beat her birthday team, a battle she consistently meets with what I can only assume is an affect of indifference.
I turned 31 on Thursday, February 17, and thought it would be a good time to once again check out my zodiac compatriots. Alas, no one new has emerged since Brian Bruney, who stumbled through the 2010 season. But it also led me to wonder – are teams better off trading for players born on my birthday, or trading them away?
As mentioned before, Bruney doesn't present a strong case. Dealt by the Yankees to the Nationals for Jamie Hoffmann in the winter of 2009, Bruney pitched to a 7.64 ERA over 17.2 innings in 2010 before getting uncermoniously dumped in May. Hoffman, whom the Nationals had acquired in the Rule 5 draft from the Dodgers, was eventually returned by the Yankees to the Dodgers, where he still threatens to break through as a fifth outfielder. In other words, strike one.
Josh Willingham, born exactly one year before me, makes a better case for my people. Acquired by Washington with Scott Olsen from Florida for Jake Smolinski, P.J. Dean and Emilio Bonifacio, Willingham gave the Nats a pair of solid offensive seasons, with a 127 OPS+ in 2009, a 129 OPS+ in 2010. The Athletics traded for him this winter, giving up Corey Brown and promising young pitcher Henry Rodriguez of the close rivals, the Fightin' February Twenty-Fifths. The jury's still out on this one.
Going further back in time, the February 17th connection had a feel-good story in Roger Craig, born on that date in 1930. After a pair of seasons with the Mets in 1962 and 1963, campaigns in which Craig pitched reasonably well, but piled up a combined 46 losses, the Cardinals acquired him for pitcher Bill Wakefield and outfielder George Altman.
While Wakefield was mediocre and Altman was well below that, Craig had a magnificent season in St. Louis, pitching to a 118 ERA+ and even striking out nine over five scoreless innings in the World Series. He is a monument to the best a February 17 trade can work out. His transaction a year later, along with Charlie James to Cincinnati for Bob Purkey, ended with little value on either side. Purkey was born in, of all months, July.
As for the most famous February 17 baseball baby: that would be Wally Pipp back in 1893, who was never traded, only sold. One can imagine the Yankees were able to drive up his price only so far following the 1925 season in which Lou Gehrig established himself, making idle threats about keeping Pipp for another 48 years, then installing him at Designated Hitter. We learn little from Pipp's example in terms of trade value, but it reminds me of an important lesson: never take Tim up on an offer to take the day off. We February 17ths are easily replaced.
They are the men who made you question the aspect ratio of your television. They are the men who cried out in the night about the cruel, one-size-fits-all nature of per diem meal money. They are the men who convinced your Uncle Al he was in shape, because he was thinner than a professional athlete.
These are some of baseball's most rotund individuals, and the trades that shaped their careers as surely as those Spanx for Men failed them. I have avoided simply going by weight. After all, Jon Rauch tips the scales at 290, but he's 6'11". Any skinnier, and hordes of mothers would pour out of the stands, Morganna-style, armed with soup.
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.