Generally speaking, pitchers as talented as David Cone don't get shopped around much during their prime years. On Baseball-Reference's list of comparables, for instance, Cone is similar to Tommy Bridges (whole career in Detroit), Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser (each spent prime years with one team) and Bob Welch (two teams for the duration of his career).
But Cone managed to travel widely over the course of a career that looks just short of being Cooperstown-worthy, with most of the trades coming during his best years. Let's take a look at the deals that sent him from place to place.
The Kansas City Royals drafted Cone in 1981, and he had some early success before missing the entire 1983 season due to torn cartilage in his left knee. He returned in 1984, but his command didn't, and the Royals tried converting him to a reliever before they sent him to the Mets on March 27, 1987, along with Chris Jelic, for Rick Anderson, Mauro Gozzo and Ed Hearn.
To call this a win for the Mets would be a massive understatement. Cone managed a 3.71 ERA in 1987, then put together a 20-3, 2.22 ERA season in 1988. His strikeout rate climbed to 8.3/9, which would ultimately be his career mark. Over the next five years, Cone starred for the Mets, twice leading the National League in strikeouts.
But near the end of the 1992 season, the Mets decided it was time to trade Cone, despite Cone's strong 121 ERA+ and youth (he was still just 29). It is hard to imagine, in retrospect, the kind of timetable for contention that wouldn't include Cone, but on August 27, he headed to Toronto for Ryan Thompson and Jeff Kent.
The trade has to be considered a limited win for both sides. For the Mets, giving away Cone earned them one terrific player in Kent, whom they ultimately traded away before he blasted most of his home runs, and Ryan Thompson, a center fielder whose performance never approached his tools.
The Blue Jays got 53 innings of 2.55 ERA pitching from Cone in the regular season, along with four strong starts in the playoffs, as Toronto won the World Series. Flags fly forever, so there's that. But giving up Kent for such a small amount of Cone is hardly a massive victory.
Cone signed with the Royals following the 1992 season, and provided a pair of strong seasons, including a 16-5, 2.94 ERA campaign as a 31-year-old in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
For his work, he was rewarded by getting traded twice in 1995.
First, the Blue Jays re-acquired Cone on April 6, trading David Sinnes, Tony Medrano and Chris Stynes to Kansas City. Only Stynes reached the big leagues, while Cone pitched to an ERA+ of 140 in 138.1 innings with Toronto.
But teams with 56-88 records don't need Cone-like starters (or rather, they need many more of them), and Toronto shipped Cone to the New York Yankees for Jason Jarvis, Mike Gordon and Marty Janzen. Janzen was supposed to be the big prize for Toronto – he pitched to a 2.87 ERA over a pair of levels in 1995 – but he never reached that level of performance in the minors or the majors.
As for Cone, he continued his excellence for the Yankees. His six seasons in the Bronx included 922 innings and a 3.91 ERA. Fascinatingly, though, he was actually a better pitcher with the Yankees than he was with the Mets once you adjust for park and time period. His raw ERA was 3.13 with the Mets, but Cone checks in with a 112 ERA+ with the Mets and a 119 ERA+ with the Yankees.
Even that understates his Yankee performance, thanks to a nightmarish 4-14, 6.91 ERA year in 2000. From 1996 to 1999, Cone had an ERA+ of 142 with New York.
Ultimately, what is Cone's trade legacy? He failed to disappoint any team that acquired him. The lesson here: for a pitcher of Cone's caliber, get a hefty return.
Moar articles like this! Good stuff.
Cone was a terrific pitcher. Unfortunately, he got overshadowed by some of the best pitchers ever. 6 seasons of 5 WAR or more. 58 career WAR isn’t too shabby either.
He isn’t a HOF pitcher BUT he was consistently one of the best in the business.
I see five levels of baseball players:
Hall of Fame
He was an all-star, through and through.
Cone seems like a guy who probably should be a HOF’er but didn’t quite make it. I kind of remembered him as a guy who had injury problems but looking at his stats now it doesn’t seem like he did. Maybe perception isn’t as kind to him as it should be. He seemed like a 300-game winner talent but wasn’t really close to that, more in line with a guy like Hershiser (#4 comparable on baseball-reference). Makes you wonder how guys like Oswalt and maybe Halladay are going to fare in HOF voting since they (might) end up with similar career lines to Cone.
Hopefully by the time Doc and Oswalt are eligible for the HOF we aren’t judging individual performance on team-dependent stats
This is a fantastic series, and Cone is one of those guys whose last two or three seasons probably keep people (cough cough, NY media) from remembering just how good he was in his prime…
…but Bob Klapisch pointed out something interesting in “The Worst Team Money Could Buy” about how the Mets traded Cone to Toronto for a super young and red-assed Jeff Kent and not much else…four days before the trade deadline when Jose Canseco (can he be a Jack sometime?) went from Oakland to the Rangers. Kinda makes you wonder what kind of haul the Mets could’ve scored for Cone had they shopped him for a few more days that summer…
“Jack of(f) all trades: David Cone” — I like what you did there!
I thought at some point you would make a reference to Cliff Lee. Not that Lee had the career that Cone had, but he has been traded when he was essentially one of the best five pitchers in the game four times.
David Cone was one of my favorite pitchers from the 90’s. He had about 8 different pitches and could throw all of them from 8 different arm slots. A lot of people might argue this, but I think he is a HOF’er…He pitched extremely well in an era DOMINATED by hitters…
Seems pretty similar to Cliff Lee these past three years. Eventually they all end up on the Yankees I guess.
More than anything else, I think these articles are an excellent lesson in proper evaluation of prospects. Cone performed everywhere he went and yet was, essentially, traded for 11 different people. Of those only one had any sort of career worth noticing. And to put the icing on the irony cake, the team who got the player–Jeff Kent–also evaluated him inaccurately enough that they traded him away for nothing in an atrocious trade, and then THAT team traded him away as well.
I think it’s a good lesson to be reminded of considering the value teams are placing on prospects recently. A good prospect-turned-player is worth his weight in gold, but you’d best be real sure you’re actually picking the good ones–whether you’re acquiring them or trading them (or refusing to trade them).
One of my favorites of all time. I think the biggest thing with Cone was he was a winner. Winning percentage of over .600 and 8-3 in playoffs, he was a big game pitcher. On top of that he won 5 rings…to me he is on par if not a little higher then Schilling on a HOF vote due to more prolonged excellence, but to me they are fairly close