With Y2K and the imminent demise of the world just months away, it was incumbent upon teams to add just the right player for the stretch run. After all, when future civilizations came across the remains of our shattered lives, 1999 would loom as the final season for baseball, the single most important accomplishment in American society.
Or so it seemed at the time. Here's how the moves broke down:
The trading really hit its stride on July 8, when the Diamondbacks traded Abraham Nunez, Vladimir Nunez and Brad Penny to the Marlins for Matt Mantei. In the short term, the deal was a huge win for Arizona. Mantei pitched to a 2.76 ERA overall in 1999, with a ludicrous 15.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He went on to pitch six seasons in the desert with some success and a few injuries. Penny, meanwhile, pitched to a 4.04 ERA over five seasons with Florida, before having his best years in Los Angeles. Alas, neither Nunez amounted to much, keeping July 8 from forever being known as "El Dia de Dos Nunez".
On July 23, the day Milwaukee released Jim Abbott, fans were treated to two interesting trades. The Pirates dealt Jose Guillen and Jeff Sparks to Tampa Bay for Humberto Cota and Joe Oliver. Guillen was still years away from realizing his potential, but the Pirates' decision to trade him for a pair of catchers with sub-.700 OPS tells you something about the team's decision-making at that time.
That same day, the Mets traded minor leaguer Leo Vasquez and outfielder Terrence Long to Oakland for Kenny Rogers. This trade, by the way, looked brilliant for New York at first. Rogers started 5-0 with a 3.58 ERA with the Mets and finished 5-1 with a 4.03 ERA. However, he will forever be remembered by Mets fans for ending the New York season in Game 6 of the NLCS by walking Andruw Jones with the bases loaded.
Almost halfway between his remarkable run through the 1997 postseason and his less inspired Game 7 start in the 2002 World Series, Livan Hernandez traveled from Florida to San Francisco in exchange for fungible relievers Nate Bump and Jason Grilli. Oddly, 1999 also happened to be the one season in ten from 1998-2007 when the workhorse Hernandez didn't throw at least 200 innings. Instead, Livan settled for a mere 199.2. As usual, his ERA hovered in the 4s both before and after the trade.
A pair of under-the-radar deals on July 28 and 29 proved to be quite significant, though neither one propelled a team to the playoffs. First, Toronto sent Tom Davey and Steve Sinclair to Seattle for David Segui. The first-baseman-turned-designated-hitter ably replaced Dave Hollins, hitting .316/.365/.526 in 104 plate appearances. Nevertheless, Toronto finished third in the AL East.
A day later, Oakland sent Elvin Nina, Jeff DaVanon and Nathan Haynes to the Angels for Omar Olivares and Randy Velarde. While Olivares was solid- a 4.34 ERA in 12 post-trade starts- Velarde was sensational, hitting .333/.401/.478 while playing second base. Despite these contributions, Oakland finished second in the AL West.
Finally, on July 31, there was plenty of action to go around. The Royals turned Kevin Appier into Jeff D'Amico, Brad Rigby and Blake Stein. While none of the three really panned out, Appier managed just a 5.77 ERA in 12 post-trade starts for Oakland.
The Rockies traded Darryl Hamilton and Chuck McElroy to the Mets for Thomas Johnson, Rigo Beltran and Brian McRae. This turned out to be a pure win for New York, with Hamilton providing an unexpected .339/.410/.488 line and sterling defense.
To me, though, this deadline is best characterized by a pair of relievers who went on to big things. The Mets also traded Jason Isringhausen to the Athletics on this date, along with Greg McMichael for Billy Taylor. While Taylor had saved 99 games over the previous four seasons, the 37-year-old's best baseball was behind him and he pitched to an improbably-high 8.10 ERA for the Mets. Isringhausen, who'd been forced to the bullpen by injuries, promptly became the shutdown reliever the Mets thought they'd acquired in Taylor, pitching to a 2.13 ERA for Oakland in 1999, then saving 33 games in 2000.
The team that parted with the other young reliever of note at least obtained short-term gain in return. Cincinnati acquired Juan Guzman for Jacobo Sequea (minors) and B.J. Ryan. The Reds tasted the last bit of sweetness from Guzman's career- he was 6-3, 3.03 ERA for Cincinnati in 12 starts. But Ryan, of course, went on to dominate hitters for Baltimore, then Toronto. His 2.43 ERA in 2005, with 100 strikeouts in 70.1 innings, happened five years after Guzman threw his last major-league pitch.
In the end, the Y2K scare didn't end the world as we know it, but there was plenty of excitement to go around in the months leading up to New Year's Eve, thanks to the 1999 Trade Deadline.