It was 16 years ago that the Athletics traded away a successful homegrown talent in left-hander Mark Mulder, whom they sent to the Cardinals in exchange for righties Dan Haren and Kiko Calero and first baseman Daric Barton. Mulder was a former No. 2 overall pick (1998) who, along with Tim Hudson and Barry Zito, helped comprise the feared Big Three in Oakland’s rotation. While Mulder pitched to a 3.92 ERA as an Athletic and racked up almost twice as many wins (81) as losses (42) in their uniform, he struggled down the stretch in 2004, thereby sealing his fate with the club.
Although Mulder had a nice first season in St. Louis, injuries played a part in torpedoing his career from there, as he only threw 106 innings of 7.73 ERA ball from 2006-08. In hindsight, it wasn’t a great trade for the Cardinals, but the A’s did get serious value out of it. Haren turned in three highly productive seasons in Oakland before the team flipped him to Arizona in a major 2007 deal, while Calero enjoyed two impressive years out four with the club. By measure of fWAR, though, neither Haren nor Calero matched Barton’s top season as a member of the team. When comparing his best season with the rest of his career, Barton’s one of baseball’s clearest examples of a one-hit wonder from the previous decade.
It’s worth noting that Barton was actually one of the premier prospects in baseball during his days on the farm – Baseball America ranked him between 32nd and 67th four years running. As BA wrote before the 2007 season: “Oakland general manager Billy Beane called Barton the best hitter in the minors when he traded for him, and he remains the system’s best pure hitter. He has a textbook swing, fluid and short with a bit of loft, hinting at future power. His exceptional plate discipline allowed him to control the strike zone at Triple-A as a 20-year-old, and he’s advanced enough to know to use the whole field.”
Barton seemed on his way to proving his supporters correct, albeit over just 84 plate appearances, as he debuted in Oakland and batted a marvelous .347/.429/.639 (181 wRC+) with four home runs. But it took until 2010 for Barton to truly produce like a star over a full season. While Barton only mustered 10 homers in 686 PA and 159 games that year, he nonetheless totaled 5.0 fWAR, tying him with a couple familiar names in then-Phillie Jayson Werth and perennial Cardinal Yadier Molina. Barton got there on the strength of his exceptional eye and his strong defense. The lefty swinger posted the game’s eighth-highest on-base percentage and an overall line of .273/.393/.405 (126 wRC+), and he ranked among the sport’s top-graded fielders with 19 Defensive Runs Saved and an Ultimate Zone Rating of 11.8.
Oakland looked as if it had its long-term answer at first then, but it was all downhill from there. Barton’s numbers took a turn for the worse the next season and he was never a big league regular again. He continued to draw walks at a high clip, but the powerless Barton limped to a line of .216/.323/.284 (76 wRC+) with a mere four HRs and 0.1 fWAR during a 600-PA span over the rest of his time in the majors. The A’s even designated Barton for assignment in 2013, though he did stick with the organization into the next season. Barton hasn’t been heard from in the majors since then, though, and until today, he hadn’t been mentioned on MLBTR’s pages since the Blue Jays’ Triple-A club released him in July 2015.
Barton did play in Mexico for a few seasons after his run in MLB and Triple-A ended, but the 34-year-old’s now out of baseball. That surely wasn’t the way he or the A’s expected his career to conclude in the wake of his magical 2010 effort, but thanks to that one huge year, he had a more productive MLB career than most who appear in the league.