Friday, July 28, 2006

Do- Over
By Ben Valentine

As July 31st rolls around, general managers, sportswriters and fans alike starting thinking about one word.

“Trade”

Who is going to make the move that puts their team over the top? Which squad is going to reach for it but come up short, giving up their future in the process? What team is going to be the big winner? The big loser? Baseball waits with baited breath to see the destinations of Alfonso Soriano, Bobby Abreu and Barry Zito, to name a few.

Of course, it’s rare a trade’s result is known right away. Since deadline deals frequently involve prospects, it normally takes two or three years before a true winner or loser can be determined. Often people say five years is the best grace period to allow before evaluating a move. But there are rare times where a result is clear quickly. Usually those trades are tremendously lopsided in one way.

Today we take a look back at the last five years and check out what were the worst, or most lopsided trades during that span. Four of the five deals occurred quite recently, in the last three years. Three occurred in the last two years with one of the trades happening this year. The results of the other two were pretty clear after year one. In both cases, year two just made it more obvious who was the big loser in those deals.

And so let’s begin with a move most people thought had a clear winner at the time. They were right, though they got the winner wrong.

5. The Oakland A’s send starting pitcher Mark Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals for starting pitcher Danny Haren, reliever Kiko Calero and minor league catcher Daric Barton

For this to be understood as a bad trade we must enter a Twilight Zone realm to many sportswriters and fans, one where a pitcher’s won/loss record is of little statistical importance. Thus submitted for your approval: the National League leader in wins; Jason Marquis, he of a 5.62 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. Yet he has 12 wins. Why? Because he plays for the Cardinals, who score a ton of runs because of a guy name Pujols.

Those same Cardinals are the reason Mulder posted 17 wins last season with a 3.69 ERA. His K/9 was terrible at 4.87 with a K/BB of 1.59. His saving grace was the ground ball out; he induced 2.74 times more ground balls than fly balls. But he was still outperformed by Haren who had a 3.73 ERA, in a harder league for pitchers. In addition he had a K/9 of 6.76 and a K/BB of 3.08 with an OPS against of .709, compared to Mulder’s .745. This again, is in the American League with the DH. This season, Haren has continued to improve, posting a better K/9 (6.86) and better K/BB (3.58) with a similar ERA (3.89) Meanwhile, Mulder has fallen off the map with a 6.09 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. To top it all off, he’s been on the shelf for over a month, though considering how bad he’s been this year, that might be a good thing. Oh yeah, Haren is 25 and years away from free agency. Mulder is a free agent after the season, and the Cardinals will likely lose him for nothing. Or they could sign him, despite the fact he’s been declining for four years now. But then, that didn’t stop the Cards from trading for him, so why should it stop them from re-signing him?

Straight up, Haren for Mulder looks like a terrible deal. But the A’s also got reliever Kiko Calero in the trade. Last season Calero was very good, posting a 3.23 ERA along with a K/9 of 8.41 and a K/BB of 2.89 in 55.2 innings. This season he’s been even better, for while his K/BB has declined to 2.52, his K/9 is an excellent 10.10 per nine. His ERA stands at 2.85 in 41.0 innings, making him Oakland’s most reliable man out the pen.

And just to top it off, the Cardinals also gave up young catcher Daric Barton. While he’s stalled a bit at AAA, he posted OPS numbers over 900 in his last three stops (mid A, high A and AA). Plus he’s just 21 years old, meaning he’s got time to mature. This season he’s not had any power, but still has a .389 OBP. Those numbers will be less valuable at first base where he’ll likely play, but again, he’s young.

All three players dealt for Mulder currently have more value than him, and amazingly that’s happened within one year of the trade. That’s a bad sign for the Cardinals, and a strike against Walt Jocketty. Meanwhile, Billy Beane is someone to avoid when making trades, as can be seen by the next deal in this ranking.

4. Kansas City Royals send outfielder Johnny Damon and minor league infielder Mark Ellis to the Oakland A’s.

The Oakland A’s send minor infielder Angel Berroa and catcher AJ Hinch to the Royals and outfielder Ben Grieve to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

The Devil Rays send starting pitcher Corey Lidle to the A’s and reliever Roberto Hernandez to the Royals:

The oldest deal on here, happening before the 2001 season, so it just qualified. This wasn’t a good trade for the Devil Rays, as Lidle went on to be a fairly productive member of the A’s rotation for the next few years while Grieve continued his descent from stardom to oblivion. But this was a disastrous deal for the Royals, who ended up dealing arguably the best two players in the trade. What they got back was Berroa who had a decent rookie year and has sucked ever since, AJ Hinch, who never amounted to anything along with old man Roberto Hernandez. Amazingly, Hernandez is currently doing the best of the three, but in Pittsburgh.

All that for Damon, who while not doing all that much for the A’s, was at the time a top notch centerfielder. It isn’t that the A’s got a ton out of the deal; it’s that Kansas City should have been able to pull a useful player back in the trade. Right now all they have to show for it is a shortstop who’s got an OPS at .630. Of course when you get Allard Baird and Billy Beane together, what do you expect to happen? It’s arguable the Royals got fleeced even more for Carlos Beltran, but since Mark Teahan has shown some upside, it didn’t make the list yet.

The operative word is “yet”.

3. Washington Nationals send relievers Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, shortstop Royce Clayton, minor league pitcher Daryl Thompson and infielder Brandon Harris to the Cincinnati Reds for shortstop Felipe Lopez, outfielder Austin Kearns and reliever Ryan Wagner

This trade just happened and it’s already three on the list. It’s possible we’ll all be made to look like morons after a year or so, but it’s hardly likely. The best case for the Reds; the deal blows up on both sides with no one panning out. But the reality is even if Kearns, Lopez and Wagner never amount to anything, the Reds could have gotten more for the three than two middle relievers, a middling hanger on at short, an average prospect with arm problems and a backup. Not only that, but neither Majewski nor Bray projects to be anything but a middle reliever at best. If they pulled back a live relief arm who could one day close, that would have been one thing. Instead they got two guys who probably could have been found on the free agent market looking for an even million bucks for a couple of years. Maybe even less than that.

It’s one thing to get taken to school by Billy Beane. But when you get fleeced by Jim Bowden, it might be time to re-evaluate your career choice.

2. The New York Mets send minor league pitchers Scott Kazmir and Josselo Diaz to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for starting pitcher Victor Zambrano and reliever Bartolome Fortunato

What makes this trade so bad isn’t just the talent surrendered, but the fact that anyone with half a brain at the time knew it was a mistake. I still remember Mets’ beat reporter Ed Coleman on WFAN announcing the trade to Mike and the Mad Dog. He was trying to defend it, but his voice told you all you needed to know. It was a needless swap of talent for a guy who was a fourth starter at the time, at best. Besides that, the Mets were under .500 and seven games back of the Braves. They weren’t in the race, so why were they dealing a top 25 prospect? Kazmir had just thrown a one hitter at AA. The lefty would find his way to bigs a week later. Meanwhile to add injury to insult, Zambrano found his way to D/L in roughly the same time. Oh yeah, and the Mets finished last in the National League East.

And the trade is now a colossal flop. Kazmir is on the verge of stardom while Zambrano’s elbow exploded. That elbow, which was bothering him WHEN the Mets made the trade. This trade is so bad, words aren’t enough to really describe it. It changed an organization and gave it a black eye it’s still recovering from.

This is a message for Jim Duquette: it’s one thing to get fleeced by Jim Bowden. He might be intimidating when intoxicated. But to be embarrassed by Chuck LaMarr, who might be the worst GM this side of Allard Baird, that’s a sign you need to re-evaluate your career choice.

And people wonder why Mets fans have a love affair with Omar Minaya.

1. The San Francisco Giants send reliever Joe Nathan, minor league pitchers Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser to the Minnesota Twins for catcher AJ Pierzynski

The Kazmir trade by all rights deserves the top spot. It was a bad trade that didn’t just end up horribly, it was an awful trade when it went down and everyone knew it. But when a team gives up this much for a Zambrano- esque flop, it doesn’t matter how the deal was perceived at the time. It’s just horrid.

Basically, the Giants dealt arguably the best young arm in baseball, a serviceable one and a top notch reliever for a clubhouse cancer. Now look, Pierzynski wasn’t a bad player; but he was coming off a season where his OPS was .824. Solid for a catcher no doubt, but worth a good arm and two good prospects? He might not even have been worth Joe Nathan at the time, who was coming off a year where he went 12-4 (out of the pen mind you) with a 2.96 ERA. Even better was his 9.46 K/9 and 2.52 K/BB in 79.0 IP that year. But to give up Liriano to boot? There’s just no way that trade is justifiable. Oh and Pierzynski had an OPS of .729 in his one season with the Giants. Awful, just awful.

Think the Liriano would look good in the Giants rotation over Jamey Wright? How about Nathan in for Armando Benitez or anyone else in that horror show? And let’s not even mention Bonser, who probably would be in the rotation now.

The Mets traded an ace for a dud. The Giants traded an ace, a stopper and back end guy for one. And that is precisely why they are number one, having clearly made the worst baseball trade in the last five years.

Still Brian Sabean does have a decent track record, so while he doesn’t get a pass, he doesn’t deserve to lose his job over this. Still Brian, don’t go and trade Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez for Freddy Garcia, Scott Podsednik and Neal Cotts on Monday.

The Sportszilla crew does not want to have to talk David down from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge.

10 Comments:

Anonymous ExBurgher said...

How about Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for a poke in the eye and Jose Hernandez? I would say this crippled the Pirates, but it's more like it ripped the arms off the already invalid franchise.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese for Travis Hafner should be at least #2 on the list. A replacement level catcher and pitcher for the best hitter in the major leagues? You've got to be kidding!

1:57 PM  
Blogger A. J. Simon said...

Speaking of Omar Minaya, what about his sterling deal of Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips for two months of Bartolo Colon? That's why Mets fans love him a little more than Nationals fans . . .

2:02 PM  
Anonymous jponry said...

The Liriano trade has turned out spectacularly bad, but let's not forget that he was coming off a year in which he pitched a grand total of 9 innings and was frequently sidelined by serious injury problems during his time as a Giants farmhand. He always had amazing potential, but I don't think anyone, not even Terry Ryan, expected he would turn into the player he is riht now.

Still an awful trade and it was at the time (because they traded Nathan for a mediocre catcher), but everyone seems to ignore what Liriano did as a Giants farmhand. At the time he was a lefty power arm who couldn't stay healthy to save his life. This one just happened to pan out and make the trade look even worse.

2:12 PM  
Blogger RotoAuthority said...

Great list.

I would argue that the Pierzynski deal looked a lot better back when it was made in November of 2003. Remember, Liriano barely pitched that year and Nathan had a huge history of injury.

http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2006/07/november_14th_2_1.html

3:16 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

There have been a bit of bad trades over the last few years, haven't there? Anyway let me respond to each:

-That's a terrible deal talentwise. But in Pittsburgh's defense, Ramirez was coming off a year where he hit .234/.279/.387. That stinks for any position especially third. He was better in 03, .280/.330/.448, but he'd made 23 errors at short. The Cubs should have gotten more for Ramirez, but they could not pull a top prospect back for him at the time. Remember, he was also into his arbitration years, which lessened his value further.

-Diaz and Drese for Hafner is an awful trade. It didn't make the list because the Rangers could use Hafner but don't particuarly need him. But the swap of talent is so atrocious it probably would be #6 on this list. Remember what it has to compete with at five: 3 players who are already more valuable than the one the A's gave up. Plus the Cardinals would kill for either Haren and Calero today.

-In defense of Minaya, Colon was solid for the Expos and they were near the Wild Card at the time, so they were trying to make a move to win that year. Unfortunately they were sabotoged by Major League Baseball, who did nothing but try to destroy that franchise. If they had a real owner who cared about the team, that whole situation might have been different.

-He was a 19 year old lefty fire baller. Injury prone or not, you owe it to your franchise to see what the kid could do. If he were 22 or even 21, I could see it. But he was young for the level he was at and posted very good numbers, so injuries don't completely justify it. I mean if the Mets had traded Jose Reyes after 2004 because he was "injury prone" they'd look like idiots now.

And remember, as you said, it wasn't just Liriano for Pierzynski. It was Nathan and Bonser as well. That much talent for a mediocre player makes it an historically bad trade.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Correction with Ramirez: I said he made 23 errors at short. I meant 3rd base.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DOn't forget the Tigers took Jeremy Bonderman from the A's too, maybe not a big trade still cause he is having his first "great season" but in two years or so it could look pretty lopsided too. I think that was when they dealt Weaver somewhere.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ramirez's lousy 2002 was a function of a leg injury. He couldn't run, and he couldn't move laterally, and they kept writing him into the lineup anyway because the only alternative was Mike Benjamin.

It should easily be Top-5. Hearing about it was like finding out that somebody died.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

When I was discussing potential trades with the other members of Sportszilla, Bonderman came up. David brought up a fair point that the A's got something out of Lilly and Bonderman had one good season. The Yankees got nothing out of Weaver, but Lilly isn't someone who was killer to lose. It could end up hurting the A's in the long run but it just wasn't bad enough to make the list.

Ramirez 2003 was better than 2002, but like I said, a third baseman with an OPS sub .800 who made 23 errors in one half of a season is expendable. Also remember Ramirez stunk it up for the Cubbies the second half of that year. I agree it's idiotic to give up on a 26 year old for nothing, but remember this has stiff competition here. If you want to argue the Nats/Reds trade is too soon to list, that's fair. But I don't think it's worse than the Damon or Mulder deals.

Hey, I understand losing a player in a bad trade; I'll never get over Kazmir/Zambrano. But even I have to admit that deal pales in comparison to the sheer talent handed away in the Giants trade.

11:39 PM  

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