Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The 40 Worst Off-Seasons Ever, Part 3

By The Common Man

This week, The Common Man is counting down the 40 worst offseasons in baseball history. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.  And Part 4 is here.  Today, he continues, counting down from 20-11. Today, the Braves trade a whole pitching staff, the Orioles and D-backs get burned by bad backs, the Twins get nothing for the best pitcher in baseball, the Expos and A's sell everything that isn't nailed down, and Christy Mathewson.  Remember, from yesterday, TCM is trying to "account for the Wins Above Replacement lost by each team over the next five years as a result of their actions, or (for modern teams) until a player traded away, waived, or released became a free agent again. He has also tried to account for teams whose terrible moves cost them postseason berths, and also for how fans likely felt if they were watching their team get gutted or flail about." And now, back to the rankings!

20) 1941-42 St. Louis Cardinals

Traded Johnny Mize for Bill Lohrman, Johnny McCarthy, Ken O'Dea and $50,000. Traded Don Padgett for Kemp Wicker, a minor leaguer, and $7,500. Purchased Ray Mueller and Debs Garms. Traded Al Hollingsworth. 18.9 WAR lost

There was already buzz in September that the Cardinals were looking to trade Johnny Mize. According to one columnist, "[Branch] Rickey gets rid of while the gettin's good. Mize gets $20,000 a year and [Cardinals owner] Samuel Breadon does not go in for robust salaries. Not when he has a Ray Sanders to take Mize's place." Mize had had a down 1941, but had a lot of great baseball left in him. He demolished the NL in 1942 before leaving for the service. When he came back in '46, he didn't miss a beat. In 1947 and '48, he combined to hit 91 homers in the Polo Grounds.

Still, it's hard to argue that Rickey wasn't absolutely right to deal him. Sanders had been the MVP of the American Association, and was part of the impressive player development machine Rickey had built in St. Louis. He came in and played well for four years during the war before Rickey traded him too. And speaking of the war, the attack on Pearl Harbor happened just four days before this deal, and Rickey may have guessed that a draft was likely to take Mize anyway. Trading him before he was drafted gave Rickey additional leverage, especially in acquiring the extra money. And it's hard to argue with his team's results. Even without Mize, they won the World Series in 1942, '44, and '46, and the NL pennant in '43. Still, it's amazing that Rickey sent away a Hall of Fame talent like The Big Cat, and only got back the left-handed half of a catching platoon and $50 grand.

19) 1960-61 Milwaukee Braves
Moves: Traded Joey Jay and Juan Pizzaro for Roy McMillan. Traded Dick Brown, Bill Bruton, Chuck Cottier and Terry Fox for Frank Bolling and Neil Chrisley. Traded Daryl Robertson and Andre Rodgers for Moe Drabowsky and Seth Morehead. 38.9 WAR lost.

It’s not so much that the Braves made a big mistake in the offseason between 1960 and 1961. It’s that they made a bunch of little ones that added up. The Braves were dissatisfied with incumbent Johnny Logan and Roy McMillan was a slick-fielding former All Star, so the Braves dealt a couple of struggling pitchers to get him. Those pitchers, Pizarro and Jay, would combine to win 35 games in 1961 for the White Sox and Reds respectively and became stalwarts in the rotation for their new clubs. Meanwhile, Frank Bolling played well at 2B (even making the All Star team), but Brown, Bruton, and Fox all played well in Detroit, canceling out any benefit from the deal. And the club didn’t help themselves by giving away Andre Rodgers (who they had acquired from the Giants for the rights to Alvin Dark (who San Francisco wanted to manage), for two players who were both under replacement level.

18) 1974-75 Montreal Expos
Moves: Traded Ken Singleton and Mike Torrez for Dave McNally, Rich Coggins, and Bill Kirkpatrick. Traded Ron Fairley for minor leaguers. Traded Bob Stinson for Rodney Scott. Traded Willie Davis for Pete Mackanin and Don Stanhouse. Traded Terry Humphrey and Tom Walker for Woodie Fryman. 42.0 WAR lost.

This is essentially a challenge trade. Ken Singleton was one of the most underrated players in baseball while with the Expos. But following an offensive drop off in 1974, Montreal decided he was on the way down, and they wanted a leadoff hitter with speed. Enter Rich Coggins, a centerfielder for the Orioles who had stolen 26 bases the year before. GM Jim Fanning loved him, saying “Coggins is capable of stealing 40 or 50 bases a season.” Meanwhile, they had a chance to acquire one of the most highly regarded pitchers in the American League in Dave McNally. At first glance, this seemed like a good thing. McNally had pitched more than 200 innings for seven straight seasons, and hadn’t had an ERA above 3.60 since 1967. Gene Mauch was exceedingly pleased with the deal, saying “McNally’s a craftsman. We made this trade with confidence because we know that McNally can do that job. Usually, when you trade for pitchers, you’re just hopeful.”

Unfortunately for the Expos, the deal was a disaster on both ends. Coggins developed a thyroid condition at the end of Spring Training and ended up in the hospital and treatment for the first couple months of the season. He also had no plate discipline, and when he came back, he managed just a .289 OBP before Montreal sold him to the Yankees. McNally, meanwhile, had nothing left and retired after twelve starts, saying he felt like he was “stealing money” and that “I’m not throwing the ball. I have no oomph on it, and there’s no ray of hope that it’ll get better. There’s no chance I can do a decent job, and I’m not paid to do that.”*

Singleton, on the other hand, showed great power and patience with the Orioles and went right back to being an incredibly valuable player. Mike Torrez, who was a good young pitcher himself, won 20 games for the Orioles and 85 over the next five years. When asked how he felt about giving up two tremendous players for essentially nothing, Gene Mauch told the AP, “I try not to think about it.”
*Strangely, just after retiring, McNally’s health got even worse, as he started hiccupping and didn’t stop for another twelve days.

17) 2007-08 Minnesota Twins
Moves: Traded Johan Santana for Carlos Gomez, Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Deolis Guerra. Traded Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie. Traded RA Dickey. Traded for Craig Monroe. Lost Torii Hunter. Signed Mike Lamb, Adam Everett, and Livan Hernandez. Lost 40.2 WAR to date.

Boy, the Twins are making this list a lot, especially for a team that has been such a consistent winner over the last 10 seasons. But they keep making strange and unwise decisions. Of all the packages the Twins were offered for Johan Santana, the Mets' was easily the worst, although there were legitimate rumors that the Yankees and Red Sox were just using their interest as smokescreens to scare off the other. The Twins have gotten almost nothing out of the deal, and though Santana has gotten hurt, he's still provided the Mets with 14.4 WAR in just three seasons. Meanwhile, Gomez, Humber and Mulvey are all out of the Twins organization, all three are busts.

The Young deal still has some time, but it seems clear that Delmon simply is too focused on trying to be the next Jeff Francoeur to have anything like long-term value. He's got power, but little else in his game. Bartlett, meanwhile has been a very productive shortstop and Garza a terrific starter who would easily be the Twins #2 arm. If they'd managed to hold on to RA Dickey as well, they'd have a much stronger front 4 than they have today. Think about it, Scott Baker would be the 5th starter. Anyway, all the free agent signings were busts, and the less said about Craig Monroe the better. The Twins would have won the AL Central in 2008 if they had simply not made one of the above trades, but they'll be feeling the effects of both of them for some time to come.

16) 1976-77 Oakland A's
Moves: Lost Gene Tenace, Rollie Fingers, Sal Bando, Don Baylor, Joe Rudi, and Bert Campaneris to free agency. Traded manager Chuck Tanner and $100,000 for Manny Sanguillen, Traded Ron Fairly for minor leaguer and cash. Sold Ken McMullen. Traded Phil Garner, Chris Batton, and Tommy Helms for Tony Armas, Doug Bair, Dave Giusti, Rick Langford, Doc Medich, and Mitchell Page. Traded Claudell Washington for Rodney Scott, Jim Umbarger, and cash. Lost 31.6 WAR.

This was not nearly as bad as the list of names above would have you believe. For one thing, Bando, Rudi and Campaneris were into their decline phases, and Baylor's value was relatively low over the next few years. Fingers was still excellent, but was a reliever and, thus, not as valuable. Tenace was still excellent, however. For another, Finley was still a keen judge of talent. In trading away the excellent Phil Garner, he got back the A's future CF, several pitchers who would help the club, and Mitchell Page, who was almost a superstar before something brought his career to Earth.

But if you were an Oakland fan in 1976 and 1977, this had to feel absolutely horrible. It was a spirit crushing move to a fan base that had been insulted and pushed aside by Finley for years. The A's went from 6th in the AL in attendance to 11th to dead last, drawing less than 500,000 fans in 1977 (or around 3,000 per game), and around 300,000 in 1979 (less than 2,000). The A's didn't draw more than a million fans again until Finley had sold the team in 1981.

15) 1900-01 Cincinnati Reds
Moves: Drafted, then traded Christy Mathewson for Amos Rusie. Previous purchase of Topsy Hartsel voided. Jimmy Barrett, HObe Ferris, and Bob Wood jumped to AL teams. 83.2 WAR lost

So much of this is because of the Mathewson trade. But a) Mathewson was still young and raw, and hadn't learned his screwball yet, though he was highly regarded and b) pitchers were used much differently then, which distorts how bad this trade looks (though it still was really, really bad). Mathewson was 19, and had just finished allowing only 110 hits in 183 innings in the minors, giving up just 2.46 runs/9 (earned runs is a tricky concept when fields and equipment varied so widely in this era). Rusie was considered an all time great, but he also hadn't pitched in organized ball for two years due to a contract dispute. In three games, Rusie gave up 21 runs in 22 innings and never pitched again.

The more interesting case is probably Topsy Hartsel, one of the first stars of the American League. In 1900, he had gotten into 18 games with the Reds, hitting extremely well. But after the season, the Chicago Orphans filed a protest that they actually held the rights to him, having purchased his services first. At a league meeting, Chicago showed documentation of the move. While Cincinnati's owners claimed a prior agreement that superseded the Orphans', they couldn't produce any evidence. Also, the fact that Hartsel was in Detroit, not Cincinnati, when they claimed to have signed this agreement and claimed that he didn't know anything about it didn't help their case (Chicago Tribune, October 12, 1900) Hartsel was awarded to Chicago, and several victories were stripped from the Reds, which allowed the Orphans to slip into 5th place (Chicago Tribune, Oct. 16, 1900). The Reds ended up with nothing for their trouble, and Hartsel would jump to the American League the following year.

14) 2003-04 Arizona Diamondbacks
Traded Curt Schilling for Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, and Jorge de la Rosa. Traded Chris Capuano, Craig Counsell, Chad Moeller, Lyle Overbay, Jorge de la Rosa, and Junior Spivey for Richie Sexson and Shane Nance. Traded John Patterson for Randy Choate. Traded Quinton McCracken for Greg Colbrunn. Lost Rod Barajas. Signed Roberto Alomar. 49.5 WAR lost.

The Diamondbacks, who had been flagging since their surprise 2001 World Series win, had a laser-beam focus on Richie Sexson, who had hit 149 homers over the previous four seasons and just a single year remaining before becoming a free agent. In light of that, it's amazing how much talent Milwaukee was able to squeeze out of Arizona. In fact, the Diamondbacks were so hot for Sexson they traded Schilling to pare some payroll and get back some extra prospects to deal. Overbay, Spivey, Capuano, and Counsell each became positive contributors in Milwaukee. Casey Fossum, the central figure in the Schilling deal, absolutely bombed in the Desert. And, for all of their maneuvering, Sexson only played 23 games for the Diamondbacks before hurting his back and leaving as a free agent. Arizona went from 84 wins to 111 losses.

13) 1935-36 Philadelphia A's
Moves: Traded Jimmie Foxx and Johnny Marcum for Gordon Rhodes and $150,000. Traded Doc Cramer and Eric McNair for Hank Johnson, Al Niemiec, and $75,000. George Blaeholder lost on waivers. Harry Kelly acquired in Rule 5 Draft. 35.6 WAR lost.

This was the final stroke in Connie Mack's dismantling of his great A's teams of the early 1930s. The only reason Jimmie Foxx had stayed with Mack so long was that Foxx had been loyal to the distinguished Mack. But a 1934-35 salary dispute changed that, as Mack tried to cut Foxx's salary by 30 percent. Mack denied he was going to move Foxx as late as October, and Red Sox President Tom Yawkey told the AP that he was "no longer planning to spend 'big money' for 'big names.'" Yeah, that didn't last long. Fox announced in December that Mack was planning to deal him and that "the club that gets him will have to raise the ante considerably over what the A's are putting into their first baseman's pay envelope now." The Sox bought in, and raised his pay by almost 40 percent, and Foxx mashed for them for the next six and a half seasons.

As with most of Mack's dumps, he got nothing in return. Gordon Rhodes had never been a particularly good pitcher, and with the A's he was downright horrible, losing 20 games and finishing with a 5.74 ERA. The deal to send Cramer and McNair to Boston was just as much of a dump as the Foxx deal, and netted even less in terms of talent. Connie was a motivated seller.

12) 1990-91 Baltimore Orioles
Moves: Traded Steve Finley, Curt Schilling, and Pete Harnisch for Glenn Davis. Traded Mickey Tettleton for Jeff Robinson. Signed Todd Frohwirth. 52.1 WAR lost.

You already know about the first trade there. It was the nightmare scenario for the Orioles. All three prospects pan out spectacularly, while Davis gets hurt, barely plays, is ineffective, and finally retires after collecting $12 million of Baltimore's money. Rany Jazayerli puts it best in Rob Neyer's Blunders book, "As damaging as the trade was to the Orioles, it's aggravated by the fact that they didn't actually need Davis. Randy Milligan had batted .265/.408/.492 as the Orioles' first baseman in 1990, and Sam Horn batted .248/.332/.472 as the team's primary DH."

The other deal was not as damaging, but much more unconscionable. Tettleton had just come into his own as a power-hitting catcher, but the Orioles didn't really have a handle on the importance of on-base percentage over batting average, and figured Tettleton wasn't worth a $1.6 million salary. So they dealt him to Detroit, where he hit 95 homers over the next three years with a 136 OPS+. Their return, Jeff Robinson (who was never any good to begin with, started 19 times with a 77 ERA+ and was released after the season. If the Orioles simply keep the four players above, they win the AL East in 1992 and '93 and the Blue Jays are still looking for their first World Championship.

11) 1994-95 Montreal Expos
Moves: Lost Larry Walker. Traded John Wetteland for Fernando Seguignol and cash. Traded Ken Hill for Kirk Bullinger, Bryan Eversgerd, and DaRond Stovall. Traded marquis Grissom for Roberto Kelly, Tony Tarasco, and Esteban Yan. 35 WAR lost.

Witness, the death of baseball in Montreal. Oh, this wasn't the final blow, but the first strike that crippled it beyond repair. The strike hurt no team more than the Expos, who would have run away with the NL East and been favorites to win in the playoffs. With the added revenue, would they have been able to justify keeping Walker? Maybe not, but his loss cemented the notion that Montreal could not compete with other Major League teams in baseball's new economy.

The trades of Grissom, Hill, and Wetteland brought back absolutely nothing of value. These moves gutted the franchise, and dropped Montreal from first to last in their division. It opened the door to Jeffrey Loria buying the franchise, which led the way to MLB's stewardship, and paved the road out of Canada for a once-proud franchise.

1 comment:

Devin McCullen said...

I'm enjoying this a lot, but 2 quibbles.

1)I think it's in Neyer's Lineups book that he mentions this, but the Christy Mathewson trade might have been just a way for the Giants to get him from the minors cheaply.

2)On the 76-77 A's, you're figuring the per-game attendance wrong - dividing the total by 162, when it should only be 81. Still terrible, but not as low.