This week, The Common Man has been counting down the 40 worst offseasons in baseball history. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. And part 3 is here. Today, he concludes, counting down from 10-1. Today, the Marlins and A's hold fire sales, the Giants petulently throw away a pennant, the Red Sox make the single most disasterous team that a team could make, even worse than the Mets, except for the one made by the Astros. 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,the rest of the rankings!
10) 1997-98 Florida Marlins
Moves: Traded Kevin Brown for Derrek Lee, Rafael Medina and a minor leaguer. Traded Al Leiter and Ralph Milliard for AJ Burnett, Jesus Sanchez, and a minor leaguer. Traded Moises Alu for Mark Johnson, Manuel Barrios, and Oscar Henriquez. Traded Devon White for minor leaguer. Traded Rob Nen for Joe Fontenot and two minor leaguers. Traded Jeff Conine for minor leaguer. Traded Ed Vosberg for minor leaguer. Traded Dennis Cook for two minor leaguers. Lost 32 WAR.
Prior to the 1997 season, Wayne Huizenga, the owner of the Marlins, gave out free agent contracts to Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Alex Fernandez, and Jim Eisenreich to add to his large stable of mercenaries. He seemed surprised When the cost of the Marlins became too much for him to bear that June as he announced he was selling the team, alleging that he was set to lose $34 million that season on a $54 million payroll. The Marlins persisted, however, and won the World Series. But everyone knew the fire sale was coming.
Alou was the first to go. Followed by White and Nen. Then, like dominoes they fell. Conine, Brown, Cook, Leiter. In all, the Marlins traded away 13 players that winter, and got back exactly two usable players, Derrek Lee and AJ Burnett. It was pathetic. Only Fernandez stayed because, by the end of the season, he was damaged goods, thanks to a career of pitching under Jeff Torborg. The Marlins fell to 108 losses. In part because of this betrayal, they never captured the fans, even when they won again in 2003. And the Marlins' existence has been reduced to relying on the meager capital outlayed by Scrooge McLoria.
9) 1959-1960 Chicago White Sox
Moves: Traded Norm Cash, John Romano, and Bubba Phillips for Minnie Minoso, Dick Brown, Don Ferrarese, and Jake Striker. Traded Johnny Callison for Gene Freese. Traded Earl Battey, Don Mincher, and $150,000 for Roy Sievers. Traded Ron Jackson for Frank Baumann. Acquired Floyd Robinson. 28.9 WAR lost
Rob Neyer detailed this offseason in his Blunders book, and really took Sox owner Bill Veeck to task for his short-sightedness. The Sox had been in the World Series in 1959, and had a very strong farm system. Cash, Romano, Callison, Battey, and Mincher would all be some of the bigger stars of the coming decade, but would all do it for other clubs, as Veeck dealt them all in an effort to win again immediately because, as Neyer put it, he "never sayed anywhere for long" and "was essentially incapable of thinking more than a year or two ahead."
The Jackson for Baumann trade was a masterstroke, as Veeck did pick up a valuable swing man and the eventual ERA champ for a player with 32 more plate appearances ahead of him. And getting Floyd Robinson for nothing was very nice. But while Minoso, Sievers, and Freese would all play well in 1960, it was already apparent how much Veeck had given away. Cash hit .286/.402/.501 with the Tigers. Romano continued to provide strong offense behind the dish for the Indians. Callison, only 21, had 115 OPS+ in 335 PAs in Philadelphia. And Battey hit like Romano, but played defense like Bench in Washington. And Mincher became a great power hitter for the Twins by 1963.
Neyer thinks these deals “certainly cost the White Sox two pennants, and perhaps as many as five. That sounds about right.
8) 1927-28 New York Giants
Traded Rogers Hornsby for Shanty Hogan and Jimmy Welsh. Traded Burleigh Grimes for Vic Aldridge. Drafted Lefty O’Doul. 26.2 WAR lost
With Hornsby on the club, the Giants went from 74 wins and 5th in the National League in 1926 to 92 wins and 3rd place in the NL in 1927. And Rajah had hit .361/.448/.586 for the club with 26 homers, 125 RBI, and 133 runs scored. So reporters were caught severely off guard when the Giants pulled off “the most mysterious trade in baseball history—Rogers Hornsby for two unknowns.” The Giants would only confirm at the press conference that it was done “for the good of the Giants” and that “had the ceiling of the room fallen down upon the heads of the astounded baseball writers there could have been no greater consternation” (New York Times, January 11, 1928).
Later, it came out that the deal was hastily struck at the insistence of Giants owner Horace Stoneham, who had gotten wind of some unflattering comments Hornsby made in private about him, that “There would have to be a new ownership fo the Giants before I would consent to being manager. There are too many men attempting to dictate the club’s policy. I had a taste of that in St. Louis, with Breadon and Rickey each having a finger in the pie. As manager I would want complete authority in the playing end” (New York Times, January 13, 1928) He also hoped that someone like Colonel Jacob Ruppert would be the man to take over. Hogan turned out to be a very good catcher, and Welsh was ok for a year. But Hornsby would hit .383/.477/.658 over the next two years, with 60 homers, 243 RBI, and 255 runs scored.
Grimes, meanwhile, had just won 19 games for the Giants (though he had just a 109 ERA+), but John McGraw was sure he could find someone to do better. So he dealt Grimes for 15 game winner Vic Aldridge. Both the same age. Grimes won 25 games for the Pirates in 1928, leading the NL in wins, games, starts, complete games, and innings pitched, while posting a 2.99 ERA that was 36% better than league average. Aldridge won just four games, with a 4.83 ERA and never pitched in the Majors again. The Giants finished second in 1928 to Cardinals by just 2 games.
7) 1933-34 Philadelphia Athletics
Moves: Traded Lefty Grove, Rube Walberg, and Max Bishop for Bob Kline, Rabbit Warstler, and $125,000. Traded Mickey Cochrane for Johnny Pasek and $100,000. Traded George Earnshaw and Johnny Pasek for Charlie Berry and $20,000. 57.1 WAR lost.
The crazy thing is that all three of these trades happened on one day. A Tuesday. Can you imagine how badly your Wednesday would suck if you woke up, got to work, quickly checked the baseball headlines, and found out that your entire team had been traded the day before? Because that's basically what happened here.
Connie Mack was more or less constantly in debt, running the A's, and had to make these deals to appease his creditors. It doesn't make the deals any harder to swallow, but it at least absolves him somewhat. That he didn't get back any talent is disturbing, but with the large amounts he was acquiring, it's not a tremendous surprise. It's also worth pointing out that, of the players Mack dealt, only Cochrane and Grove were still in their prime. And Cochrane only had two more years before injuries ended his career. Everyone else faded very quickly. But these deals put Philadelphia in a 13 year funk, in which they never finished above .500 and lost more than 90 games 11 times.
6) 1919-20 Boston Red Sox
5) 1992-93 Pittsburgh Pirates
Red Sox Moves: Sold Babe Ruth for $100,000 55.0 WAR lost.
Pirates Moves: Lost Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek to free agency. Traded Jose Lind for Joel Johnston and Dennis Moeller. 52.8 WAR lost
How do you pick a favorite here? The Sox had more control over Ruth's baseball future than the Pirates had over Bonds. But the Bucs made a deliberate choice to commit to Andy Van Slyke over Barry Lamar. When Ruth was dealt, he had just set the single season homerun record with 29 in his first year as a full-time position player. In Bonds' last season, he hit .311/.456/.624 with 34 homers, 39 stolen bases (at an 83% rate), won a Gold Glove and his second MVP award in a row (and third in four years). Ruth was younger, but Bonds had the track record. Barry had 586 homers ahead of him, Ruth had 665.
Ultimately, TCM thinks it comes down to three things. First, the Pirates also lost Doug Drabek, the ace of their staff and one of the best pitchers in the National League. Sure, the Sox technically lost a pitcher too, but it's not like Ruth was really planning on going back to that. Second, the Pirates were better than the Red Sox at this point, having just won back-to-back AL East titles. So the fall was further, and more depressing. Finally, the Pirates have never really recovered, finishing below .500 for 17 straight seasons, while the Red Sox eventuall came around.
4) 1914-15 Philadelphia Athletics
Moves: Sold Eddie Collins. Lost Eddie Plank and Chief Bender to the Federal League. Released Jack Coombs. Purchased Napoleon Lajoie. Alienated Frank Baker. 60.2 WAR lost
Ok, so the last one really isn't a transaction. That came the next year after the salary dispute between Connie Mack and Home Run Baker lasted all of 1915, and Ban Johnson pressured Mack to sell off Baker's contract. But the loss of Baker was just as bad as the loss of Plank, who still had a few good years left. Connie also burned bridges with Plank, Bender, and Coombs, furious that they had had contact with the Federal League, and vowed they would never be Athletics again, saying "I don't want one man on the team who is not for the club. That goes for the whole bunch."
The Collins deal, however, was straight cash homey. $50,000. With the money, Mack acquired Lajoie, who was on his last legs. The A's dropped like a stone, from 99 wins and an AL Pennant to 43 wins, 109 losses, and by far the worst team in baseball. This time, the A's didn't recover for 10 seasons, during six of which they finished with at least 98 losses. Boy, did Connie Mack know how to gut a franchise or what?
3) 1971-72 New York Mets
Moves: Traded Nolan Ryan, Frank Estrada, Don Rose, and Leroy Stanton for Jim Fregosi. Traded Ken Singleton, Mike Jorgensen, and Tim Foli for Rusty Staub. Traded Jim Bibby, Rich Folkers, Charlie Hudson and Art Shamsky for Harry Parker, Jim Beauchamp, Chip Coulter, and Chuck Taylor. Traded four minor leaguers for Jim Gosger. Lost 62.3 WAR
This was an unbelievably tough offseason for the Mets. First, they traded Nolan Ryan (and three other players) for Jim Fregosi. This is easily the most famous deal here, and rightfully so. Ryan became a force in the American League immediately after this trade, and Fregosi was a complete bust for the Mets, who were intent on making him a 3B. But there's so much more to this offseason. A player strike began on April 1 that postponed the start of the regular season to the 13th. On the 2nd, Manager Gil Hodges suffered a massive heart attack and died. And the day of his funeral, the Mets announced that, not only would Yogi Berra be taking over at the helm, but that they had made a big three-for-one trade.
Alas, the Mets didn't appreciate Ken Singleton any more than the Expos did in Part 3 yesterday, and they dealt him and the very useful Mike Jorgensen Jorgensen for Rusty Staub. The deal probably would have been about even, but Staub would break his hand in June and see a serious decline in his performance before needing hand surgery. He was never the same player again.
2) 1971-72 Boston Red Sox
Moves: Traded George Scott, Jim Lonborg, Ken Brett, Joe Lahoud, Billy Conigliaro, and Don Pavletich for Tommy Harper, Lew Krausse, Marty Pattin, and Pat Skrable. Traded Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater. 46.2 WAR lost.
Taken together, these trades cost the Red Sox the 1972 AL East title, as Boston finished just a half-game back of the Tigers due to a labor dispute that led to some wonky scheduling.. You can read extensively about the deals in Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders. The Lyle deal allegedly stemmed from a fight over Lyle’s weight, and was bad enough, especially since the Sox had plenty of OF-1B types who could handle the spot and hit a little bit. But the Scott deal was horrendous. And not just because Scott would hit 115 homers with a 131 OPS+ and five Gold Gloves over the next five seasons.
Adding insult to injury, on September 26 the Red Sox played the Brewers at Fenway with just eight games left on the schedule. Pattin, the former Brewer, had pitched seven strong innings and was up 4-2, and looked poised to win his 16th game, when his defense made two crucial errors in the eighth. With one run already in, Scott came to the plate with Lahoud on first and two out. Scott hit a slider out to the seats in right, which gave the Brewers the lead and the victory and, essentially, was the difference between making the playoffs and not. Now THAT is a bad trade.
1) 1971-72 Houston Astros
Traded Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke and Joe Morgan for Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart. Traded John Mayberry for Lance Clemons and Jim York, traded Bill Greif, Mark Schaeffer, and Derrel Thomas for Dave Roberts. 68.1 WAR lost.
The Astros were looking to add some power, given that their first basemen had hit .248/.313/.348. That’s not completely unreasonable. Still, this series of decisions was a disaster from its conception.
Houston focused in on Lee May, a 28 year old who had hit 39 homers for the Reds the year before, but who had absolutely no patience at the plate. To get May, the Astros gave up Joe Morgan. Morgan was coming off a couple of relatively down years, so the Astros figured he wasn’t crucial. And Cincinnati was willing to send back their 2B, Tommy Helms, who couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag (therefore, everyone assumed he was a good fielder). But somehow on top of that, the Reds got Houston to give up a league-average starter (Billingham), a good starting 3B (Menke), a pinch-runner/defensive replacement (Geronimo, who would become the starting CF on the Big Red Machine), and a hot prospect (Arbrister). As Neyer put it, “this would have been a bum deal for the Astros even if they had kept Joe Morgan.” But, of course, they didn’t. May played well for two years. But Morgan immediately morphed into the best 2B in baseball history, with five straight years with a WAR above 9.0.
But here’s where this gets even worse for the Astros. The entire trade was completely unnecessary. Houston already had a power hitting 1B prospect in their system. John Mayberry had not hit well with the parent club in 341 plate appearances (.191/.284/.342), but had destroyed AAA pitching, hitting .324/.439/.559 in a half-season at Oklahoma City in ‘71. He was just 22 years old. But the Astros didn’t trust him. Three days after the Morgan trade, the Astros sent Mayberry and another prospect to Kansas City for two relievers. Over the next four years, Mayberry would average 27 homers, and hit .277/.399/.493 with a 152 OPS+.