Once upon a time, there was a man named Bill Stein who was drafted in the 4th round of the amateur draft out of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale by his hometown Cardinals back in 1969. Stein never did much in Cardinal red so after a couple partial seasons, the Cardinals dealt him to the White Sox for Jeff DaVanon's dad. The White Sox of the mid-1970s were a mess, so they had room to give a light-hitting infielder 400 plate appearances in 1976 at second and third base. Stein hit .268/.310/.347 (which was actually good for a 92 OPS+) and was worth 0.1 win above replacement. He was not viewed as a significant part of the Sox franchise.
But that’s not what the newborn Seattle Mariners saw. They saw the cornerstone upon which their franchise would be built. Bill Stein may have been a mediocre (at best) utility infielder who couldn’t handle shortstop, but when the Mariners took him in the 5th round of the 1977 expansion draft, they knew that Bill Stein would be the key to their franchise’s future. That he would be responsible, in part, for 16% of the Mariners’ 2012 Major League roster. Observe:
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Stein was the regular 3B in that inaugural season, and lasted for four years in Seattle, hitting .259/.307/.383 in 1550 plate appearances, and worth 2.0 wins above replacement (rWAR). Clearly, when he left as a free agent after the 1980 season, it was a stinging loss that required a compensatory draft pick. Because any time you lose your backup second/third baseman, you deserve the Texas Rangers’ second round draft pick to make up for it.
With that pick, the Mariners chose a big lefty out of San Jose State named Mark Langston. Langston isn’t terribly well remembered these days, but was an absolute beast for about 10 years from the mid-‘80s to the mid-‘90s. He won 17 games as a rookie in 1984 while leading the AL in both strikeouts and walks, despite playing for a team that lost 88 games. He won 19 games in 1987. As a Mariner, he led the AL in strikeouts three times and was worth 18.5 WAR. But in 1989, Langston was headed toward free agency himself and had just rejected a three-year, $7.1 million extension offer, making it clear he would not re-sign with the perpetually bad M’s. The Mets offered Howard Johnson, Lenny Dykstra and David West (who was traded later that year for another lefty, Frank Viola), and there was a rumored three-team trade in the works involving Boston.
Instead, the Mariners sent him north of the border to Montreal, who sent back three young pitchers, Gene Harris, Brian Holman, and an impossibly tall lefty with control trouble named Randy Johnson. At first, Holman seemed to be the biggest find, putting together two more very strong seasons for the M’s before injuring his rotator cuff. He’d never play again, not even in the minors, and finished with 7.6 WAR in Seattle. But Johnson, of course, would be more successful in Seattle than even Langston was after some growing pains. In ten seasons, Johnson tallied 130 wins, a 128 ERA+, and 2162 strikeouts and earned 37.4 WAR. He led the AL in strikeouts four times ERA once, and won a Cy Young award. And in 1998, just as he was set to become a free agent, The Big Unit was traded mid-season to the Houston Astros.
In return, the Mariners got back Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and John Halama. Halama actually pitched well the next season before settling in as a mediocre swingman (4.4 WAR in Seattle). Guillen made himself into a quality shortstop (6.8 WAR in four full seasons), before he was sent to Detroit for a couple minor leaguers (including Ramon Santiago), where his offense exploded. Garcia, like Langston, won 17 games as a rookie in 1999, with a 124 ERA+. He finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting, and 9th in the Cy Young race. He’d make two All Star teams, and lead the AL in ERA once as a Mariner, winning 76 games, and earn 17.6 WAR.
Just before Garcia became a free agent, he was sent to the White Sox for Mike Morse, Miguel Olivo and Jeremy Reed. Olivo was pretty bad, and was sent to San Diego for a couple minor leaguers. Morse bounced between the majors and minors for four seasons, got involved in “PE”Ds, and was dealt to Washington for Ryan Langerhans, where he’s become a minor star. Reed, who was a huge prospect at the time, turned out to be a total bust. So the Mariners threw him in with relievers Sean Green and JJ Putz, and infielder Luis Valbuena in the big three team trade that brought the M’s current team members Mike Carp (1.4 WAR), Franklin Gutierrez (8.0 WAR), and Jason Vargas (3.6 WAR), along with Endy Chavez, Ezequiel Carrera, Maikel Cleto, and Aaron Heilman.
Carrera was dealt away to bring in Russell Branyan in 2010 (0.9 WAR). Heilman was immediately flipped for Ronny Cedeno and Garrett Olson, and Cedeno was part of the package the M’s used to get Ian Snell and Jack Wilson (2.6 WAR) from Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Cleto was sent to St. Louis for current Mariner Brendan Ryan (2.8 WAR).
That’s where we stand today. Stein lasted four years and was worth 2.0 WAR. Over time, the Mariners have leveraged that into one Hall of Famer, two other excellent pitchers, a star centerfielder, two starting shortstops, and four major parts of their 2012 roster. In all, these players were worth somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 wins above replacement for the Mariners over the course of the last 30 seasons. That’s a hell of a return on an expansion draft pick.