Thursday, March 3, 2011
Irrational trades are bad trades
By The Common Man
The Minnesota Twins do seem awfully down on their ace, Francisco Liriano, lately. Between openly criticizing his offseason workouts, giving the Opening Day start to Carl Pavano and exploring trade offers, it sounds as though the club is doing its best to alienate the pitcher and send him packing. The other day, Charlie Saponara argued that teams should not be undervaluing Liriano, calling him "one of the most dominating pitchers in the game." Indeed, everything points to the notion that trading Liriano would be a disastrous blow to Minnesota's chances in 2011. Dealing him now, with two years left before free agency, makes no sense. But as I argued Wednesday on my site, the Twins aren’t exactly big on rationality and logic.
They aren’t alone, however. While doing research for my 40 worst offseasons series, I found that many of the worst trade decisions in baseball history were born out of emotion, rather than clear thinking. Consider:
Rogers Hornsby lasted just one season with the Giants.
Anger -- 1928 New York Giants The Giants had the best player in the National League in Rogers Hornsby, who had hit .361/.448/.586 the year before. But early in the offseason, rumors reached owner Horace Stoneham that Rajah had directed some unflattering words his way in private discussions. Stoneham ordered his superstar traded, and Hornsby was sent to the Boston Braves. The Giants missed the World Series by two games, which they would have won had Hornsby been with the club.
The Astros were tired of waiting for John Mayberry to develop, so they sent Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Jack Billingham and others to the Reds for slugging first baseman Lee May and change. Mayberry was sent to Kansas City for a couple relievers. May was merely decent in Houston, while Morgan became a 10 WAR-per-season player in Cincy. Mayberry hit 108 homers over the next four years. And Geronimo and Billingham became founding members of the Big Red Machine.
Spite -- 1972 St. Louis Cardinals Steve Carlton had a history of contentious negotiations with Augustus Busch, the owner of the Cardinals, who had once told his GM, "I don’t care if he ever throws another damn ball for us." In 1972, in the middle of another protracted negotiation, he got his wish. Carlton was dealt to Philadelphia for Rick Wise. Lefty went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for the last-place Phils. Rob Neyer calculated in his Big Book of Baseball Blunders that the move cost the Cards three NL East crowns.
Resignation -- 2008 Minnesota Twins
With just one season left before he would become a free agent, everyone seemed to agree that the Twins had to deal ace lefty Johan Santana. They set out to find a partner, and courted offers from both the Yankees and the Red Sox (though there was speculation the Sox were simply trying to get the Yankees to up their offer). When both sides balked at the Twins’ demands and cut off negotiations, Minnesota was left in the lurch. Rather than regrouping, the Twins simply took the best offer they could find, which ended up being Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra from the Mets, a quartet of disappointing players. Meanwhile, the ‘08 Twins tied for the AL Central lead, and lost a one-game playoff to the White Sox. If they hadn’t felt obligated to deal Santana, they could have kept him and assuredly would have won the title outright.
Frank Robinson had been a leader in Cincinnati since he was a 20-year-old rookie in 1956. The Reds' general manager, Bill DeWitt, thought Frank Robinson was lazy and a malcontent, and allegedly told him so at their first meeting in 1960. That feeling didn’t go away, and DeWitt dealt him to Baltimore, saying that Robby was "not a young 30" and that he’d "rather trade a player a year early than a year late." But what a year it was, as Robinson won the Triple Crown while smacking 49 homers and winning the AL MVP. And anyway, it turned out to be about nine years too early, since Robinson was still productive into the mid-'70s.
The Twins may indeed trade Liriano prematurely. They may allow their dissatisfaction with Liriano’s conditioning and contract and injury history to overcome the club’s desperate need for a shutdown ace. It’s nice to know, if that happens, that the Twins will have plenty of bad company.