January 6, 2012 posted by Patrick DiCaprio

Top Ten Worst Trades Ever

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With the flurry of activity at this year’s trade deadline, it seems like an obvious choice to write a trade article. However, inspired by my article on J.P. Ricciardi, this week we will be looking at the Top Ten Worst Trades. Once again Brian Joura is on hiatus, so the mantle of our famous Top Ten Articles falls in my lap. Without further ado….

Randy Johnson gets traded to the Houston Astros.

10. The Astros trade Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia and John Halama to the Mariners for Randy Johnson.
How can a trade involving perhaps the greatest Left-Handed pitcher be one of the worst trades in history? At the time the Astros were pennant contenders, and thought that Johnson would put them over the top in the playoffs.

So, on July 31 1998 they traded Guillen et al  to the Mariners for Randy Johnson. Johnson lost both games he pitched in the playoffs and then left for Arizona. Johnson pitched very well in the regular season, generating 28 Pitching Runs Above Average (PRAA).

To get those 28 PRAA, the Astros gave up 170 Batting Runs Above Average in Guillen, plus Guillen’s 53 Fielding Runs Above Average. He was worth 40 wins above replacement. For his part, Garcia became an integral part of the 116 win Mariners’ club, going 18-6. He has a career record of 118-77, all since that trade.

9. The Mariners send Shin-Soo Choo to the Indians for Ben Broussard.

This looks like a nondescript trade, which is why it ranks so low. Choo has been an outstanding player, far better than most expected. Choo is 27, in his prime and has a career OPS of .873 and a career OPS+ of 127, or 27% better than league average. At age 25 in 2008 his OPS was a cool .946.

Does that sound interesting? Well, if it does not, consider this: his career OPS+ puts him in the top 25 active players, with room to grow. His 127 is tied with Justin Morneau and just below Jason Bay, two players who are fairly good in their own right. I am putting this trade here on pure speculation so check back in ten years.

8. The Cubs trade Lou Brock, Jack Spring and Paul Toth to the Cardinals for Ernie Broglio, Bobby Shantz and Doug Clemens.

Old-timers like to point to this trade as the most lopsided of all time, given Lou Brock’s 3,000 hits. But Brock, in my estimation, is a contender for the Most Overrated Player Of All Time (perhaps that should be the next Top Ten article.)

Despite his 3,000 hits, Brock has a career OPS of .753, an OPS+ of only 109 (9% better than league average) and barely eked out a run profit on steals, with 938 steals against 307 times caught stealing. Not to demean Brock, but he is not as good as some of the other players to come.

7. The Red Sox trade Jeff Bagwell to the Astros for Larry Andersen 

Case in point on Lou Brock. Bagwell, despite a shorter career, was a far better player than Brock. Bagwell has a .948 career OPS, good enough for a 149 OPS+, 34th all time. This is also an example of where people try to rewrite the record books by changing history.

Andersen pitched in 15 games for the BoSox, putting up a 1.23 ERA, theoretically driving the Sox to the ALCS where they were massacred by the Bash Brothers, who were, in turn, smacked around by the Reds in the World Series.

As good as Andersen was, he generated a cool five PRAA, the Red Sox won the division by two games over the Jays. So, at most, Andersen was worth one quarter of those two wins.

6. The Tigers trade John Smoltz to the Braves for Doyle Alexander.

Every baseball fan knows about this trade. But most forget just how good Doyle Alexander was, as he went 9-0 for the rest of the 1990 season and then followed it up with a 14-11 season in 1988 at the age of 37.

Smoltz is yet another player that is better than Brock, and he rates an edge over Bagwell as well, so on runs this trade nudges out the number seven trade, despite Alexander’s success.

Were it not for a four year stint when he was the best closer in baseball, Smoltz would have been a lock for 250 wins, and measured by ERA+ he has been better in his thirties than in his twenties. If you think he is not a clear cut Hall of Famer, please think again.

5. The Athletics trade Mark McGwire to the Cardinals for T.J. Mathews, Eric Ludwick and Blake Stein. 

This deal is perhaps a little overrated as serious contender for number one, since the Cardinals only got four years of McGwire. However, no one could have foreseen McGwire’s “improvement.” One must feel bad for the A’s, who lost out on millions of dollars in the next two years as McGwire chased Babe Ruth and Roger Maris.

4. Giants trade Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser to Twins for A.J. Pierzynski.

Ugh. This trade absolutely is a contender for the worst trade ever. It is a shame that Bonser was bedeviled by injuries, as he was a very solid prospect who worked very had to develop his command so that he could tame his great stuff and make the majors.

Right now Nathan looks like a solid bet for 500 saves, and has been 182 PRAA over his stellar career. That may not seem like a lot, and because of the role in which Nathan pitches it does not accurately measure his impact (sorry, statheads). Liriano is at the outset of what we hope will be a strong career, and has been 13 PRAA so far. Including defense Pierzynski has been about 120 runs above average, so this looks like a reasonable deal. The whole enchilada depends upon how Liriano develops.

Reasonable minds may disagree with me, but I still think that Liriano will be worth 100 runs over his career, making this deal a whitewash. But if you are bearish on Liriano then you may not even consider this that bad of a deal and certainly not a Top Ten deal.

3. The Mets trade Tom Seaver to the Reds for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson and Dan Norman.

Seaver is 480 PRAA, and after the trade Seaver generated approximately 150 runs above average, which is a whole career for many pitchers.

Contextually this trade is a great example of poor thinking by management. The NY Daily News has a full history of how Seaver was run out of town.

Seaver, upset at the Mets for failing to improve the team (and no this headline is not from this week), and blasted then team owner M. Donald Grant. Dick Young, who was a Daily News writer and who could be charitably described as a puppet of MLB ownership, aligned with Grant against the Mets’ franchise player.

Young wrote that the Seaver family, using Seaver’s wife’s name, was jealous of Nolan Ryan and the money he made, and that was all she wrote. As the News wrote:

The Young column was the straw that broke the back,” Seaver said from his vineyard home in Calistoga, Calif., the other day, when asked to reflect on the trade 30 years later. “Bringing your family into it with no truth whatsoever to what he wrote. I could not abide that. I had to go. 

2. Mets trade Nolan Ryan, Frank Estrada, Don Rose and Leroy Stanton to the Angels for Jim Fregosi.

Were it not for the context of the Number One trade, this is an easy choice for the worst trade of all time, so it gets the number two spot. The difference between this trade and my number one pick is the fact that this trade did not ruin a franchise. Not for lack of trying though.

No trade that I could find in history involved such a great player at such a young age being traded for so little. And that is just in on-field contributions. Ryan has been a tremendous figure in Texas, and not just in his current role with the Rangers. Consider merely the goodwill that the Mets lost by this deal and you get a sense for what may have been possible.

On the field this is easily the worst trade involving an individual player. The Mets traded Ryan when he had 29 wins, at the age of 25. He ended with a mere 324.

And the Number One Worst Trade:

The Expos trade Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens to the Indians for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.

Did I say “take heart Mets’ fans?” Oops. The Mets’ current GM, when he is not taking unwarranted potshots at beat writers, made the worst trade of all time. Naturally this made him the hope of the Mets’ franchise and an easy choice for GM.

On June 27, 2002 Omar Minaya put the final nail in the coffin of the once-proud Expos’ team, sandbagged to death by Bud Selig and Jeffrey Loria. One can argue that Minaya had no choice, given that the future of the franchise was in doubt. But since we all know the on-field and off-field results of the trade, let’s take a different tack than the hundreds of others that have written about the trade and look at the ethics from Minaya’s perspective.

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that Minaya is not so ignorant that he thought the trade was something close to fair on value, a proposition that we cannot just say is true, as we know full well. What is the profit to the deal?

We have the utility to future fans, players etc. if he does not make the trade on one side. That is to say that we need to look at the happiness, money, goodwill and all of the other assets that were wasted, including the possible death of a franchise, if the deal is made.

On the other hand we have those same assets but we keep the current players and do not get Colon. Here we are essentially using the philosophical concept of “utility.”

On that calculus the deal is easily the worst of all time and one that is tremendously to the negative in terms of utilitarian ethics. Essentially Minaya did what many CEOs did to bankrupt the country; they badly underestimated future loss and greatly overestimated current gain. In the process he ruined an entire franchise, wasted millions of future dollars and deprived Montreal of any chance at keeping a franchise.

One might be forgiven in saying that it was a conspiracy between Selig, Minaya and Loria.

Anyway there you have it. Many trades that others consider to be among the worst ever are omitted to rail away below. Mets’ fans take heart. Despite having two of the three worst deals of all time, at least I did not include Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano.


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