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Buyer's Remorse

Even worse than when you bought your buddy's old Pontiac Fiero because he told you how much action he had gotten in the back seat.

Joaquin Benoit: the kind of guy bad trades are made of.
Joaquin Benoit: the kind of guy bad trades are made of.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I wrote a very long, meandering piece about a marketplace in the game of baseball which, to my eyes, may be in danger of becoming so constricted by a system of oft-conflicting incentives as to simply gridlock, with little or no player movement (of a meaningful sort, anyway), very little on the market worth spending money on, and more and more teams simply unwilling to shell out mega-contracts for what little there is that would justify an investment, simply because the weight of history would show so, so many of those deals to be the incredible overpays they are.

In the comments section (and I'm too lazy [not to mention a bit strapped for time] to go back and specifically look up who it was), there was a comment made by someone that if those things came to pass, they would actually be thrilled. That rooting for one, unchanging group of players for years at a time sounded pretty much ideal to this person, that instead of just rooting for the laundry, as they say, one could become truly invested in the players and personalities on a squad over the years, since the group was going to stay, largely unchanged, for much longer periods of time. I thought it was interesting point when I came across it, the idea that less player movement in the market would increase someone's enjoyment of the game, and I actually wanted to take a moment to respond with my own thoughts. (I would have done so in the comments themselves, but I didn't fully read the comments until a few days after, when activity had already ceased as the post moved down the page.)

I can understand the idea that a more static roster could lead to greater investment from a person or people into a team. After all, one of the most important things in life you can invest into a situation is time, and watching a largely similar group of players take the field season after season certainly qualifies. But here's the problem: a market with less player movement, while breeding familiarity perhaps, is ultimately a boring one. It's great to think of how much you would enjoy keeping the same players around for years, until you realise that means you would essentially be stuck with the same team for years, with very little opportunity to improve things at anything faster than the glacial pace of a pure player development-based model, with no other avenues for upgrades.

Think of it this way: the idea of self-sufficiency, with all that entails, is an appealing one in many ways. Sure, it would be cool to move out to Taos, put up some solar panels, and go off the grid completely, raising all the food you need yourself and isolating yourself from the rest of the world. But what do you do when, say, you need a roll of toilet paper? If you're committed to a life of self-sufficiency, you need to take care of that problem yourself. And I don't know about you, but I would vastly prefer to just go to the store and buy a package of Charmin to the alternatives. if there's no market available to satisfy that need beyond self-production, though, then...well, to coin a phrase, you're shit out of luck. Just like a baseball team who hasn't been able to develop, say, a long-term solution at a give position and can't find any avenue to ameliorate the hole in production beyond their own internal options.

Or, to put it another way, eliminating money and going to the barter system (which isn't a perfect analogy for the trade market in baseball, obviously, but it works), is all well and good until you look around one day and realise all your neighbours, who you would like to barter with, have been afflicted by gigantic tumours pressing directly on their prefrontal cortexes leading to personality disorders and near-insane behaviour. And when you walk over to your neighbour's house, offering to trade two fat hens for a large sack of rice, he counters that for his sack of rice he would need your firstborn daughter on her twelfth birthday, fifteen golden chickens, the head of Jeff Daniels, and to see you cover yourself in honey and roll around on top of a fire ant nest for fifteen minutes, that doesn't make for a healthy market situation. Sure, you've still got your chickens for the long haul, but none of the other stuff you need to live. And so you slink sadly back to your hut, resigning yourself to once again wiping your ass with a page torn out of that slowly-shrinking copy of "The Fountainhead" you traded your Buick for last month.

And that is why I prefer a market where you have more options, rather than less, to improve and reshape your ballclub.


I've barely been paying attention to the team lately, to be frank. (Or to be Aaron, even. Wacha wacha!) At some point, the frustration of this season started to really get to me, and watching the Cardinals oh-so-predictably lay an egg last night against one of the worst teams in baseball pretty much brought all the reasons home to roost. You could see it coming, really, and I said as much aloud to my radio yesterday when, in the course of driving and listening to sports talk radio as I am sadly wont to do, one of the daytime programs on 101 ESPN found the on-air talent (I think it was Chris Duncan and the guy paid to put up with him whose name escapes me currently), talking about how the Cardinals really needed to just dominate this series, that facing the team with the worst offense in all of baseball was just the kind of panacea needed to get some wins in the bank. To which I replied, out loud, feeling for all the world like a crazy person who talks to their radio because, well, you know, the voices emanating from the magic box are just saying wrong things, that well yeah, the Padres have the worst offense in all of baseball, scoring runs at an historically futile pace. But you know who has the second-worst offense in all of baseball, and would be the worst if the friars hadn't decided they wanted to make history?

All of which is a long-winded way of saying I was yelling at my radio, convinced the Cardinals were to going to quietly lose last night's game by failing to score more than one run at least seven hours before the game. Sadly, that does not make me a prophet of any sort, just a human being capable of basic observation. And that's why I've been sort of in and out of following the club lately; they're just too painful to watch that closely.

But while suffering my sort-of self-imposed sabbatical, apparently there's been a lot of talk about trading Oscar Taveras various places. To which I say: the fuck? Why in the world would you trade an asset like that, a player like that, for anything short of a franchise-changing haul? (Which, to be clear, is not what the people advocating trading Oscar Taveras are putting on the other side of the scales.) I mean, sure, if you've worked out a package to bring Giancarlo Stanton into the fold with a new 10 year, $250 million contract in hand, then by all means, send Oscar their way. But for a short-term attempt to upgrade this year's roster? That's just...stupid. I can't think of any other word for it. (Or, actually, I suppose I can't think of any better word for it; I can think of tons of other words, most of them extraordinarily vulgar.)

Now, don't get me wrong; I have my concerns about Oscar Taveras. Real concerns about his approach translating to the big leagues, in fact. It's why when the question was posed awhile back in the comments whether you would trade Oscar for Gregory Polanco, I didn't hesitate to say I would. Taveras's real lack of patience at the plate is fun to watch, sure, in that Vlad Guerrero sort of way, but I do really worry his approach is going to limit his ultimate upside significantly. Then again, in spite of watching Matt Adams put up a 134 wRC+ this season (and some really nice power numbers since he apparently went away from whatever approach he was being counseled to use this season early on, which raises a whole bunch of other questions....), I still have plenty of long-term concerns that his near-miraculous ability to walk just 2.5% of the time is going to limit him in a big way as well.

But, concerns aside, Oscar Taveras is a monster talent. We haven't seen that talent turn into production yet, obviously, but that doesn't mean the talent isn't there, and very real. You just don't move a guy like that for a short-term fix.

So, in the hopes of proving to the powers that be what a bad idea it would be to do that deal, I thought this morning I would put together my all-time buyer's remorse list. Five trades, all of which saw teams giving up something that, ultimately, they would come to regret over the years and even decades that followed, all because they sold off a young asset before his time had come to try and patch a temporary hole. Note: I will not be including the Babe Ruth deal here, mostly because it's way too obvious, but also because he was sold to finance a musical. That is a) the sort of deal that could only take place in the 1920s, and not very instructive as to how the world works today, and b) not as terrible an investment as you might think. I mean, have you ever seen No, No, Nanette? It's like a top-50 all-time musical! It's also terrible; please don't really watch No, No, Nanette.

5.) Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen, 1990

In 1990, the Boston Red Sox sent future Astro great and future walking steroid rumour (not to mention future absurd Hall of Fame snub, possibly related to the future walking steroid rumour thing), to Houston in exchange for Larry Andersen, who was finishing out his career as a fixture in the "wacky" segment of This Week in Baseball and the "ultimately fungible" segment of the Hall of Mediocre Relievers. To be fair, he was really good in 1990, putting up 2.7 WAR between the Astros and Sawx. So, you know, kind of like trading half of everything you have for Huston Street. Ah, historical comps! How I love thee.

Following the trade, Andersen would put up four more years of decent relief work for the Padres (that's right, Boston didn't even retain him), amassing 4.3 total wins worth of value before calling it a day and riding off into the sunset. Bagwell, of course, would make his debut with the Astros the next season in 1991 and go on to put up Hall of Fame numbers, with 80.2 WAR over the next decade and a half, including an average of just over 7.5 WAR per season from 1996-99.

This one has the benefit of Peter Gammons going on whatever weird, nascent version of Baseball Tonight existed in 1990 and saying the Red Sox just traded away a future batting champion the night the deal was made. So just remember, kids, at one point in time Peter Gammons actually was more than just the weird old dude who makes strange MVP cases on television and occasionally plays blues guitar at random moments. He used to know his shit in a big bad way.

4.) Randy Johnson for Mark Langston, 1989

Funny thing about this trade: you could actually put Randy Johnson on this list twice, if you wanted to, since the Houston Astros made their own short-sighted blunder in 1998 when they brought in ace Randy Johnson for the package of Carlos Guillen, John Halama, and Freddy Garcia, possibly as karmic retribution for the Bagwell thing. Admittedly, Johnson was awesome for the 'Stros, but Garcia and Carlos Guillen were both huge parts of that Seattle juggernaut of the early 2000s, proving that quantity and quality will always trump quality alone.

However, a decade before he was ace Randy Johnson, the future Big Unit (how do I get a nickname like that, by the way? Other than the obvious way, I suppose.), was control-impaired Young Pitcher Randy Johnson, and the Montreal Expos, making not their last appearance on this list, dealt him along with a couple other prospects to the Mariners for Mark Langston, who actually did pitch well for them as they finished with a .500 record and a fourth-place spot in the National League East.

Langston was outstanding in the late 80s and early 90s, putting up 4.7 WAR in '89, the year the deal took place. However, Randy Johnson is Randy Johnson. Career 111.7 WAR Randy Johnson. Oh, and Langston left after the 1989 season to go to the Angels. So, you know.

3.) Curt Schilling and Steve Finley for Glenn Davis, 1991

Hey, you know what's really weird? Remembering that, at one point, Curt Schilling was a really talented but not-very-consistent relief swingman way back when.

Know what else is really weird? The fact this list could apparently be almost entirely worst trades of the years 1989-1993. Also worst trades involving the Houston Astros somehow.

Anyway, the Baltimore Orioles, Schilling's original team, were looking for an offensive centerpiece. So they focused in on Glenn Davis, renowned throughout baseball history as an all-time great slug-

What's that you say? Glenn Davis had a couple good years for Houston but was ultimately out of the game by 1993, just three years after being dealt to the O's? Oh. I see.

Schilling would go on to complement Randy Johnson in Arizona years later, after putting together a dominant run for the Phillies in the mid- to late-90s, amassing a total of 83.2 WAR over his career. He also had some sort of sock thing, but I don't remember what that was all about. Steve Finley would have a great career of his own, putting up 40.2 WAR with a bunch of teams, including those same championship DBAcks, in fact.

Glenn Davis's career WAR? A robust 18.3 over a ten year span. Worse than that? Exactly 0.4 WAR is what he gave the Orioles.

2.) The Bartolo Colon Trade, 2002

Ah, Montreal. Land of pleasant French-speaking Canadian people, my favourite brewery in the world, and horrifically bad baseball trades.

Here's what the Expos got: Bartolo Colon, curiously rotund ace pitcher, and Tim Drew, historical footnote and least irritating Drew Brother.

In return, the Cleveland Indians received Grady Sizemore, sadly-injury-plagued uber talent, Brandon Phillips, giant Cincinnati pain in the ass (though I actually like him), Lee Stevens, also historical footnote, and Cliff Lee, who is Cliff Lee.

Colon was legitimately awesome at the time. He also only pitched that half season for the Expos. He was really, really good for the Oakland Athletics a decade later, too, which is weird, considering he was already a veteran when he was dealt the first time. You know, twelve years ago.

Sizemore's career has been a Greek tragedy of sorts, as his health has never supported his greatness, but from 2005-2008 he was one of the best players in baseball, averaging just under seven wins of production per season.

Brandon Phillips' route was a bit more circuitous, taking him to the South of Ohio rather than the North, where he established himself as one of the better second baseman in the game, with a current career WAR of 27.8. He's also the guy I continually weep quietly over the Cardinals not trading for in spring training of 2006, when the Indians were looking to give him away for a song. Sadly, the Redbirds and noted genius GM Walt Jocketty were deep in the Junior Spivey Experiment at the time, and unwilling to admit they had fucked up royally. Fun side note: Brandon Phillips would then help to get Walt Jocketty a whole bunch of undeserved credit for "turning around" the Cincinnati Reds' franchise when he got there and inherited a team with Joey Votto, Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Johnny Cueto already in place. Funny how that works, isn't it?

And Cliff Lee, who is Cliff Lee, has been Cliff Lee. Not the smoothest or most predictable of career arcs, admittedly, but a 47.9 career WAR and an ability to age like Burgundy makes him a hell of a whoops, guess we should have held on to that guy moment.

1.) Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields, 1993

And, finally, the Expos get on the right side of the ledger here.

Pedro Martinez, before he had just one name, Pedro, like Cher or Pele, was a control-issued young fireballer. He was small. He was wiry. He liked to throw at people. And he was a Dodger. Oh, and he was the most talented thing anyone had ever seen, oddly like another Martinez who pitches for a certain St. Louis baseball team right now and has some fans so frustrated with not being CARLOS, like PEDRO, in his first full big league season that they're ready to ship him out of town for whatever. Again, history, people. Don't be idiots.

Delino DeShields was, at the time, a very productive second baseman for the Montreal Expos, to the tune of 11.7 WAR through his first four big league seasons. And he was young, too; just 24 at the time. So it should have been a good deal for the Dodgers, right?

See, that's the thing about appearing on a list like this. It clearly didn't work out real well.

DeShields spent three kind of crap years in L.A., though his second year there he was actually good. In 1996, though, he put together an all-time terrible season, hitting for a 60 wRC+ and "contributing" -1.7 WAR to the cause. Somewhat oddly, he then came to St. Louis in 1997 and had the second best season of his career, so, you know. Suck it, Dodgers.

Pedro Martinez went to Montreal, won a Cy Young, got the one-name thing going, and then had perhaps the greatest pitching season in baseball history in 1999 for the Red Sox after leaving Montreal as a free agent. His career WAR total: 87.1, despite being virtually done by 34 and not having really kicked it into high gear until he was 25. To wit: of that 87.1 WAR, 74.8 came from 1996-2005.

You could make the case for some other trades, of course, but to me, this is one that stands above all others as the most short-sighted ever. Randy Johnson comes close, of course, but as hard as he threw, watching him made it easy to imagine things going really wrong for him. Watching Pedro, even in those earliest days, you just knew it was only a matter of time before he was a monster. (Again, like Carlos. Are you paying attention, Mr. Mo?)

Which, of course, only makes one think of how sad it is the Expos made the Johnson Trade (which is not a gay porn title, so far as I know), thus robbing us of the chance to see Pedro and The Unit (which is absolutely a gay porn buddy-cop film), pitching together in one rotation.

And one final note: if any of you are screaming at me right now, Brock for Broglio!, or, what about Steve Carlton, moron?!, first off, calm down, sir or ma'am. Second, I certainly considered both, but in the end, as much as I love Lou Brock as a story, a Cardinal legend, and a Lou Rawls look-alike, his career is one of the finest examples in baseball history of the story exceeding the player, even as great as he was. And as for Carlton, he was already great when the Redbirds moved him; it was a case of Gussie Busch being a tight-fisted asshole (which is totally a, um, never mind), and not wanting to pay Lefty, rather than a team just selling off a guy they should have kept because they didn't yet see the greatness he would achieve. It's a different sort of nightmare trade, really.

Finally, I do apologise for the extreme lateness of this post. It was much longer than I anticipated, and my morning hasn't gone at all smoothly so far to make it easy to write. I hope you'll forgive me.

One day left until the trade deadline, everybody. I don't even know what to hope for anymore, honestly. Other than not ending up on this list someday, that is.