Trading baseball players between teams has been part of the charm of the game since the 1800s. Ornery players traded after disputes with managers, struggling players traded for one another in hopes that a change of scenery will bring life back to their game, aging stars traded for young prospects, pitching traded for hitting, difficult contract negotiations avoided by trades, financially embarrassed teams trading players for cash — the game has seen all kinds of reasons for swapping players.
As we enter the annual trading season that is July, I am reminded of three trades over the winter that teams would love to have back.
Giants receive Melky Cabrera from Royals for Ryan Verdugo and Jonathan Sanchez
Back in November, this deal seemed to make sense for both clubs. Sanchez was a young pitcher with enormous talent yet to completely harness it. Cabrera, very much the same, just hadn’t quite figured everything out. Or had he? Perhaps careful observers in Kansas City would have thought Cabrera had indeed turned the corner in his career, not merely put together a career year, never to be matched again.
This trade clearly made sense from San Francisco’s perspective. The pitching-rich Giants have starters Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner leading their rotation and all three are still very much affordable. The Giants were starved for some kind of offense, and Cabrera looked the part.
Cabrera, a .270 hitter who averaged nine homers and 57 RBIs in four full seasons with the Yankees, never quite seemed to unlock his potential. A year of the same with the Braves landed him in Kansas City for 2011. Rededicating himself to the game, Cabrera figured a few things out and hit a career-best .305 with 18 home runs and 44 doubles. What to Kansas City may have appeared to be a career year, was Cabrera, at age 26, just hitting his prime.
Sanchez had shown vast potential alongside Lincecum and Cain in San Francisco for a few seasons. In 2010, the lefthander held hitters to an NL-best 6.6 hits per nine innings. The downside was that he led the league in walks with 96 even though he pitched just 193.1 innings, 30th in the NL. While the Royals thought a change of scenery might be just what the pitching doctor ordered for Sanchez, he has struggled mightily this season, looking lost on the mound at times.
And last Tuesday night Cabrera sprinkled a little salt in the Royals wound as he accepted the MVP award for the All-Star Game in the Royals stadium.
Astros receive Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland from Red Sox for Mark Melancon
In December the Red Sox saw a need for help in the starting rotation and saw former setup man Daniel Bard as the solution. In order for that experiment to work, the Sox needed a suitable substitute for Bard in the bullpen. Enter Mark Melancon from Houston. And somehow Boston brass felt like Marco Scutaro and Mike Aviles were sufficient for shortstop. Then in January, Boston decided that there wasn’t enough pitching and that perhaps Jose Iglesias was ready at short, so the Sox traded Scutaro for pitcher Clayton Mortensen. The net effect was that Boston created a hole at short that Aviles has filled.
Melancon was a disaster to begin the season. In his first four appearances in April, he recorded just six outs and allowed 10 earned runs earning a quick demotion to the minors for almost eight weeks. But since his return, the righthander once traded from the Yankees with Jimmy Paredes for Lance Berkman, has pitched 13.2 innings with a 0.66 ERA and 0.73 WHIP. And the much-traveled Mortensen has been sufficient in a long-relief role, averaging more than two innings per appearance with a sub-2.00 ERA.
Meanwhile, Lowrie has been one of the top offensive shortstops in the National League, leading the Astros with 14 home runs. A recent ankle injury has shelved Lowrie for what could be six weeks, but he has proven he can be a productive player.
This trade is not exactly a debacle in Boston history, but once Iglesias didn’t prove himself at short, and with Bard’s shuttling in and out of the rotation, the dominoes have not fallen Boston’s way.
Yankees receive Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi
Maybe the Mariners fleeced the Yankees by trading damaged goods in Pineda, but New York has gotten zilch to this point for their once-prized prospect Montero. Many observers felt that Montero alone should have been enough to pry Pineda from Seattle.
The 19-year-old Jose Campos is pitching in Single-A for the Yankees while Pineda is recovering from shoulder surgery and won’t be available until May 2013 at the earliest. Montero and Noesi haven’t been as good as advertised for the Mariners, but the M’s are willing to allow the two to learn the game at the big league level, something the Yankees really couldn’t afford to do.
A strong recovery by Pineda in 2013 will take the sting out of this trade, but for now, the Yankees might like to have this one back.
Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)