Friday, February 10, 2017

Bad trades: Rating Mariner general managers

Bad trades are part of baseball. I've made several recent posts about bad trades, and have threatened to do an analysis to determine which Mariners general manager had the worst trading record. Which one do you think was the worst trader? Keep your answer in mind; I’m about to give mine!

First, a little about the methodology. Say what you will about Wins Above Replacement (WAR), it is an easy, one-number representation of a player’s overall value. So in rating trades, I simply compared the future WAR given up to the future WAR received. It’s a hindsight-is-nearly-20-20 way of looking at the swap. For those not familiar with the concept, a player who reaches 2 WAR in a season is a decent starting player, a WAR of 5+ is an all-star type year, and a player with 8 or more WAR would be in the running for MVP. I used WAR as listed by It is explained fully on the site.

In rating the general managers, I have not included all trades, mostly because I didn’t want to spend a lot of time in analysis of swaps such as Steve Delabar for Eric Thames. (Jack Zduriencik lost on that deal, getting -0.1 WAR of Thames for 0.3 of Delabar, a -0.4 WAR swap.) We didn’t consider whether either team actually kept the player, just the total future WAR involved in the trade. We didn’t rate Jerry DiPoto because there’s not yet enough data on his deals. In fact Zduriencik’s data isn’t complete, either; Thames just signed a three-year contract with the Brewers after putting up some good power numbers in Korea for four years. Finally, we don’t include WAR from drafts or signings, though we will make note of some in the narrative. We're just talking trades.

Thus, from best to worst, we rate Seattle Mariner general managers on their trading acumen:

1. Pat Gillick, 2000-2003. GM trade value: 42.7

It figured that Gillick would sit in this spot, though he was the M’s GM for just four years. He held the chair during the amazing 106-win season in 2001 and, while many key pieces of that club were in place when he took over, Gillick made important signings of folks like Bret Boone, John Olerud, and David Bell, all of which were positive.

Gillick made only three significant trades, and two of them worked out OK. Sort of. It was Gillick’s task to trade Ken Griffey, Jr., and he got good return. As we wrote in a previous article, Mike Cameron was by far the better player in the coming years, and the trade amounted to a net gain in WAR of 29.1 for Seattle.

The other good trade for Gillick was the acquisition of Randy Winn for Antonio Perez, a gain of 19.5* WAR. It’s marked with an asterisk, though, because manager Lou Piniella was sort of a part of the deal, and the M’s haven’t done much since Sweet Lou and Gillick departed the scene.

I rated Piniella with my facetious “genius managing factor,” which is essentially a comparison of expected pythagorean wins against actual team victories that attributes the difference to good (or bad) managing. In Piniella's seven years with the Rays and then the Cubs, he had a GMF of -4.

Gillick also signed Ichiro and Felix Hernandez and drafted Adam Jones. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

2. Lou Gorman, 1977-1980. GM trade value: 31.8

It’s probably a bit of a surprise to see the M’s first general manager so high on the list. Think about it, though—the expansion Mariners had so few players of value that it was hard to make a bad trade!

Most of Gorman’s WAR gains are the result of the selection of veteran lefty reliever Grant Jackson in the expansion draft. Since a veteran lefty reliever is of dubious value to a crummy expansion team, Gorman dealt Jackson to the Pirates for Craig Reynolds and Jimmy Sexton, for a gain of 10.2 WAR. Reynolds was the regular shortstop for two years until Gorman dealt him to Houston for Floyd Bannister, a gain of 16.5 WAR. Thus, Gorman squeezed 26.7 WAR out of Jackson. He also came out ahead on a deal that sent the “Rapid City Rabbit,” Dave Collins, to the Reds for southpaw hurler Shane Rawley. He even got a small positive return for dealing the franchise’s first favorite, Ruppert Jones, to the Yankees for Jim Beattie. I still sing “Rupe, Rupe, Rupe for the Mariners” during Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Gorman died in 2011.

3. Woody Woodward, 1989-1999. GM trade value: 25

OK, how many of you immediately had Woodward pop into your heads when I suggested that you think about which M’s GM you thought was the worst trader? I thought so. I did, too. Here’s what happened.

Woodward made what is by far the best trade in Mariner history when he shipped Mark Langston and Mike Campbell to Montreal for Brian Holman, Gene Harris, and a wild kid who was 55 2/3 innings into what became a Hall of Fame career. Randy Johnson was worth 104.4 future WAR, and Woodward came out 92.9 WAR ahead on the deal.

Since he had only 25 WAR to the good by the end of his long tenure with the M’s, Woodward gave most of it back.

He also made the two worst trades in club history: The disastrous swap of Jason Varitek AND Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb (-56.5 WAR) and the deal of David Ortiz to Minnesota for Dave Hollins (-52.2). I almost gave Woodward a pass on the Ortiz deal, but a trade is a trade. Even so, the Twins had Ortiz for six years and were so impressed with him that they simply released him after the 2002 season. Ortiz signed with Boston and became a Fenway-aided monster.

Woodward made some nice deals, too. The swap of Darren Bragg for Jamie Moyer was a gain of 32.2 WAR. Even when forced to trade Johnson he came out 4.3 WAR ahead on the deal. But he made a few other clinkers, too, such as the puzzling deal of Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson, and Jim Mecir to the Yankees for Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis (-31.5); and the Omar Vizquel deal I wrote about last month (-31.7).

So it was feast or famine with Woodward on the trade market. In other moves, he hired Piniella and drafted Varitek, Boone, and Alex Rodriguez.

4. Jack Zduriencik, 2009-2015. GM trade value: 11.1

“Trader Jack” came in and almost immediately pulled off an eleven-player deal, the principals of which were J.J. Putz, Luis Valbuena, Jason Vargas, and Franklin Gutierrez. The deal gained Zduriencik 13.2 WAR, and he spent the rest of his tenure losing 2.1.

Jack Z
We learned a lot about Zduriencik from his two deals involving Cliff Lee. In trading Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont, and J.C. Ramirez to the Phillies for Lee in December 2009, he came out 27.5 WAR ahead, as the players he gave away were worth less than zero. Aumont was the M’s first-round draft pick in 2007; in parts of four seasons with the Phils he pitched in 46 games, all but one in relief, and recorded a career ERA of 6.80. The M’s used 3.4 of Lee’s WAR during the 2010 season before dealing him to Texas in July, along with Mark Lowe, for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, and Josh Leuke. It was a -20.5 WAR deal, but in the Lee dealings Jack came out ahead by seven because he got to use some of Lee, and Smoak and Beavan had some minor value.

My next study may be a look at deals made to get “something” for the guy who is about to become a free agent. The best idea may well be to hold on and get a good couple of months from the player who is going to walk, rather than collecting three shiny pennies for your dull old quarter.

There were a number of times Zduriencik made a good move, only to later give away his gains. He earned 6.2 WAR trading Michael Saunders for J.A. Happ, then lost 4.5 trading Happ for Adrian Sampson. He got John Jaso for Lueke (+8.6) but then dealt Jaso for Mike Morse (-5.6).

5. Hal Keller, 1984-1985. GM trade value: 1.4

KellerKeller was the club’s general manager for two seasons and made just one trade of note, dealing Tony Bernazard for Jack Perconte and Gorman Thomas. Thomas was about done, but Perconte had a couple of nice, productive seasons for the M’s. Sitting on your hands can be a good approach for a GM!

Keller passed away in 2012. His brother was Charlie Keller, a slugging outfielder for the Yankees during the 1940s. Hal caught a couple of dozen games for the Washington Senators between 1949 and 1952.

6. Dick Balderson, 1986-1988. GM trade value: -6.8

Balderson ran the club for three seasons and made one horrible trade, another bad one, and a couple of good ones. The bomb was the inexplicable 1986 swap of Dave Henderson and Spike Owen to Boston for Rey Quinones, Mike Brown, Mike Trujillo, and John Christensen—a loss of 29.7 WAR. The other clinker was his trade of Danny Tartabull and Rick Luecken to the Royals for Scott Bankhead, Mike Kingery, and Steve Shields (-10).

He came out ahead in the deal of Phil Bradley and Tim Fortugno to Philadelphia for Dave Brundage, Mike Jackson, and Glenn Wilson, +14.2 mostly thanks to a long and useful career by the reliever Jackson.

Then came Balderson’s best trade and the only Mariner trade I know of to make it into sitcom lore: the swap of Ken Phelps to the Yankees for Jay Buhner, Rick Balabon, and Troy Evers. This one was a gain of 22.8 WAR and brought Balderson much closer to the break-even point as a trader. Alas, he was sacked about a week after making his best deal ever, and replaced by Woodward.

Balderson also drafted Ken Griffey, Jr.

7. Dan O'Brien, 1981-1983. GM trade value: -32.9

O’Brien, Seattle’s second-worst trader ever, was the club's second GM and gets his low rating on the basis of just two deals that did not go well. Worst was his swap of Bud Black, a decent hurler and future manager who pitched one inning for the Mariners, for Manny Castillo, a -2.2 WAR guy who made it a -22.3 deal. The other was a five-for-six swap that essentially boiled down to Rick Honeycutt for Richie Zisk and Jerry Don Gleaton (-10.5). Zisk was probably the first of many disappointments brought in to add some power to the lineup. Honeycutt had a long career as a pitcher and has been the pitching coach for the Dodgers for a decade or so. I wonder if he’s taught Clayton Kershaw anything about the use of thumbtacks. Gleaton, a ginger-headed southpaw nicknamed “Flamin’ Red” by M’s broadcaster Dave Niehaus, was once the post-game interview subject some years after leaving Seattle. Asked about his his continuing career, Gleaton observed, “When you’re a lefty, they want you even if you suck.”

O’Brien, who passed away last month at age 87, signed Edgar Martinez.

8. Bill Bavasi, 2004-2008. GM trade value: -155.8

Probably most of you who didn’t guess Woodward as the team’s worst trader ever picked Bavasi. You were right, and it’s not even close. In five years Bavasi made nine major trades and every single one of them returned negative WAR. Most of them turned in double-figures negative WAR.

His crowning achievement is the stunningly awful trade for southpaw pitcher Erik Bedard, for whom Bavasi surrendered Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, and Cam Mickolio. Total WAR: -39.7. Bavasi has been gone from the M’s for nine seasons, and this trade is still getting worse. Jones is now 31 years old and just had his lowest-WAR season (1.1) since having a cup of coffee with the Mariners. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that he could add at least another 10 WAR over the next 4-5 years. Tillman is about to turn 29 and has averaged 2.9 WAR over the last four seasons. If he does that again it’s another 12 WAR. Another 22 WAR makes this one -61.7, and that would be the worst deal in club history.

Other terrible Bavasi trades: Shin-Soo Choo and Shawn Nottingham for Ben Broussard (-31.4). Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez (-25.8). Matt Thornton for Joe Borchard (-14.2). Heck, Bavasi’s “best” trade was the one dealing the 43-year-old Moyer to the Phillies for Andrew Baldwin and Andy Barb. This was only -4.8 WAR as Moyer went on to win 58 more games in the bigs, while Baldwin and Barb were career minor leaguers. It's tough to trade a guy who is over 40 and still come out on the short end.

Bavasi’s best moves were free agent signings of Richie Sexson, Kenji Jojima, and Adrian Beltre. While all three are considered busts by many, Sexson and Jojima made modest contributions in Seattle. In Seattle Beltre never reached the sort of gaudy numbers hit put up with the Dodgers, but he did account for 21.3 WAR in five seasons with the M’s, and 66.9 in all since the signing. We're starting to hear talk of his Hall of Fame credentials; he just re-upped with Texas for two years and needs 58 hits to get to 3,000 and 55 home runs to get to 500.

Bavasi was far and away the worst trader among former Mariner general managers. He took over a club that had won 91 or more games in each of the previous four seasons and immediately won 63. While they finished above .500 once during his tenure, by his final season the M’s lost 101 games.

To recap:

WAR from trades by Seattle general managers

Gillick: 42.7
Gorman: 31.8
Woodward: 25
Zduriencik: 11.1
Keller: 1.4
Balderson: -6.8
O'Brien: -32.9
Bavasi: -155.8

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