Major Mariners Moves: The Five Most Important MLB Trades in Seattle History
Every sports franchise has certain trades that linger with the team. To use basketball as an example, the Lakers' acquisition of Pau Gasol for peanuts in 2008 constitutes a good trade that sticks with the team.
Conversely, the Vancouver Grizzlies trading a future draft pick (which could have been Carmelo Anthony) to Detroit in exchange for Otis Thorpe (yes, THE Otis Thorpe) is widely remembered as a bad trade.
Baseball is no different in this respect. Every time teams wheel and deal, there is a chance that the trade, when viewed in hindsight, either helped one side, hurt the other, or involved some very prominent players when they were only prospects.
In this article, I have identified five trades that I believe are the most important trades in Seattle Mariners history. Some involve getting robbed, some involve making a great deal, and others involve the acquisition or loss of franchise-caliber players.
Through whatever lens these trades are viewed, they are undoubtedly important to the Seattle Mariners, both then and now.
5. July 31, 1997—The Best Trade Boston Has Ever Made
Boston Receives: C Jason Varitek / P Derek Lowe
Seattle Receives: RP Heathcliff Slocumb
Near the 1997 trade deadline, the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox negotiated a then-conspicuous trade involving journeyman reliever Heathcliff Slocumb and prospects Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek.
In time, this trade would come to be known as the most beneficial trade in Red Sox history.
Jason Varitek was drafted in the first round by the Seattle Mariners in 1994. Varitek signed with agent Scott Boras and (surprise!) officially became Seattle’s worst nightmare in contract negotiations.
At one point in negotiations, Boras advised Varitek to leave Major League Baseball to play in an Independent League. At the same time, Boras filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball claiming that its amateur draft structure was unjust.
Long story short, Boras was Boras. Varitek eventually signed with the Mariners, but he became instantly concerned at the prospect of playing time.
Seattle acquired Dan Wilson from Cincinnati in 1994, and Wilson quickly established himself as the Mariners’ franchise catcher. Varitek, who was a highly touted prospect, made it known that he would like to play for a team where his path to the Majors was not blocked.
Seattle granted Varitek’s wish in 1997, packaging him with Derek Lowe, and sending the two to Boston in exchange for relief pitching help in the form of Heathcliff Slocumb.
Slocumb’s stint in Seattle was brief, ending in 1998, while Lowe and Varitek formed part of the foundation that would lead the Boston Red Sox to win the 2004 World Series, its first in 86 years.
Over 10 years after this trade, hindsight easily reveals that Boston got the better deal.
Slocumb was an efficient closer in stretch run for the Mariners’ 1997 AL West Championship season, but his career with the Mariners (and baseball in general) unraveled in 1998, when he posted an ERA over 5.00.
Varitek and Lowe combined for five All-Star Game appearances, three World Series rings, and even comprised the battery of Lowe’s no-hitter in 2002.
Not the best trade for the Mariners...
4. Oct. 28, 2002—So Long, Sweet Lou
Tampa Bay Receives: MGR Lou Piniella / INF Antonio Perez *
Seattle Receives: OF Randy Winn
* The trade was actually Randy Winn for Antonio Perez, but the deal was contingent on Lou Piniella signing as Tampa Bay’s manager. Unofficially, Piniella was part of the trade. In fact, Randy Winn specifically took offense to the fact that he was traded for a manager.
Piniella guided the Seattle Mariners to the most successful 10-year stretch in team history. Prior to Piniella’s tenure, the Mariners had only one winning season (in 15 years of play) and had never been to the playoffs. Under Piniella, the Mariners won three AL West Championships (1995, 1997, 2001), made four playoff appearances, and played in three American League Championship Series (1995, 2000, 2001).
Prior to and during the 2002 season, Piniella made it known that he wanted to manage somewhere closer to his home in Tampa, Fla. Both the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and New York Mets had official offers on the table.
Piniella eventually stated that he most likely would not return to Seattle the following season even if he could not work out a deal with another franchise. This, in effect, was the beginning of the end of Piniella’s tenure in Seattle.
In the 2002 offseason, the Mariners negotiated a deal with Tampa Bay under which the Rays would send the All-Star outfielder Winn to Seattle in exchange for Perez, and the opportunity to sign Piniella as their manager.
Piniella signed with Tampa Bay shortly after, ending a 10-year run with the Mariners in which he established himself as one of the most beloved sports figures in Seattle.
3. July 21, 1988—The Yankees Throw Seattle a Bone
New York (AL) Receives: 1B Ken Phelps
Seattle Receives: OF Jay Buhner / P Troy Evers / P Rich Balabon
Having discussed a trade that one team (Seattle) considers the worst in their franchise history while the other (Boston) considers it the best in their franchise history, we may as well discuss another.
In the first half of the 1988 season, Ken Phelps hit 14 home runs for the Seattle Mariners. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, apparently impressed by Phelps’ power, decided to make a play for the slugger.
The Yankees packaged then-23-year-old Jay Buhner, along with pitching prospects Troy Evers and Rich Balabon (neither of which ever made it to the Major Leagues), in exchange for Phelps.
Phelps batted .224 for the remainder of the 2008 season, hitting only 10 home runs in limited action (that Don Mattingly guy kind of had a grip on the Yankees' first base position). Phelps hit seven more home runs in 1989 before being traded to the Oakland Athletics.
Buhner, on the other hand, turned into an All-Star-caliber outfielder for the Seattle Mariners. Buhner played with Seattle from this trade until his retirement in 2001.
Buhner made one All-Star appearance (1996), won one Gold Glove (1996), clubbed 40 home runs in three consecutive seasons (1995, 1996, 1997), and was eventually named to the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame in 2004.
2. May 25, 1989—The Big Unit Comes to Seattle
Montreal Receives: SP Mark Langston / P Mike Campbell
Seattle Receives: SP Randy Johnson / SP Brian Holman / RP Gene Harris
The main components of this trade were Mark Langston and Randy Johnson.
At one point, Mark Langston was the ace of the Seattle Mariners. He led the American League in strikeouts on three occasions, won two Gold Gloves, earned an All-Star appearance, and was a mainstay in the Seattle rotation.
That changed, however, when Langston was traded to Montreal in 1989 (he later landed with the California Angels for eight seasons).
Johnson eventually became the face of the Seattle Mariners pitching staff, helping lead the Mariners to success in the late 1990s before his departure from Seattle.
In 10 years with the M's, Johnson made five All-Star appearances (1990, 1993-1995, 1997) and even won the American League Cy Young Award (1995). He pitched the first no-hitter in Seattle Mariners history (June 2, 1990) and recorded the final outs of the most famous game in Mariners history (1995 AL West Tie-Breaker against California).
Langston was a productive starter for the California Angels, earning three All-Star appearances and five Gold Glove Awards, but he was no match for Johnson’s tenure in Seattle.
Without a doubt, acquiring Johnson was one of the most important trades in team history.
1. Feb. 17, 2000—The Kid Leaves Town
Cincinnati Receives: OF Ken Griffey Jr.
Seattle Receives: OF Mike Cameron / SP Brett Tomko / P Jake Meyer / INF Antonio Perez
If you asked me what name would appear most on the list of “Most Important Trades in Seattle Mariners History,” I highly doubt that I would have guessed Antonio Perez. Low and behold, however, here he is again.
Now that we know how Perez left Seattle (in the 2002 Tampa Bay trade) we can learn how he came to the M's.
Ken Griffey Jr. is the most iconic figure in Seattle Mariners history. Quite probably, he is the most iconic figure in Seattle sports history (although part of me says Steve Largent).
His resume is unprecedented in Seattle sports. In 10 years with the Mariners (1989-1999), he earned 10 consecutive All-Star appearances (1990-1999), 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards (1990-1999), seven Silver Slugger awards (1991, 1993-1994, 1996-1999), and an American League MVP (1997). Oh, and don’t forget that he also partook in the most memorable Seattle Mariners’ seasons of all time.
Sadly, his time in Seattle came to an end in 2000. Citing personal reasons (some have credited his father’s influence, or the death of his neighbor in Florida, professional golfer Payne Stewart), Griffey openly requested to be traded following the 1999 season.
The Mariners shipped Griffey to Cincinnati in exchange for his replacement in center field (future Gold Glove outfielder Mike Cameron) and a few other players.
Cameron enjoyed success in Seattle, winning Gold Glove Awards in 2001 and 2003 and helping the Seattle Mariners win an MLB-record 116 games in the 2001 season.
Although his stint in Seattle was relatively brief (he departed in 2004), Cameron was a fan favorite in Seattle and a key contributor to the Seattle Mariners' winning seasons from the early 2000s.
This success, however, was no match for a player of Ken Griffey Jr.’s caliber. Griffey played one full season in Cincinnati, posting 40 home runs and 118 RBI, before succumbing to injuries that hampered his playing time for the remainder of his tenure in Cincinnati.
Regardless of how either man played for the rest of his career, this trade was destined to be one of the most important trades in Seattle Mariners history.
Griffey was the face of the Seattle Mariners franchise, and any time a player of such importance leaves his club, it has an immediate and long-lasting impact on the team, the fans, and the city. For those reasons, this was the most important trade in Seattle Mariners history.
That's it for the article. I think that I accurately pegged the five most important trades in Mariners history, but there are certainly other candidates out there. For example, Randy Johnson going to Houston and Jamie Moyer coming to Seattle, to name a few.
Let me know if you think I missed any or got it wrong in the comment section below!