Listen Up, This Is a Robbery: MLB's 16 Most Lopsided Trades of the '80s

FRANKCorrespondent IIMay 20, 2009

CHICAGO -1990:  Ryne Sandberg #23 of the Chicago Cubs swings at the ball during a game against the Montreal Expos in 1990 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

This is the third and final article relating to ranking the decade's most lopsided trades.

I'm proud to say that the first two articles (21st century and 1990s) were successful in terms of reader contribution. I appreciate the interest.

I hope everyone will enjoy this list and will provide their opinions.

In the three decades that I have been closely watching baseball, the 1980s is my favorite. It's probably due to the playing style (pitching, speed, and fielding), competitiveness (small market and big market payroll disparities weren't as wide), and the fact that in the summer I would play baseball from dawn to dusk.

Those were some good times!

The '80s also outpaced the other two decades in lopsided trades. Since initially identifying over 25 lopsided trades, I decided to increase the list from 12 to 16. It was too difficult to limit it to the dirty dozen mark.

So here it goes...

16. Kansas City Royals traded David Cone and Chris Jelic to the NY Mets for Rick Anderson, Mauro Gozzo, and Ed Hearn (Mar. '87)

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Not totally sure why the Royals wanted to trade for these three guys, except they may have been looking for a catcher to take over Jim Sundberg's spot.

Instead, they received a backup catcher who didn't hit a home run and played in a total of 13 games for them. The other two parts of the trade won a total of three games, all by Anderson.

After going 5-6 in '87, Cone went on to win 20, 14, 14, 14, and 13 games the other four-plus seasons. Cone was then traded to the Blue Jays for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson at the trade deadline in 1992.

15. Texas Rangers traded Ron Darling and Walt Terrell to the NY Mets for Lee Mazzilli (Apr. '82)

For a team that never had pitching to match their hitting, they have let a lot of successful throwers get away through the decades.

The Rangers traded their top draft pick in 1981 and Terrell for Lee Mazzilli, who only played 58 games before they traded him to the Yankees for Bucky Dent.

Walt Terrell won 19 games for the Mets before being traded to the Tigers for Howard Johnson.

Ron Darling compiled 99 wins and 25 complete games during his eight seasons as a Met.

14. Los Angeles Dodgers traded Juan Guzman to the Toronto Blue Jays for Mike Sharperson (Sept. '87)

The Dodgers obviously didn't know what talent they had in the minors when they decided to trade Guzman for the platoon player with limited pop (averaged less than two HR per year).

Guzman won 76 games during his seven-plus seasons. He was also a major contributor to the back-to-back championships in 1992-93, winning 30 games during those two years.

13. Oakland A's traded Rod Beck to the San Francisco Giants for Charlie Corbell (Mar. '88)

The Giants struck gold when they acquired the three-time future All-Star for a career minor leaguer from their Bay Area rivals. Beck saved 199 games during his seven years as a Giant, including 48 in 1993.

12. St. Louis Cardinals traded Keith Hernandez to the NY Mets for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey (Jun. '83)

You may have started to notice that the Mets were very active during this decade. There are five trades on this list that the Mets were involved in. This happens to be another trade that the Mets won hands down.

The Cardinals made this trade because they felt that Hernandez was a cancer in the clubhouse.

Instead, Keith Hernandez instantly changed the Met team by bringing his leadership, playoff experience, outstanding defense, and clutch hitting over from their future rivals.

Hernandez won five Gold Gloves out of his seven years as a Met. He also finished in the top 10 in the MVP ballot three times.

As for the Cardinals, they received a reliever who ended up with a record of 20-16 during his Cardinal tenure.

11. NY Mets traded Mike Scott to the Houston Astros for Danny Heep (Dec. '82)

At the time of the trade, Scott had compiled a 14-27 record since his '79 debut. His next two seasons with the Astros were uneventful, struggling for a record of 15-17.

Things would change in a "split" of a second.

Actually, Scott was taught the split-finger fastball by Roger Craig and won 18 games in 1985. He would follow his breakout season with a Cy Young award, winning an additional 18 games and striking out 306 batters with a microscopic ERA of 2.22.  

The former second round pick Heep was never more than a fourth outfielder for the Mets over his four seasons in Queens.

10. NY Mets traded Jeff Reardon and Dan Norman to the Montreal Expos for Ellis Valentine (May '81)

Prior to the Scott trade, the Mets traded another future star away for a player who was past his prime at the young age of 26.

Valentine brought pop to the Mets, hitting 20 or more HR three times for Montreal, but that must not have passed Customs. 

Actually, Valentine matched his numbers that he produced in his last full season with the Expos, hitting a combined 13 HR over two years as a member of the Mets. He left to the Angels as a free agent after the '82 season.

Jeff Reardon would become an All-Star closer with the Expos and win the Fireman of the Decade Award.

9. NY Yankees traded Fred McGriff, Mike Morgan, Dave Collins, and cash to the Toronto Blue Jays for Tom Dodd and Dale Murray (Dec. '82)

With Don Mattingly prospering at first base, the NY Yankees decided to trade future Hall of Famer Fred McGriff to the Blue Jays.

McGriff averaged 31 HR with the Blue Jays and finished three times in the Top 10 ballot for MVP.

Just getting McGriff made the trade lopsided, but they also received Collins, who stole 91 bases (career high of 60 in '84) in his two years in Toronto.

The Yankees received a former first round pick who didn't make it to the major leagues with them. To boot, he was drafted by the Yankees and then traded with others to Toronto (John Mayberry) in early '82.

Dodd was released in 1983.

The Yankees didn't fair any better with Murray. They must have thought they were getting Eddie Murray and/or Dale Murphy instead of a pitcher who went 3-6 over a two-year span.

8. Atlanta Braves traded Brett Butler, Brook Jacoby, Rich Behenna, and included $150k to Cleveland Indians for Len Barker (Aug. '83)

This trade was completed to help the Braves win a tight race for the NL West Division. Unfortunately, the Braves gave up way too much for a pitcher who failed to help them win the division.

Barker was only 1-3 the rest of the way and compiled a record of 10-20 with the Braves.

Butler was excellent for the Indians, averaging 40 stolen bases and 11 triples over four seasons. Jacoby provided pop, hitting 32 HR in 1987, and was selected to two All-Star games ('86 and '90).

7. Los Angeles Dodgers traded John Franco and Brett Wise to the Cincinnati Reds for Rafael Landestoy (May '83)

Landestoy was a player who had some speed (high of 23 SB) but no power (high of one HR and 30 RBI) when the Dodgers made the trade. He would hit two HR during his 118 at-bats.

Franco went on to become the most successful lefty closer in baseball history, saving 148 games with the Reds. He also was selected to three All-Star games over the five seasons before being traded to his childhood team, the Mets. 

6. NY Yankees traded Willie McGee to the St. Louis Cardinals for Bob Sykes (Oct. '81)

Prior to trading a young McGriff, the Yankees traded a young McGee for a pitcher who had a record of 23-26 and did not pitch in one inning for them.

The Yankees had to know what talent was on the horizon, as Willie batted .322 and stole 24 bases in AA in '81.

Stats like that would be common the rest of his career.

With the Cardinals, McGee won the MVP award in '85 by batting .353 and stealing 56 bases. McGee was also a solid fielder, winning three Gold Gloves.

With McGee on the roster, the Cardinals won the World Series in '82 (rookie season) and won the NL pennants in '85 and '87.

Though he lacked pop, McGee was a fixture in the third spot in the unorthodox but successful Cardinal lineup.

5. NY Yankees traded Jay Buhner, Rich Balabon, and Troy Evers to the Seattle Mariners for Ken Phelps (Jul. '88)

Promise, this is the last Yankee robbery that will appear in the list.

Again, the Yankees traded a young hitter who they didn't evaluate correctly.

At least this time they evaluated the player in the majors. In his approximately 400 plate appearances, Jay Buhner went down on strikes a whopping 124 times and barely batted over the Mendoza line.

Therefore, it wasn't a surprise for them to trade him for a productive lefty who had pop.

Actually, Yankee fans had to be ecstatic when this trade went down. Phelps hit more than 20 HR—three out of the last four seasons. At the time of the trade, Phelps' stats were .284 BA, 14 HR, and .434 OBP.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Phelps did come over with some pop, but his batting average drastically dropped to .232.

His career was basically over after the trade.

As for Buhner, his strikeouts remained high, but he became one of the premier sluggers during the '90s by hitting close to 300 HR with Seattle. With Buhner, the Mariners appeared in their first playoff game in 1995. 

Ironically, the Mariners won their first series by beating the Yankees, in which Buhner batted .458 against his former team.

4. Chicago Cubs traded Dennis Eckersley and Dan Rohn to the Oakland A's for Brian Guinn, Dave Wilder, and Mark Leonette (Apr. '87)

After Eckersley went 6-11 with an ERA of 4.57, the Cubs felt he was on the brink of retiring.

Tony La Russa decided to convert Ecks from a starter to either the long reliever or setup role. When Jay Howell got hurt, the door opened for Ecks to fill the closing spot.

With this opportunity, Ecks saved 16 games in '87, and a second career began for Dennis.

From '88-'92, Ecks put up stats that were second to no one. He saved 220 games (avg. 44/yr.) and greatly contributed to the A's success during this period.

Many feel, due to having Ecks as the closer and setup men like Rick Honeycutt and Gene Nelson, the way that the bullpen is used today stems from these A's teams.

The Cubs received three career minor leaguers in this trade.

3. Atlanta Braves traded Doyle Alexander to the Detroit Tigers for John Smoltz (Aug. '87)

I had this trade ranked No. 1 until a half-hour ago. The reason for the change is because the Tigers did succeed in accomplishing what their goal was when this trade was made.

They held off the Blue Jays to win the division by two games, and Alexander was the main reason.

They lost to the Twins in the playoffs.

After going 5-10 with the Braves to start the season, Alexander went 9-0 for the Tigers. He followed up his half-season by going 14-11 in '88 and 6-18 in '89.

John Smoltz went on to have a Hall of Fame career playing for a team that featured the best pitching rotation since Earl Weaver's Orioles (perhaps better).

Smoltz won 210 games and saved another 154. He won the Cy Young award in 1996 and was selected to eight All-Star games. 

2. Seattle Mariners traded Mark Langston and Mike Campbell to the Montreal Expos for Randy Johnson, Gene Harris, and Brian Holman (May '89)

About a decade and a half before the Bartolo Colon trade, the Montreal Expos GM (Dave Dombrowski) decided to go for the title by trading away some chips for a productive starter.

The main chip was a wild lefty that the Expos basically gave up on (i.e. Nolan Ryan trade by the Mets). Randy continued to be wild, leading the AL in walks from '90-'92, but due to the intimidation factor was very successful with the Mariners.

Randy won the Cy Young award in '95 and was the runner-up in two other seasons. Similar to Jay Buhner, Randy was a major contributor in converting the Mariners from an annual cellar dweller to a playoff team.

As for the Expos, they finished 81-81 for the season even though Langston quickly became the ace by winning 12 games with an ERA of 2.39.

Mark did not return to Montreal. Instead he signed with the Angels after the season.

1. Chicago Cubs traded Ivan DeJesus to the Philadelphia Phillies for Larry Bowa and Ryne Sandberg (Jan. '82)

To add insult to injury, third baseman Ryne Sandberg was basically a throw-in. All Ryno did was become the best second baseman during the '80s and one of the most popular players of his time.

The trade came to fruition due to Bowa's constant complaints to Phillies management. After finding a partner to make a trade, Cubs GM Dallas Green (former Phillies manager) wanted to include a prospect in the deal with the aging Bowa.

Sandberg was blocked by Mike Schmidt and Manny Trillo, at third base and second base, respectively. Phillies GM Paul Owens still did not want to trade Ryne, but the scouts felt that Sandberg was no more than a future utility player.

Plus, Green did not want any other prospect.

One of the most lopsided trades in history was completed.

As for the two principal players involved in the trade, Bowa and DeJesus were interchangeable.

Honorable Mention

Balt: Fred Lynn—Det: Chris Hoiles

Balt: Eddie Murray—LA: Juan Bell, Brian Holton, and Ken Howell

LA: Ron Cey—ChicC: Vance Lovelace and Dan Cataline

Cin: Charlie Leibrand—KC: Bob Tufts

Balt: Dennis Martinez and John Stefero—Mon: Rene Gonzales

LA: Sid Fernandez—NYM: Bob Bailor and Carlos Diaz