Vetoed trade: Aug. 1993, Expos send Dennis Martinez to Braves for Brian Hunter
Completed trade: None
Chances are, you don’t remember the stretch run for the 1993 Montreal Expos [insert standard Jonah Keri joke here]. So, when you look at the final 1993 standings, you might scratch your head and wonder why the ‘Spos, who only finished three games behind the eventual National League pennant-winning Phillies, were trying to trade Martinez. I mean, sure, Martinez was having a down year in ’93, but he was still a very good pitcher. From 1986-1992, his 3.34 FIP ranked 23rd among qualified starting pitchers, and his 2.90 ERA ranked sixth. But then, if you’re like me, you would do a little more digging, and find that on Thursday, August 26, 1993, the day that Martinez vetoed the trade, Montreal was a whopping 12.5 games back. After the veto, they would put a scare into Philadelphia. They took two of three from them in mid-September to get to four games back with 13 to play, but they only took eight of those final 13 — not enough for a team with a minute margin for error.
Martinez rejected the trade in large part because the Braves — who were rumored to only have put in a waiver claim on El Presidente to block the rival San Francisco Giants from getting the claim on him — couldn’t guarantee him a spot in its playoff rotation. As it turns out, the veto didn’t work out so poorly for Montreal. For starters, they got to experience seven more Martinez starts, five at home, during which he was in vintage form — he posted a 2.52 ERA and the team went 6-1 in those starts as they put the fear of Jebus into Philadelphia.
Second, and more importantly, they netted a compensation pick for the 1994 draft when Cleveland signed him in free agency after the season, which they used to select pitcher Mike Thurman. Thurman wasn’t a replacement for Martinez by any means, but he did pitch nearly 500 innings for the Expos, and accumulated a tidy 4.6 WAR in the process. You could make the case that they should have drafted Troy Glaus, who was selected six spots later, but assuming they were locked in on a pitcher, they did well — none of the 15 pitchers selected after Thurman in the first and second round that year amounted to anything. And while Thurman’s 4.6 WAR might not sound like much, but it was much better than the player Montreal was set to receive in Hunter. Hunter, who had been sent back to the minors when Atlanta acquired Fred McGriff a month before the Martinez veto, was only worth 2.3 WAR over the next seven seasons (he actually only played in six of them). He was sent to the Pirates the next season for a player to be named later (Micah Franklin) who never actually played in the majors for Atlanta.
In the end, this veto worked out fairly well for Montreal, as they ended up with a player better than they would have received in trade, and really well for Atlanta, who prevented San Francisco from getting Martinez and still made the playoffs without him.
Vetoed trade: July 2000, Tigers send Juan Gonzalez to Yankees for Ricky Ledee, Drew Henson and Randy Keisler
Completed trade: None
Juan Gonzalez’s career decision-making in 1999 and 2000 weren’t what you would call stellar. After being traded to the Tigers, he turned down an eight-year, $140 million extension, mainly because he didn’t like the ballpark. Then, in June, Detroit — who was just trying to get something for Gonzalez after stumbling to a 27-40 start — struck a deal with the Yankees. The deal wouldn’t have worked out all that spectacularly for the Tigers, as none of the three players amounted to much of anything, but at least all three reached the majors. That’s more than can be said for the player they ultimately selected with the compensations pick for Gonzalez — Michael Woods and Matt Coenen. Woods was selected six picks before David Wright. Actually, the Tigers didn’t have the best 2001 draft. With the two comp picks for Gonzalez, they had four of the first 65 picks, but none of them reached the majors.
The Yankees, as they often do, wasted little time in moving on. A week later, they packaged Ledee with Zach Day and Jake Westbrook and landed David Justice. That deal worked out just fine for New York, as Justice posted 3.2 WAR down the stretch with the Bombers, and then sent them to the World Series when he smoked this Arthur Rhodes offering into the upper deck in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series:
Gonzalez may have been just as instrumental in helping move the Yankees into postseason glory, but New York certainly didn’t lament not getting him. Gonzalez would keep up his stubborn ways in 2003, when he vetoed a deal that would have sent him from the Rangers to the Expos, where his good friend Omar Minaya was the general manager. But Gonzalez knew that the flat-broke Expos couldn’t afford to sign him in free agency, and he didn’t want to play on turf, so he elected to stay in Texas.
Shockingly, Gonzalez did not seem to be aware that his services were no longer in high demand at that point, and when you tossed in his stubbornness, he wasn’t really an attractive commodity any longer. After the 2003 season, he ended up in Kansas City on a one-year deal for one-third what he made the year before, and after just one plate appearance in 2005 with Cleveland, Juan was Gone. Had he simply accepted Detroit’s contract extension, 2005 would have been the sixth year of his eight-year contract, and instead of taking home just $600,000, he would have banked $17,500,000. But hey, those fences at Comerica were really far away.
The Tigers didn’t get much in return for Gonzalez, and certainly gave up a fair amount to get him, but they have to feel fortunate that Gonzalez turned their contract offer down.
Vetoed trade: July 2000, Reds send Barry Larkin to Mets for Alex Escobar, Eric Cammack and Jason Saenz
Completed trade: None
Let’s round out part three with a third player who wasn’t traded after he used his veto power. This one, I’d like to think, had a happy ending for the team that couldn’t unload its star. A hot commodity for a short time — he was a top 100 prospect for Baseball America in four straight seasons, including its #34 prospect before the 2000 season — Escobar never panned out. He would go on to post just 1.4 WAR in his career, and just -0.3 with the Mets. But at the time, Cincinnati was thrilled with the package.
There was just one problem. The Mets, who needed a new shortstop for the stretch drive after Rey Ordonez was lost for the season, didn’t realize that Larkin wanted a three-year extension in order to approve the deal. They balked, Larkin vetoed the deal, and the Mets were back to the drawing board. Larkin would go on to sign his three-year extension with the Reds in the offseason, and would play that out, and then one more season after it, with Cincy. He finished his career as a rare free-agency-era player to wear just one uniform, and this past summer became the
seventh eighth player in history to go into Cooperstown with a Reds cap on his plaque (Frank Robinson’s plaque has an Orioles hat). Larkin probably would have worn a Reds hat no matter what, but it’s always nice when fans don’t need to be put through the ringer on what-if scenarios (see Boggs, Wade).
As for the Mets, well, things didn’t work out nearly as well. Still thinking they needed a shortstop, they dealt the man who had been playing shortstop for them — Melvin Mora — along with Pat Gorman, Leslie Brea and Mike Kinkade, to the Orioles for Mike Bordick. Bordick proved to be of little value to the Mets, as the 0.2 WAR he posted down the stretch was one-third the 0.6 WAR that Mora posted for Baltimore. Bordick would then go on to hit a paltry .121/.310/.121 in the postseason, and then turn around and sign back with Baltimore in the offseason, with the Mets not even recouping a compensation pick for him.
Mora meanwhile, would go on to a very solid career, as he piled up 27.4 WAR before he finally reached the end of his tenure with the Orioles following the 2009 season. It’s true, the Mets had Jose Reyes in the fold, but there was probably room for both of them on the team. While Reyes only accumulated 3.0 WAR in his injury-marred first two seasons in New York (2003-2004), Mora posted 11 WAR. Certainly, Mora’s performance wouldn’t have turned the Mets into contenders in those two seasons, but nevertheless they probably wouldn’t have minded having Mora on the squad after all.