Vetoed Trades, Part Two

On Monday, we looked at three vetoed trades, and I thought today we’d look at three more.

Vetoed trade 1: Dec. 2002, Padres send Phil Nevin to Reds for Ken Griffey Jr.
Vetoed trade 2: July 2005, Padres send Phil Nevin to Orioles for Sidney Ponson
Completed trade: July 2005, Padres send Phil Nevin to Rangers for Chan Ho Park and cash
This is one of those trades that sound a lot weightier than it really is. I mean, Ken Griffey Jr.? Get right out of town! Kevin Towers figured out a way to get him, and they didn’t have to give up that much! I mean, sure, Nevin had a banner 2001 season. At the time, it was the ninth-best season ever by a Padres position player. But he came crashing back down to earth in 2002, from 6.0 WAR to 0.8. But he had still hit .285 and smashed 12 homers in just 107 games — surely he still had plenty left in the tank, right? Well, no, not really. In the last four seasons of his career, he only tallied 3.2 WAR. Surely Griffey would have been the better player, right? Well, no. In the final six years of Griffey’s contract (2003-2008), he only piled up 3.7 WAR, and he was paid far more substantially — $64,694,028 to be exact, compared to just $33,597,409 for Nevin. Perhaps Griffey would have found the fountain of youth in San Diego, but in all likelihood he would have become an albatross for a team that never ran an upper echelon payroll to begin with. I can’t be certain that the deal was straight up — no other players were mentioned in the clips I found, but none said that the deal was definitively one-for-one either. Either way, San Diego dodged a bullet when Nevin — who was given a no-trade clause when the Padres signed him to an extension after his monster 2001 campaign — blocked the trade. And perhaps he did much more than that.

The Pads would eventually offload Nevin in 2005, but it was for a much lower return. At least on its face. Losing out on Ponson and getting Park was a negligible difference — they were basically the same guy at that point in their career. Both ended up being worth 0.5 WAR in 2006. But, one player that Nevin helped squeeze for playing time in Texas was none other than Adrian Gonzalez. From Nevin’s first day in Texas, July 31, through the end of the 2005 season, both he and Gonzalez started 26 times. Gonzalez got the lion’s share of PT in the last couple of weeks when it became clear that Texas wasn’t going to compete, but when the 2006 season started, Nevin was the starting designated hitter. Now, it’s a thin thread to pull on for sure, but perhaps some of the reason that the Rangers felt like they had the luxury of trading Gonzalez was the fact that they had not just Mark Teixeira at first but also Nevin at designated hitter? That’s probably not the case, as Nevin didn’t even survive May before the Rangers cast him off for Jerry Hairston, but it’s delicious to think that in some very indirect way Nevin may have helped the Padres pull off one of the best trades in their franchise’s history.

Vetoed trade: Mariners send Ken Griffey Jr. to Mets for Armando Benitez, Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel
Completed trade: Mariners send Ken Griffey Jr. to Reds for Mike Cameron, Antonio Perez, Brett Tomko and Jake Meyer
Speaking of Griffey, this one is a bit more well known. As Griffey neared free agency, he decided that he wanted to be closer to his family in Ohio and Florida, and that that was not an achievable goal while he was still in Seattle. So the Mariners made their best effort to trade him, and on December 14, 1999, they agreed to the four-player deal with the Mets. Talk about dodging a bullet. Cedeno never again had a one-win season, and Benitez only had two. Dotel has been a great reliever throughout his career, but he alone couldn’t have justified trading who is essentially the greatest player in Mariners history. Mike Cameron never reached the glory that Griffey achieved at his peak, but as one of just 220 position players to reach the 50 WAR threshold, Cameron definitely had a great career. In his four seasons with Seattle, he tallied 19.7 of his 52.6 WAR — Cedeno, Benitez and Dotel only totaled 12.3 WAR across the same timeframe. And again, most of that tally was Dotel. In the end, Griffey’s insistence that he would only go to Cincinnati ended up working to the Mariners’ benefit.

How things would have played out for the Mets is less certain. After being shunned by The Kid, the Mets moved quickly to upgrade their squad, trading Cedeno and Dotel for Derek Bell and Mike Hampton less than 10 days later. Griffey was roughly equal to that of Hampton and Bell that season, and certainly a lineup with Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo and Griffey would have been a force with which to reckon throughout that 2000 campaign. On the other hand, the Mets didn’t really have a sixth starter that season, so who exactly would have taken Hampton’s place in the rotation is a bit of a mystery. It likely would have been a free agent. The next season, after losing Hampton and Bobby Jones, the Mets did not promote any youngsters to take their place, but rather signed Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel in free agency. Hampton wasn’t as good as Griffey, but his contributions were key to the Mets’ World Series run — particularly in the National League Championship Series, when he tossed 16 innings of shutout baseball. If the Mets had signed or traded for someone of a lesser ilk than Hampton, who knows? The Mets sailed into the postseason — their next-closest competitor for the NL wild card was the Dodgers, whom they beat by eight games — but once there, they might have found it harder to advance without Hampton.

The team for whom things just didn’t work out though, was Cincy. The Reds finished with a winning record in 2000 in what was Griffey’s last elite season, but in his final eight seasons there they would not post another winning record, and their cumulative record was a paltry 588-708. Surely this was not completely Griffey’s fault, but his underperformance and large salary certainly helped drag the team down. Sometimes you really do have to be careful of what you wish for.

Vetoed trade: Cubs send Ryan Dempster to Braves for Randall Delgado
Completed trade:Cubs send Ryan Dempster to Rangers for Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks
This one ended up working out for well for all three parties. From the Cubs perspective, they were able to hasten their organization rejiggering, as they were still able to deal Dempster, but when Dempster re-buffed the trade to Atlanta — perhaps out of spite (he could return an item for spite!) that he was not informed before the news hit Twitter — Chicago was able to work out a different deal that sent Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to the Braves, in which they acquired Aroyds Vizcaino. Vizcaino placed sixth in Marc Hulet’s Cubs prospect rankings, and fourth in ESPN’s. The frosting on this veto cake however came in the person of Villanueva, who instantly became the best current hope for the Cubs’ third base ranks. He placed ninth in Hulet’s rankings, and if he puts together a solid 2013 campaign at Double-A, could be Chicago’s starting third baseman by the end of the season. That’s a solid return for two months of Dempster.

Dempster would have obviously been an upgrade for Atlanta, but the deal they actually executed with Chicago might have worked better for them because they a) needed a reserve outfielder, b) received a pitcher with an extra year of control and c) while Maholm is less heralded than Dempster, they are very similar in terms of quality. The deal worked out for Texas as well — Villanueva never had a chance at sniffing their roster with Adrian Beltre and Mike Olt ahead of him on the depth chart, and Dempster helped stabilize their rotation down the stretch.

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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9 years ago

“How things would have played out for the Mets is less certain.”

I thought it was pretty clear that the mets dodged a huge bullet there. Sure, it’s possible that they would have won the WS in 2000 with Griffey (and without Hampton/Benitez), but the draft pick compensation from Hampton’s departure led to them drafting David Wright. Instead of having Griffey’s horrendous contract in the 2000’s, they wound up with the best home-grown offensive player in their history.

9 years ago
Reply to  vivalajeter

I think most clubs would prefer to win a World Series than draft a superstar who (as of 2013) has yet to lead them to one. Then again, I’ve read a lot of comments recently from Mets fans implying they prefer prospects to championships, so maybe it’s a New York attitude I just don’t understand.

9 years ago
Reply to  Rickettsia

Rick, I agree with you on that, especially since they wound up playing the Yankees in the WS that year. It would’ve been a double-win in that regard. But if you think it wouldn’t have been an awful move for the Mets, you really have to think that Griffey is the difference between winning and losing the WS that year. Maybe he would have been the difference, but I doubt it.

Or maybe having a non-Benitez closer would’ve won the series for them.

9 years ago
Reply to  Rickettsia

For those of us who watched the Mets that year, it’s a fairly tough sell to imagine having more success w/o Mike Hampton, who was incredible for them, esp. in the offseason. Having Griffey may have increased their chances of winning the WS by a couple of percentage points. Meanwhile, David Wright has already accumulated nearly 50 career fWAR. It’s insane to say that that production amounts to nothing b/c the Mets haven’t won a ring with Wright!!

9 years ago
Reply to  Rickettsia

Rick, this is a ridiculous comment. There is a phrase we Mets fans use, that the Mets are “where stars go to fade”. See Jason Bay for the most recent example, but Bret Saberhagen, Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman and many others fit the bill. To say that Mets fans prefer prospects to championships is stupid. We prefer prospects to overpaid, underproducing former stars that DON’T bring the championships they were hired to bring. The history of the Mets is littered with deals like trading a Scott Kazmir on the verge of making it to the bigs for a never-was like Victor Zambrano. Sure, Kazmir flamed out eventually, but he was a fine pitcher for a few years when the Mets really could have used a young stud in the rotation. /end rant.

9 years ago
Reply to  Paul Swydan

Us mets fans don’t prefer prospects to championships. We prefer prospects to keeping declining older players on teams that are gonna be below .500 anyway