As we embark upon the prospect of a welcome four-game winning streak at the time of writing this article, the timing seemed right to reflect on some memorable trades that changed the Dodgers’ fortune, for better or worse. Unfortunately, the Dodgers, like many professional sports franchises, have a list trades that have not worked out for the best. On the other hand, the Dodgers have made some great trades as well. Some were emotional because of the loss, some tactical based on player development and scouting, and some just wrong, clearly lacking foresight.
With the preceding in mind, let us dive into The Five Most Memorable Trades in Dodgers History:
- Mike Piazza traded to the Florida Marlins
A sad day in Los Angeles Dodgers history. He was mentioned in our “Best Dodgers” article. The turning point in a downhill trend toward corporate ownership of the franchise more focused on the bottom line then on-the-field product. The trade started a domino effect that eventually led to Mike Piazza going into the Hall of Fame as a New York Met despite the Dodgers drafting him in the later rounds of the Major League Baseball Draft as a favor to then-Manager Tommy Lasorda. The favor that paid-back their belief in Piazza repeatedly in the batter’s box. We are not sure if Piazza ever forgave the Dodgers for trading him. Here is an ESPN video clip about the trade.
DodgerBlues.com put it best:
“May 15, 1998 . . . a day that will live in infamy. After rejecting the Dodgers’ $84 million contract offer, Piazza was traded to the Marlins along with Todd Zeile for Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, and Tourettes-inflicted Jim Eisenreich. While Sheffield certainly paid dividends for the Dodgers, putting up solid numbers for three years he was in LA, the Piazza trade marked the beginning of the end of Dodger tradition. It was Fox’s first major move, and it showed how much they knew about baseball: nothing. The move was engineered by two TV guys, Peter Chernin and Chase Carey . . . a certain Hall of Famer in his prime, the cornerstone of the organization, a guy loved by fans. After the trade, Piazza went on to hit 250 more home runs. Still sickening.”
It has been said that baseball is a business and so trades happen. However, what people often fail to realize is that professional sports is the only business where franchises can consistently perform under the five-hundred mark in the standings (i.e., lose more than they win and make bad business deals) and yet run a successful financial enterprise. Bad decisions should never we rewarded or overlooked. This was a bad deal, plain and simple. We need to note it and learn from it. Then, we need to never let it happen again.
- Adrian Gonzalez traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers
A seismic shift in Dodgers philosophy, going back to an ownership, like the O’Malley family, now invested in the team for the sake of the team (e.g., winning ball games). Gonzalez was also mentioned in our “Best Dodgers” article. The Dodgers had recently divorced from prior owner Frank McCourt who purchased the team on real estate layaway from Fox, but tried to use television contract money to pay his wife a sizable settlement as part of their divorce. Instead, the Dodgers were dragged through bankruptcy court proceedings, which was a laughable prospect considering the Dodgers fan base and profit margins. It was a sad time for the Dodgers prior to the arrival of Mark Walter, Magic Johnson, and Guggenheim Partners.
Mark Saxon of ESPN wrote this about the trade on August 26, 2012:
“The Los Angeles Dodgers completed the largest trade in franchise history Saturday, acquiring All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett in a nine-player trade in which they are taking on more than a quarter of a billion dollars [$250,000,000 million USD] in salary.
It’s another bold and expensive move for a new ownership group that has made it clear they’ll spare no expense to put a winning team on the field as soon as possible . . . The Dodgers sent first baseman James Loney and minor leaguers Allen Webster, Ivan De Jesus and two players to be named later — pitcher Rubby De La Rosa and outfielder Jerry Sands, according to sources — to Boston in the trade. The Dodgers also acquired utility man Nick Punto and, according to The Associated Press, about $11 million in cash from Boston while shedding more than $250 million in salaries through 2018.
‘We did this for our fans. We want to win now,’ said [Magic] Johnson, whose group bought the Dodgers in March for $2.15 billion. ‘When you bring in the type of players that we’ve brought in, it sends a message to our fans that we want to win. Our players are extremely happy.’”
Through the trade, the Dodgers have increased attendance in every year since 2012, while winning three straight National West Division Titles in 2013, 2014, and 2015. The Dodgers gained their future Hall of Fame first baseman in Adrian Gonzalez and did not give away prospects that have amounted to stars. Most of the players traded away are still in the minors or no longer playing. The Dodgers do have a difficult contract with outfielder Carl Crawford, but that is price of doing business to obtain a Gold Glove, All-Star, and Silver Slugger in Adrian Gonzalez. With hindsight, SB Nation wrote a great article reflecting on the trade here.
Note: the Dodgers $250 million in salary additions shot them through the roof in luxury tax payments and is due to come off the books in 2018, which has been belabored to be a huge free-agent class that includes Bryce Harper.
- Pedro Martinez traded to the Montreal Expos
This is a story of player development and scouting gone wrong. Pedro Martinez, the younger brother of proven starting pitcher and life-long Dodger Ramon Martinez, had just completed a stellar rookie season at the age of twenty-one years old for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers, sadly, failed in this Bloodlines experiment. He posted ten wins, five losses, a 2.61 earned run average, and 119 strikeouts in 107 innings pitched. He also finished ninth in Rookie of the Year voting.
DodgerBlues.com summed it up this way:
“This may be the most lopsided deal in baseball history. After going 10-5 as a Dodgers rookie in 1993, Pedro Martinez was traded to Montreal in a straight-up deal for second baseman Delino DeShields. Pedro Martinez could have been a lifelong Dodger. The Impact: Martinez went 55-33 in four seasons in Montreal and won his first Cy Young Award in 1997, when he went 17-8 with an ERA of 1.90. Then, after being dealt to Boston [eventually playing for the New York Mets and Philadephia Phillies], Pedro won two more Cy Youngs, was elected to the All-Star team [eight] times, and continued to prove he’s one of the best pitchers of all time. As for DeShields, he played just three seasons with the Dodgers and never hit better than .256 . . . [Pedro was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2015 and won one World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 breaking the ‘Curse of the Bambino’].”
Matt Monagan with Cut4 wrote a great article on “What if the Dodgers never traded Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields?” That is a great start in understanding what the Dodgers missed. The Pedro Martinez trade consistently ranks as one of the worst trades of all time, see here and here. What could have been Pedro . . .
- Paul Konerko traded to the Cincinnati Reds
In some sense, albeit years later, the trade with the Boston Red Sox to acquire first baseman Adrian Gonzalez helped with the sting of losing out on seeing first baseman Paul Konerko in a Dodgers uniform. On the other hand, the Dodgers did have first baseman Eric Karros who performed at a high level for many years, but not a Konerko-level, and only for two more years after Konerko was traded in 1998.
DodgerBlues.com gracefully put it this way:
“This was Tommy Lasorda’s biggest move in his short time as general manager . . . As it turned out, [Closer Jeff] Shaw had an out clause in his contract he could have exercised, and the Dodgers could have easily been left with nothing. Luckily, for Lasorda’s sake, the Dodgers managed to convince Shaw to stay [he was also mentioned in our “Best Dodgers” article] . . . Konerko, who was only 22 at the time and considered the best hitting prospect in the Dodgers organization, has gone on to hit (439) home runs and become one of the best hitters in baseball.”
This was another bad deal completed at the behest of a new corporate owner in the same year as the Mike Piazza trade, which was more focused on the bottom line, not on-the-field product. Interestingly enough, the news corporation owner failed to focus on television ratings when they traded great-home-grown-fan-favorite talent in Mike Piazza and Paul Konerko to other teams. No knock on the corporation that has been very smart in many other business dealings, but they were wise to sell when they did in 2004, with the hope of passing the team onto a more baseball friendly ownership. Back to that in a moment.
- Dazzy Vance traded to the Brooklyn Robins
Dayn Perry of CBSSports.com opined as follows:
“In 1921, the Robins, as the Dodgers were then known, acquired Vance from the minor-league New Orleans Pelicans [now a team in the National Basketball Association (NBA)] only because the Pelicans wouldn’t give up catcher Hank DeBerry unless the Robins agreed to take Vance, too. Reluctantly, they finally agreed.
Vance had been a hard-throwing right-hander for the Pirates and Yankees, but he’d seemingly washed out of big-league baseball by the age of 27 and with only 33 MLB innings to his name. However, as the tale goes, an experimental elbow surgery restored his former promise, and at age 31 he began an impossible run with the Robins. From 1922-32, a span that went through his age-41 season, Vance went 187-129 for the Robins and pitched to an ERA+ of 130. During that tenure, he won an MVP award and claimed the NL strikeout title in seven straight seasons.
Vance, the former cast-off, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955.”
The Dodgers reluctantly redeemed the franchise in 1921 for two trades they would later regret in 1998.
Bonus: Paul Lo Duca traded to the Florida Marlins
Paul Lo Duca and Eric Gagne were eventually implicated in steroid use in these articles, here and here. However, they were the record-breaking pitching-catching-battery beloved by the fans. Although Lo Duca never again reached his career high of twenty-five homeruns after 2001, the 2004 trade again marked the beginning of the end for General Manager Paul DePodesta, whom many referred to as the sabermetric experiment (Ned Colletti was hired as the Dodgers General Manager in 2005). In 2004, it was again a transitional time for the franchise as it was sold by Fox Corporation to owner Frank McCourt.
The Dodgers seemed to be going back to their old tried and true ways of player development and consistent leadership taught and practiced by Branch Rickey and Walter/Peter O’Malley. We were, sadly, wrong.
DodgerBlues.com analyzed the 2004 trade as follows:
“Paul DePodesta dealt Paul Lo Duca, the heart and soul of the Dodger ballclub, to Florida along with talented set-up man Guillermo Mota and outfielder Juan Encarnacion. In return, the Dodgers got pitcher Brad Penny, mediocre first baseman Hee Seop Choi, and minor league pitcher Bill Murphy (who they dealt the next day to Arizona for Steve Finley).
The Dodgers had just finished an amazing month of July in which they went 21-7 and at one point had an incredible streak of eight consecutive come-from-behind wins. Their reward? Losing the one guy who, more than anyone else, bled Dodger blue. Lo Duca was highly respected by both fans and players and had helped to turn the Dodgers into a team people actually enjoyed rooting for. It was a team that had spirit, energy, and truly enjoyed being together—not just on the field, but apparently off as well.”
To add insult to injury, Lo Duca was born in Brooklyn, New York, the Dodgers original home. Steve Finley, however, did hit this terrific home run and may have redeemed the Dodgers Front Office from a bad trade.
In the end, such is life and baseball. You win some, you lose some, and you get lucky sometimes too. In the future, let us hope for better deals, more consistently.