Revisiting a Blockbuster That Was Actually a Heist

On yesterday’s podcast, Carson and I had a brief conversation about how different history can look with the benefit of hindsight. Or, maybe more accurately, how different baseball history can occasionally look if you apply our current tools and analysis to players and transactions from before the statistical revolution really became popular. That isn’t to say our current tools are perfect — I’m sure in 15 to 20 years, we’ll look back at our current analysis and see a bunch of problems — but I think it’s pretty clear that both the people running baseball teams and watching baseball games understand the relative value of different players better now than they used to. And there’s perhaps no single transaction that better illustrates the stark changes in player valuation we’ve seen over the last 15 years than the trade that sent Ken Griffey Jr to the Reds after the 1999 season.

Griffey was, at that point, one of the game’s true elite. He’d racked up +20 WAR from ages 27 to 29, and that’s with defensive metrics that thought his defense was just average in center field, a sentiment which opposing managers didn’t agree, given that he won a gold glove in each of those three seasons. If he wasn’t the best player in the game, he wasn’t far off from that mark, and because he decided he didn’t want to play in Seattle anymore, the Mariners had to put him on the trade block.

But they only did so after he turned down a would-have-been-a-record eight year, $148 million contract extension. As a percentage of total MLB spending, that’s roughly equivalent to $300 million in today’s dollars. Griffey was certainly great, but he was also on the verge of the kind of paycheck that paid him for being great; even the eventual eight year, $113 million extension he signed with the Reds was the largest ever in baseball history at the time, and his $12.5 million AAV represented 27% of Cincinnati’s payroll.

So, what the Mariners were really trading was the right to pay free agent prices for a player’s decline phase. Essentially, Griffey’s value at the time of the trade was roughly equivalent to the trade value that Robinson Cano had a year ago, when he was entering his walk year and was making rumblings about wanting a $300 million deal to stay in New York. In fact, on a performance basis, 2010-2012 Cano was nearly a dead-on match for 1997-1999 Griffey Jr, as they both put up wRC+ numbers in the 140-145 range while playing solid defense at an up the middle spot, and those seasons cover ages 27-29 for both players.

We don’t know what Cano would have fetched on the trade market a year ago, because the Yankees didn’t trade him, or even try. But I think we can make some assumptions based on other trades that have been completed, and what we’ve seen teams give up for short term rentals with some chance at an extension. Usually, these deals involve a three or four prospects, and if the player is really great, maybe the best prospect in the deal will be one of the better prospects in the game. Cano is really great and a less risky position player, so he probably would have generated a larger return than guys like Roy Halladay or Johan Santana got when they were traded in their walk years, but the recent template for a sign-and-extend deal has been centered around prospects who probably aren’t ready to make a contribution at the big league level.

Now, let’s get back to Griffey, and what the Reds gave up to acquire the rights to make him the highest paid player in the game. They gave up a pretty good prospect in Antonio Perez — following his first season with Seattle, Baseball America ranked him the #16 prospect in baseball — and a former top prospect with some big league experience in Brett Tomko, plus a fringe relief prospect in Jake Meyer, which is the kind of package you might expect a rental/extension candidate to bring back in a trade. Except, those three were the add-ins, because the Mariners also got a big league player back in return, in 27 year old center fielder Mike Cameron.

Cameron wasn’t as good as Griffey, of course, but he was a pretty valuable player in his own right. In fact, in 1999, Cameron had posted a +5.3 WAR season, higher than Griffey’s own +4.9 WAR, and it wasn’t a total fluke; in 1997, Cameron had put up a +4.3 WAR season in just 443 plate appearances. Sandwiched in between those years was a +1 WAR season in which he didn’t hit at all, but Cameron had averaged +3.5 WAR per season over the prior three years leading up to the trade, and was headed into his prime, not out of it.

And maybe more importantly, Cameron was under team control for another four seasons at arbitration prices. In his first year in Seattle, he made $2.25 million, 12% of what Griffey’s salary would have been had he taken the Mariners $148 million extension. In fact, during his four year tenure in Seattle, Cameron made a total of $17.7 million, still less than the $18.5 million AAV that their extension offer would have paid Griffey in one single year.

Even with heavy regression on the defensive valuation, Cameron still graded as out as at least a +3 WAR player at the time of the deal, given where he was on the aging curve, and should have been expected to produce roughly +10 to +15 WAR during the years in which Seattle was acquiring his rights, so even at the low end of that spectrum, he was going to be getting less than $2 million per win. Cameron was, by all rights, one of the most valuable contracts in the game at that point. Four years of team control of a +3 WAR player headed into his prime? A rough equivalent of that in current form would be something like Desmond Jennings. Can you even imagine the Rays (or even a franchise with more money than the Rays) giving up Jennings for a rent-a-player today, even if that rent-a-player was a guy as good as Cano?

Even the much maligned Wil Myers/James Shields trade didn’t involve a player coming off a +5 WAR season, and Shields had two years of team control remaining, not just one. And the Royals got killed for making that trade. The Reds decision to include Cameron in a trade for Griffey was orders of magnitude worse than the Royals decision to include Myers in the Shields trade, especially given that the Reds were acquiring Griffey to bolster their short term chances to win.

And here’s the kicker; this was the trade the Reds made after Griffey had invoked his no-trade clause to block a deal to the Mets, and had publicly declared that he would only agree to go to Cincinnati. The Reds didn’t have to win a bidding war for Griffey; they were the only team allowed to bid. Griffey demanded a trade to one specific franchise, giving them as much leverage as any team can have in trade negotiations, and they still managed to agree to a deal that no one would make today.

This isn’t to lampoon Jim Bowden or the Reds, because at the time, the trade was widely reported as a steal for the Reds. They held the line on not giving up their best young infield prospect, Pokey Reese, and “won” the trade by including Antonio Perez instead. The quality of the shortstop prospect was the sticking point in negotiations, not the inclusion of the younger, All-Star caliber, big league center fielder who had been as good as Griffey in the just concluded season. Pretty much the entirety of the coverage focused on the Reds refusal to include Reese and how the Mariners finally had to cave after Griffey forced them to take a lesser deal by killing their leverage.

And, in reality, the Mariners were making off like bandits. Having Cameron and the extra $10 to $15 million to spend on free agents was far better than having Griffey under contract, and of course, the Mariners were better immediately after trading him than they were with him. Even if Griffey had stayed healthy and played well for the Reds, the Mariners were going to win that trade, because having a cheap, in-his-prime Cameron was simply more valuable than having an expensive, declining Griffey. And that’s not even including the other three players in the deal. As a one for one swap, Griffey for Cameron favored the Mariners, except no one saw it that way.

In 15 years, I’m sure we’ll look back on some of today’s moves with the same astonishment that we all missed the boat entirely. It’s not like player valuation has been solved, and we have nothing else to learn. But looking back at that deal, it’s amazing how different the sport is, and how the valuations of players have changed a relatively short period of time.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Johan Santa
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Johan Santa
2 years 5 months ago

I strike again!

DavidJ
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DavidJ
2 years 5 months ago

Also, Junior got Johan Santa’ed by his dad.

Playboy TV commercial circa 1994
Guest
Playboy TV commercial circa 1994
2 years 5 months ago

It’s good to be the Santa!

bkgeneral
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Member
bkgeneral
2 years 5 months ago

Bad memories here in Cincinnati. 1999 everything went right, 2000-2009 the only thing that went right was Bowden eventually getting fired.

JCCfromDC
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JCCfromDC
2 years 5 months ago

2000-2009 the only thing that went right was Bowden eventually getting fired.

Funny, that’s pretty much exactly how Nats fans felt about the time period from midseason 2005 to 2011.

G-UNIT
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G-UNIT
2 years 5 months ago

Admittedly I don’t know enough about advanced metrics to say with any degree of certainty, but I have tough time comprehending how Mike Cameron was more valuable than Ken Griffey Jr in 1999 salaries aside. That Griffey was worth 3 wins more at the plate, and yet was less valuable based on a negative dWAR tells me that either Griffey was underrated defensively, or that the entire notion of dWAR is rather silly.

Can someone who understands this a little better educate me here?

AK7007
Member
AK7007
2 years 5 months ago

dWAR from that era is based on play by play data (http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/), I think. So it isn’t the most accurate. Baseball Info Solutions data is used now, which hopefully is more accurate.

It’s not that the notion of dWAR is silly, just that he rated poorly by this metric for the first time in 1999, and then continued to decline. You have to remember that Griffey was legitimately amazing in the field for the early part of his career, and atrocious later. The end of his Mariners tenure was the start of that decline probably, but gold glove accolades were awarded back then based on reputation, not performance. (or even based on hitting – see Rafael Palmeiro’s gold glove award that same year at 1B despite playing 128 games at DH and only 28 at 1B)

walt526
Member
walt526
2 years 5 months ago

Actually according to the best stathead defensive metrics at the time, Griffey was more slightly above-average at best for the first half of his career and absolutely terrible defensively in the second half of his career. If you read some of the player comments from Baseball Prospectus annuals in the mid-1990s, moving him to a corner outfield position was suggested several times. Of his 10 straight Gold Gloves, perhaps only 1 or 2 were really deserved (1996 and maybe either 1995 or 1997).

That said, back in the 1999-2000 off-season, I doubt that the consensus opinion amongst non-statheads was that Cameron was definitively a better defensive centerfielder than Griffey. It seems crazy in retrospect, but there was a pretty popular narrative at the time that Griffey was the AL version of Andruw Jones, who just so happened to hit ~50HR to go along with a pretty batting average.

Phantom Stranger
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Phantom Stranger
2 years 5 months ago

Griffey Jr. was a pretty good defensive CF in his first few years, though his reputation was mostly based on flashy Sportscenter type plays. So many people wanted him to be the second coming of Willie Mays that a lot of wishcasting went on with Griffey’s defense, particularly as he started hitting 50 homers.

His defense was pretty bad by CF standards when he got to Cincinnati.

Boris Chinchilla
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Boris Chinchilla
2 years 5 months ago

Anyone who was watching baseball throughout the 90’s knows Griffey was amazing in the field. When did he decline? Don’t care. Don’t tell me he was overrated and just lived off of a few highlight reel plays. All of that said, it’s certainly funny how things turned out, you got what you wanted Junior.

larry
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larry
2 years 5 months ago

the main difference appears to come down to total zone rating, which is how they measure def before 2002 when DRS became available. Griffey has a -13 TZ for 1999 while Cameron posted a +24 TZ. Thats a 37 run difference bw them or almost 4 wins. Thats how griffey can be worth 3 wins more offensively and be worth less overall.

now keep in mind that these def metrics, especially before 2002, should be taken with a grain of salt

Bobby Ayala
Member
Member
2 years 5 months ago

Any version/derivative of WAR in any era should be taken with a grain of salt.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 5 months ago

If you want to be pedantic, basically anything anyone tells you ever should be taken with a grain of salt.

Defensive measurements are more accurate and comprehensive now. That’s the point.

Ryan Howard
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Ryan Howard
2 years 5 months ago

So does this mean everyones going to like my deal in 2030??

Adam
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Adam
2 years 5 months ago

No.

Ruben Amaro Jr.
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Ruben Amaro Jr.
2 years 5 months ago

I’ll sing it’s praises.

Snowman
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Snowman
2 years 5 months ago

It must be mentioned that the deal was largely looked at as a steal at the time mostly due to batting average. Cameron was seen as a guy being given up on by a second team in two years (after being dealt to the Reds for Konerko a year prior when both hit around .200) who could only hit .250 or .260 at best.

Jason B
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Jason B
2 years 5 months ago

“largely looked at as a steal at the time mostly due to batting average.”

Jesus Lord, how far we’ve come.

Dead Opera Star
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Dead Opera Star
2 years 5 months ago

Knowing you as a Mariners analysis guy originally, what did you think of the trade at the time?

Additionally, the Mariners were idiots for letting Mike Cameron walk after 2003, especially at the price the Mets won him for. I don’t know if that was the outgoing Gillick or the incoming Bavasi who dropped the ball on it, but it to this day makes me fume.

back_seat_driver
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back_seat_driver
2 years 5 months ago

Bavasi was named Mariners’ GM on November 7, 2003.

Cameron signed with the Mets on December 14, 2003.

So I’d say, it is Bavasi’ fault.

Nick
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Nick
2 years 5 months ago

Hey Dave,

It would be awesome if you guys worked weekends now that football is done. Maybe save some articles your writers produce on the weekdays and just post them on Sat,Sun, so you still get a couple days off. I’m guessing it would increase page views of fangraphs as well.

mike
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mike
2 years 5 months ago

Why don’t YOU work weekends.

Dude, its the offseason, I can’t believe you typed this out and thought it was a good argument.

Even if it wasn’t the offseason, quality over quantity. Let them rest and relax and do other things.

Xeifrank
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2 years 5 months ago

He didn’t suggest anyone work on the weekend. Well, except for the one person who has to hit the submit button one time on Saturday and one time on Sunday if there is not an automated publisher.

placidity
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placidity
2 years 5 months ago

You can just pick one article per day to not read, and then read them on the weekends. Weekend content for you, weekday content for the rest of us.

Bill Lumbergh
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Bill Lumbergh
2 years 5 months ago

Agreed.

chuckb
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chuckb
2 years 5 months ago

Figures that Lumbergh would agree…or is this the other Lumbergh?

SKob
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2 years 5 months ago

Ken Griffey Jr. link is less the Jr. Not that Ken Griffey’s career isn’t interesting, but I wasn’t looking for it.

Awful that Griffey Jr. could have retired 5 years earlier and had an extra 2.7 WAR to be over 80 career WAR. Ugly last years!

I think the evolution of dealing prospects for veterans stems from fans having a better understanding about building talent. Not sure if we want to go all crazy and give fantasy baseball credit for reducing dumb deals, but I feel like deep fantasy baseball leagues (particularly auction keeper leagues) give people a chance to experience the idea of throwing away the future and playing for right now. You get burned a few times and you realize that high talent depth is the only way to win. You see people who are competitive, but never really win, and see how they don’t like building prospects, often chase stats, and overbid on name value. The popularity of fantasy baseball has changed the fan perspective! Maybe directly related to the evolution of sabermetrics and stat analysis, but the best way for fans to really understand the concept is through fantasy.

You can say that there are a ton of prospects who burnout and never make it, but that is the point of prospect depth. You need great young talent to be cost efficient and compete! Sprinkle in a few veterans and you have a solid formula – fantasy or real!

cass
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cass
2 years 5 months ago

Most fans don’t play fantasy.

Joe
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Joe
2 years 5 months ago

I’d bet most fangraphs readers don’t even play fantasy tbh.

jpg
Guest
jpg
2 years 5 months ago

So many what ifs in play. I always wondered, as a Mets fan, what could have been if that trade had gone through. I’d like to think he would have aged more gracefully on the grass at Shea as opposed to the turf in Cincinatti. The Mets would up trading the two key pieces in the nixed Griffey deal (Dotel and Roger Cedeno) to Houston for Mike Hampton. Hampton was good but not nearly as great as he was the year prior. Still, with his help the Mets went to the World Series only to get beat by those loveable Yankees. And of course, Hampton was gone one year later, citing the quality of Denver’s school system as the primary motivation. I take him at his word that the money, $128 million in this case, had nothing to do with it. Sure Mike. Sure

Thanks DC for rekindling some not-so found memories of the Steve “Sex Machine” Phillips.

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter
2 years 5 months ago

Well, they signed David Wright with the pick they received from Hampton’s departure, so it’s a good thing that he left.

Boris Chinchilla
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Boris Chinchilla
2 years 5 months ago

Now if the Mariners had just kept Hampton, Big Unit, ARod, Griffey, Lowe, Varitek, Choo, Assdribble…

ALZ
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ALZ
2 years 5 months ago

Because someone making $128MM can’t afford private schools.

sportznut
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sportznut
2 years 5 months ago

Loved watching Griffey. Its a shame that so many injuries eventually took their toll. He was such an amazing player before going to Cincy, but for the most part a disappointment there.

Jim
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Jim
2 years 5 months ago

I thought this was going to be the Red Sox/Dodgers blockbuster

CincySM
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CincySM
2 years 5 months ago

Knowing they were going to have a shot at extending him, I think this was really more a business decision than anything else. Compare Cameron jersey sales to Junior… Reds ownership wanted to bring a local hero home to open up their new shiny stadium. They wanted to energize the fan base. Just wish they wouldn’t have let him hang around so long… but it is crazy how much things have changed over the last decade. Nobody in Cincinnati blinked twice about letting Cameron go at the time…

Catoblepas
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Catoblepas
2 years 5 months ago

not sure that this was the same in ’99, but at least now jersey sales go to MLB and are then revenue shared amongst all the teams. There’ve been a few articles that show that bringing in an (aging) star player might energize the base some, but winning games does so more and for longer.

byron
Member
byron
2 years 5 months ago

Historical analysis is getting SO CLOSE to when there were somewhat OK defensive stats that it’s tantalizing. Before we know it, we’ll be comparing two players and have a reasonably good approximation of their values across their entire careers, not just the last few years of them.

RSN
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RSN
2 years 5 months ago

I think there’s another bit of context here. In the 1999-2000 off-season, the Reds were on the verge of opening Great American Ballpark. Signing an all-star hometown boy to the team that finished 2nd place in the NL Central only after a one-game playoff with the Mets was supposed to draw fans in huge numbers to the new ballpark. It worked to an extent – attendance climbed by half a million (25%) over 1999.

Travis L
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Travis L
2 years 5 months ago

Wouldn’t the increase be attributable to the new ballpark, rather than Junior?

Carl Lindner
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Carl Lindner
2 years 5 months ago

GABP opened in ’03.

Caught you!
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Caught you!
2 years 5 months ago

Griffey’s final 9, yes, NINE years, he racked up over 3,000 PAs and produced 1 WAR.

It is unbelievable that a HoF player spent so many years being just awful.

nd
Guest
nd
2 years 5 months ago

By the last 1000 PAs or so he had to have been playing with single muscle fibers as hamstrings

Matt
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Matt
2 years 5 months ago

What this article taught me is that in in 2000, 31 players had a wOBA over .400 and 32 players had an OBP over .400. 1999 was essentially the same. In 2001 there were only 21 players with a wOBA over .400 and since then the most has been 16 on a couple of occasions with less than 10 in the last two years. ’99 and ’00 were INSANE.

MDL
Member
MDL
2 years 5 months ago

One of my favorite graphs (all of them, really, are insane): http://www.fangraphs.com/graphs.aspx?playerid=1109&position=OF&page=5&type=full

Llewdor
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Llewdor
2 years 5 months ago

And yet, in the offensive envrionment, Pedro had the best years in modern baseball.

Sports Enthusiast
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Sports Enthusiast
2 years 5 months ago

Expansion of baseball was a factor in both, as there were 100 more roster spots in 2000 as there were in 1990, but not a hundred extra worthy ballplayers.

pft
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pft
2 years 5 months ago

Not true. Most of the 100 extra players came from Latin America. Latin Americans saw their rate climb from 15% to 25%. Many of those players were better than the average player in the 80’s. In fact, the offensive explosion may have been the result in part of the infusion of Latino talent, especially on the offsensive side although pitchers like Pedro were inlcuded

Marce
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Marce
2 years 5 months ago

I think if you’re writing in retrospect, you need to acknowledge how all players involved turned out as well as how the respective teams fared. It’s interesting to me that the Reds were immediately a lot worse than the Mariners for the first 4 years after that deal. The Mariners had great seasons in those years and the Reds dissappointed until Griffey was gone. Obviously Tomko did nothing for the M’s and Perez never developed, but the financial flexibility and Cameron in his prime certainly won that deal for the M’s . It’s also intrigueing that the Mariners could be on the other side of it with signing Cano and maybe Nelson Cruz.

Nathaniel Dawson
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Nathaniel Dawson
2 years 5 months ago

You can also extend that to Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez. In 1998, Johnson was looking for something like a 12 million a year deal, which the Mariners felt was too much, so they shipped him to Houston. Rodriguez left after 2000 for much greener pastures, I’m sure you’ve heard about that.

They got back good players in trade for Johnson and Griffey, and over the next couple years, used the money they weren’t paying Griffey, Johnson and A-Rod to sign a crew of quality free agents that fueled that great run from 2000-2003. Olerud, Sele, Kaz Sasaki, Arthur Rhodes, Ichiro Suzuki, Bret Boone, Jeff Nelson.

Everybody in Seattle was all worried as heck that we were losing our best players and figured it was going to sink the team. It worked out okay.

pft
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pft
2 years 5 months ago

At least the Mariners would not give up anyone of value for Cano and Cruz. Cruz would be a short term deal so would not have much impact on their financial flexibility. Can is a much larger commitment but by the time he reaches the latter half of his deal the AAV would have deflated by 30% in today’s dollars and at the end of the deal by 60%.

Bookbook
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Bookbook
2 years 5 months ago

I’m sure the defensive metrics were wrong. As they are now, if less so. However, Cameron was really a spectacular defensive center fielder. (Pitchers seemed to magically outperform expectations for the teams he was on, etc. )

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
2 years 5 months ago

I don’t disagree with Snowman about BA (Colavito for Kuenn waas the classic case) but this was about age curves. Griffey had been a great, great player (and a huge star), then went downhill fast from age 30 as did Andruw Jones, as well as Roberto Alomar. Robinson Cano, by the way, is entering his age 31 season.

Snowman
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Snowman
2 years 5 months ago

Oh, we see and understand the age curves now. My point was that at the time, Cameron’s BA was what nearly every article pointed to when discussing what a steal the deal was for Cincy. It’s a sign of how far sabermetrics has entered the lexicon, because I’m not at all certain the same articles would be written now. I think they’d still think it a steal because of the superstar factor, but I don’t think they’d so completely dismiss a guy like Cameron as worthless.

pft
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pft
2 years 5 months ago

But is it age responsible for the decline or the long term, multi-year deal with enough guaranteed dollars that the player does not have to work so hard in the offseaon or take the “supplements” that have side effects.

How many players with Griffys peak turned into a pumpkin in the early 30’s in the 1930’s-1980’s? I don’t know, but it would be interesting to research that.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 5 months ago

“Can you even imagine the Rays (or even a franchise with more money than the Rays) giving up Jennings for a rent-a-player today, even if that rent-a-player was a guy as good as Cano?”

Probably, yeah. But I think most teams who sell the rent-a-players who are that good at lower payroll teams who would rather have prospects.

Llewdor
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Llewdor
2 years 5 months ago

Mike Cameron is also the only center fielder I’ve ever seen turn an unassisted double play.

chuckb
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chuckb
2 years 5 months ago

Did he also have a 4-homer game?

Great player that was supremely underappreciated.

Dan
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Dan
2 years 5 months ago

While interesting it doesn’t really mean he was a great CF.

Gomes had an unassisted DP from LF last year and he isn’t exactly a gold glover.

Hank G.
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Hank G.
2 years 5 months ago

Trading Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas was still a bad deal though, right?

Ivan Grushenko
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Ivan Grushenko
2 years 5 months ago

Also Ruth for Nannette

Hank G.
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Hank G.
2 years 5 months ago

Not so sure. No, No, Nanette still plays occasionally in revivals. Ruth ain’t coming back.

Seth
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Seth
2 years 5 months ago

I know this site deals with on the field performance, but is there any way to determine that having Swingman in Seattle would have been preferable in terms of generating revenue? I understand he wanted out, but is it plausible that having Griffey walk cost them money on opportunity costs? He was a huge star at the time. Or perhaps I am putting too much stock in single players’ ability on helping selling tickets. There is still a part of me that thinks that some franchises pay premium for the name in addition to the player’s contributions on the field. I am more than willing to be shown otherwise.

Snowman
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Snowman
2 years 5 months ago

I’m not at all certain how much real effect there is on ticket sales (maybe season tickets, early season sales, but once you’re in June and sucking few are going to pay to see a superstar on a bad team that wouldn’t have done so otherwise, IMO), but I do believe there is a huge effect on merchandising sales. A Griffey in his prime sells a shitload of jerseys.

Trollin' Powell
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Trollin' Powell
2 years 5 months ago

The Mariners lead the league in attendance for the first two years after Griffey was traded. Not surprisingly, the attendance figures plummet when the Mariners become a Bad Team.

Boris Chinchilla
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Boris Chinchilla
2 years 5 months ago

First 2 years after Griffey trade = first 2 full years of beautiful new stadium that sluggers didn’t want to play in. That 2001 team could have used an ace to pitch against the yanks in the ALCS. Maybe someone like Randy Johnson

Ivan Grushenko
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Ivan Grushenko
2 years 5 months ago

He did pitch against the Yankees in 2001

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 5 months ago

I feel that one thing that has likely changed in baseball since then is that now there is a more cynical attitude when it comes to star players. We are very aware of the fact that players tend to decline starting at age 30 or earlier. We are also very aware of the way that injury can ruin a player’s value, to the point that any article written about any pitcher contract will usually feel the need to remind us.

It appears to me that before the “SABR” era, teams felt that having the star is what really mattered. It would be hard to trade away Griffey and still appear to have won the trade, because they couldn’t have possibly received a star as big as Griffey. Now, there basically is no player (well, maybe one) who a team could acquire and be seen as coming out on top regardless of the price they pay.

Dune Muffin
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Dune Muffin
2 years 5 months ago

I think it’s worth pointing out that a much larger portion of Cameron’s value than Griffey’s value is based on defense. While defense was probably undervalued at the time of this trade, it’s still difficult for us to put a good valuation on it, and stats like UZR and DRS often disagree with each other as well as the eye test. Your point still stands, but the errors bars on Cameron’s WAR should probably be a bit larger than those on Griffey’s, meaning the gap may be closer between them than WAR suggests.

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 5 months ago

This is revisionist history here. Don’t know if they teach about error bars and uncertainty in school, but the defensive metrics have pretty large error bands and while the gap may be closer, their is an equal probably they are larger and it’s quite possible defense is being given too big a slice of the WAR pie in any event.

Ivan Grushenko
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Ivan Grushenko
2 years 5 months ago

Is is equally possible that defense is being given too small a slice of the WAR pie?

pft
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pft
2 years 5 months ago

Not in my opinion. Per FG defense is assigned almost 15% and I believe the breakdown for pitchers and non-pitchers is 50/50, although I have seen 53/47 somewhere. Assuming 50% then that means offense is assigned only 35%.

That seems absurd to me since runs scored should count as much as runs prevented.

Brian
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Brian
2 years 5 months ago

Come on, Cameron’s better than KEN Griffey Jr. That’s a fucking joke.

Dave Cameron
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Dave Cameron
2 years 5 months ago

Suck it long and deep, bitch.

Benjammer
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Benjammer
2 years 5 months ago

Ladies and gentlemen, Dave “Never said the F-Word” Cameron.

Xao
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Xao
2 years 5 months ago

Which you can tell by the freefall the Mariners went into after the trade.

Mike
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Mike
2 years 5 months ago

Your link goes to Senior and not Jr. FYI. Was fun looking at his stats though

Kman
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Kman
2 years 5 months ago

I actually don’t agree that this type of thing doesn’t happen anymore. For example, take the Jays-Marlins blockbuster last year. The Jays essentially gave the marlins a significant bunch of prospects, plus Yunel Escobar for the right to pay Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle their free agent market value (of course josh johnson was also in that trade, which complicates things).
But Griffey vs. Cameron isn’t so different from Reyes vs. Escobar, actually, both in terms of public perceptions of the two players, their difference in salary and the fact that Escobar’s production in terms of WAR has been 2.0-4.0 per year for a while, and he’s younger than Reyes.

Coming off a 4.0 WAR year, I wonder if the Jays would be better off with a $5M Escobar and $15M extra to spend somewhere else…

Ben
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Ben
2 years 5 months ago

Seems to me that this article has a flaw in its reasoning in that it is based around our current knowledge of baseball statistics, and in particular of defense, when that knowledge simply wasn’t available at the time of the trade. Essentially half of Mike Cameron’s 5.3 WAR the year he was traded came from him being valued at 26.2 runs above replacement defensively. Meanwhile, Griffey was valued at -11.4 defensive runs in CF and was trending downwards. However, these stats simply were not available in 1999. No one out there thought Mike Cameron was a better defensive CF than Griffey. If they had the Reds might have evaluated the trade differently at the time. So yes, the trade turned out great for the Mariners and poorly for the Reds, but it seems unfair to criticize the Reds since they, like the rest of baseball, simply didn’t have a good way to evaluate defense at the time of the trade.

That Guy
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That Guy
2 years 5 months ago

“Or, maybe more accurately, how different baseball history can occasionally look if you apply our current tools and analysis to players and transactions from before the statistical revolution really became popular.”

Sports Enthusiast
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2 years 5 months ago

Its funny cause they were stripping a billboard in my neighborhood today, and what shoud appear underneath years and years of glue and paper? “hit it here, JR!” An ad for griffey shoes circa 1998.

Judging from their primitive billboard drawings, people of this time period were more impressed by celebrity than people are today.

Kim, Khloe, and the rest of the brood of vipers
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Kim, Khloe, and the rest of the brood of vipers
2 years 5 months ago

I’d say people are PLENTY impressed by celebrity today.

B N
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B N
2 years 5 months ago

Indeed. Though, due to the wonders of reality TV, you no longer need to have a measurable talent to be a celebrity. Hence, why spend so much on marketing a baseball player when you can make a star out of a much cheaper schmuck off the street and pay them a fraction as much?

Mike
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Mike
2 years 5 months ago

There is a small faction in Chicago that still complains about the Paul Konerko-Mike Cameron trade.

pft
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pft
2 years 5 months ago

Who could have predicted that from age 31-36 Griffey would manage to avg only 92 games per year. It was a trade that was only bad retrospectively.

I sometimes wonder if the rapid decline in players who receive long term deals is simply because they stop juicing or working out in the offseason and doing what made them great before hitting 30. After all, some of the great players in history had great seasons in the 30’s, and some into their 40’s

Pennsy
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Pennsy
2 years 5 months ago

When I was young we would play a variation of tossing the ball back-and-forth called “Griffey Catch,” the idea being to throw the ball just far enough away from the other guy that they had to make a spectacular leap for it.

goatmeal
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goatmeal
2 years 5 months ago

“orders of magnitude”?

Considering that one order of magnitude is the difference between Mike Trout and Justin Smoak, I think that’s a little bit of hyperbole.

Ivan Grushenko
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Ivan Grushenko
2 years 5 months ago

Only in Base 10

craig richards
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craig richards
2 years 5 months ago

Hall of Fame member Pat Gillick was the Seattle GM who made the trade. There’s a guy who could have and apparently DID understand the value of Cameron and perhaps the end of Griffey superstadom. This i didn’t pick up in this highly entertaining Thread… By the way, love everything of yours Dave and it seems to inspire great baseball stoetop conversation, great reading for 4 AM as I am doing right now.
Next great trade, anyone? I think Miguel Cabrera is due to be “cooked”, as they say in bike touring. Thirty-one soon if not already. It’s all down hill from here!

RMR
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2 years 5 months ago

The Reds clearly lost the trade in terms of production and surplus value. That alternate scenario is easy to play out. Let’s imagine another, completely reasonable scenario:

The Reds desperately want Junior. But they realize they can have him after 2000 through FA; no trade required. Not wanting to go anywhere else, Junior rescinds his trade request and stays in Seattle in 2000.

Junior puts up the same season he did in Cincy — ~5.5 WAR (1-2 more than Cameron & Tomko). He’s still nursing a hammy (as he did in Cincy), but produces nonetheless. The Mariners squeeze by the A’s and win the AL West. With Junior’s help, they beat the inferior 87-win Yankees in the ALDS (instead of losing 4-2) and face the Mets in the World Series. It’s a tough series, but the Mariners take the crown.

Now he hits free agency.

Aug ’00: Chipper Jones extends with Atlanta for 8/120 (15.0 AAV)
Nov ’00: Mike Mussina signs with New York for 6/88.5 (14.75 AAV)
Dec ’00: Mike Hampton signs with Colorado for 8/120 (15.125 AAV)
Dec ’00: Manny Ramirez signs with Boston for 8/160 (20.0 AAV)
Jan ’01: Alex Rodriguez signs with Texas for 10/252 (25.2 AAV)
Feb ’01: Derek Jeter extends with New York for 10/189 (18.9 AAV)

Meanwhile, Griffey and the Reds are at a bit of a standstill in negotiations. Griffey wants to be in Red and will take a hometown discount, but the Reds are extremely budget conscious. Lindner has been playing hardball with all-time Red great Barry Larkin, nearly trading him to the Mets during the 2000 season rather than extend him 3 years (he ended up getting 3/27). The Reds offer Junior 108/9 (12.0 AAV) at the Winter meetings, but Junior is hesitant to sign for less than Chipper and the union requested he wait. But now it’s February and everybody is getting anxious. Manny Ramirez, who doesn’t even play a premium position, got 20 a year, to say nothing about ARod’s crazy 25.

What does it take to sign him? Sure, he’s a year or two older than most of those guys, but he’s also still the biggest star in the game, especially coming off a high profile World Series win. I think he’s looking at 16+ AAV easy; I wouldn’t be shocked by 20 AAV. Let’s say he finally signs at what appears to be a reasonable compromise, 9/162 (18 AAV) (Note: In reality, I doubt the Reds actually end up signing him in this scenario, they just wouldn’t have offered a price that the union would have let him accept).

So, in this alternate scenario you have the Reds keeping Cameron, Tomko, etc. Instead of getting 10 wins for 116.5 from Junior, a loss of about $66.5 (13 wins), the Reds get 5 wins for 157.5, a loss of twice that — $132.5 (26 wins). Keeping Mike Cameron from 2001-03 basically makes up those 13 runs difference, but having Junior costs the Reds big time either way.

Should the Reds have traded for Junior? In retrospect, of course not. The best scenario for the Reds would have had Junior on the Cardinals, Cubs or Astros. As Reds fan, we wonder what would have happened had he either been healthy or never become a Red. We lament the loss of Cameron. But I think we forget about the other likely scenario where the Reds don’t trade for him after 1999, but rather sign him in FA after 2000. Sadly, even being able to keep Cameron, they wouldn’t have been any better off.

Robert Gargiulo
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Robert Gargiulo
2 years 5 months ago

I think many of us thought Griffey was the second coming of Willie Mays. If he had put up 4 or 5 years of 8+ WAR after age 30 like Mays did the trade would have looked better for the Reds.

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