Vetoed Trades, Part Four

Part four. Live free or veto hard. You can find parts one, two and three here, here and here.

Vetoed trade: Aug. 2003, Rangers send Rafael Palmeiro to Cubs for unknown return
Completed trade: None
In 2003, the Rangers had a bit of a roster crunch at first base. Mark Teixeira was ready for the big time, but Rafael Palmeiro was still in the picture as well. During the first half, Texas made it work. Future Gold Glove winner Teixeira did manage to start 38 games at first base, but he also started 11 games at third, nine in left, seven in right and five at designated hitter, with Palmeiro getting most of the action at first. The week before the All-Star break, making it work came to an end.

With an 8-6 win over the Twins, the Rangers had won four of their past five games. Unfortunately, thanks in large part to a 7-20 showing in the month of June, Texas was still 20 games out of first. The next night, Teixeira started at first, and then 65 of the final 69 games at first after that. Palmeiro slid into the DH role, but he didn’t exactly hit like one. From July 9-30, he hit just .232/.280/.362, and Texas had seen enough. They tried to ship him off to the Cubs, but Palmeiro laid down his no-trade clause. A week and change later, Palmeiro passed through waivers unclaimed, and the Cubs and Rangers once again tried to work out a deal. And once again, Palmeiro shot it down, partly for family reasons, but also because he didn’t want to platoon with Eric Karros.

Palmeiro would rediscover his stroke down the stretch, as he posted a .965 OPS in August and September, but having twice bit the hand that fed him, Palmeiro was quickly kicked to the curb by Texas in the offseason, and the only team that would have him were his other former team, Baltimore, who paid him $2 million less than he made in 2003 for the pleasure of his employment in both 2004 and 2005. Texas wasn’t likely to gain much from the transaction, but Palmeiro not only lost out on what would have been his last chance to see postseason action, he also likely cost himself some money as well.

Rebuffed by Palmeiro, Chicago landed on Randall Simon as their secondary target for replacing Hee Seop Choi, who manager Dusty Baker just couldn’t stand. Unfortunately, Simon wasn’t better than Choi. In 2003, Choi posted a .341 wOBA and a 104 wRC+, while Simon had .320 and 91 marks, respectively. But while Choi struck out 29 percent of the time, Simon struck out less in less than nine percent of his plate appearances, which made him just ducky in Baker’s book. With Simon in the fold, Choi was demoted, and never started again for the Cubs that season — he got six September PA’s, and one PA in the National League Division Series. And while Simon hit decently in Chicago, including a .333/.333/.583 in 24 postseason PA’s, the Cubs let him walk in the offseason and traded Choi for Derrek Lee, a move that actually worked out very well for Chicago. The prospect they sent to Pittsburgh in exchange for Simon, Ray Sadler, finished his big league career with just eight PA’s, so Pittsburgh didn’t really benefit in this vetoed trade either.

Vetoed trades: June 1976, A’s send Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to Red Sox for $2 million, Steve Dillard and Andy Merchant; A’s send Vida Blue to Yankees for $1.5 million; January 1978, A’s send Vida Blue to Reds for $1.75 million
Completed trade: March 1978, A’s send Vida Blue to Giants for Gary Alexander, Dave Heaverlo, Phil Huffman, John Henry Johnson, Gary Thomasson, Alan Wirth and $300,000
This one wasn’t vetoed by a player, but rather a commissioner — Bowie Kuhn, to be precise. Already reeling from the decision that would allow the first batch of players to become free agents after the ’76 season, Kuhn was eager to keep his totalitarian finger on the button, and squashed the trades/purchases…four days after they were executed. Finley flew off the handle, as the players had already suited up for their new teams. Fingers even purportedly warmed up twice for Boston, though he never actually got into a game. Finley refused to play the three players for more than a week, claiming that they no longer belonged to him. He then sued Kuhn to recoup the money, though he would ultimately lose.

He also lost Fingers and Rudi to free agency without getting anything in return. But since Blue had signed a contract extension in order to be more attractive to the Yankees before Finley sold him to New York, he stayed with Oakland, and Finley kept trying to offload him. He would be denied again by Kuhn a year later. In December of 1977, he agreed to sell Blue to the Reds, but the venerable commissioner — or “Village Idiot,” as Finley took to calling him — once again blocked the transaction. It was reported that Kuhn had put in place an informal $400,000 cap on any transaction, and Blue’s sale to Cincinnati obviously blew well past that cap.

The trade that Finley was able to complete didn’t work out all that well initially, as the group of players Oakland received only provided 2.4 WAR, but in ’79 he traded Johnson for Dave Chalk, Mike Heath and cash. Chalk was a bust in Oakland, but Heath would stay with the team for seven seasons and compile the modest sum of 9 WAR. That may not be much, but it was more than the team got from the initial group, and Heath was also eventually traded for Joaquin Andujar, who … had a cool name. Andujar didn’t help Oakland much, he was cooked at that point of his career, but still, that’s something too, right?

Finley and the A’s undeniably came out losers in all of this. Finley may not have pumped the money received from these transactions back into the team, but he would have at least received something for Fingers and Rudi. The Red Sox also came out losers in the deal. While Rudi and Fingers wouldn’t have closed the 15.5 game gap between Boston and New York (with Baltimore in between) in ’76, if they Fingers and Rudi had had positive experiences with the Olde Towne Team and re-signed, they might have helped alter Boston’s fortunes in the next three seasons, when they won 90-plus games in each but never reached the postseason. Blue would have no doubt helped the Yankees as well, but since they reached the World Series in ’76 and won it in ’77 and ’78, we won’t cry for them.

As for San Francisco, they got what they paid for — Blue finished third in the Cy Young Award voting in ’78, was an All-Star in three of his four seasons with the Giants and tallied 12.2 WAR for them — but it didn’t help them reach the postseason. They never finished better than third in the NL, and figuring that they could finish third without him, they shipped him out before the ’82 season — and then finished in third. In the end though, they still traded a pile of garbage for a guy who immediately posted a six-win season and almost won the Cy Young Award. Let’s chalk that up in their win column.

Fingers and Rudi also made out well, who signed free-agent deals that dwarfed what they had been making. Instead of the $71,000 that Fingers made in ’76, he earned $266,667 during each of the next six seasons thanks to the six-year, $1.6 million deal that he signed with San Diego. Rudi made out even better, as his $67,200 from ’76 jumped to $400,000 as he netted a five-year, $2.09 million deal with the Angels. And contrary to what Kuhn believed, the deals that they and other free agents signed following the ’76 season did not torpedo baseball.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

18 Responses to “Vetoed Trades, Part Four”

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  1. db says:

    Love this series.

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  2. Andre the Angels Fan says:

    As someone whose middle name is also Joaquin, that comment about Joaquin Andujar made me smile.

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  3. Kyle says:

    You might want to make sure everyone knows who “Finley” is before you start talking about him. A lot of people reading this site were born after 1980 and likely don’t know who Charlie Finley is.

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    • tyke says:

      same. i was like ‘who the fuck is finley’. i guessed by context he was the a’s gm, but i had no idea what his first name might be.

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      • Wait Til Next Year says:

        Charles O. Finley. Google him and become educated about one of the most interesting characters/innovators in baseball history.

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        • Candlestick Parker says:

          Finley was a first class jerk who moved the A’s out of the Kansas City and into Oakland. On the field, he built teams that won 3 straight World Series. Off the field he alienated EVERYONE, continually bad-mouthing his players, his fellow owners, and the fans of both KC and Oakland. Rarely did a year pass without Finley threatening to move his franchise because the local fans just weren’t good enough for him.

          There has been an effort to rehabilitate Finley’s reputation lately and credit him as an innovator — he was the guy behind the DH rule, as well as a bunch of other rule changes that never happened. But I am just old enough to remember that he was universally loathed in the 1970s.

          In the Bay Area, the A’s are still the poor step-child compared to the Giants, despite all their success on the field in those early years. A big part of that is the legacy of Charlie Finley, who poisoned everything for the first generation of potential A’s fans. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

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        • MrMan says:

          Finley was crazy to some extent and I certainly wouldn’t want him owning the team I rooted for. He did have one brilliant idea that…had it been adopted, probably would have changed the history of baseball. When it became obvious that free agency was going to happen he thought guaranteed, long-term contracts were terrible ideas and instead no contract should be for more than 1 year.

          That would make every player a free-agent every year. And it would make every off-season a BUYER’S market because there would be an over-abundance of players available.

          Can you imagine? First off….no long-term contract bust dragging a team down for years. Secondly…can you imagine the off-season? Third….every player playing every season in a “contract year”? Fourth…player movement would probably make today’s movement look glacial.

          I’m not sure the overall effect would make a better league….but it sure would have helped avoid a lot of the distortions we’ve seen in the last 30+ years.

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    • shthar says:

      He was an outfielder, pretty good too.

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  4. JeffD says:

    I remember watching Monday Night Baseball and seeing Rudi and Fingers sitting on the Boston bench together. (Yeah, I’m an old man.)

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  5. szielinski says:

    The Pirates Dave Littlefield made out well because of his 2003 deals with the Cubs. After Bob Nutting fired Littlefield, who had just traded for Matt Morris and who had drafted Dan Moskos earlier that summer, Hendry gave Littlefield a landing pad on his staff. Theo Epstein kept Littlefield after he replaced Hendly. If the universe produced just results the Cubs would have promoted Littlefield to the GM position.


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    • Bill says:

      I believe Littlebrain was probably offered a job by the Giants too when the Pirates finally came to their senses. Honestly, I can’t see any other reason why the Matt Morris trade would have happened. I could at least understand the motivation for the Aramis Ramirez trade. The Pirates wanted to dump salary and Littlebrain simple was unable to analyse young talent. But, the Matt Morris trade was for a terrible and expensive pitcher and he gave up a better player in Rajai Davis than any he received in the Ramirez trade.

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  6. shthar says:

    So what were the palmero deals?

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  7. Jobu says:

    Love the series.

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  8. Mr Punch says:

    As Bill James pointed out 30 years ago, Kuhn’s move to ban the sale of players made the owners, as a group, the real losers here. That’s because the ruling eliminated one of the three ways of acquiring an established good player and thereby increased the leverage of free agents.

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    • Damon Selman says:

      However, Kuhn vetoing selling players might have a good thing in retrospect. In soccer, the buying and selling of players is the most important type of transction. However for soccer teams, this leads to two bad consequences. In a selling players is legal scenario, you can imagine a Steinbrenner type buying the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Elvis Andrus, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and/or other just for cash. More importantly, many soccer teams have atrocious financial problems because they buy players. Many soccer teams do not even try to make a profit and several poorer teams after earlier spending sprees get into such financial problems, they cannot pay their players, have fire salew that make the Marlins seem tame, or go into bankruptcy (google Portsmouth FC, Rangers FC(Scottish soccer), and Malaga plus add in terms such as administration, finacial trouble, NewCo, etc). Kuhn’s (who find as a putz personally) ruling actually might have (even if was inadvertant) saved MLB from financial disaster for the future.

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      • Dan says:

        Good points but it is actually the astronomical wages and clubs spending beyond their means that is behind their financial troubles. Certainly the case with Portsmouth. Was the case with Leeds too. Rangers was just astounding incompetence and negligence by a few individuals. Countless English clubs in the lower league have gone into administration without spending much on transfer fees.

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  9. Michael Scarn says:

    Can the next one be the deal that would have resulted in ARod and Magglio to the Red Sox and Manny to Tex with Nomar to CHW? That’s easily the biggest vetoed trade that I can remember.

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