A History of “Lose-Lose” Trades

As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches, general managers are busy working the phones for a deal that improves the current roster or lands intriguing, cost-controlled prospects who may play a prominent role in the years to come.

Baseball’s trade deadline history includes both the lopsided swap — such as the 1997 deal in which the Seattle Mariners sent Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek to the Boston Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb — and the win-win trades, like the 2008 CC Sabathia blockbuster that netted the Milwaukee Brewers an ace for a playoff run (plus two free agent compensation draft picks) and gave the Cleveland Indians two potential starting position players in Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta.

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Danny Tartabull‘s deal in 1995 was ultimately lose-lose.
Not every transaction this time of year makes an impact, though — some trades provide both teams with a whole lot of nada.

Today, we’ll focus on five of the biggest lose-lose trades made in June and July over the past 25 years, as measured by wins above replacement. All WAR values given for major leaguers are rest-of-contract numbers — we’re interested in the value of the service time teams acquired in a trade, not what they subsequently paid to retain a player by bidding on his services on the free-agent market. For prospects and young major leaguers, the value is the WAR contributed during their inexpensive, team-controlled seasons before they hit free agency. By looking at the production teams received (or in this case, didn’t), we can get a feel for which deals gave general managers headaches and huge phone bills, but little on-field value. Despite winning five World Series in the past quarter-century, the Yankees still crack this list three times.

1. 2006: The Los Angeles Dodgers traded Joel Guzman and Sergio Pedroza to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Julio Lugo.
WAR received: minus-0.7
WAR forfeited: minus-0.2
Lugo averaged 3.5 wins per year from 2003-2005, and he was off to a great start with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2006 with a .383 wOBA and 2.5 WAR. But his bat didn’t make the cross-country trip to L.A., as Lugo posted a .240 wOBA while seeing time at second base, third base and the outfield corners. Guzman was ranked as the No. 26 prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to 2006, but he flamed out by moving down the defensive spectrum and displaying wretched plate discipline. While Pedroza hit well as an old player in the low minors, he tanked at Double-A.

2. 1995: The New York Yankees traded Danny Tartabull to the Oakland Athletics for Jason Beverlin and Ruben Sierra.
WAR received: minus-0.6
WAR forfeited: zero
“The Bull” inked a lucrative free-agent deal with the Bombers before the 1992 season, and the outfielder remained highly productive through ’93. But his bat no longer compensated for his lumbering defense after that (thanks for the swing tips, George Costanza). Plus, he had a very public spat with the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in 1995 after the team refused to put Tartabull on the DL with a rib injury. The Bull aggravated that rib ailment just a few games into his Oakland Athletics career, which would last all of 98 plate appearances. Sierra, meanwhile, turned in fantastic 1989 and 1991 seasons with the Texas Rangers, but his career flatlined in Oakland and he fared poorly in New York. The Yankees used him as part of a 1996 trade with the Detroit Tigers for Cecil Fielder.

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3. 1987: The Houston Astros traded Mel Stottlemyre Jr. to the Kansas City Royals for Buddy Biancalana.
WAR received: minus-0.6
WAR forfeited: plus-0.1
The son of Mel Sr. and brother of Todd Stottlemyre, Mel Jr. is the new pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. But before that, he was the third overall pick in the January phase of the 1985 draft. Mel Stottlemyre Jr.’s major league career would last all of 31.1 innings, logged in 1990. Roland Americo “Buddy” Biancalana, a middle infielder taken 25th overall in the 1978 June draft, has an awesome name. But alas, he barely stayed above the Mendoza Line as a big league reserve from 1982 to 1987.

4. 2008: The New York Yankees traded Kyle Farnsworth to the Detroit Tigers for Ivan Rodriguez.
WAR received: minus-0.1
WAR forfeited: minus-0.1
The Yankees figured they had killed two birds with one stone by getting rid of chronic underachiever Farnsworth and bringing in Pudge to fill in for Jorge Posada, who was out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. Unfortunately, Rodriguez posted a .263 wOBA that made Jose Molina puff out his chest in pride. Farnsworth’s second stint with the Tigers didn’t go very well — he had a 5.07 FIP in 16 innings pitched. And he didn’t even body slam anybody this time. Bummer.

5. 2000: The Cincinnati Reds traded Denny Neagle and Mike Frank to the New York Yankees for Drew Henson, Jackson Melian, Brian Reith and Ed Yarnall.
WAR received: minus-1.4
WAR forfeited: plus-0.9
Before he got stacks-o-cash from the Colorado Rockies in free agency, Neagle compiled a 5.23 FIP for the Yankees. The Reds had to feel good about the return for trading the lefty — third baseman Henson ranked as Baseball America’s 24th-best prospect in the minors prior to 2000, and outfielder Melian ranked No. 72. Yet, Henson’s baseball career crumpled. The former star QB at Michigan was traded back to New York the following year for fellow enigma Wily Mo Pena, and Henson eventually quit the sport entirely to pursue a career in the NFL. That didn’t go so well either, and he’s currently retired. Neither Melian nor Yarnall ever reached the majors with Cincinnati, and the Reds probably wish Reith (minus-1.4 WAR) hadn’t either.

Visions of pennant-clinching trade acquisitions and blue chip prospects dance through the heads of fans and GMs alike as the deadline nears. Sometimes, however, reality bites.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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