Trade season in Major League Baseball can be a ton of fun – rumors can get crazy in July, and every once in a while, teams will make a trade that seemed only possible in MLB The Show. Some of us on the Wahoo’s on First staff will share memories of the trades which impacted us the most. These might not be the best trades in the history of the club, but for whatever reason, these deals mattered to us, and we’d like to share our retrospective thoughts on them.
The Story: If you weren’t paying attention to the Indians in the 1990’s, it’s probably a little odd to see the love former 2B Carlos Baerga gets from the Cleveland fan base, particularly as 1996 was really only year 2.5 of the Indians run of dominance in that time frame (the aborted 1994 season is so rife with “what ifs” it would take its own post to get into). But there was certainly some truth to the reports that Baerga had been the team’s heart and soul.
“Leaving the Cleveland Indians is going to be like taking my heart away,” Baerga said.
However, he also said that “I was down on myself but I want to show people I’m not done; I’ve got a lot of baseball left.”
Baerga was the epitome of that 1995 team: young, good, brash, and having too much damn fun to worry about the future. Although Baerga’s oft-reported partying, weight issues and nagging injuries certainly played a factor in his poor 1996 season, in hindsight, it’s possible Baerga was already on the decline at age 26. His best year by rWAR was 1992 (6.3) and he also had a great season the year after with 5.1 rWAR. Baerga was still well above average in 1994 and 1995, posting rWARs of 2.7 and 2.6, respectively, but after 1995 Baerga only was above replacement twice in the next 7 seasons he played (in 1997 for the Mets, at 1.1 and in 2003 for the Arizona Diamondbacks, at 0.9), and did not play in the major leagues in 2000 or 2001.
Cleveland was pretty much already assured of a postseason berth in 1996, even at just the end of July, but Baerga had failed to work his way out of the Indians doghouse, and the Indians acquired two second basemen who’d become more well-known on other teams, but played decently for the Tribe in the second half of 1996. Both players were then traded that offseason (along with RHP Julian Tavarez) to the San Fransisco Giants for 3B Matt Williams, a trade that looks a lot worse in retrospect.
Espinoza somehow was the most valuable player in the deal for the rest of 1996, posting 0.8 rWAR for the Mets the rest of the season.
My Story: I got in a lot of trouble over this trade, which added injury to insult as Baerga was young Ed’s favourite player (young Ed admittedly still thought RBI and pitching wins were statistics that mattered, so his judgement might not have been the best).
I grew up in a big blended family, and am the oldest of seven, with me and my four closest younger brothers within six years of each other. My dad worked his tail off to support us all, but we were always taught to take care of stuff we got, especially anything expensive, because we didn’t exactly have money to burn at the time. Don’t break something, because chances are you weren’t gonna get another one for a while. Often, I had no problem not destroying expensive things. July 30, 1996 was a day where I had a problem.
Sitting in my basement, likely in between playing one of my brothers in Super Mario Kart for Super Nintendo, we’d listen to sports radio on WKNR 1220, because the Internet was a mythical place to us at the time and well, I didn’t know any better than to listen to what people on sports radio were saying. My mom had a fairly portable cassette player/radio boombox, and we’d bring that into the basement to keep tabs on the Indians. There had been rumors throughout the week Baerga and others were being shopped, but again, this was like right before the information enlightenment. The host (can’t remember who it was) announced the Indians had made a trade, and read off the names of the players the Indians were getting
(two guys not Baerga) for Espinosa (not Baerga) and Baerga.
Sixth-grade Ed’s heart was broken. And in a fit of rage, I punched my mom’s boombox radio. Radio stops working.
Don’t quite remember what happened next, but sure enough, my Mom found out I had messed up her radio, and boy was she pissed. I’m sure I (quite rationally) tried to explain to her “MOM THEY TRADED CARLOS FREAKING BAERGA AWAY” but she wasn’t having it. I think I got grounded and she was a little bitter over that radio for a few years after the fact, but she has since long gotten over it and now has a really nice sound system, so things worked out OK for my Mom in the end. That radio eventually worked again, but never as well as before it met my fist.
How Do I Feel About the Trade Today?
Well, that was a silly reason to punch a radio. The Indians likely dodged a bullet, both in terms of relying on Baerga’s production and in terms of the PR they’d deal with if Baerga continued to erode in Cleveland. Given what we now know about Kent (who won the NL MVP four years later with the Giants) and Baerga’s decline, it’s hard to look at this trade as a loss for the Indians (but whoo-boy, should Mets fans be pissed). As for myself, I didn’t learn the lesson about not getting too attached to players until later, but this was baseball’s first message to me regarding just how cruel a game it could be.