Baseball Meat Market: The Stories Behind the Best and Worst Trades in History

Baseball Meat Market: The Stories Behind the Best and Worst Trades in History

by Shawn Krest


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781624142383
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 03/28/2017
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 667,059
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Shawn Krest is a sportswriter for and the ACC Sports Journal. His work has appeared on,, The Sporting News, and the official game programs for the MLB All Start Game and League Championship Series. He has been honored by the USBWA, PFWA and BWAA in their annual writing contests. Every Friday, Shawn appears on the David Glenn Show, and he makes regular appearances on stations in New York, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida. He is the co-author of the Football Outsiders' 2006 Pro Football Prospectus. Shawn lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Baseball Meat Market

The Stories Behind the Best and Worst Trades in History

By Shawn Krest

Page Street Publishing Co.

Copyright © 2017 Shawn Krest
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62414-241-3




A shameful dismantling of a champion hits its low point.

Seven months after winning the 1997 World Series, the Florida Marlins decided to dismantle the team and swung one of the biggest-name, lowest-impact trades in memory. Mike Piazza went from the Dodgers to Miami — for eight days — before he was flipped to the New York Mets. Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla and Charles Johnson all went to LA, where they showed their best days were behind them.

Washington, D.C., is a city that understands the impact of budget cuts, so President Bill Clinton probably didn't take it as an insult when 11 of the 25 invited players didn't show up at the White House on February 17, 1998.

It was four months after the Florida Marlins won the World Series. As is customary, Clinton invited the champions to be honored at the White House. A total of 19 members of the Marlins organization showed up, and that included the manager, Jim Leyland, and members of his coaching staff.

Bobby Bonilla made excuses for the missing members of the championship team, telling the president, "They're all working on the '98 budget cuts."

Later, Bonilla told the media, "I wish everyone could have been here to meet the president. It's a thrill, but it's also a sweet-and-sour type of thing."

Robb Nen couldn't make it. The Marlins closer had saved two of the team's four World Series wins and then was traded to the San Francisco Giants on November 18, twenty-three days after the Marlins won Game Seven. He spent the day of the White House visit working out at the Giants' spring training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona. "There's no use going to Washington," he said. "It's not worth it to meet the president. If I was still with those guys, maybe. But now, I'm dedicated to this team. My goal now is to get ready for March thirty-first [Opening Day]."

Al Leiter couldn't make it. He'd started two games in the Series, including Game Seven, and struck out a total of 10 batters. Eleven days before the visit, he'd been traded to the Mets. He wasn't about to make the trip from the team's camp site at Port St. Lucie, Florida, to Washington by himself. "Other than to get a picture with the President, it just seemed like a pretty hectic day," he said.

Pitcher Kevin Brown also started two Series games. He also wasn't at the White House. Brown was in Peoria, Arizona, reporting to the San Diego Padres' spring training, after getting traded in December. "I think we all felt like we got blindsided with the dismantling of the team," he said. "But after the trade came about, reality kind of sank in and you kind of move on."

Two players who were no longer on the Marlins did make the trip. Jeff Conine, an original Marlin from the team's first season in 1993, had been sent to the Kansas City Royals shortly after the World Series. "Obviously it would have been nice to have everyone here," he said of the White House visit, "because we won it as a team."

Pitcher Tony Saunders, who had moved on to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after spending his rookie season with the champion Marlins, said, "When we won, that was one of the first things I thought of, 'I get to go to the White House now.' It's exciting."

The excitement had been diminished by the events of the previous four months. All told, 13 of the 25 members of the Marlins roster that won the World Series were no longer with the team by the time they visited Washington. Clinton, who endured two government shutdowns in his first term, found himself at the center of another budget crisis.

Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga also didn't make the trip to the White House with his team. He was trying to sell the franchise, and, in baseball, low payroll makes for a more enticing purchase than do championship rings. The term "fire sale" was first thrown around on November 7, less than two weeks after the World Series ended.

The Marlins wanted to slash their payroll, from $53 million in 1997 to between $22 and $25 million the following year. They would accomplish this by getting rid of the core players that had led the franchise to a championship in its fifth year of existence.

"It's definitely going to be ugly, if that's what they're talking about doing," Leiter said.

"It's going to be different," GM Dave Dombrowski said. "We're not going to be putting a world championship caliber team on the field." Dombrowski had built the 1997 champions, signing a half dozen free agents to contracts totaling $89 million the year before. All of them would be headed for the door, as Dombrowski set about tearing it all down.

"We've already talked to a couple of them, and they're not happy. But they are happy about getting the ring."

Dombrowski traded players. He released players. He let free agents walk and gave up players in the expansion draft. At the start of spring training, the Marlins had gotten rid of the players who had produced 40 percent of the team's at bats, hits and runs; half of the home runs; and nearly half of the RBI. They'd also dealt away the pitchers who had made five of the team's seven World Series starts, pitched more than half of the innings and produced nearly two-thirds of the strikeouts.

Make no mistake: this wasn't a youth movement, dumping high salaries to build for the future. This was an outright fire sale. Of the 18 players the Marlins received in the offseason trades, 10 never made it to the major leagues. Five combined to play a total of 70 games for the Marlins. The other three prospects the Marlins received were, in fact, building blocks for the future — outfielder Derrek Lee, reliever Jesus Sanchez and starter A. J. Burnett — but they hardly balanced out the talent that departed. (Lee would later be a part of the Marlins' fire sale following the team's 2003 World Series victory.)

At the end of the White House ceremony, Bonilla presented Clinton with a teal-and-white Marlins jersey.

"It may not be the precise same Marlin team that played the Indians last year that takes the field on opening day," Clinton told the surviving members of the champion squad. "But if the players keep the same spirit, they'll be sure to be in the hunt again when the season comes to a close."

Like many promises made by politicians, this one didn't have a chance of coming to pass.

Meanwhile, at the Dodgers camp in Vero Beach, Florida, on the same day, catcher Mike Piazza spoke to the media about his contract situation.

Piazza was the most popular player on the team. Although he was born near Philadelphia, he seemed to have grown up in Dodger blue. His father, Vince, was childhood friends with Tommy Lasorda, the Hall of Fame Dodger manager. Lasorda was the godfather of Piazza's younger brother, also named Tommy. As a child, when the Dodgers played in Philadelphia, Piazza served as batboy for the visiting team.

The Dodgers selected Piazza in the 62 round of the 1988 draft, when no other team seemed interested, and the favor to Lasorda paid off handsomely. Piazza eventually developed into the best hitting catcher in baseball.

As spring training opened in 1998, he was looking for a contract that rewarded him as such.

"Obviously, I'm a little disappointed," he said about not receiving a comparable offer from the team. "But I've dealt with it. I'm fine as far as my state of mind. I'm ready to play this year. That's it."

Piazza was on a team that was about to have an even more dysfunctional year than the Marlins.

On January 5, 1997, back when the Marlins were being criticized for their offseason spending spree, Dodgers general manager Fred Claire and his wife arrived home from dinner to find two messages on the answering machine, both from owner Peter O'Malley.

"In 30 years with the organization, I could never remember Peter leaving TWO messages to return a call," Claire wrote in his memoir.

O'Malley's father, Walter, had been involved with the Dodgers organization since 1933. He bought 25 percent of the team in 1944 and became primary owner in 1950. Peter took over as president in 1970. For six and a half decades, the O'Malley family had played a major role in the operation of the team. For nearly half a century, an O'Malley had been in charge. Over that time, the Dodgers had won six World Series and revolutionized baseball twice — breaking the color barrier in 1947 and moving to the West Coast in 1958.

"I've been talking to my family for some time, and we've decided to sell the team," Peter O'Malley told Claire that January evening in 1997. "We've crossed the emotional barriers, and we know it's time to sell."

At a press conference the next day, O'Malley said, "Family ownership of sports today is a dying breed. It's a high-risk business. You need a broader base than an individual family to carry you through the storms. Groups or corporations are probably the wave of the future."

By May, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which owns the Fox television network, among other properties worldwide, emerged as a bidder. By September, O'Malley had agreed to sell the team to the Fox Group for $311 million, then a record in professional sports.

Owners ratified the deal in March 1998 by a 27–2 vote, although there were concerns raised over a potential conflict of interest. Fox had a national TV contract with MLB and had full or partial local broadcast rights with 22 of the 30 teams.

"They answered our questions about having financial interests in 21 other clubs," Giants owner Peter Magowan said. "That was our biggest concern."

The Fox people promised there would be a "wall" between the television side of the business and the baseball side. Claire later claimed that the wall had large holes in it from the very beginning.

"The first thing one needs to understand about Fox's purchase of the Dodgers is that it was an investment triggered by the company's desire to establish a regional sports network in Southern California," he wrote. In order to beat out Disney, which owned the newly renamed Anaheim Angels (as well as major interests in ABC and ESPN), Fox needed a product for the network to air on summer nights. Dodger games would be a perfect solution to the new network's programming problem.

While the sale of the Dodgers was being finalized, Mike Piazza and his agent, Dan Lozano, were choosing the worst possible time to push for a new contract.

Following the 1996 season, the White Sox had signed outfielder Albert Belle to a five-year, $55 million contract, making him the first $10 million a year player and the first to sign a $50 million deal. Dave Dombrowski helped Gary Sheffield break the $60 million barrier five months later, on a six-year deal with Florida, and, in December 1997, Pedro Martínez signed with the Boston Red Sox for six years, $75 million.

Piazza was ready to become baseball's first $100 million player. He was already making $8 million a year, and his contract had one year remaining, as the 1998 season dawned. He wanted to renegotiate and sign the first nine-figure deal.

If there was going to be a $100 million player, Piazza certainly had a good case to be the man. He was the best hitting catcher in baseball and had been an All-Star and in the top 10 of MVP voting every year of his career. In 1997, Piazza had 40 home runs, 124 RBI, and a .362 average, setting all-time records for catchers for most homers in a season and highest batting average.

Immediately after the season, Piazza and Lozano began negotiating a contract extension. They asked for seven years, $105 million. With the franchise in the process of being sold, no one in the organization was going to agree to such a massive contract. The Dodgers offered a six-year, $80 million deal, which still would have made Piazza the highest-paid player in baseball. He turned them down.

In an attempt to spur things on, Piazza issued an ultimatum. If he didn't have an extension by February 15, he would cut off talks with the Dodgers and pursue free agency after the season. The logic was that Fox, who knew the value of a star, wouldn't want to risk losing him in their first year owning the team.

Unfortunately for Piazza, the sale of the team was still a month away from being finalized. The slow progress had the side effect of allowing the team to call Piazza's bluff, leaving him and his negotiating team scrambling to save face.

"We were very comfortable with our position," Lozano said, explaining that they weren't backing down from the ultimatum as much as giving the Dodgers a chance to work out their ownership issue. "Considering the Dodgers' efforts, and because of the change in ownership, we felt we owed it to them and the fans to see how much the Dodgers really want to keep Mike here."

In a spring training interview with legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, Piazza said, "Those things get misconstrued in the papers and come out a little aggressive."

Scully responded by saying, "Ultimatum is a heavy word. You know, that's the kind of thing, 'If you don't do this, we bomb you.'"

"That wasn't the intention at all," Piazza replied.

In other words, "We'll still take that extension."

The franchise sale was finalized in mid-March, and Lozano made a follow-up contract offer a few days later: eight years, $144 million. In addition to an average annual salary of $18 million, the deal included a hotel suite for road trips and a luxury box at Dodger Stadium. Not a luxury box in the outfield, either. It had to be overlooking the infield, "between the bases."

"It was the type of offer you just write down, because there is no verbal response that makes sense," Claire recalled. "There was a lot of work to be done to even get to the area of a reasonable deal."

The team's new president, Bob Graziano, made statements to the media saying there was no urgency to meet with Piazza, since the catcher was already under contract. Graziano also said that the completion of the sale didn't mean that the team would move any faster on an extension.

Piazza, already frustrated by the slow progress of the negotiations, made a tactical mistake. He assumed that since Dodger fans loved him, they'd take his side. Almost immediately, however, he went from hero to spoiled brat in their eyes. While fans love their star player, they love their team more. Any indication that a player will choose money over the team nearly always results in a backlash.

On opening day of the 1998 season, Piazza blew up in an interview with Los Angeles Times beat writer Jason Reid. "I'm not going to lie and say I'm not concerned about this, that I'm not confused and disappointed by the whole thing, because I am," Piazza said. "I'm mad that this has dragged into the season, and that it now has the potential to become a distraction. I'm not going to use this as an excuse if things aren't going well, because that wouldn't be fair to the fans, my teammates or [team management]. But how can I not think about this?"

"If they say they have the intent to sign me, then sign me," he added. "But if they don't have the intent to sign me, then just let me know. Just let me know, so at least I'll be able to start to think about having a future somewhere else after the season. But what they're doing now, the way this is going, I just don't get it."

When asked about the lukewarm public response from Graziano, Piazza dug himself even deeper into a hole. "When I see something like that from Mr. Graziano, I don't know what to think," Piazza said. "Are they trying to smoke us out, trying to get us to reveal something to help their negotiating position? If that's the case, they really don't have to do that. We've been upfront from the beginning, and it's not like we're holding a gun to anyone's head."

"I understand that this is business, and we're trying to handle this the way we feel we have to," he said. "But if they're going to force our hand, I'll play the season out and see what other teams out there want me."

The fans had heard enough. Piazza was going to make $8 million that season and turned down $80 million from the team, a contract that would have been the richest in baseball history. Those numbers make it tough to win public sympathy, and his threat to leave in free agency, even as conditional and nuanced as it was worded, turned the public against him.

"It was a terrible mistake by Mike," Claire wrote, years later.

When Jason Reid called him for a reaction, Graziano played it perfectly. "I'm surprised by this," he said. "I have to believe that if they're committed to winning, Mike Piazza has to be a big part of that. But right now, the ball is in their court, and we don't have any idea what they're doing."

A few days later, the Dodgers released a statement that helped their public relations case, making it clear that they wanted to keep Piazza, and pay him well, but they just couldn't come to an agreement as to his value. "Unfortunately, to date, we have not been able to bridge the wide gap that exists between our respective positions, primarily because, at this point in the negotiations, there is no good way for either side to accurately assess the level of compensation that a player of Mike's caliber can command in today's market."


Excerpted from Baseball Meat Market by Shawn Krest. Copyright © 2017 Shawn Krest. Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 9

What Is WAR? 13

Fire Sale!: The Story Behind the Mike Piazza Trade 14

A shameful dismantling of a champion hits its low point.

Guess Who's Coming to Thanksgiving Dinner: The Story Behind the Curt Schilling Trade 25

A holiday road trip and strong stomachs produce a memorable trade.

Au Revoir, Montreal: The Story Behind the Bartolo Colón Trade 35

A city's last stand deserved a better trade.

To Have and Have Not: The Story Behind the Quarter-Billion-Dollar Trade 46

The rare salary dump that produces a good trade.

A Trade About Nothing: The Story Behind the Jay Buhner Trade 56

When comedians use your trade for material, you've made a bad trade.

The 180-Degree Rip-Off: The Story Behind the John Smoltz Trade 66

Both teams get exactly what they wanted and then some, the definition of a good deal.

The White Flag Trade: The Story Behind the Wilson Álvarez Trade 75

A team pulls the plug too soon with a deplorable deal.

The Throw-In: The Story Behind the Ryne Sandberg Trade 84

A second-thought throw in turns out to be a winning lottery ticket in this top-shelf trade.

Nothing to Celebrate: The Story Behind the Miguel Cabrera Trade 95

A once-in-a-generation talent, traded away for a forgettable package of prospects.

For Sale to the Second-Highest Bidder: The Story Behind the Alex Rodriguez Trade 107

A bad free-agent contract leads to months of offseason melodrama that frustrated everyone except producers of sports chat shows.

Who is Rick Sutcliffe?: The Story Behind the Rick Sutcliffe Trade 118

Perhaps the best midseason pickup in history leads the Cubs to the postseason.

541: The Story Behind the Von Hayes Trade 127

Paying a big price for a poor fit leads to a much-mocked trade.

A Gift from God: The Story Behind the David Wells Trade 137

Choosing the wrong package of prospects leads to years of regret.

"I'm the Decider, and I Decide What's Best": The Story Behind the Sammy Sosa Trade 147

The trade bad enough to help win in election.

The Rent is Too Darn High: The Story Behind the Mark Teixeira Trade 158

The Braves get held up in a failed attempt to prolong their dynast.

White Rat Run Amok: The Story Behind the 1980 Winter Meetings 170

It's the Whitey Herzog show as a series of shrewd deals helps build dynasties.

The Bleeping Trade: The Story Behind the Bucky Dent Trade 182

A prospect-for-veteran trade works to perfection.

Just Seventeen: The Story Behind the Biggest Trade in History 192

The more the merrier as the Yankees and Orioles put together a gem.

The No-Shows: The Story Behind the Curt Flood Trade 201

A trade that helped reshape the face of baseball.

The Blockbuster: The Story Behind the Roberto Alomar Trade 210

A good old-fashioned baseball trade.

Conclusion 221

Acknowledgments 223

About the Author 225

Index 226

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