Sometimes it goes right. These are the best fifteen trades in Mariners history, from 1977 to the 2011 offseason. Refer to the original piece about the worst trades for notes on methodology.
One thing that jumped out at me in compiling this list, is the Mariners were clear winners in much fewer trades than they were clear losers. The 15th-worst trade had a Mariners loss of 9.7 WAR, the 15th-best is nowhere near that. (But it is a trade I was delighted to see make the cut) There were 14 trades where the Mariners lost a double-digit quantity of wins; much lower is the number where they gained that quantity. However, number one on this list is a bigger win than number one on the other list was a loss, so at least there's that!
If interested, please ask in the comments for this analysis to any other trades in franchise history from the time period that didn't show up on either list. I looked at literally every trade where at least someone in the swap had played at Major League level, so there might be some you were expecting to see on one list or another that didn't end up on them.
As a little game (and a test to see how many people read this preamble), try to guess as many of the trades as you can, and post in the comments how many you got right (and if you're really feeling up to it, how close you were on the comparative WAR). Do as many or as few as you like, I, like many of you, would have struggled to come up with 15 'winning' Mariners trades off the top of my head.
All right, let's see what the 15 best trades in Mariners history (by comparative fWAR) are.
#15 - Mariners traded Tyson Gillies (minors), Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez to the Philadelphia Phillies. Received Cliff Lee.
Date of trade: December 16, 2009
WAR accumulated by Aumont for the Phillies: -0.3. WAR accumulated by Ramirez for the Phillies: -0.6. WAR accumulated by Lee for the Mariners: 3.9
TRADE: Mariners +4.8
By the counting-stat nature of WAR, this is not Jack Zduriencik's crowning achievement. He has another trade on this list. But in terms of sheer sorcery in extracting one of the very best players in baseball for a whole bunch of "stuff," he never did any better than this. If absolutely everything else hadn't gone wrong for the Mariners in 2010 and Lee had stayed a Mariner the entire season, this trade would move up to #11 on the list. It's absolutely insane how much value the Mariners received from just nine glorious weeks of Clifton Phifer Lee.
Lee was absolutely otherworldly as a Mariner, as his 2.16 FIP and 3.9 WAR accrued in actually-not-even-half-a-season (sure seems like he was an M for more than 13 starts looking back, doesn't it?). He was an absolute joy to watch pitch and for those scant few weeks he was ours, he provided a dearly-needed reprieve from, well, the Mariners. I think most people in this day and age have been indoctrinated against holding the pitcher win statistic in any esteem, but if anyone out there still needs examples, consider this game and this one, back-to-back Lee starts. I always did enjoy the irony that Lee's easily-worst game as a Mariner was a game the team comfortably won. I also remember this game, Lee's second to last. Interviewed on the field after finishing off the complete game victory, Lee was very upset with himself -- not for the two home runs surrendered to Yankee right fielder Nick Swisher, but for the walk issued to Jorge Posada, the only one on Lee's ledger that night.
Aumont appeared in 46 games across four seasons for the Phillies, never really doing anything that got anyone's attention. After brief stints in the Blue Jays and White Sox minor league organisations, he retired from professional baseball last season. Ramirez pitched in 8 games for the Phillies in 2013, posting an utterly dreadful 6.84 FIP that all but packed his bags for him. He's been a journeyman since, pitching for six organisations in the last three seasons, even returning to the Mariners for a brief stint in 2015. Gillies, who does have a cool personal story, spent 2016 playing for the Kansas City T-Bones and Sugar Land Skeeters, in unaffiliated pro baseball. He is a free agent currently.
Thanks Ruben Amaro, Jr. You sure did us a solid with this one.
#14 - Mariners raded Craig Reynolds to the Houston Astros. Received Floyd Bannister.
Date of trade: December 8, 1978
WAR accumulated by Reynolds for the Astros: 8.0. WAR accumulated by Bannister for the Mariners: 13.2.
TRADE: Mariners +5.2.
In Bannister's four seasons with Seattle, he was one of the few bright points the utterly horrible new team had. He never finished a season with negative WAR, and he actually led the American League in strikeouts in his All-Star 1982 season. He was durable, pitching seven complete game shutouts and 24 total complete games in those four seasons, though that's partly a product of the time. When he left for greener pastures in free agency after the 1982 season, he team immediately fell from plain old "bad" (76 wins) to "oh my god" (60 wins) the next season. Probably wasn't the lack of Bannister alone that caused that, but it sure would have been nice to keep a 28 year old left-hander coming off the best season of his career.
Reynolds' WAR total largely owes to it being a counting stat, and that he remained with Houston the remainder of his career. It took him 11 seasons to rack up that 8.0 WAR, and while that's by no means a bad career, it's clearly less value than Bannister provided the Mariners. Mainly a shortstop (while settling into a utility role later in his career), Reynolds was a one-time All-Star for Houston and was mostly steady and unremarkable. He had three negative WAR seasons with Houston and four seasons in which he played less than 100 games. He never hit much -- his WRC+ topped out at 99 with the 'stros -- but his glove made him a positive contributor more often than not.
#13 - Mariners traded Dave Pagan to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received a player to be named later. The Pittsburgh Pirates sent Rick Honeycutt (August 22, 1977) to the Seattle Mariners to complete the trade.
Date of trade: July 27, 1977
WAR accumulated by Pagan for the Pirates: 0.1. WAR accumulated by Honeycutt for the Mariners: 5.9.
TRADE: Mariners +5.8
This trade barely qualifies for the list, as Pagan made just one appearance for the Pirates. And it was actually a pretty good one. This is a man who was likely a victim of his time. Have a look at his stats -- the ones we currently try to value:
You'd love for him to strike out a few more dudes, and the walk rate spikes a couple of places, but there's nothing here that says "this guy should be out of Major League Baseball at 28." Ravaged by BABIP to the point that in fully three of his five seasons, there's about two full points difference between his ERA and FIP, it's not a wild stretch to say that baseball people of the time probably looked at only the former and declared him unready for MLB.
The Mariners were Honeycutt's first of 8 Major League stops, in a career that included two stints each with the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics. I remember him as a left-handed specialist reliever from later in his career, but at the outset -- and his time with the Mariners -- he was primarily a starter, toeing the rubber in the first inning in 85 of his 99 appearances in Mariner blue. He was rarely flashy, but he did garner an All-Star selection in his final season in Seattle (1980), to go along with one later in his career. The consummate 'pitch-to-contact' guy, Honeycutt never produced any of three true outcomes in large number. He provided all his value to the Mariners in his last three seasons there, spending '78, '79, and '80 as the number-three starter on a very bad ballclub, but they were probably better off for having him.
It's hard to compare a five-year career to a 21-year career, but it's at least possible that Pagan was actually the better pitcher. And if he'd have gotten better BABIP sequencing, he might have been as successful a big leaguer as Honeycutt. Fare thee well Dave Pagan, you were too decent for your time.
#12 - Mariners traded Joey Cora to the Cleveland Indians. Received David Bell.
Date of trade: August 31, 1998
WAR accumulated by Cora for the Indians: -0.5. WAR accumulated by Bell for the Mariners: 5.6
TRADE: Mariners +6.1
Straight up, I did not remember this being either how Cora left the organisation or how Bell joined it. Joey Cora spent three and a half seasons in the Pacific Northwest, and whatever rosy-coloured glasses through which we remember his time here are likely because that run corresponded with the beginning of the club's golden age. Take a look at a stat sheet and have a cold shower -- Joey Cora was not a very good Major League Baseball player. He wasn't ungodly dreadful (3.8 career WAR), but he's probably worse than you think you remember. He hit like someone who could hit that way if he contributed with the glove (a career WRC+ of 93 isn't unreasonable for a second baseman), but he gave a lot away with that glove. Say what you wish about defensive statistics, but they sure aren't pretty for "Li'l Joey." His worst season for the Mariners was actually that magical 1995 season, as he produced negative value over the course of the year (-0.2 WAR). I mean what the hell? He was on the happy side of par his two-and-two-thirds remaining seasons in Seattle, actually badly skewing career WAR in those years (5.1 accumulated in that time). After 24 dreadful games in Cleveland, he was finished as a player.
But I think most of us remember him fondly, if for two images, both from 1995 -- beating out the drag bunt in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 5 of the Division Series, setting up history, and shedding the same tears many of us were when it all ended just nine days later.
Can you say the same of David Bell?
Seriously, right now. Do you have any specific memories of David Bell?
Maybe you do. I sure don't.
Bell was a key cog in the machine for the second half of the club's golden age, spending three full seasons in Seattle (along with the partial 1998 stint). Unlike Cora, Bell's best season with the M's was the M's best season with him, as he produced a very healthy 3.2 WAR in 2001 as the club's everyday third baseman. Bell had decent power, smacking 47 home runs as a Mariner, and produced strongly positive value with the leather. But seriously, I really don't remember anything this man actually did, at all. I know he was there, and I remember him being there, but that's about it.
#11 - Traded Carlos Lopez and Tommy Moore to the Baltimore Orioles. Received Mike Parrott.
Date of trade: December 7, 1977
WAR accumulated by Lopez for the Orioles: -0.3. WAR accumulated by Parrott for the Mariners: 6.7
TRADE: Mariners +7.0
Moore never appeared at Major League-level for the Orioles, but Lopez did.
One speculates that this list will be a tad '70s-heavy because there was probably no trade, even if outright sabotage were the intent, that could have made the team worse.
In truth, the Mariners actually sold high here. 1977 was Lopez's career year (of a three-year career, but I digress). The Mexican right fielder managed to sneak in enough base hits to eke out a 101 WRC+ and with positive value contributed in the field as well, he notched 1.5 of his career 1.1 WAR in the Emerald City. He was like so many a hitter in the annals of Seattle Mariners history -- reasonable power, no ability to take a walk, could cool an office building with the breeze from his whiffs. In his 1978 campaign with Baltimore, his meager walk rate remained as it had been with the M's and his K rate actually shrunk slightly, but a 61-point drop in BABIP gave him negative value at the plate that he couldn't overcome in the field. After one season at the Triple-A level in 1979, Lopez was finished in professional baseball.
Mike Parrott was a bit like both of the pitchers mentioned in the #13 trade. He hardly ever struck out, walked, or surrendered a home run to anyone. He too had some rough times with BABIP and was gone from the Mariners -- and indeed Major League Baseball -- at just 27. The high point of his career was the 1979 season, where, sporting a more reasonable BABIP against than in other years (.290), he managed to produce 4.3 WAR and nearly matching ERA and FIP marks. It quickly came tumbling down the next season, as BABIP ravaged him to the tune of .364, though the highest spike in home run rate of his career meant that his FIP (5.21) wasn't much more forgivable than the then-venerated ERA (7.28). He also had the longest personal losing streak of any pitcher in the 1980's, set in that miserable '80 campaign -- he picked up the W on opening night at the Kingdome, but didn't get another all season, finishing at a surely-depressing 1-16 (part and parcel for 59-win '80 Mariners).
#10 - Mariners traded Antonio Perez to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Received Randy Winn.
Date of trade: October 28, 2002
WAR accumulated by Perez for the Devil Rays: 0.8. WAR accumulated by Winn for the Mariners: 8.8
TRADE: Mariners +8.0
I considered discounting this trade, because this isn't the whole story. The Devil Rays did not trade Randy Winn to the Mariners believing that Antonio Perez was fair value as his replacement. They did this trade -- and only acquired Perez at all -- because they had signed away manager Lou Piniella, and you can't trade a player for a manager. You can only trade a player for a player (or cash money -- though come to think of it, why are those even called "trades" ? Isn't that just buying something?). Journeyman right-hander David Carpenter was involved in a similar transaction, being dealt from Toronto to Boston after the Red Sox had signed Blue Jays manager John Farrell and agreed to send Mike Aviles up north as compensation, Aviles officially being traded for Carpenter.
But this rundown is about player-for-player trades, and the Mariners got some solid value here. Winn accumulated his 8.8 Seattle WAR in just two and a half seasons, and I think that if we remember Joey Cora fondly because he was on good Mariner teams, the inverse might happen for Randy Winn. He was on some terrible Mariners teams, but he never stopped providing value. Winn was good at everything without excelling at anything. He could hit a home run, make a nice play in the outfield, steal a base, beat out an infield single (one notices a career BABIP of .322 -- speed never slumps). For a team often plagued by.....yes, bad baserunning.....Winn was a shining example of competence there, chalking up 11.7 base runs in 2.5 years. His worst year in Seattle was probably his last, and he turned things around nicely in San Francisco after the trade -- whose spirits wouldn't have been raised by departing the 2005 Mariners?
Perez was a reasonable-ish prospect once upon a time, shown by his inclusion in trades for the likes of Winn, Ken Griffey Jr, and Andre Ethier. But he never really latched on anywhere. After a perfectly decent 2003 campaign with Tampa Bay, showing flashes of power, speed, baserunning ability, and the ability to take a walk, he saw only part time duty in the next three seasons playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland, never appearing in more than 100 games in any of those seasons. The Atlanta Braves gave him a minor-league look in 2009, but he didn't catch on there either, and never played professional baseball again after that season. We like to say that for every prospect who strikes it big there are a hundred who don't even get there, so for Perez, at least he can say he got there.
#9 - Mariners traded Jimmy Sexton to the Houston Astros. Received Leon Roberts.
Date of trade: December 5, 1977
WAR accumulate by Sexton for the Astros: 0.3. WAR accumulated by Roberts for the Mariners: 9.0
TRADE: Mariners +8.7
I hope you like bell-bottoms, Aviators, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, because it's time to head back to the 1970's.
This was a "glove for a bat" trade. Sexton was a glove-first shortstop, providing what modest value he did out in the field. In an admittedly tiny sample size of 50 plate appearances in his 1979 season with Houston, his walk rate spiked a good deal, but the guy had no power (his ISO was actually zero in '79) and he struck out at levels that would make you blanch if they came from a 6-foot-6 first baseman. With a limited skill set, he played for four teams in six part-time seasons (topping out at 155 plate appearances for Houston in '78) before retiring.
Leon Roberts was a bat. And boy was he a bat. He socked 22 dingers in 1978 and had a career-low strikeout rate to go with it, finishing the campaign with an impressive-and-not-just-for-the-lowly-expansion-Mariners 145 WRC+ and 4.1 WAR -- while providing staunchly negative value in right field. He also received MVP votes in this season. In '79, the homers went down a little and the strikeouts and walks both went up a little, resulting in a less impressive but still okay 114 WRC+ and 3.4 WAR, the latter of which helped by an uncharacteristically strong season with the leather. By 1980, most of Roberts' skills were in clear decline, though he still managed to post 1.5 WAR in his final season with a trident on his hat. Three teams and four years later, Roberts called it a career, with a respectable 11.3 WAR to his name.
#8 - Mariners traded Ken Griffey Jr. to the Cincinnati Reds. Received Jake Meyer (minors), Mike Cameron, Antonio Perez and Brett Tomko.
Date of trade: February 10, 2000
WAR accumulated by Griffey for the Reds: 10.1. WAR accumulated by Cameron for the Mariners: 19.9. WAR accumulated by Tomko for the Mariners: 0.0
TRADE: Mariners +9.8
A clever sleuth gave this one away in the comments section on the worst list, but I have to say I was very surprised when I looked this one up. Mike Cameron was actually worth more to the Mariners than Ken Griffey Jr was to the Reds.
What transaction in Mariners history has engendered a wider range of emotions than this one? Fourteen year old me was devastated to see Griffey leave, though I'll quite readily grant that I wasn't very aware of the circumstances surrounding his departure. Many of those who were were very happy to see him leave. Many thought the Mariners had been fleeced, particularly as Griffey had made it clear that he wanted to play for the team where his father won back-to-back World Series rings in the middle 70's. Many on the Cincinnati side felt the trade was a triumph because they had managed to keep Pokey Reese (no, seriously, he was actually a dealbreaker for the Reds). Tomko was coming off a few decent seasons at the head of the Reds' pitching rotation, and the minor leaguers at the time had the type of promise minor leaguers involved in big trades usually have. I think most people thought of Mike Cameron as "a guy to play CF for the Mariners now" and little more.
Griffey's best years were solidly behind him by this point. 2000 was his age-30 season, and while that's not an age you expect a player to fall apart completely (and Junior didn't), it is an age where you can start to expect him to get worse. Interestingly, this is often held as a point in 'The Kid''s favour, as unlike some of his contemporaries, he actually did get worse with age. His actual 2000 season went well enough for the Reds, as he posted a 127 WRC+ and positive value with the glove -- the last season in his career where did the latter. Aside from a bit of a resurgence in 2005, to the tune of a positively old-school 142 WRC+ and got Griffey his only MVP votes as a National Leaguer, Griffey's seasons in Cincinnati just weren't that remarkable. Had he played that way his entire career, he would not even be in Cooperstown, let alone the record-breaking first-ballot selection that he was.
If there ever is to be a "Hall of the Underrated" or indeed, a "Hall of Very Good," may I suggest Mike Cameron as the first inductee. The guy was one hell of a baseball player, and almost no one really gives him credit for it. He had actually been worth 10.5 WAR the previous three seasons with Cincinnati and the Chicago White Sox, so it isn't as if he came completely out of nowhere to be the Mariners' second-best CF in their history (with a run good enough to be the very best for an awful lot of franchises). He won two Gold Glove awards for the Mariners (he added a third later in his career for the San Diego Padres), and steadily produced all three true outcomes. He made his only career All-Star team in the Mariners' magical 2001 season, and is one of just 16 players in baseball history to hit 4 home runs in one game. The box score for that game shows further silliness you might not have remembered -- Cameron and Bret Boone hit back-to-back home runs twice....in the first inning.... and Cameron's two later plate appearances after each of the first four were round-trippers resulted in a hit-by-pitch and a lineout denoted as (Deep RF). He almost hit five that night. You could spend an entire day pulling up highlights on YouTube of the fabulous catches Cameron made for the Mariners, but here's my favourite. He ended the longest game by innings in the history of Major League Baseball in Seattle (the Mariners have played two road games that went longer) with a walkoff home run. I remember listening to that game on the radio -- the radio had to be hidden under my pillow, because my parents didn't want me staying up that late.
Cooperstown, no, and the fact that he spent a relatively scant four seasons in the Pacific Northwest means he probably won't even make the Mariners Hall of Fame. But I really think we don't appreciate enough just how good a player Mike Cameron was.
Brett Tomko appeared in 43 games for the Seattle Mariners.
#7 - Mariners traded Bret Boone and Erik Hanson to the Cincinnati Reds. Received Bobby Ayala and Dan Wilson.
Date of trade: November 2, 1993
WAR accumulated by Boone for the Reds: 4.2. WAR accumulated by Hanson for the Reds: 3.1. WAR accumulated by Ayala for the Mariners: 4.9. WAR accumulated by Wilson for the Mariners: 14.2
TRADE: Mariners +11.8
(first and foremost, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that this trade was also recently analysed in great depth by Lookout Landing's John Trupin. Give his post a read if you haven't)
We have Dan 'The Man''s longevity with the ballclub and WAR's nature as a counting stat to thank for this one ranking so high. Be honest, though -- you're surprised Ayala produced that much positive value for the Mariners. I know I was.
Erik Hanson was just coming off six seasons as one of the better things going for the Mariners (though that youngster in CF was already about as good as he would ever be, even by this point). You could make a reasonable argument that at the time of the trade, he was the best starting pitcher the club had ever had. And WAR would agree with you -- Hanson had racked up 22.4 at the end of the '93 season as compared to 16.6 for a certain tall left-hander we'll hear more about in a little while. But 1994 was to be his walk year, so the club pulled the trigger to extract some value. The season he provided Cincinnati, limited of course by the players' strike, was very much in line with his career averages (except for a sharp decline in his walk rate), and he produced 3.1 very nice WAR for them.
The then-24 year old Boone was always a bat-first infielder. Some people were surprised, and whispered naughty things under their breath, when Boone returned to Seattle in 2001 and put together the sort of offensive season second basemen just don't put together. But he was always a slugger playing a slap-hitter's position. He hit 70 home runs in his five seasons in Cincinnati, and earned some MVP votes in that doomed '94 campaign. Despite the defensive metrics not looking upon his days in Cincinnati fondly, he actually won the Gold Glove award in 1998, to go along with his first of three career All-Star selections. After getting passed to Atlanta and San Diego on the trade market, he returned to Seattle for the best years of his career.
Truth be told, Ayala's value came in dribs and drabs. It took him five full seasons to accumulate that 4.9 WAR, and that's fine and all, but it definitely means our memories can't be totally wrong -- there surely was a good bit of bad mixed in with the good. Ayala was rightly dominant in '94, posting 2.2 of those WAR on the strength of a 2.28 FIP. One wonders where that went exactly over the next four seasons. The goatee'd right-hander always ran decent strikeout rates but he gave up too many home runs to be a dependable late-innings reliever, and just like a poker player never remembers the times his pocket aces weren't cracked, it's the Ayala gopher-balls and blown saves that stick in our memories. I'd feel bad for the guy, but I've heard anecdotally that he was a bit of a dick, so if that's true, all's fair.
Dan 'The Man' was simply that in his 11 seasons (and 11 games of a 12th) for the Mariners. The backstop for both surprisingly-distinct portions of the team's golden age, you can't form bad associations with Dan Wilson. You just can't. (That he was on colour commentary for Felix Hernandez's perfect game sure doesn't hurt either) While legitimately one of the best defensive catchers in history -- at least as far as we are able to compare different eras of players directly, on the defensive side -- he isn't the kind of player who fans of other teams probably remember (though he did make an All-Star team, in 1996). He provided negative value at the plate in each and every one of his seasons as a Mariner, topping out at 95 WRC+ in 1995 and 2002. But it wasn't at the plate where he mattered. It was behind it. Like the former hockey goaltender he was, nobody could smother a baseball and keep it in front of him quite like Dan Wilson. And I still have my old "Thou shalt not steal, Dan 2:6" shirt somewhere. Pitchers loved him and so did the fans. You'd like every player to be a superstar, sure, but if you have a few Dan Wilsons along the line, I think you'll get by all right.
#6 - Mariners traded Ruppert Jones and Jim Lewis to the New York Yankees. Received Rick Anderson, Jim Beattie, Juan Beniquez and Jerry Narron.
Date of trade: November 1, 1979
WAR accumulated by Jones for the Yankees: -0.6. WAR accumulated by Lewis for the Yankees: -0.1. WAR accumulated by Anderson for the Mariners: 0.0. WAR accumulated by Beattie for the Mariners: 16.3. WAR accumulated by Beniquez for the Mariners: -0.4. WAR accumulated by Narron for the Mariners: -0.8.
TRADE: Mariners +15.8
Sweet home Alabama....Ah, the 70's just had to sneak one more in. A fair few moving parts in this one, but the big names to look at are Jones and Beattie.
Jones was the first selection in the 1977 Major League expansion draft, the Mariners plucking him from the clutches of the Kansas City Royals. Thus thrust into a starting role much earlier than he probably otherwise would have been, the then-22 year old CF nonetheless produced, posting a 108 WRC+, very good value in the field, and was the first All-Star the Mariners ever had. He added another 3.5 WAR in 1979 and the Mariners decided to sell high, packaging him with right-hander Jim Lewis (all of 11 Major League games in his career) to the Yankees for three youngsters and the 8-year veteran Beniquez. It was perhaps a wise decision, as Jones tanked in 1980 to the tune of a paltry 82 WRC+. He did have some nice years later in his career with the San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers, and then-California Angels, accruing 20.7 WAR before he hung 'em up.
Beniquez spent just the 1980 season in Seattle and no one really missed him when he departed, as he was worth negative value both in the field and at the plate. Always a glove-first talent (1977 Gold Glove for the Texas Rangers), most of Beniquez's best offensive years curiously came late in his career, with the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, and California Angels. He garnered an MVP vote in 1984 and retired with 10.9 career WAR. Anderson pitched five of his six career games for Seattle, finishing his brief career with more walks issued than innings pitched. Modestly known as a coach and manager, Narron played the position a lot of managers play -- catcher. He was a bad Major League player, worth -1.3 WAR for his career, but his experiences led him to two managerial gigs in the 2000's and plenty of work as a coach. He last served as the bench coach for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The player who made this trade a win for the Mariners was Beattie. He put in yeoman's work at the forefront of some bad early and middle 80's Mariners clubs, spending seven seasons with the ballclub and doing a lot more losing than winning. But not a lot of that could be blamed on Beattie, as for his first five seasons in Seattle, you'd need a microscope to find his home run rate (just 2 allowed in 66 2/3 1981 innings, or 13 allowed in 211 1984 innings if you prefer -- and here I thought the Kingdome was a bandbox). Beattie never made an All-Star team and he never got any award votes, but he topped 4 WAR three years running and until the home run bug-a-boo finally got to him in '85 and '86, he was as good a pitcher as a team like the Mariners could ask for.
#5 - Mariners traded Ken Phelps to the New York Yankees. Received a player to be named later, Rick Balabon (minors) and Jay Buhner. The New York Yankees sent Troy Evers (minors) (October 12, 1988) to the Seattle Mariners to complete the trade.
Date of trade: July 21, 1988
WAR accumulated by Phelps for the Yankees: 0.9. WAR accumulated by Buhner for the Mariners: 22.6
TRADE: Mariners +21.7
Can't blame the 'Stein. His baseball people were saying Ken Phelps, Ken Phelps, Ken Phe...aw hell, just watch the clip one more time.
Ken Phelps wasn't a bad baseball player, though it did take him 11 seasons to accrue his 9.5 career WAR. One of the better power hitters of the middle 80's (though it was a home run in 1990 that he's probably best remembered for, and oh, we'll get to that), he was, in essence, a poor man's David Ortiz. 410 of his 521 career starts came at the designated hitter position, and the left-handed throwing otherwise-first baseman was a butcher in the field. Even with the limited duty he saw between the lines, his defensive value nearly negated his offensive value. He produced all three true outcomes in high numbers during his time with the Mariners, lending credence to the notion that such players have historically been underrated -- Phelps never sniffed an award nor an All-Star team. And he was never the same hitter again the season after the trade. The partial 1988 he spent in pinstripes, he still performed well, to the tune of a 141 WRC+ and an eye-popping .327 ISO (and not in limited duty, either). But after that, his production fell off a cliff. Just 7 homers in '89, oh that one '90 homer, and he was out of the Major Leagues after that.
What need I, or can I, say about the Bone? How many of us got 'Buhner buzz cuts' once or twice or thrice upon a time? Who could forget Buhner robbing a home run at Fenway, and falling into the bullpen in so doing? What about the home run off the ambulance in Yankee Stadium, and the atrocity of there being no readily-available clip of that on the internet? (Is your Google-fu superior to mine?) What about those Trucks-trucks-tru....okay, bad example. How many a day and night did we say "If only." "If only they could find a left fielder, this could be the best outfield in baseball history." Rarely held in esteem for his defensive exploits -- certainly not as much as for his tape-measure home runs -- Buhner did win a Gold Glove in 1996, the same year he earned his lone All-Star selection. Not once in his Mariners career, that partial '88 season up through his limited duty '01 swan song, did he ever produce negative value at the plate. Not once. Sure he struck out like crazy but he could take a walk, too, and those home runs live as their own legend.
Were it not for the Seinfeld clip, I'd class Buhner about the same as Dan Wilson; a franchise legend that fans of other teams have probably forgotten by now. But that's okay, you know? Because he was ours. And we loved him. The franchise loves him still -- his jersey #19 has still never been issued to anyone else since his retirement.
#4 - As part of a 3-team trade, Mariners traded Sean Green, J.J. Putz and Jeremy Reed to the New York Mets and Luis Valbuena to the Cleveland Indians. Received Mike Carp, Ezequiel Carrera, Endy Chavez, Maikel Cleto, Aaron Heilman and Jason Vargas from the New York Mets and Franklin Gutierrez from the Cleveland Indians. In addition, the New York Mets sent Joe Smith to the Cleveland Indians.
Date of trade: December 11, 2008
WAR accumulated by Carp for the Mariners: 0.7. WAR accumulated by Chavez for the Mariners: 0.6. WAR accumulated by Vargas for the Mariners: 6.7. WAR accumulated by Gutierrez for the Mariners: 12.3. WAR accumulated by Green for the Mets: -0.4. WAR accumulated by Putz for the Mets: 0.1. WAR accumulated by Reed for the Mets: -0.7. WAR accumulated by Valbuena for the Indians: -1.5.
TRADE: Mariners +22.8
Carrera, Cleto, and Heilman never appeared at Major League level for the Mariners. But they didn't have to. This trade was already a masterpiece. GM Jack Zduriencik got an awful lot of rope, in that he was called in to clean up the absolute cluster left behind by Bill Bavasi. This trade probably extended the length of that rope even further, because it was really this that started the whole "In Z We Trust" thing.
Gutierrez and Vargas are the stars of this trade. I was initially a bit surprised that Vargas' WAR total was as relatively paltry for the Mariners as it was, but he spent much of 2009 in the bullpen and his two better years here (2010 and 2011) were the years he got his home run rate down. Known during his Mariners days for a devastating changeup, Vargas was actually considered a flamethrower in his college and minor league days, and one wonders if it was that reputation that sold Zduriencik on him. He was a slow starter for the Mariners, spending a good deal of 2009 either in the bullpen or Tacoma, but for the better part of two seasons he was the club's number-two or number-three starter. And he looked the part, too, tossing three complete-game shutouts in 2011. In advance of his walk year of 2013, Zduriencik, having no longer-term plans for the left-hander, shipped him off to the Los Angeles Angels for one Kendrys Morales. Remarked at the time by Jeff Sullivan as a very fair trade to both sides, the two produced near equivalent WAR figures in 2013 as well, Vargas' 1.4 barely nudging Morales' 1.3.
The trials and tribulations of Franklin Gutierrez have been many, and there isn't room in this already-enormous post to enumerate them all. But he's been someone the Mariners faithful couldn't help but root (ugh) for, perhaps due in large measure to his magical 6.0 WAR 2009 season. 2009 was a good year for Guti at the dish, as he rocked a 104 WRC+, but in the field, he was an artist at his canvas. Merely the latest in a long tradition of Mariner CF wizards, he's just like Cameron in that you can lose yourself looking for highlights of great grabs and throws he made. He was actually denied the Gold Glove Award in '09, likely because he led the American League in outfield errors (only made possible because he got to balls that, for other fielders, would have fallen untouched for doubles and triples). He receive the award the next year, the first year his health problems started rearing their ugly, ugly head. As he has all but literally had his legs taken out from under him, Gutierrez has remade himself as a bat-first slugger. Twenty-nine long balls in the last two seasons gives me hope that someone will take him on as a part-time DH/maybe very part-time RF, because while his time in Seattle appears done, I hope for sentimental reasons that he doesn't have to walk away from the game just yet.
And for these two players, who will probably each be remembered fondly by the faithful as the years pile up, all the Mariners surrendered was a bunch of "stuff." Zduriencik justly sold high on JJ Putz, the right-hander having up an even 6 WAR in his previous three seasons for Seattle but would manage just 4.3 for three teams in six seasons the rest of his career. Extracting this kind of value for a package including Green was even greater highway chicanery, as he was worth negative value over the remainder of his career for the Mets and Milwaukee Brewers. Valbuena eventually put things together and became a solid Major League contributor for the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, but as an Indian he was monstrous, delivering negative value both at the plate and in the field in each of his three partial seasons there.
Even Carp and Chavez did reasonably well as Mariners. Carp was thought by some to be the true prize of the trade when it went down, and he put together a lovely little 20-game hitting streak in 2011. It never got any better than that for him, though, and after 2012 he was gone. Chavez's 2009, his one season in his initial stint with the ballclub, was mostly in line with his career averages, producing little value at the plate but flashing the leather in the outfield. It's still a disappointment to me how 2009 ended for Chavez, and he was never a superstar, but he was a solid role player in his heyday.
Take a bow, Jack. No one can ever take this one away from you.
#3 - Mariners traded Darren Bragg to the Boston Red Sox. Received Jamie Moyer.
Date of trade: July 30, 1996
WAR accumulated by Bragg for the Red Sox: 5.6. WAR accumulated by Moyer for the Mariners: 32.9
TRADE: Mariners +27.3
Much like how the Vizquel/Fermin trade is one I always remembered growing up as a horrible blot on the Mariners' record, this is one that was always held up as one that worked out beautifully. And while it's, again, WAR as a counting stat coupled with Moyer's agelessness that allows it to rank this high, it's true. This one was pretty nice.
'96 was Bragg's age-26 season. He was a decent prospect, one who could competently play all three outfield positions. He didn't hit quite enough to justify a real starting role, and 129 games in parts of three seasons, he was shipped off to Beantown. The only thing I really remember about Bragg is attending the Mariners' trading-card promotion in 1996, which occurred not long after the trade. The way the promotion worked is you were given a pack of cards that had some cards you weren't meant to trade -- cards featuring the Ken Griffeys and Edgar Martinezes of the world, presumably to satisfy dour fans who weren't up for trading but did want cards featuring star players -- along with a dozen and a half identical copies of a card featuring a less player. These cards you were meant to trade with others in the stands, as they had packs filled with different identical duplicates. The goal was a complete set. It was a terrific promotion, and 10 year old me loved it (30 year old me would still love it). As you've probably guessed, the card pack I received that night contained 16 or 18 Darren Braggs. I imagine I complained about it, to anyone who would listen, but I eventually got the full set. The Moyer card would have to wait until the following season. Bragg never really changed much as a player, providing competent defence and good enough~ish production at the plate for eight teams in eight and a half seasons after leaving Seattle, good for 8.3 career WAR.
Ironically, given that Moyer spent nine full seasons and parts of two others with the Mariners, he was considered a journeyman before he arrived. He pitched for five teams in his nine previous seasons, and his acquisition was even largely overshadowed the next day by the club picking up the services of another ageless left-hander, Terry Mulholland. He stuck around long enough to end up holding a few Mariners records, and he called the city of Seattle his home for a good length of time even after he retired. Moyer was held up as consummate proof that you do not need to strike batters out to succeed as a Major League pitcher; for his illustrious career, he averaged just 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and each of his seasons in Seattle featured a rate within shouting distance of that mark. Laughably durable, Moyer was a near-constant presence in the last few truly great teams the franchise had, as well as the first few years of its doldrums.
Two factoids attest to Moyer's permanence through the years. He is one of only 29 players in history to appear in Major League Baseball in four calendar decades; since 1910, only he and Nolan Ryan did so by starting their careers in a year that did not end in a 9 (Moyer in '86, Ryan in '66). Moyer was also the last player to play in the National League who was born in the 1960's (two other 60's babies, Omar Vizquel and Mariano Rivera, did slightly outlast him in the junior circuit). He was born near the very beginning of the decade -- in 1962.
#2 - Mariners traded Randy Johnson to the Houston Astros. Received a player to be named later, Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen. The Houston Astros sent John Halama (October 1, 1998) to the Seattle Mariners to complete the trade.
Date of trade: July 31, 1998
WAR accumulated by Johnson for the Astros: 3.3. WAR accumulated by Garcia for the Mariners: 17.8. WAR accumulated by Guillen for the Mariners: 7.2. WAR accumulated by Halama for the Mariners: 5.9
TRADE: Mariners +27.6
So there's two things I vividly remember about this trade. Number one was the notion that Randy was "dogging it" trying to get himself traded as early as possible, because he did indeed have other destinations for his playing career in mind besides Seattle. And number two was that Mariners fans wanted to burn GM Woody Woodward in effigy for the seemingly paltry return gotten for him.
Both are, bluntly, bullshit. Johnson had an excellent second half of 1998 with Houston, who won 102 games in the regular season before a muted postseason run ended as soon as it began at the hands of the NL West champion San Diego Padres. The 3.3 WAR he posted in just 11 regular-season starts -- 4 of them complete-game shutouts -- are remarkable. But for the Mariners that year, other than the smallest of spikes in home run rate and some BABIP shenanigans, he was the same pitcher he ever was. Which is to say, terrific. But, at the risk of tipping my hand, more on that in a moment.
That this trade lands so highly on the list is partly because Johnson was a rent-a-player and everyone knew it -- he'd said openly that he wanted to pitch for the then-nascent Arizona Diamondbacks. Woodward quite honestly struck gold with the return, as Freddy Garcia was a top-of-the-line starter for some of the best teams the franchise ever had (even if his stat sheet doesn't quite scream "bona fide ace" at me the way my memory suggested to me that I thought it would), Carlos Guillen was a terrific defender and an ever-improving hitter at the time of his departure via a trade featured on my previous article, and even the often-maligned John Halama provided positive value in each of his four seasons with the Mariners (though his crowning achievement in baseball probably didn't even come at the Major League level with the M's). Not that I have an extensive knowledge of what minor league farm systems looked like across baseball in 1998, but it's tough to imagine Woodward could have worked any better of a deal here.
#1 - Mariners traded a player to be named later and Mark Langston to the Montreal Expos. Received Gene Harris, Brian Holman and Randy Johnson. The Seattle Mariners sent Mike Campbell (July 31, 1989) to the Montreal Expos to complete the trade.
Date of trade: May 25, 1989
WAR accumulated by Langston for the Expos: 2.7. WAR accumulated by Harris for the Mariners: -0.6. WAR accumulated by Holman for the Mariners: 4.9. WAR accumulated by Johnson for the Mariners: 44.2
TRADE: Mariners +45.8
Whether he's going or whether he's coming, the 6 foot 10 inch Hall of Fame left-hander provides the Mariners with one of the best trades they've ever made.
This trade is actually a good deal like the last one. Langston was a rent-a-player for the Expos, as he was due to hit free agency after the 1989 season. 3 year old me is too young to know, but I bet the return in this trade was pilloried at first, too. All three had competed at the Major League level for the Expos prior to the trade, but none were impact players. Holman was the most experienced, with 19 starts under his belt. Johnson was considered a wild stallion -- emphasis on the wild -- who no one had yet broken and no one was sure could be broken.
Langston pitched well for the '89 Expos, racking up the innings and the strikeouts just as he had in Seattle, but their 81-81 finish denied them a postseason berth, and he was off to sunny California in free agency the next season. Consider that Holman's comparative WAR alone would have made this trade a win for the Mariners. Not a good enough win to make the list, but a win nonetheless. He provided two-and-a-half seasons of dependable, vanilla, pitch-to-contact decency, before abruptly retiring at age 26. His most notable game came on April 20, 1990, against the Oakland Athletics, when he retired the first 26 men to face him before none other than Ken bleeping Phelps was called upon as a pinch-hitter. He ensured that Holman would have neither a perfect game, nor a no-hitter, nor even a shutout, as he launched a first-pitch home run to right field -- the very last home run of his career, and the only one he hit in 1990. Remember when Felix Hernandez sealed his perfect game, and Dave Sims on commentary made reference to "a lot of close calls over the years" ? There were none closer than this one.
And what can we say about Randy Johnson that hasn't already been said. More than a Mariner, more than a pitcher, the man was an experience. When Randy Johnson was pitching, you stopped what you were doing and you paid attention. Or at least you turned on a radio and paid attention to that. I can remember many a hot summer night at a swimming pool listening to the dulcet tones of the late, great Dave Niehaus calling strikeout after strikeout after strikeout through my father's old portable ham radio. Whenever Johnson pitched, you knew it was something you'd tell your grandchildren about someday. You counted out days on the calendar when planning your trips and buying your game tickets, hoping against hope that rotation spots wouldn't be skipped and you'd actually get to see Randy and not, I dunno, Jeff Fassero. (Sorry Jeff)
Wring your hands if you must, over missing out on Johnson's true golden years in the early 2000's with the Diamondbacks. I don't. What we got from him was special and may never be equalled. Felix Hernandez has come goddamn close to matching Randy's stature as an event, as a happening, and the King's Court, especially in its early years, doesn't hurt, but Randy needed no marketing gimmick. You could almost say that he transcended baseball himself, so good was he at making men who were really, really good at hitting baseballs look really, really bad at it. I hope the club will rightly honour him with the retirement of his jersey number (there's no reason they can't also hold a ceremony for Ichiro Suzuki, other teams have retired the same number twice) as soon as this upcoming season. With the arguable exception of Edgar Martinez, no one could be more deserving.