Deals that Never Happened: Part I
This will be a series covering the deals during that Angelos era that were very close to being completed before a certain owner allegedly interfered. However, it might very well be poor sports writing using Angelos as a convenient crutch to connect with disgruntled Oriole fans. Regardless, this series will explore some of the trades that were not and what they might have meant to the Orioles.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Trade #1 (Baltimore Sun)
Orioles receive catcher Chris Widger and top 100 infield prospect Desi Relaford
Mariners receive starting pitcher David Wells
In Pat Gillick’s first year, he found the club 10 games behind the first place Yankees and seven games behind the wild card leading Chicago White Sox at the deadline. From his perspective, the team would benefit from getting rid of impending free agent veterans in exchange for promising young players for the team to rely upon in the future. David Wells had been pretty unspectacular for the team with a 7-10 record and a 4.75 ERA. He still had value though for many teams who remembered him as a potential ace with the Tigers and Reds. Seattle, gearing up for their playoff run offered a promising catching prospect in Chris Widger and a top 100 SS prospect in Desi Relaford.
The Orioles were looking for pieces to replace two major upcoming holes in their roster: catcher and shortstop. The team’s current catcher, Chris Hoiles, was beginning to wear down. His bat was still excellent, one of the best bats ever for a catcher, but his defense was sliding rapidly. The team needed a promising transition. Likewise, Cal Ripken Jr. was beginning to struggle at shortstop and also likely needed someone who could push him to third base. Gillick believed that Widger was one of the best catching prospects in baseball and was likely to become an All Star. Desi Relaford? The majority of scouting reports available from that time were pretty flowery about his defense as well as the potential for his offense.
However, the deal did not happen because Angelos allegedly thought that the fans deserved the best team he could provide. Wells proceeded to go 4-4 (overall the team went 7-6 in his starts) while tossing a couple gems and getting shelled several times. One could make an argument that Wells provided nothing for the playoff run other than, on average, replacement level pitching. Though that might be too harsh. The Orioles 6th starter (after dealing a largely ineffective Kent Mercker for Eddie Murray) was Jimmy Haynes who carried a 8.29 ERA over 89 innings that year. And, well, the Orioles did wind up making the playoffs.
Wells left after the season to play for the New York Yankees, but secured the Orioles the Yankees first selection as well as a supplementary draft pick. With those picks the Orioles selected promising OF prospect Darnell McDonald (who wound up with some cups of coffee in the majors, but no significant impact) and OF Ntema Ndungidi (who could rake in A ball, but could never figure out pitchers in AA).
So how did the two prospects fair?
It took ten years for Widger to finally show up in an Orioles uniform at the age of 25. During his career, he found himself as a sometimes platoon, sometimes full-time catcher for Dan Duquette’s Montreal Expos where he displayed decent receiving skills and a below average bat. After his age 29 season, he split time in the minors interspersed with a opportunities in the Majors. In all, this was not the catcher that Pat Gillick was looking for.
For a below replacement value career (-0.6 bWAR), Desi Relaford was able to find a lot of work. His defense was adequate, never great. He also never really figured out how to get on base enough to take advantage of his base running skills outside of 2000 and 2001. Ripken’s actual replacement, Mike Bordick, wound up being superior in every way to Relaford further suggesting that the genius of Pat Gillick is not about the young players he acquires, but his incredible ability to recognize talent in Major Leaguers. Relaford was still dealt though by the Mariners who were able to acquire the Phillies’ Terry Muhlholland who pitched slightly better than David Wells over the last few months of the season, so a short term win for all. Widger wound up in a deal that was essentially him for Jeff Fassero after the 1996 season. Fassero wound up giving the Mariners two excellent seasons as a starting pitcher before injuries derailed him and forced him to reemerge as a relief arm.
Trade #2 (Baltimore Sun)
Orioles receive relief pitcher Bryce Florie and top SS prospect Juan Melo
Padres receive 3B/LF Bobby Bonilla
As with the nixed Wells deal above, this deal was being cemented in the same context. Like Wells, Bonilla was underperforming and just barely crested an 800 OPS on the final day to deal a player. Gillick had two solid deals in place (I will discuss the other one next). In the one with the Padres, he was angling for reliever Bryce Florie and well regarded SS prospect Juan Melo. Florie was a promising starting pitcher who developed wildness late in his minor league career. He had been able to subdue his wildness with a change to the bullpen and was enjoying his second season in that role for the Padres. Melo was a top 50 prospect and one the best SS prospects at that time. As with Wells, Angelos allegedly nixed this deal in consideration for the fans.
Where the Wells deal being nixed arguably was of little consequence, this nixed deal was incredibly important to the Orioles. Bonilla was sitting at an 805 OPS on August 1st. He proceeded to deliver a 964 OPS in August and a 918 OPS in September. You could argue that there would have been no playoff comeback for the Orioles without Bonilla’s bat in the lineup. The Orioles did not qualify Bonilla as someone worth compensation and he departed the dream Florida Marlin team of 1997. Like before, the players that would have come back to the Orioles did not wind up incredibly sterling.
Florie represented someone who could have beefed up the Orioles’ excellent pen, which was a concern because so much depended on 33 year old Randy Myers, 35 year old Roger McDowell, and 39 year old Jesse Orosco. Florie also represented a potential spot starter, which the Tigers wound up exploring with in 1998 and 1999 with varying success. He did not stay long with the Padres as they moved on from Bobby Bonilla to a deal involving the Brewers Greg Vaughn who wound up 78 home runs for them over 311 games. Eventually, he was dealt to Dan Duquette’s Red Sox for Mike Maroth and was a serviceable member of their bullpen for a couple years.
|2009||32||Rio Grande Valley||Ind|
|AAA (11 seasons)||AAA||3151||149||21||69||52||49||181||539||.279||.325||.416||.740|
|Ind (7 seasons)||Ind||728||48||1||26||14||8||55||99||.304||.360||.497||.857|
|AA (2 seasons)||AA||699||30||2||11||8||13||45||118||.273||.321||.377||.699|
|A (1 season)||A||524||32||1||5||12||10||33||88||.282||.333||.384||.717|
|Fgn (1 season)||Fgn||171||10||1||3||1||2||16||16||.217||.292||.355||.648|
|A- (1 season)||A-||12||1||0||1||0||0||1||3||.364||.417||.727||1.144|
|Rk (1 season)||Rk||162||3||3||0||3||2||10||36||.283||.352||.345||.697|
|A+ (1 season)||A+||536||27||6||8||6||8||22||102||.304||.345||.429||.775|
Melo wound up being an incredibly faded pale image of Relaford. The promising offensive output by the defense oriented Melo as a 19 year old in HiA simply did not turn into more campaigns with a high batting average. His defense also did not improve as much as many scouts thought it would. He wound up on one more top 100 scouting list and then everyone seemed to divert their gaze. By 1999, the Padres gave up on him and dealt him to the Toronto Blue Jays for a 25 year old AA pitcher named Isabel Giron who was not considered much of a prospect at the time. Eventually, he found himself in the Majors with the Giants in 2000 where he logged 13 plate appearances and then went back into the shadows.
Trade 3: (Baltimore Sun)
Orioles receive Jeremy Burnitz, Eddie Murray, and Albie Lopez
Indians receive Bobby Bonilla and Jeffrey Hammonds
This was a blockbuster by every sense of the word. Bonilla was a big name and Hammonds (two years from his ranking as the third best prospect in baseball) was considered a potential star in the making as long as he could remain healthy. Yes, some of the shine had worn off of Hammonds, but there were still a great many believers in his talent. Burnitz was an older prospect who was once considered a solid power prospect, but had difficulty finding success at the Major League level. Murray would have been a steady veteran presence the team was thought to need to solidify the DH position. Murray’s 1996 season to date was pretty poor, but he only the year before did he crush the ball for the Indians. Lopez was a top pitching prospect in the Indians system who, like Burnitz, was having trouble breaking out in the Majors. So, looking at the entire package, this appears to be an attempt by Gillick to appease a need to compete now, but also prepare for the future.
The supposed issue though was that Indians really were enamored with Jeffrey Hammonds’ potential and Angelos greatly desired a home grown positional prospect to take on the face of the organization. It was supposedly similar to when Angelos allegedly nixed deals involving Brian Roberts. So, as mentioned above, the Orioles did not deal Bonilla and Hammonds. Burnitz wound up sputtering with the team he was actually traded to, the Brewers. Eddie Murray wound up on the team and did probably far worse than you remember. Lopez wound up doing pretty poorly for the Indians down the stretch.
A rundown of the non-Bonillas.
|162 Game Avg.||576||29||3||19||11||5||49||101||.272||.338||.449||99|
|BAL (6 yrs)||1494||76||8||51||38||8||109||249||.264||.322||.446||97|
|MIL (3 yrs)||745||39||6||16||9||8||69||135||.248||.321||.398||89|
|SFG (2 yrs)||221||15||0||6||2||0||28||43||.243||.353||.418||100|
|CIN (2 yrs)||396||17||1||17||4||7||40||82||.284||.358||.486||111|
|COL (1 yr)||511||24||2||20||14||7||44||83||.335||.395||.529||111|
|WSN (1 yr)||37||1||0||0||0||0||2||4||.219||.286||.250||46|
|NL (8 yrs)||1910||96||9||59||29||22||183||347||.278||.352||.451||101|
|AL (6 yrs)||1494||76||8||51||38||8||109||249||.264||.322||.446||97|
Was Hammonds a great player? No, but he was an above average player in 1997 and a major reason why that team went to the playoffs. He also put in a good, but not great 1998 season. However, the team had grown tired of his injuries and decided to cash in on him for a look on RF Willie Greene. Greene was let go after the season and was quickly out of baseball within two years. Hammonds proceeded to do well for the Reds who mistakenly turned him into Dante Bichette who then Dan Duquette acquired for Chris Rietsma. Hammonds then did well enough to earn a trip to the 2000 All Star game representing the Rockies and enjoyed some marginal success into his early 30s.
Yes, Jeromy Burnitz was a monster for the Milwaukee Brewers and would likely have made the 1997 Orioles (as well as the 1998-2001 Orioles) a better team. Who knows…Burnitz crushing the ball in RF for the O’s maybe would have resulted in the team not making a deal for Albert Belle.
The Indians, having missed on Bonilla, traded Burnitz (who was raking for the Tribe) to the Brewers for Kevin Seitzer who wound up delivering a 160 OPS+ and then basically nothing more after that season. It should also be mentioned that Jeromy Burntiz wound up being pretty awful down the stretch, so he would not have helped the 1996 Orioles much in making the playoffs.
Murray was a great story in 1996. I remember with great fondness that he hit his 500th home run in an Orioles jersey. That said, he was a pretty poor DH. Kent Mercker, the player the team traded him for, had done pretty poorly with the team and could not rekindle his performance during his time in Atlanta…until he was dealt to the Indians who only used him in a relief role similar to his role during his more successful years in Atlanta.
Lopez eventually panned out as a member of the fledgling Devil Rays. He provided a few years of solid pitching, but nothing exceptional. He would have been a solid throw in to match with Burnitz in this deal though.
Conclusion of these Three Non-Deals
There is a decent argument to be made that if Wells was dealt that the team could have struggled to make the playoffs in 1996. A better argument could be made if Bonilla was dealt. However, acquiring Jeromy Burnitz would have set the team up well for the next several years. These Orioles teams did not really lack offense in the outfield, but Burnitz would have provided premium offense for not much cost. You could argue that Angelos probably made the right decision to play for now than to put off to the future. He had an aging squad and a team’s window lasts only so long. That said, getting nothing in return for Bonilla likely hurt the team in the long run and, perhaps, was the butterfly flapping its wings into the Albert Belle signing.