Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Trade Analysis: Willie McGee for Bob Sykes - Why did this trade even happen?

There have been some bad trades in baseball history.  Obviously they are bad in hindsight, but looking back they made some sense at the time.

While the famed Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock trade was terrible for the Cubs and great for the Cardinals, you can understanding the reasoning of the trade at the time.  Broglio was an established successful starting pitcher and Brock was a young player who hadn't quite figured things out.  Did the Cubs know Broglio's best days were behind him?  No.  Did the Cardinals know Brock would turn into a Hall of Famer?  Doubtful as well.

Likewise with the Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen trade.  Did the Boston Red Sox think Jeff Bagwell, a player who hit 4 home runs in AA in 1990, would become a borderline Hall of Fame slugging first baseman?  Nope.  But they did trade Bagwell for a veteran reliever who had a 1.95 ERA in 1990 to help their playoff chances.  He pitched well for them, with a 1.23 ERA over 22 innings at the end of the year.  The reasoning for the trade made some sense at the time.

However, I was recently looking at the 1981 trade of Willie McGee for Bob Sykes, and can't help but wonder how this trade even went down.  It just doesn't make any sense.

In 1981 McGee was a relatively high value prospect.   He was the 15th pick overall in the 1977 draft.  In 1981 in AA he hit .322/.360/.454.  Pretty darn good.  He went on to be one of the best centerfielders in baseball in the 1980s.  He reached the World Series four times, was a three time Gold Glover, four time All Star, won the NL batting title in 1985 & 1990, and also won the NL MVP in 1985.

Bob Sykes was a 19th round draft pick of the Tigers in 1977.  He couldn't quite turn the corner in the majors.  He had a 4.65 ERA in his career and was eventually demoted to the bullpen of the Cardinals in 1981.  He didn't perform that great in the bullpen with a 4.58 ERA in 1981.  After being traded, he never pitched an inning in baseball again.  AFAICT, he was never a high level prospect.  He had a respectable career ERA of 3.01 in AA, but that balloons up to 4.83 in AAA.

So in hindsight, this trade was terrible for the Yankees and great for the Cardinals.  However, why did this trade even happen?

We have a first round draft pick who is performing quite well in the minors.

And we have a middle reliever who doesn't seem to be doing that well in the majors and doesn't have an elite prospect status from the past.

They seem like perfect trade targets for each other??

This trade is hard to make sense in any way.  Even if the Yankees had reasons to trade McGee, surely they could have gotten something better in value?

Obviously some context can be lost over the last 35 years to understand why.  But it's one of the worst trades in baseball I can recall and just can't make any sense of.

Update 6/19/2017:

I was thinking about this and found this old Nytimes article: Cardinals' Willie McGee is Not 'E.T.'.

In it it states:
''When we signed Winfield, somebody had to come off our 40-man roster to make room for him,'' Bill Bergesch explained. ... "We decided to outright McGee to our Columbus farm team, which meant he was a 'frozen' player - he couldn't be reacquired by us without going through major-league waivers.''
... ''But we knew that if we tried to get him back through waivers, we'd probably lose him for $20,000 so we decided to try to trade him. That way at least we would get a player for him ..."
So that's some of the back story.  Dave Winfield was signed before the 1981 season and McGee's breakout year was in 1981 (he hit .283/.343/.359 in 1980 in AA).  So the Yankees perhaps did not expect a breakout in 1981 and were suddenly stuck with trying to trade him after 1981.

But I found this nugget fascinating:

Willie McGee was mentioned to at least one other National League club, the San Diego Padres, who spurned him.
McGee was clearly not someone that was viewed very highly amongst the rest of baseball, which still confounds me.  Surely a speedy 21 year old center fielder, former first round draft pick, hitting .322 in AA, would elicit more than a passing glance from most teams?

Some context is still lost.

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