January 29, 2017
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: if the Red Sox had to do it all over again, they probably wouldn’t trade the entire Hall-of-Fame worthy career of Jeff Bagwell for the twenty-two innings of relief pitching that Larry Andersen provided the Red Sox during the second half of the 1990 season. Retrospectively, there is absolutely no way to justify trading away one of the best first basemen of all-time, for sixty-six outs from a middle reliever. We can all agree that this is true.
And we can all agree, I think, that teams don’t typically know the future. We all understand that the individuals making decisions on baseball teams, like all of us, experience time as a linear progression towards an unknown future. General Managers do not exist out of time: while physicists love to debate the linear progression of time, GM’s, like most of us, are content to live out the Newtonian concept of time as a structural part of the universe’s race towards entropy. 
So I think that the first step, in trying to understand the Bagwell-for-Andersen trade, is to get outside our retrospective perspective. While it’s fun to understand history through the 20-20 vision allowed by hindsight, it isn’t a useful way of evaluating baseball decisions.
Think it through. No one lists the Padres decision to draft Donavan Tate in the first round of the 2009 draft one of the worst decisions in baseball history. But it was, at least in retrospect, a terrible selection. It was a most costly decision than the Red Sox decision to trade Jeff Bagwell, because the Padres could have selected Mike Trout. Twenty-three teams passed on Mike Trout before the Angels got their chance: is it reasonable to say that those twenty-three teams, collectively, made the worst decision in baseball history?
Of course not. We don’t hold teams accountable for draft decisions that look bad in retrospect. But we do hold teams accountable for trade decisions that come out looking bad a few years down the road.
I don’t think that’s useful. Whenever the Bagwell-for-Andersen trade gets listed among the worst trades ever, I cringe a little bit, because so much of the weight of that trade’s badness is retrospective. Jeff Bagwell became a Hall-of-Fame player, and Larry Andersen became a good broadcaster…so it’s a terrible trade.
Was it, though? In the context of when it happened, was it really that bad?
That’s what I’m wondering. That’s the question we're considering today.
And to get an answer, we have to first get over retrospective analysis: we cannot evaluate the merits of the trade by judging an uncertain present through the lens of a future we know. To really understand a trade, we have to see it within the context of its own time.
*             *             *
Stepping back: when we drop retrospective analysis, we still get some bad trades.
In 1919, Babe Ruth led the majors in home runs, runs batted in, and runs scored, and managed to go 9-5 with a sub-3.00 ERA on the mound. He was without question the best offensive player in the game, and he was a massive drawing card. Even the most devout fan of musical theater would concede that an owner selling that kind of player was a mistake.
Or the Sandberg for Ivan DeJesus trade. My god, that trade looks horrible. I mean, I get that the Phillies had to dump Larry Bowa…but I have no idea why they felt obliged to throw-in a young infielder coming off a strong year in Triple-A to get a player coming off a .196, 0 HR season. It makes no sense. It’s a stupid, dumb trade that didn’t solve anything for the Phillies.
The Frank Robinson trade wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t great, but let’s cut Branch Rickey some slack. Milt Pappas was a young right-hander coming off a three-year run when he posted a 2.97 ERA with a 45-25. He was entering his Age-27 season, and had been healthy as a horse throughout his career. Robinson was the much greater player, but he was hitting thirty, a time when most players decline somewhat.  Rickey rolled the dice on the younger player, and the Reds were desperate for pitching, and sort of overstocked with outfielders. The Reds Tony Perez and Lee May waiting in the maybe a part of the decision was about getting those guys a chance to play.
And it’s not like Milt Pappas went and fell off a cliff: he pitched for eight more years, winning 99 games and getting a few Cy Young votes in 1973. He wasn’t an inner-circle Hall-of-Famer, but he wasn’t dreadful. 
More recently, I think we can count the Shelby Miller for Dansby Swanson and others as a pretty terrible trade. I mean, that looked bad at the outset: the only people in the world who thought that Shelby Miller was ace-like enough to trade away a #1 overall pick and a decent pitching prospect were a) Shelby Miller's mom, and b) the D'Backs. Everyone else thought it was a pretty drastic overpay. 
On the other hand, the Red Sox just traded perhaps the #1 prospect in baseball for Chris Sale. This seems fine for the Red Sox, as they're a) covered in the infield, and b) trying to build a contender. And it's good for the White Sox, who are looking to collect a pool of young talent. Getting baseball's top prospect (and shedding Sale's pretty terrific contract) is a good step for the team. 
It could turn out that Chris Sale's arm flies off in mid-May, and Yoan Moncada puts in a Hall-of-Fame career for the White Sox. I don't think that should change our evaluation of the trade: both teams made decisions that are absolutely justifiable in this moment...I don't know that we should re-prosecute either organization twenty years down the road. 
*             *             *
So who was Jeff Bagwell?
In the summer of 1990, Jeff Bagwell was a young Wade Boggs. Playing for the Red Sox Double-A team, Jeff Bagwell put up a season that looks a lot like a Wade Boggs minor-league season:
Boggs was a year older than Bagwell, but he put up his line up in Triple-A, so we’ll call this even.
The central point is that Jeff Bagwell was a legitimate prospect. If, in the long-ago year of 1990, baseball teams still didn’t value on-base percentage as much as they should have, that .333 batting average stands out. Bagwell was a legitimate prospect.
But he wasn’t the Jeff Bagwell that exists in our collective memory. He was not projecting to be the player he turned into: a power-hitting first basemen. He looked like he was going to be a high average, low power bat. He looked exactly like Wade Boggs.
The Red Sox had two problems.
Well…problems isn’t the right word. The Red Sox had two variables that complicate this story. The first very obvious variable is that the team already had a Wade Boggs-type player: they had Wade Boggs. Boggs was under contract for two more seasons, and it was highly unlikely that they were going to move their perennial batting champ just to see if Bagwell has the same talent.
This seems, at least to me, like an eminently reasonable position to take. We wouldn’t expect a major league team to be cavalier with one of the best players in the major leagues, just to make room for someone putting up the same numbers in in Double-A. There’s too much of a gap between who Wade Boggs was in 1990 and who Jeff Bagwell was in 1990 for the team to seriously consider moving Boggs.
So that’s issue one: the Sox had Wade Boggs entrenched at third base, at least for a few more years. We all know that.
The second variable is less known. The second variable is that the Red Sox were insanely crowded at any position where Jeff Bagwell could have reasonably played. At third base, the Red Sox had Wade Boggs, and then they had Scott Cooper in Triple-A. We’ll come back to Scott Cooper.
What about first base? That’s the positon that Bagwell was transitions over to. How did the Red Sox look at first base?
The Red Sox had Carlos Quintana, a rookie, playing at first base. Carlos Quintana wasn’t blocking anyone, but he held his own 1990 rookie year, posting a respectable triple-slash line. But Quintana was viewed as a place-holder for the Red Sox 1989 first-round pick, who was, in the summer of 1990, crushing baseballs in Pawtucket. The same year that Jeff Bagwell posted his .879 OPS in Double-A, Mo Vaughn was posting a .921 OPS in Triple-A. The Red Sox clearly saw Vaughn as their future first basemen, and judging by what Vaughn and Bagwell had done to that point in their profession careers, that was an absolutely reasonable projection. Vaughn was a better hitter than Bagwell in the summer of 1990.
And the Red Sox were right, as it turned out. Mo Vaughn turned into a terrific player.
What about the outfield?
The Red Sox outfield was crowded. Mike Greenwell was a twenty-six year old with an adjusted OPS of 137. Ellis Burks was a year younger, and was entering a season in which he’d win the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger as a centerfielder. The team added Tom Brunansky early in the year…they swapped Lee Smith for Bruno, who was under contract for two seasons past 1990.
And the Red Sox had Phil Plantier waiting in Triple-A. Mo Vaughn hit 22 homers in Pawtucket in 1990….but Phil Plantier hit 33 homers for that team. In 1991, Plantier cracked the Red Sox lineup halfway through the year and ended up posting a batting line that would’ve made Fred Lynn blush: a .615 slugging percentage in 53 games.
Phil Plantier had a short career, but he was a good hitter: after a disappointing sophomore turn, the Red Sox traded him to San Diego, where he put up a 34 HR, 100 RBI season before fading into obscurity. That’s not really ‘fading’: he could hit.
So it is not just that Jeff Bagwell’s path to the majors was blocked by other prospects …it’s that Jeff Bagwell‘s path to the majors was blocked by a lot of prospects and young major leaguers who actually had good major league careers. Mo Vaughn wasn’t a better player than Bagwell, but he won an MVP and hit a bunch of homers. Ellis Burks and Mike Greenwell and Tom Brunansky aren’t getting into the Hall, but they all had fine careers. Wade Boggs was a terrific player through his thirties, though he ended up missing Fenway Park tremendously. He got to ride a horse, which is nice. Carlos Quintana was a good player in 1990 and 1991. 
The 1990 Red Sox had third base solved. They had first base solved. They had the outfield straightened out, and they had a few players worth trying as designated hitters. The team happened to have a lot of quality offensive players coming up through their system at the same time, and not enough positions on the diamond to put them.
*             *             *
We’ve talked about players, but we need to consider the team context.
The 1990 Red Sox were not a great team.
The team had two greatplayers in Boggs and Clemens, and two very good players in Burks and Greenwell. They had Mike Boddicker, a fine pitcher acquired in a trade for Brady Anderson and an offensive meme generator. They had Jody Reed, who was a much better player than anyone realized. I loved Jody Reed.
But it was not a great team: the Red Sox would win 88 games in 1990, winning the division because the rest of the AL East was a little in flux. They won 83 games in 1989, and they’d win 84 games in 1991…and that’s about what they were: a .500ish team that stumbled into a division title.  
But they were in first place. On August 31st, the day of the Bagwell trade, Boston was sitting comfortably at the top of the table:
AL East
AL West
The team was eight games into a ten-game winning streak, playing the best baseball they’d play all year. The Blue Jays would eventually draw closer: it took a Tom Brunansky catch off an Ozzie Guillen line-drive for the Red Sox to clinch things. But on the day that Lou Gorman pulled the trigger for Larry Andersen, the Red Sox had every reason to think that they’d win the AL East.
And they knew who they’d be playing in the ALCS. While the Red Sox weren’t a great team, the Oakland A’s were. The 1990 Oakland A’s were the best team of their era. The 1990 lineup had Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, and Jose Canseco hitting around the likes of Harold Baines, Dave Henderson, and Carney Lansford. Dave Stewart and 27-game winner Bob Welch anchoring the rotation, and their closer was the nearly unhittable Dennis Eckersley. The A’s had played in the World Series in 1988 and 1989, and they were strong favorites to get back there in 1990.
So the Red Sox management knew who they’d be facing in the ALCS: Boston had been trounced by Oakland when the team clashed in the 1988 ALCS: Canseco, McGwire, and Dave Henderson combined to hit .340 with 10 runs scored, 5 homers, and 11 RBI over the four-game sweep. The 1990 version of the team had all those players back, plus Rickey Henderson. The Red Sox faced an uphill battle against the A’s.
What was the team’s biggest area of weakness?
This is easy: the Red Sox bullpen was a mess. The team’s closer was Jeff Reardon, who was good ‘nuff (22 saves, 3.16 ERA). After Reardon, things got a bit sketchy:
Dennis Lamp
Wes Gardner
Rob Murphy
Jeff Gray
Jerry Reed
Eric Hetzel
Joe Hesketh
That’s who they had: one established closer, and a bunch of guys who had ERA’s in the 4’s or 5’s or 6’s. Joe Hesketh, a left-hander, was their most reliable arm.
Looking at this a little differently, here are the ranks of AL teams by bullpen ERA:
White Sox
Blue Jays
Red Sox
The Red Sox didn’t just have the worst bullpen in the league…they had the worst bullpen by a comfortable margin. Their middle relief was a mess.
They had a couple left-handed relievers. As I mentioned earlier, Joe Hesketh was the most reliable pitcher in the pen, and the team was probably thinking about moving lefty Tom Bolton for the playoffs. But they didn’t have a reliable right-handed middle reliever.
And Oakland had a lot of right-handed bats. The team was almost entirely right-handed: Rickey, Canseco, McGwire, Hendu, Steinbach, and Randolph were all righties. The only pure lefty was Harold Baines. Willie McGee and Walt Weiss switch hit. Maybe ‘hit’ is too strong a word to describe Weiss, but that’s a digression. The A’s lineup was right-handed heavy, and the Red Sox didn’t have a reliable right-handed relief pitcher to get those guys out.
Enter Larry Andersen.
Here is a table of the five best relief pitchers from 1989 to 1990, according to FanGraph’s version of WAR:
Rob Dibble
Larry Andersen
Tom Henke
Dennis Eckersley
Duane Ward
The first thing worth pointing out is that Rob Dibble was really, extraordinarily good. No one really comes close to touching him.  
The second thing worth pointing out is that Larry Andersen was one of the absolute best relief pitchers in baseball when the Red Sox acquired him. He wasn’t famous, mostly because he was an old guy pitching in Houston, but he was a terrific pitcher, with an absolutely devastating slider. As a pitcher, he was on par with Eckersley and Henke.
And he was a right-hander. The Red Sox needed a bullpen arm that could neutralize the right-handed bats of the A’s. Larry Andersen was the very best player available to do that.
The narrative that we hear about the Andersen-for-Bagwell trade is that the Red Sox shipped Bagwell off for some middle reliever no one remembers. That understates things considerable: Larry Andersen was one of the three or four best relief pitchers in baseball at the time of the trade, and the Red Sox, looking at an improbable division title, were extremely light when it came to good right-handed relief arms. They had a capable closer, but they needed middle-innings help, which is the spot where Andersen excelled. He answered a huge and lingering question mark that the team faced all year, and he was the very best answer that was available.
And he pitched great. He posted a 1.23 ERA over those 22 regular season innings, helping Boston fight off the late-charging Toronto Blue Jays. He played an important role in getting Boston into the playoffs, and while Andersen got the loss in Game 1 of the ALCS, he hardly imploded: Oakland tied the game at 1-1 on a walk (McGwire), a force-out, a single, and an RBI fly (Rickey). You can’t hold a guy too accountable for walking Mark McGwire and getting Rickey Henderson to fly out.
Teams don’t make the playoffs ever year. The 1990 Red Sox found themselves, unexpectedly, to be ahead of the pack at the trade deadline approached. Their general manager a) identified the team’s most glaring weakness, and b) worked out a deal for the one player in baseball who could best solve that weakness. That decision probably put the Red Sox ahead of Toronto, and it gave them a puncher’s chance against the behemoth of the Oakland A’s.
I said that retrospection isn’t a good way to evaluate trades, but the dimensions of this trade have replicated themselves over and over again in recent years. Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, and Andrew Miller were three ace relievers traded to contending team at the deadline this year in exchange for prospects: two of those three ended up pitching in the World Series. The importance of having good relief pitching in the postseason has been one of the most significant storylines of recent playoffs, and it does not seem unreasonable to view the Andersen-for-Bagwell trade as being a predecessor for those later moves.
All of which is to say that there was a great deal of foresight in Boston’s decision to trade for Larry Andersen. The management probably understood that the team wasn’t great, and that they had lucked into a position where they had a comfortable lead in the division. The management looked at the team objectively and identified the biggest area of concern, both for the rest of the season and come the playoffs. They worked out a deal to acquire the very best player available who would address that concern. They took a risk on trying to win in 1990, and it paid off. They won the AL East, and they entered the Championship Series better equipped to beat the A’s. They didn’t beat Oakland, but they took their best shot.
The one sin of management….the one element that clearly deserves criticism, is that the Red Sox opted to send Jeff Bagwell to Houston instead of Scott Cooper. I think that the story goes that Houston asked for Cooper, and Lou Gorman countered with Jeff Bagwell.
This was a bad call.
While Jeff Bagwell was putting up an .880 OPS in New Britain, Scott Cooper was putting up a .727 OPS in Pawtucket. Cooper had a good strikeout-to-walk ratio, but Bagwell’s was much better. Pawtucket was a hitter’s park, and New Britain was a pitcher’s park. There was ample information available to the team to suggest that Jeff Bagwell was going to be the better player.
I think this is the crux of the Red Sox culpability. The Red Sox should have known that Bagwell was the better prospect, but they decided to protect Cooper. Maybe they liked him because he was already in Triple-A, and performing decently. Maybe they thought that his power was developing (Cooper had 12 homers to Bagwell’s four), and maybe the scouts thought that Bagwell wouldn’t ever develop as a power hitter. Maybe they were fooled by park effects. Maybe they were sick of high-on-base infielders. Maybe Lou Gorman just didn’t really know what was happening down in New Britain.
All things considered, this seems like a pretty slight error in judgement. One team asks for a third-basemen in Triple-A. The other team says, "Well, that’s a bit steep. How about our guy in Double-A?"
To me, this is doesn’t get you into one of the circles of General Manager Hell…you’re just in Purgatory, pushing boulders up a hill. And while it is absolutely true that Lou Gorman should have known that Bagwell was the better player, it’s also true that a GM has to juggle a thousand tasks and a million variables. A GM has to consider a team’s present needs against its long-term future. A major league team has hundreds of players under their watch, and it is impossible to expect one man to have a full grasp of everything that is taking place at every level in the organization. Add to that the stress of a looming trade deadline, and it is not that surprising that Gorman’s counter to Houston asking for Triple-A third-baseman Scott Cooper was to offer Boston’s Double-A third baseman.
Bagwell-for-Andersen has been historically misunderstood in four ways:
1)      It’s difficult to understand just how crowded with bats the Red Sox were in the summer of 1990, and how unclear Bagwell’s path to the majors.
2)      No one really remembers how good a pitcher Larry Andersen was. He’s viewed as ‘some’ middle-inning relief pitcher, when he was essentially Andrew Miller.
3)      It isn’t widely understood just how much the Red Sox needed a pitcher like Larry Andersen to win the division and beat Oakland, and,
4)      People overestimate what kind of prospect Jeff Bagwell was in the summer of 1990.
That third part…the over-estimation of Bagwell…relates to his monumental climb as a player. He was traded in August of 1990, and he was starting with the Astros in spring training. He won the NL Rookie-of-the Year, almost unanimously. A couple years later he won the MVP.
That change happened quickly: you don’t often see a guy hit .333 with four homers in Double-A go on to hit fifteen homers (in a massive pitcher’s park) with a .294 average in the majors. Bagwell’s OPS+ was 139 as a rookie…that’s a pretty big leap from raking in Double-A.
Because Bagwell was a terrifically good player from the second he entered the majors, we tend to assume that he was showing some clear indications of that talent in the minors. And he was showing a lot down in New Britain: he had great on-base skills, he led the league in doubles, and he posted a terrific batting average. But it was still Double-A: Jeff Bagwell was still a long way from the majors. There were already questions about his ability to handle third base, and the Red Sox wanted to try Mo Vaughn at first. Maybe they should have thought about Vaughn as a DH and put Bagwell at first but…they didn’t.
I wish the Red Sox had kept Jeff Bagwell. But the team needed a player like Larry Andersen, and he helped keep Boston ahead of Toronto in the September. The Red Sox were blown away by Oakland in the Championship Series, but they took their shot, and I think it’s reasonable that they did: it’s tough to make the playoffs in a two-division league.
It was a mistake to trade away Bagwell. But the Red Sox got a good pitcher back, and rode that pitcher to a narrow division title and a shot at the World Series. That’s not nothing. The trade was a mistake, but I don’t see it as one of the worst decisions in baseball history.
Dave Fleming is a writer living in New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at

COMMENTS (38 Comments, most recent shown first)

As you say in the article. the Red Sox bullpen was weak. Larry Andersen pitched great during his time with the 1990 Red Sox. How much is a Division Title worth? The Red Sox were in a tight race. Without Andersen they would not have won. They had Mo Vaughn coming up soon. Bagwell was a fine hitter and defender but he played first. Vaughn was almost as fine a hitter as Bagwell for a few years. Bagwell was not Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter.

Take Care,
Tom Nahigian
6:53 PM May 14th
I wanted to add the Red Sox had another locally infamous non-transaction that is also factored into this scenario. If you recall, all-star centerfileder Willie McGee, who was leading the NL in batting average at the time, and finished the season as the league's leading hitter, was placed on revocable waivers by the St. Louis Cardinals. Claimed by the Oakland A's, the Cards traded him for three players who were not the equal of Willie McGee just before Labor Day 1990. The acquisition of Willie McGee by the team that the Red Sox, if they win the division, would face in the playoffs shook up the Boston fans. How did this happen? How was it he was available through waivers and Lou Gorman did not place a claim? The local press asked these questions of Lou Gorman and he gave a very eloquent answer, along the lines of: We already have Burks as our centerfielder, we have Greenwell in left, we have Brunansky in right. And if we have to displace one of these players from the oufield Carlos Quintana is our first baseman, Evans DH's, and then we have Mike Marshall that we acquired and have no spot for. What would we do with Willie McGee? Where would we play him?

I remember reading that quote in the local paper the next day, followed through the logic of what he was saying, and agreed with it. The next day a writer for the Boston Globe wrote a column, it was either Dan Shaughnessy or Nick Cafardo, chastising and castigating Lou Gorman for this non-move. The writer took Lou Gorman's quote, chopped off the whole preamble, and based the entire column on Lou Gorman's quote of "What would we do with Willie McGee?". For years it was repeated around here. What was missed, of course, besides the entire quote, was Dave's point: The Red Sox, in the eyes of the general manager, appeared to be so deep that it made a difficult process out of properly judging and evaluating player transactions.
10:17 PM Mar 19th
One thing about this trade that always stood out to me was park effects. Bagwell was made to hit in Fenway. Going from a pitcher's park in AA to banging doubles off the Monster. Always wonder what he would have hit.
It seemed like Larry Andersen was another pitcher helped enormously by the Astrodome. Decent but not great K/W ratio. Whenever I think of this trade I also think of the Cubs' signing of Dave Smith which was also turned out horrible. Going from the Astrodome to Wrigley ruined Smith.
It seemed like the Astros would do this a lot. Pick up mediocre aging pitchers with decent control. Limit their innings and control their matchups. Get tons of fly ball outs.
9:47 PM Feb 3rd
Anyone who doubted the Sox' chances in the playoffs against the A's should check out their overall postseason record in that run of great teams from 1988-1992. They lost to an injury-decimated Dodgers team in the 1988 World Series and the Nasty Boys Reds in 1990, winning one game combined in the two series. They also lost to Toronto in the 1992 playoffs. They were far from invincible.
12:04 AM Feb 3rd
OBS brings up an absolutely crucial point, which another reader also mentioned: Gorman thought that he was getting Andersen for a few years, but Andersen was made a free agent at the end of the year as part of the collusion punishment. So that's another factor that blurs things: we think it was Bagwell for a one-month rental, but Gorman was told he was getting Andersen for a few years. I didn't know that.
1:51 PM Feb 2nd
Brock Hanke
Dave, you are absolutely right about perception of the Brock / Broglio trade. It blew up so fast, and Brock stayed around so long, that it became a legend. What I was trying to do was take a look at it from the perspective of the 1964 Cubs and the 1964 Cards. From that perspective, the Cubs don't look like idiots. When even a Cards fan thinks that the Cubs got a bad rep on a trade with the Cards, the Cards fan really should say something about it once in a while.
10:36 PM Feb 1st
Ok, I poked around here....Andersen was freed in Nov. 1990 as a new look free agent in the collusion settlement that had the owners pay the players 280 million. Sixteen players were granted new look free agency as they were free agents in 1987 when the owners weren't playing kosher. Andersen had signed with Houston as a free agent in 1987, as he had the year before.

Gorman for the rest of his life was stopping people on the street explaining that he had been assured by MLB that Andersen wouldn't be freed after the season, but the deal broke differently.

Decent explanation here:

4:51 PM Feb 1st
Just as the Orioles had one of the all-time worst trades with Schilling, Harnisch, and Finley for Glenn Davis, they also made one of the all-time best with McNally and Rich Coggins for Ken Singleton and Mike Torrez.
4:41 PM Feb 1st
One reason the Brock-for-Broglio trade is so prominent as a bad trade is that it blew up really quickly. Brock, hitting .250 at the time of the trade, went on a tear for the Cardinals: he hit .348 for St. Louis, and the Cardinals won the Series. Broglio didn't do much of anything, and the Cubs, teetering around .500 at the time of the trade, slipped down to the bottom of the standings. So while it was probably a reasonable deal at the outset, it looked bad really quick.
4:23 PM Feb 1st
Brock Hanke
evanecurb - I'm from St. Louis, so I do know a little about the Brock / Broglio trade. Most people know that Broglio was a very strong pitcher who had gotten a little hurt. But in 1964, by the time the trade was made, he showed signs of recovery. He'd put up 4 Win Shares and looked OK.

Meanwhile, the Cubs had a problem. They had this kid named Brock, who had just spent two years failing as a center fielder. He hadn't hit great, either, although that was probably from obsessing over the glove weakness. Brock's failure in center left the Cubs with no place to play him. He didn't have the arm for right, and he was a lefty, so that leaves LF and 1B. Billy Williams. Ernie Banks. You could try moving Williams to right and living with the arm, but why mess around with Billy Williams? You could move Ernie Banks to third base, which he was probably capable of playing, but the Cubs already had a third baseman, too: Ron Santo.

So you have a team that wants to compete and who could use a solid starter, and another team that was confronting the hole in LF that Stan Musial had just left them by retiring. Lou Brock had also put up 4 Win Shares at the time. There was no real reason to believe that Broglio was done or anything. It was, really, just two teams both dealing from a surplus at one position and a hole in another. The Cubs got unlucky. But, at the time, the trade made sense. No one knew what Lou Brock would turn into. In fact, when the Cards first got him, they didn't even hit him leadoff. He hit second for a while, behind Curt Flood, likely because he had more power. I don't think you can blame the Cubs for that trade at all. It just didn't work.
3:56 PM Feb 1st
Right. And it's a seven-game series....I think even the most lopsided seven-game postseason matchup would give the lesser team a 35-40% chance of winning. The presence of Clemens, and the fact that Boston had the home-field advantage going in, gave them at least a decent chance to advance to the World Series. Thought Clemens just could not beat Dave Stewart.
12:13 AM Feb 1st
For anyone who doesn't think that Boston had a realistic chance of beating the A's, remember this: They had Roger Clemens, who possibly could have started four of the seven games. That's enough to give them a puncher's chance right there. With Andersen and Reardon, they had good (not great) relievers in the eighth and ninth innings. Clemens, Reardon, and Andersen are all right handed. As Dave points out, Canseco, McGwire, and Rickey Henderson were all right handed hitters.
7:11 PM Jan 31st
The difference between Betts and Bagwell is that the Red Sox were 6.5 games ahead in their division in 1990, with a month left. Mookie Betts showed up on people's radar as a prospect in 2014, when the Red Sox finished in last place. They finished last in 2015. There's no real motivation for a last-place team to trade away a good prospect for a middle reliever.

I'm not sure what you count as a 'realistic' chance of winning the World Series, 78sman. The Red Sox were way out in front of their division with a month left...and it was a two-round playoff system then. They weren't the favorites against Oakland, but you'd have to guess that they'd have a 40% chance of advancing. Oakland played the Reds in the World Series...I'd say Boston would've been favorites in that contest, though Cinncy played great.
6:32 PM Jan 31st
About the Ryne Sandberg trade: it was reported at the time that the player the Cubs really wanted thrown in to the deal was not Sandberg but Luis Aguayo.

Dallas Green, of course, like to tell how he stole Sandberg from the Phillies, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Aguayo version of the story is true.
5:55 PM Jan 31st
Fireball Wenz
Sorry to keep coming back - but it strikes me that the Red Sox were in the same position a while ago with Mookie Betts. The logic was - well, we've got Pedroia at second, and he's still got good years ahead, wh have Iglesias and Boagerts at short, we've got Jackie Bradley in center - we should move this guy Betts for some pitching.
3:05 PM Jan 31st
Thanks for referencing Phil Plantier. That brings back some memories.

I played Fantasy Baseball back then and used the Bill James projections for my player evaluations. One other guy in my auction league also used this source. Coming off that great partial year, the projections had Plantier putting up huge numbers over 600+ PA's. Anyway, this guy and I got into a bidding war over a player hardly anybody else heard of (remember this is before internet). I "won" the bidding war (paying $26 of my $260 budget) for a guy who ended up hitting .246 / .332 / .361 in 399 PA's. Ugh.
2:05 PM Jan 31st
The Red Sox did not have a realistic chance of winning the World Series when they traded Bagwell for a short-term rental of Anderson. If Bagwell seemed to project as a possible new Boggs, then they gave up a lot for someone was unlikely to help them win the World Series.

11:09 AM Jan 31st
Fireball Wenz
Good article. As a Red Sox fan since 1967, I can tell you that soon after the trade word got out that Peter Gammons freaked out when he heard the announcement. If he knew that Bagwell was better than Cooper, the Sox brass should have. And it is important to note that Andersen was scheduled to become a free agent at the close of the year.

I do remember thinking Andersen was effective in his short Sox stay, and more particularly that when he was hit, it looked like hitters making contact with tough pitches.

In way of contrast, I have NEVER complained about the Sox giving up Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling for Mike Boddicker.
8:33 AM Jan 31st
Thanks Dave, you did a great job showing how a team could talk itself into trading a 22 year old tearing up minor league pitching for a 37 year old middle relief pitcher. Those are the kind of opportunities rebuilding teams need to take advantage of; find a contending team with a need and get them to part with young talent in return. Though the Astros sure got lucky that the Red Sox decided they'd rather trade Bagwell than Cooper.
10:33 PM Jan 30th
Great article. I enjoyed it. I think for me the key was that the Red Sox had a lot of players at the time in Bagwell's possible positions who looked at least as good or better.

9:28 PM Jan 30th
Dave: This was a fun article. I absolutely loved it. If you'd like to make it into a series, might I suggest St. Louis' trades of Broglio for Brock in 1964 and Sadecki for Cepeda in 1966?
9:08 PM Jan 30th
After the 1981 season Ruly Carpenter sold the Phillies to a group headed by Bill Giles. Larry Bowa claimed that Carpenter promised to renegotiate his contract. The Phillies responded by trading Bowa.

Dallas Green had recently taken over as the Cubs general manager. He managed the Phillies from the final weeks of 1979 through 1981. Before that he headed the Phillies farm system. He might have seen something special in Sandberg.

Sandberg and Willie Hernandez won the MVP awards in 1984. Giles had traded Hernandez. He must hold some type of record.

A trade resulting from salary disputes benefitted the Phillies earlier. In 1972 Rick Wise was a holdout, along with a pitcher in St. Louis. The Phillies got 4 Cy Young Awards and a World Championship out of the trade.
8:57 PM Jan 30th
It's one of those funny tricks of doing retroactive analysis - Sandberg's prospect status was back in the primordial ooze days, before Bill popularized his proofs on minor league equivalencies.
8:35 PM Jan 30th
Thanks, Rob. I didn't look into Andersen's game-by-game record in the regular season, though it sure looks like he wasn't a strong contributor to their stretch run.

But that, too, falls in the 'retrospective' side of thinking about the trade: just because Andersen didn't actually help the Red Sox down the stretch or in the playoffs, doesn't mitigate that a) the Red Sox were super-weak in their bullpen, and b) Andersen was the best arm available (i.e...the best reliever who wasn't Dibble, Eck, or one of the Toronto guys). It didn't pan out, but I think Gorman's decision to risk the third guy on the team's depth chart for a good reliever.

I'm not sure about the stuff about Andersen's contract stuff, and it would certainly matter if Boston thought they were getting Andersen for a few years, instead of one month.

As for Schilling....he was perhaps involved in two of the worst trades ever, though Mike Boddicker had a few good years for Boston.

2:41 PM Jan 30th
Just looked at the stats:

In 1990 New Britain hit 31 HR all season and allowed 44. WOW. IN 1991 they hit 41 and gave up 81. In 1989 they hit 42 and gave up 62. Sounds like the scout was right. I just wish they had a home/road breakdown.

Sorry for the spam.
1:07 PM Jan 30th
Should have know it was Wikipedia. . .

The pertinent quote is Astros' scout Stan Benjamin said, "Babe Ruth couldn't hit home runs in that ballpark."
12:59 PM Jan 30th
The Astros were leary of Bagwell, worried about the lack of power. Their New England scout said he would be fine as no one hit homers in New Britain. I can't find a link for this but I read it recently.​
12:49 PM Jan 30th
Nice work, Dave. I should say first off that I wrote a whole (granted, short) chapter about this trade in one of my books, so I'm hardly an objective observer.

One thing I will quibble with: You say "he pitched great" ... which is true, just looking at the ERA. What you don't mention (but I think I did, in my book) is that he really did almost nothing to help the Red Sox win their division.

Andersen pitched in 15 games for the Red Sox. Eight of those, they lost. In the other seven, he actually blew two saves. In the other five, the final scores were 7-1, 5-4, 7-3, 3-0, and 7-2. In the 5-4 and 3-0 games, he totaled five scoreless innings.

Do the Red Sox win the division by two games (as they did) without him? Maybe not. But maybe. It wasn't his fault, but it turned out there just weren't many spots down the stretch when the Sox needed an an outstanding set-up man. Or so it seems.

The Red Sox's failure wasn't necessarily in trading a good prospect for an outstanding relief pitcher; their failure was in not realizing that Jeff Bagwell was an outstanding hitter. Surely they could have picked up one month of solid relief help without trading someone so talented as Bagwell.

I think.
12:42 PM Jan 30th
Well done, Dave. I always considered this one of the handful of worst trades ever, but breaking it down like that I see the Sox had valid reasons, though they weren't perfect.

I guess now I can resume my opinion that the worst trade ever was the Orioles sending Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch, and Steve Finley to Houston for Glenn Davis. True, Davis was a player the Orioles needed badly had his play not fallen off a cliff, but that was still too much to give up. Everyone knew those three guys could play.
11:47 AM Jan 30th
Was Pawtucket really a hitter's park when Cooper was there? My memory is that part of the reason Boggs took so long to get to the show is that no one in the Red Sox organization realized that the numbers he ran at Pawtucket would go up when he got to Fenway, not down...
11:15 AM Jan 30th
Nice work Dave. I have made many similar arguments about Bagwell-Anderson. Cooper was considered to be a much better defensive third baseman at the time, and the heir to Boggs, whose best years were behind him at that point. I recall that Bagwell had just 6 home runs in over 200 minor league games when the trade was made. Career value reveals the trade to be lopsided, of course, but I think the trade was very reasonable when it was made.

On the other hand, the worst Sox trade of my lifetime has been overlooked. March of 1971, and Albert Lyle for Cater and Guerrero. Could not understand it then, and don't comprehend it now. Not only did Lyle give the Yankees (Gawd, the freakin Yankees) several good years, but he was given credit for teaching Guidry how to throw his devastating slider. If that's true, and Lyle helped turn a nobody into the Guidry we remember, how many division titles did this trade cost Boston? 1972, '77 and '78 for sure. How many more? (sigh)
9:53 AM Jan 30th
Wikipedia mentions that "DeWitt grew up in St. Louis. He began his baseball career with the Cardinals as a protégé of Branch Rickey".
The stranger connection with Rickey is that Rickey died the day the trade was made, December 9, 1965.
6:12 AM Jan 30th
Thanks, Terry. I'm surprised that no one thought Sandberg was going to be any good...he had posted a .310, 11 HR, 32 SB year as a twenty-year old in Double-A, and followed with a .296/9/32 steal year in Triple-A the next year...shortstop both years. I would've guessed a .300-hitting shortstop with 10 homer pop and decent speed be at least something of a prospect in 1982.

It could've been a position block seems like the Phillies and Cubs both though Sandberg would fit better at third base instead of second, and the Phillies obviously had third covered. I always liked Ryno.
12:42 AM Jan 30th
Interesting piece, Dave, as always.

I saw that in Lou Gorman's bio he says that MLB assured him that Andersen would remain under Boston's control after 1990.....but after the year they lost him to the new look/collusion free agency.

I don't know whether the Red Sox could have controlled Andersen for the four more years he played....he did get in another 165 games for the Pods and the Phils, but that was in their calculations. Sez Gorman. Talkin' real fast.

So that would have made it dead even.
12:26 AM Jan 30th
This is a really nice piece of journalism, Dave. I'm sure you'll take some pummeling over the subject matter from all these Bill James fans - who know all about what Bill said about Bags in advance - but so what? You found a great angle to tell an interesting story and you turned it beautifully. Thanks for sharing it with us.

My quibble, if I have one, is about the Sandberg trade. I was a longtime Phillies fan and Sandberg is from Spokane, where I live. Nobody had any idea he was going to be any good, and certainly nobody had any idea he was going to be THAT good. Most my my heartburn over the trade was that the DeJesus was worthless. We thought, "why toss Sandberg in? Just give him the shortstop job and hope he can hit .250." But the Phils were a contender and they must have thought they needed a veteran.
10:40 PM Jan 29th
Ah, thanks for the clarification WT Mons. I knew there was a Rickey influence (the whole 'trade 'em before they're 30' thing), so I just attributed it to Rickey.

Bill's projection said that Bagwell would hit for a high average...I'm not actually sure whether or not it projected a power uptick. I tried to look for it, but I only got the projected triple-slash line....I think it was a .318 or a .319 average. I think Bagwell's actual batting average that year (.296) would have been right in that range if he had played in a neutral park.
10:23 PM Jan 29th
According to a famous projection in that off season's Bill James Handbook, there were signs that Bagwell was ready to do well in the majors right away.y
9:18 PM Jan 29th
Branch Rickey had nothing to do with the Frank Robinson trade. That was made by Bill DeWitt. DeWitt was something of a disciple of Rickey, but he wasn't Rickey.
8:06 PM Jan 29th
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