Noah Syndergaard made his highly anticipated major league debut on Tuesday night. It came with great fanfare and lit up social media and the MLB Network. Though he wound up with the loss, he looked pretty solid, going 5.1 IP, allowing 6 hits and 4 walks while striking out 6. All three of the of the runs he surrendered came in the sixth inning, after he sailed through the first five with relative ease. It was a very promising debut, enough to get Jays fan excited about his potential.
Or, it would have made Jays fans excited about his future potential if Syndergaard didn’t play for the Mets.
On December 17, 2012 Noah was dealt alongside John Buck, Travis d’Arnaud, and Wuilmer Becerra to New York for R.A. Dickey, Mike Nickeas, and Josh Thole. At the time, the deal was celebrated by Jays fans, as it gave Toronto a fearsome rotation and made them one of the best teams in baseball on paper.
Now, two and a half years later, it has a real chance to wind up as one of the worst trades in the history of the franchise.
Dickey has been solid as a Blue Jay, but has largely underwhelmed, especially in comparison to his Cy Young winning 2012 campaign, and Thole has been brutally sub-par. While d’Arnaud hasn’t amounted to much thus far, it is Syndergaard who has the scouts, fans, and analysts drooling, and Blue Jays fans banging their heads saying “what if”.
If Dickey would have arrived in 2013, repeated his Cy Young form and led the Jays to the World Series, fans wouldn’t care about how amazing Syndergaard may or may not be. But of course, with hindsight being 20/20, this looks like a potential steal for the Mets.
It is still to early to tell for sure how the trade will pan out, but it got me thinking: how good will Syndergaard and/or d’Arnaud have to be in order to qualify this as one of the worst trades in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays? Have there been other woeful trades in the past that have blown up in our faces? The short answer is yes…several.
According to Baseball Reference, the Blue Jays have made 315 trades in the history of the franchise. The overwhelming majority have been minor, often times not even involving two players (i.e. November 5, 1976 the Jays acquired Chuck Hartenstein from San Diego for cash). There have also been a lot of great deals: Fernandez/McGriff for Alomar/Carter, Tom Dodd and Dale Murray for Fred McGriff, Robinzon Diaz for Jose Bautista.
(As an aside, there have also been some downright bizarre transactions, including this: June 15, 1982 the Jays traded Wayne Nordhagen to Philadelphia for Dick Davis, who immediately flipped him to Pittsburgh for Bill Robinson. Seven days later on June 22, 1982, the Jays traded Dick Davis to the Pirates for Wayne Nordhagen. Weird.)
Sadly, there have also been several deals that have not worked out as planned, that those involved wish they could take back. With the benefit of hindsight, and of Baseball Reference’s WAR stat, we can quantify just how bad some of the trades ended up being.
The methodology is simple. For all players the Jays traded away, add up their WAR for all seasons after they were traded. For all players the Jays acquired, add up their WAR for all seasons they were on the roster. The bigger the difference between the two, the more lopsided the trade.
Using that formula, I identified 15 trades in franchise history where the difference was 9 or greater, meaning the players that were traded away contributed 9+ more wins than those that were acquired. In short, these are the deals that make fans shake their heads and wish were never made.
Of course, there are caveats to this exercise, because not all trades are created equal. Management’s objectives change from year to year. A salary dump is much different than a trade meant to improve the team right now, which is also much different from a trade that is meant to get a team over the hump.
For example, the worst trade in Toronto Blue Jays franchise history according to WAR, was on August 27, 1992, when Toronto traded Ryan Thompson and Jeff Kent to the Mets for David Cone. Cone only spent two months with the Jays, contributing a WAR of 1.7, while Jeff Kent went on to a borderline Hall of Fame career with the Mets and Giants. His WAR of 55.2, and Thompson’s 3.5 WAR, mean that the total difference was a WAR of 57. Of course, Cone was acquired to help push the Jays over the top, which he did. Despite the large difference in WAR, the World Series championship more than compensates, and I’m sure that any Jays fan would happily make that trade all over again.
In order to differentiate between types of deals, I have split the 15 into three categories:
Deadline Playoff Push: these are trades that were made during the season in order to get to October. In the short term, they all worked.
“Hands are Tied”: these are trades where the GM was basically forced to trade a star player who was not going to re-sign in Toronto. There was often little (or no) leverage.
Straight Trade: these are basic trades, meant to make the team better both in the present and the future.
Based on those definitions, we can be more forgiving for any in the first two categories, but those in the third? Yikes. (And there are some doozies on the list.)
Without further ado, here are the 15 worst trades in the history of the Blue Jays.
Category: Deadline Playoff Push
Despite the large differences in traded vs. acquired WAR, each of these deals has to be considered a success. Do the Jays win the ’92 World Series without Cone, or the ’93 Series without Henderson? Similarly, Tom Candiotti was outstanding for the team in ’91, helping them win the AL East.
Category: “Hands are Tied”
In each of these cases, it was obvious at the time that the veteran stars had to be dealt. Olerud, Clemens, Halladay, and Green were either not going to re-sign, or were going to be too expensive, so a trade was necessary. The Jays knew it, the fans knew it, but unfortunately so did the rest of baseball, making it virtually impossible to get anything close to equal value in return.
The Clemens and Green deals aren’t too bad because at least Toronto got some production out the players they received. Raul Mondesi posted a .798 OPS with 66 HR in two and a half years with the club, and David Wells went 37-18 with an All-Star appearance and a top-3 Cy Young season during his second go-around with Toronto. It was just that Clemens and Green put up some monster seasons afterwards (though we now know how Roger did it.)
The other two are especially hard to swallow. John Olerud won three Gold Gloves, went to an All-Star game, and made five playoff appearances after he left the Jays, whereas Robert Person went 8-13 with 6 saves and a 6.18 ERA in two and a half seasons, before being dealt for Paul Spoljaric. More recently, the Halladay deal still leaves a sour taste for all involved. Despite being praised at the time, the return that Alex Anthopoulos brought back looks bad now. Drabek flamed out with the Jays, and d’Arnaud is now on the Mets. The silver lining is that Michael Taylor turned into Brett Wallace who turned into Anthony Gose who turned into Devon Travis, who is enjoying a huge rookie season thus far. Unfortunately, it’s just not as huge as Halladay’s years with the Phillies (Cy Young, 2 All-Star games, 2 division titles, a top-10 MVP finish).
Category: Straight Trade
Here we go. These eight trades are your big boys, the deals that were made supposedly from a pure baseball standpoint that backfired spectacularly. Some of these are the most infamous trades in team history. Some deserve to be thought of like that but aren’t for whatever reason.
The two most recent trades stick out like a sore thumb for current Jays fans. We barely had time to celebrate in 2011 when AA was able to shed the albatross contract belonging to Vernon Wells, when he instantly turned around and sent Mike Napoli packing to Texas for reliever Frank Francisco. Napoli has put up a 14.1 WAR in the past four seasons, including 3 seasons with 20+ HR. But it is the Gomes trade that hurts more. In 2014 he belted 21 HR while winning a Silver Slugger award, and has contributed an 8.0 WAR in just two seasons. In return, Esmil Rogers came and went.
Maybe it’s because I can’t remember the context, or because the trades are too far back in time, but the Ashby, Woody Williams, and second David Cone deal don’t resonate with me the way that the others do. Even though all three of those players had solid careers after Toronto, including All-Star appearances and World Series victories, the trades don’t seem particularly awful.
The other three on the list, however – that is a different story. These have to be considered three of the worst trades in our long, proud history.
1. Jason Frasor was a solid contributor to the franchise, putting in parts of nine seasons as a Blue Jay and posting a pretty decent 6.4 WAR as a reliever. However, Jayson Werth would go on to blossom after leaving the Dodgers, and has finished in the top-20 in NL MVP voting four times.
2. On July 18, 2000, Toronto was 50-45, only 1.5 games back of the Yankees. In a pre-deadline move to bolster the rotation the Jays acquired Esteban Loaiza from the Texas Rangers for minor league infielder Michael Young. They limped to a 33-34 finish, missing the playoffs, then watched as Young turned into a star in Texas. He appeared in 7 All-Star games, won a Gold Glove, and five times finished in the top-30 in AL MVP balloting.
3. Just six months later, Gord Ash made what is without a doubt the most terrible trade ever. Ash took advantage of a 20-win season from David Wells, and sent him to the White Sox for a package centred on 15-game winner Mike Sirotka. The only problem was that Sirotka was badly injured, and would never pitch a single inning for Toronto. Wells, meanwhile, played seven more seasons, reaching the playoffs four times, and the World Series once. It was one of the most embarrassing moments in Blue Jay history.
As you can tell by the above, there is a long way to go before we might see Dickey for d’Arnaud and Syndergaard on that list. For the sake of Blue Jay fans everywhere, let’s hope it never gets to that.