Not all bad trades are created equal. For example, the Dodgers traded Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields. Hilarious, right? Except DeShields was 24 years old, and he was a four-win second baseman. Martinez had an electric arm, but the Dodgers were a little worried about his durability. They weren't itching to move him, but as the price for a young, top-of-the-order dynamo like DeShields? It wasn't Martinez for a 31-year-old pending free agent. It made some sense.
Turned out to be a bad trade. But you could at least see the rationale behind it. When the Giants traded for A.J. Pierzynski, or when the Braves traded for Mark Teixeira, you could at least understand why they were willing to give up what they did.
Then there are trades like Bartolo Colon for the entire Expos farm system. Or Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir. The Dodgers trading a young pitcher for a reliever when they're five games out of a playoff spot at the deadline. Those trades didn't make sense at the time, and they didn't get better with age.
The Rangers have made us think up a new category, though. It's a rare mutant of a trade. Let's work through it together.
The trade was this: Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to the Orioles for Koji Uehara. This was made before the deadline in 2011. Davis is apparently Willie Stargell with a wicked changeup now. Uehara is a reliever. When you trade a middle-of-the-order force for a reliever, it's going to look bad in retrospect. When you trade anything for a reliever, there's a decent chance it will look silly at some point. Relievers pitch 20-30 innings between the deadline and the end of the season. Giving up value for that is always suspect.
At the time, though, Rangers fans were okay with the trade. Uehara was good. He was predictable. He was reliable. Really, a playoff team couldn't create a better bullpen target in a lab.
So this makes the team better, and at a cost the Rangers could afford, even though Chris Davis, in particular, could end up making this trade look really bad down the road.
That was a perfect description. There was risk, there was reward. It was a trade, in other words. And you figure that if Davis keeps this up (or even half of his current production), this trade will get filed in that first category up there: understandable but regrettable.
Except the part that makes this a mutant trade is what happened with Uehara. He was supposed to be good, remember. He has the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in history, and he was supposed to team with Mike Adams to make the Rangers a late-inning nightmare -- a closer behind the closer behind the closer.
Here's what happened:
Eighteen innings. That's a hiccup. Think about how much you would care about three consecutive mediocre starts from Justin Verlander. Yet teams have to make big decisions based on those 18 innings. The Rangers eventually left Uehara off the World Series roster for an extra catcher. It was a a curious decision at the time. But Uehara wasn't very good in those 18 innings, so what were they supposed to do?
Now we have the trade in a separate category: the young player broke out and made the team look bad, and the team got substandard production from the player they got in return. If bad-trade hell is layered like something from The Divine Comedy, we're getting into the inner circles.
But we're not done. Because this all happened to the 2011 Texas Rangers. If you don't remember them, that's because you followed the 2011 Rangers and now you're drunk before noon because of it. The '11 Rangers are one of history's hard-luck teams. Few teams have ever been so close to a championship only to get the trophy vanpelted away from them at the last second. And one of the biggest culprits was the bullpen.
I exchanged e-mails with Adam J. Morris of Lone Star Ball on this topic, and he gave an example where Uehara could have made a difference in the World Series, citing Derek Holland's turn as a reliever in Game 6 (link is NSFRF) as a spot where Uehara might have come in handy. Holland entered the game in the sixth inning, and allowed a home run in the eighth to Allen Craig.
I was thinking more of the 10th inning, when Darren Oliver came on to protect a two-run lead and gave up two hits. He likely would have pitched that inning regardless, because of the lefty-on-lefty action. But then Scott Feldman came on in relief, allowing the Ryan Theriot groundout and Lance Berkman single that eventually tied the game. That could have been Uehara's inning.
Or maybe Uehara's inning would have been the 11th, when Mark Lowe allowed the game-winning homer to David Freese.
What if, what if, what if, what if, what if … and two years later, with Uehara still one of the better relievers in baseball, it looks so danged odd that he wasn't even on the roster because of 18 innings. Now, the Rangers had to watch those innings, and they didn't like what they saw. It's easy to play Monday-morning bullpen coach two years later. But Uehara instead of Mark Lowe? What if, what if, what if …
And now Chris Davis is a monster. A literal monster, eating pitchers whole and growling when the villagers try to set him on fire. He's probably behind you with a bat right now.
This is a the rare trade, then, that needs its own category. The young player developed, and the veteran player regressed. More than that, the veteran player became one of the what-ifs in one of the most horrific collapses in postseason history. There are regrettable trades and there are lamentable outcomes. But the Chris Davis trade might turn into something on a completely different level.