Over Spilled Milk: Sandy Alderson’s Biggest Trade

As Sandy Alderson eases his way into the GM seat for the New York Mets, I felt it was a good time to look back at what was possibly his biggest trade.  Although I don’t have a complete trade history of Alderson at my finger tips (come on MLBTR, read my mind!), it’s looks as though his trade for Bob Welch may have “taken the cake”.

After coming close to winning the Western Division title in 1987, Sandy Alderson and the Oakland Athletics’ front office went all out to push the team over the top. The team acquired Bob Welch to be the team’s #2 pitcher and Dave Parker for his veteran leadership and still relatively viable bat. They also signed Glenn Hubbard and Dave Henderson to fill holes at second and center field.

On December 11, 1987 Alderson entered into a 3-team trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets. The key piece of the trade was pitcher Bob Welch, who along with Matt Young, went to the Athletics from the Dodgers. The Dodgers also sent Jack Savage to the Mets. The Athletics sent Alfredo Griffin and Jay Howell to the Dodgers. The A’s also sent Kevin Tapani and Wally Whitehurst to the  Mets. Rounding the trade out, the Mets sent Jesse Orosco to the Dodgers.

Bob Welch had 10 good seasons with the Dodgers before he was dealt to the A’s.  He would go on to have three very good seasons for the A’s, winning 61 games over a three-year stretch, including 27 in 1990 when he won the Cy Young.  Although he would go on to win 35 games over the next four seasons, he took an obvious downturn after the 1992 season.  But he did help the team get to the post season four times, including winning it all in 1989.

Matt Young didn’t pitch for the Athletics until 1989, but he didn’t that well when given the chance.  In 37.1 innings pitched, Young posted a 6.75 ERA and a 1.955 WHIP.  He also gave up 31 walks while striking out 27.  The Athletics released him after that season.  After bouncing around some, he was signed by the Boston Red Sox and pitched in a very odd no-hitter.  On April 12, 1992 he allowed two runs on seven walks and an error by shortstop Luis Rivera on the way to becoming the fourth pitcher to throw a no-hitter and still lose the game.  It was not recognized as a true no-hitter though as he only pitched eight innings.

Although Jack Savage had decent ERAs in the minors, his peripheral stats weren’t promising.  After the trade he spent another two seasons in the minors with the Mets.  He had a pretty good overall season in 1988, posting a 1.18 WHIP, but was never given the ball at the major league level.  The Mets shipped him out as the PTBNL in a 1989 trade deadline deal that also involved Rick Aguilera, David West, Kevin Tapani and Tim Drummond in exchange for the Minnesota Twins’ Frank Viola.  Although the Twins allowed him a chance at the majors, Savage struggled and didn’t pitch in the majors again after 1990.

Once tabbed the “Ozzie Smith of the American League”, Alfredo Griffin’s defense was his greatest asset.  But the speedster didn’t draw walks well and was at times overly agressive on the basepaths.  In his first season with the Dodgers his bat fell apart, hitting just .199/.259/.253 in 316 AB.  Most of his regression could likely be linked to breaking his wrist on a Dwight Gooden fastball.  He would rebound and play three more seasons in L.A. and is now the first base coach for the Angels.

Although he had a down year in 1987, Jay Howell had just completed a season that saw him earn 16 saves and a trip to the All-Star game.  But he had some of the best seasons of his career in a Dodgers uniform after the trade, closing 81 games over four years.  He also closed one game for the World Series winning Dodgers in 1988.

Kevin Tapani was a fast-rising prospect in the A’s system before he was dealt to the Mets.  He continued to pitch well in the minors for the Mets and even received a three game audition in New York before he was included in the same trade for Frank Viola that Savage was involved in.  Tapani would become a solid presence for the Twins, including aiding the team in winning the 1991 World Series.  The innings eater would go on to have further success in L.A. and with the Cubs before retiring.

After three decent seasons in the A’s system, Wally Whitehurst pitched better in the Mets’ system.  He received a call-up in 1989 and became an important member of the team’s pen in 1990.  That year he pitched to a 3.29 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in 38 games.  The Mets converted him to a fifth starter/long reliever in 1991 and pitched there through 1992 before being traded to the San Diego Padres.

The last player to be noted as part of this trade is Jesse Orosco.  Yes, the rubber-armed reliever who pitched 24 seasons in the majors and won 87 games amongst the 10 teams he played for.  Orosco pitched to an impressive 2.72 ERA in his only season in Dodger blue, though he had a less-than-stellar 1.34 WHIP.  Jesse became a free agent after the 1988 season and would of course go on to pitch for various other teams until 2003.

It looks as though Sandy Alderson came out as the winner of this trade, finding a key piece to his rotation that would help him get the A’s to the playoffs four seasons out of five.  The Dodgers added two very good arms to their pen in Howell and Orosco and a slick fielding shortstop in Alfredo Griffin.  Griffin struggled mightily in 1988 with his wrist injury, but both pitchers played important parts in the team’s success in 1988.

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