Astros’ Worst Trades #4 – The Great Salary Unload of 1994

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Aug 16, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; General view of a base before a game between the Houston Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 16, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; General view of a base before a game between the Houston Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /
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The worst trades in the history of the Houston Astros franchise

The recent DFA of Carlos Gomez has caused many Houston Astros fans, and for that matter, baseball fans to consider the 2015 pennant drive trade for Gomez to be an abject failure. For long-time Houston fans, this has brought to mind some of the not-so-great deals of years past.

This is the fourth in a series of articles taking a look at those trades which did not work out well for the Astros.

Article #1 – “The Joe Morgan Trade.”

Post #2 – “The John Mayberry Trade.”

Article #3 – “The Kenny Lofton Trade.”

Today – “The Great Salary Unload of 1994.”

The Trade – December 28, 1994

Astros receive:

OF Derek Bell

SS Ricky Gutierrez

OF Phil Plantier

IF Craig Shipley

P Doug Brocail

P Pedro Martinez (no, not THAT one), this is Pedro A. Martinez

San Diego receives:

3B Ken Caminiti

OF Steve Finley

SS Andujar Cedeno

P Brian Williams

1B Roberto Petagine

This trade cannot be described any other way than a salary dump. The sum of the salaries of the six players the Astros received did not add up to one of either Caminiti or Finley. The Padres had a brand new owner, John Moores. He was determined to turn around his new team, who had the worst record in baseball in 1994. Moores came from Texas, so it was not a big surprise he dealt with a team from Texas. Although, that was not the only connection between the teams.

Tal Smith had recently been named President of the Houston Astros, and his son Randy Smith was the GM of the Padres. Astros’ owner Drayton McLane had designs on salary too, designs on reducing it. After purchasing the team in 1993, he saw some of his initial investments become somewhat unproductive.

He made a big splash initially by signing pitchers Greg Swindell and Doug Drabek to big free-agent contracts, but neither panned out like was hoped and McLane was determined to trim the payroll and build around the young nucleus of players like Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.

Keep in mind, the Astros had a good season in 1994, finishing in 2nd place with a 66-49 record in a strike-shortened season. Bagwell had his career year that year, winning the MVP with 39 HR and 116 RBI in 110 games. His season was shortened not only by the strike but with a broken hand before the strike.

The 1994 season was the first under manager Terry Collins and GM Bob Watson after McLane came in with a new vision.

The Astros’ Side

I can remember the day I read about this trade in the newspaper (I know some of you don’t even remember when that was a thing) and trying to wrap my mind around it. Caminiti was the first infielder I can ever remember that made me say “WOW” over and over again because of his defense. He had a cannon for an arm and threw his body all over the place to make defensive stops.

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He had reasonable power at the plate, and I was excited that he would be the Astros 3B for many years. For crying out loud, he was the reason they made a first-baseman out of Bagwell in 1991!

Finley was a solid young defensive outfielder who, while not demonstrating the pop that he would later produce with Baltimore and Arizona. He was a high on-base guy with a solid batting average. Caminiti and Finley were the two principles in the trade.

Cedeno had been the starting shortstop for Houston for most of the previous two years. He was thought to be more of an offensive shortstop with defensive potential if he could cut down the errors on routine plays. He had 48 errors in 1993-94. Williams was another “player with potential.” However, at this point, he was a former Astros first-round draft choice who had seen his numbers decline each year in the majors.

His last year in Houston, he finished with an ERA of 5.74. Petagine was a young slugger who was blocked at the big-league level by Bagwell. As it turns out, he spent parts of seven seasons with six clubs and never established himself.

The Padres’ Side

The Padres were willing to give up some good young players with potential for some with a much higher salary, but also a greater track record. OF Bell had the most significant career of any of the players the Padres gave up. He had been a starting OF for the Padres in 93-94 and had a solid season in 93 with 21 HR and 72 RBI.

He had shown the ability to play CF, though his primary position became RF. He had his best season for the Astros in their record-setting season of 1998, where he was a part of the original “Killer B’s”, along with Biggio and Bagwell.

Of the rest of the players Houston received, only Ricky Gutierrez became a real contributor, though he only played more than 102 games one time. He was a slight offensive downgrade from Cedeno and a slight defensive upgrade. Plantier was supposed to be the new slugging LF but ended up being traded back to San Diego after just 22 games.

Shipley, probably best known for being from Australia, also ended up back with the Padres after one season in Houston. He was the immediate replacement for Caminiti, but he was far from Cammy and the Astros went and got Sean Berry after the season from the Montreal Expos.

Brocail had two stints with the Astros as a pitcher, and this one came before his heart issues, after which he became a better pitcher. Pedro A. Martinez (perhaps the A stands for “ah hah, THAT one”) had an ERA over 7 in his only season in Houston.

The Results

We can only wonder what could have been if the trade had not been made. Caminiti went on to have an MVP season in 1996, which was later revealed to have been heavily influenced by steroids. Finley went on to develop some pop, hitting over 30 HR in four succeeding seasons. Also, he was a solid OF for more than a decade.

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The Astros did get it together after this, however. The team began it’s unprecedented run of four division titles in five seasons under Larry Dierker. Bell was a big part of that, and Gutierrez was a semi-regular during the first part of that run.

However, if the 1997 Astros had a great season with Carr in CF and Berry at 3B, how much better would it have been, and how much sooner, with Caminiti at 3B and Finley in CF? Perhaps it could have been six out of seven or seven out of seven. Maybe the first World Series appearance?

What think you about this trade?

Stay tuned, more of the Astros’ worst trades will be analyzed in the coming days.

***Statistics by Baseball Reference***

The worst trades in the history of the Houston Astros franchise

The recent DFA of Carlos Gomez has caused many Houston Astros fans, and for that matter, baseball fans to consider the 2015 pennant drive trade for Gomez to be an abject failure. For long-time Houston fans, this has brought to mind some of the not-so-great deals of years past.

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