>We've spoiled you rotten already with Jeff and Zach, but we've got yet another great guest post today. This one comes from our friend and podcast partner Lar, from the fabulous Wezen-Ball. Enjoy!
In the illustrious tradition of The Common Man and the Platoon Advantage, I had every intention of doing a “Random Thursday” post today. After all, TCM always makes those Random Thursday posts so interesting to read even on the most bland of subjects, and I thought it might be fun to try my hand at it.
But then I got the wise idea to look for something interesting that happened on November 18 in the past, and now you’re stuck reading about November 18, 1997, one of the busiest days in Major League transactions in the last 20 years, and one with far-reaching impact. Let’s just pretend I arrived at the topic randomly, eh? The end of the 1997 season, as you recall, was interesting. The Florida Marlins had just won the World Series in only their fifth year of existence. It was the infamous “bought” World Series that ended in a firesale.
The end of the 1997 season was also the beginning of two new franchises: the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks. With their debuts ahead of them in April 1998, the expansion clubs had only six months to pull together a big league roster. The first step? The Expansion Draft, which just happened to take place on November 18.
I won’t go deep into the Expansion Draft itself because that alone could take all day.There were definitely a few notable players selected, though.
The Devil Rays chose first overall, giving picks #2 and #3 to the Diamondbacks. That first overall pick was lefty Tony Saunders, with Arizona quickly following up with Brian Anderson and Jeff Suppan. Tampa Bay did pretty well with their next three picks, netting Quinton McCracken, Bobby Abreu, and Miguel Cairo. Dmitri Young came over with their eighth selection. Arizona didn’t do quite as well in the first round, with their most notable selections being Cory Lidle, Karim Garcia, and Tony Batista (chosen with the last pick of the first round).
In the other two rounds, Tampa Bay ended up nabbing Randy Winn and Brooks Kieschnick, both in the third round. Arizona came away with Omar Daal (second round) and Russ Springer (third round). Obviously, there just wasn’t that much talent available that November.
But the seven-hour expansion draft was far from the most exciting thing to happen that day. As AP writer Ben Walker said:
“For seven hours, the expansion draft dragged on and on, just begging for one name player to be picked. And then the moment it ended, all heck broke loose. Trades came so quickly that general managers literally stacked up to announce them, with Fred McGriff, NL Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez, Robb Nen and Travis Fryman among the stars changing teams.”
And that wasn’t even all.
The biggest trade of the day, of course, was the one that dealt reigning Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez, who had only gone 17-8 with a 1.90 ERA, 305 strikeouts, and 13 complete games for the Expos that summer, to the Boston Red Sox for Carl Pavano (and a player to be named later, who ended up being Tony Armas). No doubt Expos and Red Sox fans remember that trade well, but, it bears repeating: the trade was Pedro for pitching prospect Carl Pavano. With only one year left on his contract before testing free agency, the Expos felt enormous pressure to get something of value for Pedro (his 1998 arbitration figure was expected to be somewhere over $6 million). Pavano didn’t prove to be it, though Boston fans have to be pretty happy with how the trade turned out.
Also moving teams that Tuesday was Fred McGriff, who was purchased from the Braves by Tampa Bay. The move saved Atlanta more than $10 million over the next two years, while moving Ryan Klesko out of the outfield and freeing up room for some of Atlanta’s more athletic outfielders. It also brought McGriff back to his hometown, though in some of the most unfortunate uniforms ever conceived.
Travis Fryman was probably the next biggest name at the time moved that day, going from the Tigers to the Diamondbacks. In hindsight, though, the next biggest name is almost undoubtedly Bobby Abreu. Having been chosen by the Devil Rays in the expansion draft earlier that afternoon from the Astros’ system, Bobby wasn’t a Devil Ray for very long. Tampa Bay shipped him off to Philadelphia for Kevin Stocker. Abreu would go on to play 1,300 games for the Phils before he was traded again.
As part of the Marlins’ firesale, Robb Nen was sent to San Francisco for three players, the best of which ended up being Joe Fontenot. Nen would spend the rest of his career on the Giants, helping bring them to within five outs of the World Series championship in 2002.
The A’s parted with Scott Brosius that day, sending him to the Yankees as part of a deal for Kenny Rogers that had been made two weeks before. Brosius would go on to win three World Series rings with the Yankees, walking away with the World Series MVP in 1998.
Other players changing teams that day: Joey Cora, Roberto Hernandez, Doug Jones, Dmitri Young (like Abreu, traded immediately following the expansion draft to the Reds), Devon White, and Jake Westbrook.
Considering that the actual Winter Meetings this year are still about two weeks away and that there are no new franchises joining the league any time soon, it’s a safe bet that today will have quite a bit less action than that Tuesday thirteen years ago. But can you imagine if this kind of thing happened today? Felix Hernandez getting traded after winning the Cy because the Mariners didn’t want to pay $6 million, the Giants continuing a firesale of their World Series winning team, a possible Hall of Famer getting traded in the middle of his contract, and a few top flight prospects moving around the country? In an atmosphere like today’s, this might be the most talked about day in recent baseball history.
But 1997 really was that long ago. And now all we have to remember such an eventful day is a blog post like this one. Well, that and a couple of World Series trophies sitting in Fenway Park and a new ballpark in Washington, D.C.
P.S. - And remember this tweet from C.J. Nitkowski earlier this summer? “Just paid $11.50 for a slice of pizza and a sprite at Turner Field. Have to look at it like returning some of the money I stole in '04.” Well, that whole journey started on, you guessed it, November 18, 2003. Happy anniversary, C.J.!