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A Long-term Trade Deficit

COMMENTARY : One in a series of stories marking the
Dodgers' 50th anniversary in L.A.

L.A. Dodgers' worst deal ever? For many fans, and one Hall of Fame baseball writer, the choice is clear: Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields in 1993.

April 22, 2008|Ross Newhan | Special to The Times

The worst trade in the 50 years that the Dodgers have been in Los Angeles?

From casual fans to dedicated seamheads, no prompting is needed.

The 1993 trade that sent Pedro Martinez to Montreal for Delino DeShields continues to produce the loudest moans, with obvious justification.

Second baseman DeShields was a three-year bust in Los Angeles while Martinez, caught amid varying opinions by Dodgers officials regarding his long-term durability and whether he was best suited to start or relieve, has won two Cy Young awards in the American League, one in the National, and posted a 199-87 record in 14 seasons since the trade.

Then-general manager Fred Claire pulled the trigger on the deal. Claire wasn't operating in a vacuum, but he has always accepted responsibility. The trade is the biggest blemish on his tenure, but is it really the worst in L.A. Dodgers history?

A closer look shows that it was merely the culmination of a 12-year series of trades that stripped the impatient Dodgers of five of their most promising pitching prospects and brought little in return.

Rick Sutcliffe, two years after he won the rookie-of-the-year award, was traded in 1981 for Jorge Orta.

Dave Stewart and John Franco were traded in 1983 for Rick Honeycutt and Rafael Landestoy, respectively.

John Wetteland was packaged with Tim Belcher in 1991 and traded for Eric Davis and Kip Gross.

Then, two years later, Martinez was traded.

Martinez, Sutcliffe and Stewart went on to become three of baseball's best starters. Sutcliffe won a Cy Young Award and Stewart had four consecutive 20-win seasons (but no Cy Young Awards). In addition, Franco and Wetteland went on to become two of baseball's best closers, the bottom lines on championship teams in New York.

The Sutcliffe, Franco and Stewart trades were negotiated by Al Campanis, Claire's predecessor. Claire negotiated the Wetteland and Martinez trades.

The one Dodgers constant in each was Manager Tom Lasorda, who has never been shy about offering an opinion and who often said that the Dodgers couldn't afford to operate a developmental camp in the major market that is Los Angeles.

Each of those trades ranks high on the 50-year list of the club's worst.

But if Martinez/DeShields is the runaway No. 1, part of the blame goes to Jody Reed, DeShields' predecessor at second base. When Reed, slightly better than a journeyman at best, rejected a three-year, $7.8-million free-agent offer to stay with the Dodgers after the '93 season, Claire and Lasorda were left with an absence of speed and a gaping hole in the infield of what they hoped would be a contending club.

While Reed was left with nothing but a $300,000 offer from the Milwaukee Brewers and made only about $2.8 million over the remaining four years of his career, Claire located an available All-Star in DeShields.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, DeShields didn't perform like an All-Star in Los Angeles. He batted .250, .256 and .224, although he did manage to steal 27, 39 and 48 bases. Also, in a touch of irony, he turned in the key defensive play as Ramon Martinez, Pedro's brother, pitched a 7-0 no-hitter against the Florida Marlins in 1995.

"With any trade," Claire said in reflection, "whether it was made by Al or me or anybody else, the goal is to improve the team. But you look back, and it's pretty easy to judge. Would you classify those trades, whether it was Pedro or Franco or Stewart or Sutcliffe or Wetteland, as good trades? No, I don't know how you could."

In the case of Martinez, the young right-hander had dislocated his left shoulder swinging a bat at triple-A Albuquerque late in the 1992 season. The injury was surgically repaired by Dr. Frank Jobe in October, and Martinez came back in 1993, his first full season with the Dodgers, to make 65 appearances, 63 in relief, with a 10-5 record, 2.61 earned-run average and 119 strikeouts in 107 innings.

His reward: the November trade to Montreal after Reed's contract rejection had created the vacancy at second base. The trade, at the time, was actually criticized by Montreal media and applauded by L.A. media.

Claire said he made it after consultation with Lasorda, Ralph Avila and others in the baseball department, as well as with Jobe, who in talking about it for the first time with this writer in 1999 said he felt that he definitely influenced Claire's decision.

"It wasn't all Fred's fault," Jobe said. "I don't think I said get rid of him, I'd never say that, but the circumstances kind of spoke for themselves. His shoulder had come out once, and once an injury of that type occurs, you can't say it won't reoccur.

"He had kind of a delicate stature to start with [Martinez is generously listed at 5 feet 11, 170 pounds], and there were already questions [in the baseball department] about his stamina. It's a judgment call, but you had to kind of wonder, 'Golly, is this kid going to break down?' "

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