This week (April 16-22) saw a couple of trades with similar circumstances. In both instances, a team traded for a player who had been an outstanding performer, but whose performance had declined after returning from an injury.
 
After the jump, I’ll look at these trades more closely and consider the wisdom of the moves.
 
April 16, 1938 – The Chicago Cubs traded Curt Davis, Clyde Shoun, Tuck Stainback and $185,000 to the St. Louis Cardinals for Dizzy Dean.
 
Dizzy Dean was unquestionably among the premier pitchers of his era. For his first 5 seasons, Dean led the majors in wins and strikeouts, and placed 3rd in WAR, more than 5 WAR ahead of 4th place Lon Warneke. Here’s the WAR list for those 5 seasons, 1932 to 1936.
 
Rk Player WAR Age G GS CG SHO GF W L W-L% IP BB SO ERA ERA+ HR Tm
1 Carl Hubbell 36.3 29-33 218 169 118 19 41 111 53 .677 1512.1 230 684 2.40 155 77 NYG
2 Lefty Grove 31.6 32-36 181 130 98 14 42 94 50 .653 1202.2 324 596 3.22 146 50 PHA-BOS
3 Dizzy Dean 31.2 22-26 245 170 123 19 66 120 65 .649 1531.0 371 970 3.04 130 76 STL
4 Lon Warneke 26.1 23-27 196 160 107 16 27 98 55 .641 1357.2 331 615 2.80 135 65 CHC
5 Wes Ferrell 24.9 24-28 172 159 118 13 12 93 59 .612 1293.0 450 429 3.83 127 56 CLE-BOS
6 Mel Harder 24.1 22-26 204 157 78 13 39 87 68 .561 1275.0 340 441 3.51 134 44 CLE
7 Tommy Bridges 23.6 25-29 178 161 99 18 14 94 56 .627 1278.0 561 717 3.46 130 81 DET
8 Lefty Gomez 19.9 23-27 175 154 85 13 15 91 44 .674 1216.1 515 740 3.40 122 75 NYY
9 Larry French 19.3 24-28 228 160 88 19 42 83 66 .557 1328.0 274 457 3.12 122 60 PIT-CHC
10 Red Ruffing 18.6 27-31 169 150 103 13 17 82 55 .599 1243.1 478 644 3.59 117 80 NYY
11 Van Mungo 18.4 21-25 207 162 91 13 34 81 71 .533 1312.2 511 782 3.47 110 52 BRO
12 Curt Davis 15.7 30-32 129 85 50 6 33 48 44 .522 718.2 157 243 3.33 135 45 PHI-TOT
13 Schoolboy Rowe 15.6 23-26 147 114 68 14 29 69 35 .663 910.1 244 479 3.83 117 45 DET
14 Earl Whitehill 15.1 33-37 166 161 84 6 4 80 55 .593 1240.2 480 438 4.27 104 69 DET-WSH
15 Hal Schumacher 14.9 21-25 171 145 69 15 14 77 50 .606 1134.0 351 400 2.97 126 54 NYG
16 Johnny Allen 14.6 27-31 130 109 58 10 13 70 29 .707 858.1 350 560 3.69 118 38 NYY-CLE
17 Ed Brandt 14.4 27-31 183 146 86 10 31 66 76 .465 1205.1 348 454 3.61 102 60 BSN-BRO
18 Bill Swift 14.3 24-28 197 130 65 6 56 70 57 .551 1111.1 208 375 3.51 110 65 PIT
19 Ivy Andrews 13.2 25-29 192 95 37 0 57 41 50 .451 850.0 291 201 4.25 113 48 TOT-BOS-SLB
20 Red Lucas 13.1 30-34 136 123 81 6 10 56 52 .519 963.0 142 229 3.41 113 54 CIN-PIT
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/20/2012.

Dean’s dominance continued into the 1937 season. At the All-Star break, Dean was 12-7 in 149 IP, with 14 CG and 4 SHO, a 2.41 ERA (NL avg ERA was 3.91) and 110 SO against only 22 BB. Of course, in that year’s All-Star game, Dean suffered a broken toe on a ball hit back through the box by the Indians’ Earl Averill.

Less than two weeks later, Dean returned to action, but before his injury was fully healed. Adjusting his delivery to put less pressure on that injured plant foot toe, Dean lost velocity and put added strain on his arm in the bargain. The rest of the season (which ended early for Dean, after his Sept 8th game), he was only 1-3 with a 3.59 ERA but, more ominously, had only 11 SO in 47 IP, less than a third of his K rate before his injury.

The Cardinals, evidently, were worried enough to entertain offers for Dean, and they got a good one from the Cubs. The $185,000 was a vast sum in 1938, and getting Curt Davis (#12 on the 5-year WAR list, in only 3 seasons of action) in the deal was gravy. In his 3 years in Chicago, Dean was a competent pitcher (16-8, 116 ERA+, 1.23 WHIP), but in only 226 IP as a part-time starter and with just 2.7 K/9. A positive contributor, but nothing like the former Dizzy Dean.

The high point of Dean’s time with the Cubs was undoubtedly their pennant-winning season of 1938. Dean allowed a run over 8 innings on Sep 27th as the Cubs won 2-1 in the first game of a series with the Pirates, pulling within a half-game of the front-running Bucs. Dean called it the greatest game he ever pitched, not because of his stuff but because he had no stuff and still managed to gut out a win. The Cubs swept that series and cruised to the pennant as Pittsburgh collapsed to a 1-6 finish. Despite that pennant, the Cubs gamble on Dean was likely a loss leader, if only for the cash involved.

For the Cardinals, the promise Curt Davis showed in his first 3 seasons was not sustained. After 3 seasons over 200 IP, Davis would exceed that threshold only twice more in his career. Nevertheless, he did compile decent career numbers for a player who started as a 30 year-old rookie. Here are the pitchers since 1901 to compile 30 to 36 WAR from age 30 onwards. Not bad company. The rank shows their WAR placement among all pitchers in this period.

Rk Player WAR From To Age G GS CG SHO W L W-L% SV IP BB SO ERA ERA+ HR Tm
40 Luis Tiant 35.9 1971 1982 30-41 344 307 122 27 147 105 .583 3 2193.2 631 1325 3.55 112 208 BOS-NYY-PIT-CAL
41 Fergie Jenkins 35.2 1973 1983 30-40 360 348 125 24 149 133 .528 0 2468.0 565 1542 3.60 108 284 CHC-TEX-BOS
42 Eddie Cicotte 34.9 1914 1920 30-36 292 210 152 24 129 83 .608 20 1902.1 423 770 2.30 130 18 CHW
43 Ted Lyons 34.9 1931 1946 30-45 305 270 200 15 134 128 .511 4 2271.0 577 662 3.67 121 157 CHW
44 Tom Candiotti 34.8 1988 1999 30-41 365 330 42 5 122 128 .488 0 2183.0 658 1413 3.64 110 195 CLE-TOT-LAD-OAK
45 Red Ruffing 34.7 1935 1947 30-42 258 257 172 29 157 78 .668 0 2036.2 621 827 3.31 126 145 NYY-CHW
46 Murry Dickson 34.4 1947 1959 30-42 509 304 133 25 143 170 .457 20 2626.1 890 1087 3.75 110 289 STL-PIT-PHI-TOT-KCA
47 Chuck Finley 34.1 1993 2002 30-39 307 307 37 9 127 111 .534 0 1998.2 822 1771 4.08 115 203 CAL-ANA-CLE-TOT
48 John Smoltz 33.9 1997 2009 30-42 457 215 16 7 99 65 .604 154 1668.2 383 1556 3.19 135 138 ATL-TOT
49 Tommy John 33.9 1973 1989 30-46 463 435 100 23 193 135 .588 1 2915.2 718 1166 3.56 108 178 LAD-NYY-TOT-CAL
50 Harry Brecheen 33.8 1945 1953 30-38 256 205 104 21 108 81 .571 14 1579.2 449 741 2.99 133 104 STL-SLB
51 Charlie Hough 33.8 1978 1994 30-46 573 439 107 13 182 183 .499 9 3278.2 1383 1993 3.86 106 341 LAD-TOT-TEX-CHW-FLA
52 Babe Adams 33.8 1912 1926 30-44 378 271 158 32 142 113 .557 13 2301.0 300 726 2.90 113 57 PIT
53 Urban Shocker 33.3 1921 1928 30-37 292 233 146 17 136 83 .621 17 1903.0 414 646 3.42 123 107 SLB-NYY
54 Curt Davis 33.2 1934 1946 30-42 429 280 141 24 158 131 .547 33 2325.0 479 684 3.42 117 142 PHI-TOT-CHC-STL-BRO
55 Bobo Newsom 33.1 1938 1953 30-45 428 345 172 22 151 152 .498 11 2681.2 1166 1531 3.80 107 149 SLB-TOT-DET-PHA-NYG
56 Larry Jackson 33.1 1961 1968 30-37 297 283 102 27 123 119 .508 0 2053.2 465 1035 3.26 113 152 STL-CHC-TOT-PHI
57 Bert Blyleven 32.3 1981 1992 30-41 305 303 92 19 131 109 .546 0 2128.2 552 1451 3.79 109 224 CLE-TOT-MIN-CAL
58 Stan Coveleski 32.1 1920 1928 30-38 274 253 138 21 133 89 .599 9 1933.2 510 558 3.20 127 53 CLE-WSH-NYY
59 Rick Reuschel 31.8 1979 1991 30-42 309 291 50 10 118 102 .536 2 1953.0 502 1018 3.35 112 122 CHC-TOT-PIT-SFG
60 Roy Halladay 31.2 2007 2012 30-35 165 164 42 12 96 44 .686 0 1217.2 191 1006 2.77 152 89 TOR-PHI
61 Virgil Trucks 31.1 1947 1958 30-41 422 253 91 27 133 108 .552 28 2068.0 885 1158 3.51 115 151 DET-TOT-CHW-KCA
62 Al Leiter 31.1 1996 2005 30-39 306 299 12 8 129 100 .563 0 1869.0 854 1535 3.65 116 158 FLA-NYM-TOT
63 Bucky Walters 30.4 1939 1950 30-41 286 274 184 30 149 101 .596 3 2191.1 742 814 2.87 126 107 CIN-BSN
64 Sal Maglie 30.0 1950 1958 33-41 290 222 86 22 114 58 .663 14 1638.2 540 830 3.19 126 167 NYG-TOT
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/20/2012.

 The Cardinals also got some value from the other players in the deal. Clyde Shoun was a reliver and occasional starter, contributing almost 500 innings over 4 seasons at a journeyman level 95 ERA+. Shoun would continue to provide that type of performance for various teams until 1949. Tuck Stainback was a different story. A reserve outfielder, his -7.3 career WAR is tied for the 6th lowest total since 1901 (min. 2300 PA). But, in a wartime environment, that was good enough to hang on until 1946. 

April 18, 1960 – The Cleveland Indians traded Herb Score to the Chicago White Sox for Barry Latman.
 
Herb Score had one of the most auspicious debuts of any pitcher. For the first two seasons work for pitchers debuting since 1901, Score ranks 5th in WAR, 11th in ERA+ (min. 300 IP), and 2nd in strikeouts, with only Dwight Gooden besting him in all three categories. Here’s the WAR list for pitchers in their first two seasons.
 
Rk Player WAR From To Age G GS CG SHO GF W L W-L% IP BB SO ERA ERA+ HR Tm
1 Dwight Gooden 17.1 1984 1985 19-20 66 66 23 11 0 41 13 .759 494.2 142 544 2.00 176 20 NYM
2 Tom Seaver 13.9 1967 1968 22-23 71 69 32 7 2 32 25 .561 529.0 126 375 2.47 129 34 NYM
3 Vean Gregg 13.9 1911 1912 26-27 71 60 48 6 11 43 20 .683 516.0 176 309 2.22 155 6 CLE
4 Pete Alexander 13.5 1911 1912 24-25 94 71 56 10 21 47 30 .610 677.1 234 422 2.68 131 16 PHI
5 Herb Score 13.4 1955 1956 22-23 68 65 27 7 1 36 19 .655 476.2 283 508 2.68 153 36 CLE
6 Dave Davenport 12.9 1914 1915 24-25 98 78 46 13 14 32 33 .492 662.1 206 393 2.64 122 9 TOT-SLM
7 Ed Reulbach 12.6 1905 1906 22-23 67 53 48 11 14 37 18 .673 509.2 165 246 1.52 186 3 CHC
8 Curt Davis 12.4 1934 1935 30-31 95 58 37 6 28 35 31 .530 505.1 107 173 3.28 142 28 PHI
9 Teddy Higuera 11.6 1985 1986 27-28 66 64 22 6 2 35 19 .648 460.2 137 334 3.30 130 48 MIL
10 Dutch Leonard 11.0 1913 1914 21-22 78 53 31 10 19 33 22 .600 484.0 154 320 1.73 163 3 BOS
11 Jake Weimer 11.0 1903 1904 29-30 72 70 58 8 2 40 22 .645 589.0 201 305 2.09 138 5 CHC
12 Mark Fidrych 10.8 1976 1977 21-22 42 40 31 5 2 25 13 .658 331.1 65 139 2.47 156 14 DET
13 Tommy Thomas 10.4 1926 1927 26-27 84 68 37 5 11 34 28 .548 556.2 204 234 3.35 119 23 CHW
14 Paul Dean 10.3 1934 1935 21-22 85 59 35 7 15 38 23 .623 503.0 107 293 3.40 122 35 STL
15 Gary Nolan 10.2 1967 1968 19-20 56 54 12 7 1 23 12 .657 376.2 111 317 2.51 141 28 CIN
16 Roy Oswalt 10.1 2001 2002 23-24 63 54 3 1 4 33 12 .733 374.2 86 352 2.91 153 30 HOU
17 Jeff Tesreau 10.0 1912 1913 24-25 77 66 36 4 8 39 20 .661 525.0 225 286 2.07 157 9 NYG
18 George McQuillan 10.0 1907 1908 22-23 54 47 37 10 7 27 17 .614 400.2 102 142 1.44 167 1 PHI
19 Don Newcombe 9.6 1949 1950 23-24 78 66 39 9 9 36 19 .655 511.2 148 279 3.45 119 39 BRO
20 Mike Mussina 9.5 1991 1992 22-23 44 44 10 4 0 22 10 .688 328.2 69 182 2.63 152 23 BAL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/20/2012.

Score was hit in the eye with a batted ball, a line drive back through the box, early in the 1957 season. He was hospitalized for 3 weeks and was still suffering from vision problems at the end of the season. Nevertheless, Score returned to start the 1958 season and looked to be regaining his form when he was sidelined with a torn tendon in his elbow, an injury that recurred soon after his return in June so that Score managed only 41 innings for the season. Score pitched a full season in 1959 but was prone to the gopher ball, leading to just a 79 ERA+, despite a league-leading 8.2 K/9.

In Chicago, Score cut his 1959 HR/9 in half in 1960 leading to an improved 102 ERA+. But, his K/9 started to slide which, combined with continuing control problems that Score had always struggled with, led to just a 0.90 K/BB ratio. Score was to contribute just 30 more innings in his final two seasons with the Sox. 

Unlike the Cubs in the Dean trade, the White Sox did not make a large gamble on a turnaround by Score. Barry Latman was a 24 year-old prospect who had shown a bit of promise in 1959, his first full season, with 101 ERA+ in 156 IP as a swingman. But, Latman failed to progress, compiling 89 ERA+ in 652 IP in 4 seasons with Cleveland. 

Other trades this week.
 
 
This trade caused tremendous uproar in Boston where fans had embraced Ken Harrelson despite his having been on the Red Sox for only the 1968 season (5 WAR and 154 OPS+) and the last month of 1967. For a time, Harrelson refused to report but turned in a decent season (27 HR, 109 OPS+ despite a .222 BA) for Cleveland once he did. In keeping with the theme of this piece, Harrelson’s career would never recover from a broken leg suffered sliding into a bag during spring training in 1970.
 
April 22, 1995 – The New York Yankees traded a player to be named later and Keith Heberling (minors) to the Chicago White Sox for Jack McDowell. The New York Yankees sent Lyle Mouton (April 22, 1995) to the Chicago White Sox to complete the trade.

This trade had actually occurred the previous December but was just completed at this time when the Yankees sent Lyle Mouton to the White Sox as the PTBNL. The Yankees were no doubt expecting  big things from former Cy Young winner McDowell, though a closer look at his record might have given them pause.

During McDowell’s 4 seasons with at least 33 starts for Chicago, he compiled a gaudy 73-39 record but did so with only a 117 ERA+. More ominously, his K/9 declined every year, bottoming out at just 5.5 for the 1993 season. Things started evening out in 1994 when McDowell went only 10-9 despite leading the league with 3.2 K/BB. In New York, McDowell’s walks and HR started creeping up, leading to a 15-10 mark and 118 ERA+. A middle finger salute to jeering fans upon being removed from a game would seal his fate as just a one-year Yankee. McDowell would have one more season as a regular starter, with Cleveland in 1996, before winding up his career with an 87 ERA+ in just 135 innings over his final 3 seasons.

 

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