Schuerholz’s greatest mistake

Mark Davis Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

If you want to know why the Braves are reluctant to offer multiple years to a reliever, I expect that a large part is the man linked above. Once upon a time, Mark Davis brought down the Kansas City Royals, almost singlehandedly. Schuerholz escaped to the Braves, but those left behind weren’t so lucky.

It may be hard for our younger members to believe, but the Royals were a model franchise once — practically from the day they joined the league to the day John Schuerholz left. In 1969, they went 69-93 in their first year, pretty good for an expansion team. In their third year of existence, they won 85 games. In their eighth year, they won the division, and were rarely out of contention from then until 1989. Their record in the late seventies and eighties was similar to the current Braves’, at a lower level. From 1976-85, they won the division seven times, but only went to two World Series, winning it all finally in 1985.

The death of manager Dick Howser of a brain tumor in 1986 and the aging of their offensive core led to a decline, but they were still a dangerous team. They won 92 games in 1989 and had winning records the two previous seasons. Jeff Montgomery had taken over as the team’s relief ace that season. All he’d done is throw 92 innings with a 1.37 ERA, striking out 94 and walking 25, and save 18 games. But he was a 27-year-old journeyman, and nobody much trusted him. Surely the Royals could better challenge the A’s (everyone figured the A’s would continue to dominate the division) if they had a real closer. A real closer like… Mark Davis.

Davis was one of the big free agent catches of that offseason. He’d saved 44 games for the Padres in 1989. His stats, other than that, are pretty similar to Montgomery’s, though — a 1.85 ERA in 92 2/3 IP, 92 K, 37 BB. But with the 44 saves, the shiny C on his chest (unlike Montgomery’s new-minted one), and the closer rep, he got the then-unheard-of sum of $14 million over four years to take over as the Royals’ closer.

He held the job for about six weeks.

Davis was never again an effective pitcher. His ERA ballooned to 5.11 in 1990, and he never had an ERA+ of 100 or more again. He saved six games that season, and only five more over the further course of his career. They tried making him a starter, but that didn’t work either. In 1992, the Royals finally cut bait, trading him to the Braves for the remains of Juan Berenguer, but the change of scenery did him no good, and in 16 2/3 innings he put up a 7.02 ERA. The Braves dumped him on the Phillies after the season; the Phillies responded with the 1993 NLCS, and can you blame them? They released him in July and he returned to San Diego. His career finally petered out in 1994, though he tried to comeback with the Brewers in 1997.

And the Royals were never the same franchise. Since Mark Davis joined the ballclub, they’ve had four winning seasons, none of them with more than 84 wins. Their only really “successful” season was the strike year of 1994 when they went 64-51, for which manager Hal McRae was fired. They’ve been in contention exactly once, in 2003, and faded down the stretch. They’ve become a joke franchise, the team voted Most Likely To Be Contracted.

So you can see why John Schuerholz might be wary of a big-ticket free agent reliever.

32 thoughts on “Schuerholz’s greatest mistake”

  1. I remember the Davis signing, and I remember thinking “$14M over four years?! Wow, that’s way too much money for anyone!”

    Now that’s set up man money.

  2. I was “fortunate” enough to watch Davis with the Braves in 1992. Boy, did he suck big time. At that time, everybody in Atlanta was saying JS refused to admit his mistake. Same thing being said when the Braves traded for Michael Tucker. That’s why I am not trying to expect too much from Diaz. The Braves never get anything good from the Royals.

    You know what, Mark Davis…BJ Ryan…hope Ryan will have better result playing under the pressure of a big contract…

  3. Hey kc, Keith Lockhart brought those pictures of Bobby Cox with him from K.C. How they turned up there, we will never know, but it was good to at least get the pictures out of the American League before the Yankees got a hold of them and signed Bobby to be there manager.

  4. When Davis was on though, as he was in SD for a few years, his curve ball was one of the five best I ever recall seeing. Broke with a sharp snap that fell right off the table.

  5. If we get Manny and another reilever, the pitching machine may need a place to play, if we put a basket on it the machine may be great at first base!

    No one would have a better arm and Giles could just run over and rotate the machine for the relay.

    The down side of it is if anyone hits one at the machine and it goes in, they get a free round of BP

  6. Well, CJ, that’s what I heard too, but I never got a chance to see it myself.

    Mac, great job on reminding us the Davis signing by JS, how on earth can you remember so many things?

  7. Well, Mac, even Rob Dibble and Wohlers have a split to complement their 100+ fastballs. That’s why I can’t believe Kolb was trying to get by with only his fastballs…

  8. I dont think Mark or John deserve the blame.

    Its all a money game. The Royals had one of the highest payrolls by the early 1990’s and many players at their peak. Then, the 90’s struck. Suddenly, Brett was 90, Bo knows crutches, Saberhagen knows when to get out, and voilla, the era ends.

    It all comes down to money. I cant blame John for a team who’s payroll is only $8MM more in 2005, than it was in 1991. Even the corporate owned braves have a payroll that is $60MM more now.

  9. He was comming off a CY Young year and two back to back strong season. Plus he was a lefty. He also started a few games that season for KC

  10. Corrrect me if I am wrong, did not JS/Braves sign a reliever as their 1st round draft pick this past year and give him a huge signing contract and then bringing to the major leagues all in one year? I think this fact shoot holes in your “theory” on many points. Braves have hundreds of arms on the roster including Boyer, Devine and Sosa as potential bullpen breakthough saviors. We are going to depend on young players at almost every other position on the team, why oh why does this board have a “sky is falling” attitude about not making trades for relief pictures? It is such a crap shot with relievers that JS is just making fiscal sense and waiting for the right time and right deal, at the same time knowing, Braves may not have to make another deal and still be in place to win it all. JMTC

  11. Lessons like these don’t seem to scare the money losing Yankees. Last year’s Pavano and Wright signings remind me of the Davis deal. In regard to Damon, I’m glad Boston didn’t throw an extra $13 mm at an aging, armless outfielder. However, it does look bad when one day ago their two headed general monster said Damon was their #1 priority.

  12. lonebrave, the point is that JS hasn’t signed a “big time” reliever as a free agent. I can’t think of any, I know we traded for Reitsma and Remlinger, but we have never signed a expensive reliever to a long term deal in the JS era.

  13. Um… Devine got a signing bonus, but his playing contract is a standard rookie deal, not something that will bind the team to him for years even if he sucks. That hardly compares.

    The Braves, in fact, have signed only one elite free agent (not their own) since Schuerholz took over — Greg Maddux. They’ve signed a number of second and third tier guys, but not the top players. JS has preferred, when adding elite players, to do it via trade.

  14. Fuck. I just realized that the Yanks signing Damon means that we probably lose their 2nd round pick from Farnsworth now. Anyone else know if this is true?

  15. I mean, we are bumped down to their 2nd round pick. So, we go from getting the 28th overall plus a sandwich to the sandwich plus the 71st overall. Booo!

    It sucks that we lost two Elias grade A free agents and got no first rounders out of it.

  16. The Red Sox have released Chad Bradford. If his back is functional, he’d be worth bringing into the bullpen mix.

  17. Maddog was certainly the biggest free agent signing, but you cant forget about the Big Cat. That was a big signin,well until the cancer thing.

    I too would like Bradford. although, it may bring up some painful Kerry Lightenberg memories I’ve tried to forget.

  18. On that note, I say if we are tanking by midseason, with a winning % lower than Renteria’s OBP, we bring the Big Cat back. Anythings better than ladouche hitting lefties and the Big Cat could hit #400 as a Brave. If only we could have done it for Dale.

  19. If my memory serves me right, the only big name free agent I can remember the Braves even making a big effort to sign was PayRod. At the time I was all for it, but thank God and that Hicks idiot for signing him to the mega deal.

  20. Galarraga got three years at about $25 million. That’s a nice chunk of change, but he wasn’t an elite free agent by my reckoning. I’d guess I’d rank him second to Maddux, then Jordan. I didn’t like the Galarraga or the Jordan signings at the time.

  21. Let’s spike that graph a little. Wood and Patterson for Renteria (we keep the cash), HoRam, and KJ or Langerhans. Kerry is the closer, Patterson the 4th outfielder, the WB back to shortstop.

  22. Mark Davies is as responsible for the decline of the Royals as my dad is for losing the Vietnam war when he joined the army in ’68!

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