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.