In 1975, Eddie Robinson made a really bad trade and that leads into our topic, Worst Trades in Braves History: Dusty Baker.
Worst Trades in Braves History: Who We Got
The recently departed Jim Wynn was only in Atlanta for one season, but it was a completely solid season: 2.7 WAR while leading the league in walks. Jerry Royster was a popular Brave. He played in Atlanta for 10 seasons, the last of which was a Glavinesque swan song after three years away. Teammates seemed to like him and the fans admired his attitude. You might want to have a little more production of course: in his ten years with the team he was virtually the definition of a long-term replacement level player: an aggregate -1.0 WAR. But teams need those guys too, right? Throw in Tom Paciorek, a guy who finished 10th in MVP voting in one of his 18 years in The Show and Lee Lacy, a guy who was a key cog in the Pirates World Series champions of 1979 (I never need to hear “We Are Family” ever again, particularly when it triggers memories of Howard Cosell droning on about his knowledge of Sister Sledge) and that’s a pretty good haul in one trade.
Who We Lost
The guy we gave up, Ed Goodson, never did a noteworthy thing.
Oh, wait, what? There was another guy the Braves gave for those four? Dusty something or other? The 39th Greatest Atlanta Brave despite having played here only 628 games? Well, yes. Because that was only 1/3rd of Dusty’s career and the remaining 2/3rds generated 24 WAR, mostly for the Dodgers, including two All-Star appearances, a couple of Gold Gloves and two top 10s in the MVP voting. It’s not that Dusty blossomed when he left Atlanta: he just gave the Dodgers another decade of Dusty Baker while the Braves got a decade of Jerry Royster. Royster played 1121 games for the Braves and is not on the list of their top 44 players. It’s a little like the old Catskill’s joke: “The food is terrible here. And such small portions.” He wasn’t all that good, and reliably so. That’s not a good trade.
So many trades today are about team control and dead money that we forget a simpler time when bad teams that had a good player would trade them to a good teams who needed another good player in return for a bunch of guys who might become good players at some point and an older guy who could replace, temporarily, the good guy that the bad team lost. This was a perfect example of one of those trades. The Braves lost their second-most-productive position player (after Darrell Evans) from a team that had finished 40 games out of first and 20 behind the Dodgers (who were second to the Big Red Machine that year) to one of the teams they were trying to catch. And the Braves went from 67 wins all the way up to 70, good enough for last place, while the Dodgers (although Dusty had his only bad year in LA) gained 10 games on the Reds and overtook them the next year and the year after that.
Does it make sense for a team that isn’t going to win to trade away their good players for lottery picks? Like Jack and the Beanstalk, it depends on the quality of the Beans. As a specific proposition here, the win totals (starting in the season before Dusty was traded) 67-70-61-69-66 ought to tell you that something was amiss somewhere in this strategy as actually implemented. This was not a team that was unlucky: it was a really bad baseball team and nothing they were doing was making it any better. I don’t want to overstate the negative value of this trade: the Braves were still a last place team if they’d kept Baker, all else equal.
By 1982, the Braves had made the playoffs. (Their thrilling one game victory over the Dodgers sealed by this home run is still the reason I can’t bring myself to criticize Joe Morgan for anything else he does.) So in 1982 Jerry Royster made the playoffs for the Braves, which is more than Dusty ever did for us. Royster had two singles in 11 at bats in the NLCS That The Rain Gods Stole. On the other hand, Dusty made the playoffs four times, was the MVP of the 1977 NLCS, and played well in 3 World Series with the Dodgers, losing twice to the Yankees and beating them once. And of course had Dusty still been on the Braves in 1982, no telling what he might have done to the Cardinals. So there’s that. Back then, we definitely needed Better Beans.
Thanks for reading on Worst Trade in Braves History, Dusty Baker. Check out the entire series here!