Dusted! Worst Trades in Braves History: Dusty Baker

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.

The Results

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!

Author: JonathanF

Alive since 1956. Braves fan since 1966. The first ten years were pretty much wasted. Exiled to Yankees/Mets territory in 1974 --- bearable only with TBS followed by MLB.TV.

16 thoughts on “Dusted! Worst Trades in Braves History: Dusty Baker”

  1. Thanks Jonathan. Enjoying this series and all of your great writing. Anyone who helps down the Dodgers can’t be all bad I suppose and he was a truly great player who did so many things well on the diamond but Lord how I hated listening to Joe Morgan run his mouth incessantly all those years on broadcasts.

  2. This is a really great point. There are too many trades – or even trades that get considered – where a productive major leaguer is swapped for a prospect whose best case scenario is to become something similar to the guy who was given up. Which means, obviously, the likeliest outcome is something less than that.

  3. While Alex — as usual — makes a useful point I think he underestimates the amount things like salary and service time play in these decisions. The Rays for instance make more of these trades than anyone else and have maintained a high level of MLB play for a number of years while holding their payroll in check. Most of these trades also involve a throw-in “lotto pick” prospect — typically a rookie league or low A pitcher with a live arm — who occasionally become headliners themselves. When we get to the Teixiera trade the main actors were reasonably balanced but the 2 lotto picks — Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz — both were big hits and that is what makes the deal so bad in retrospect.

  4. It’s hard to say Elvis was just a lotto ticket at the time. He was a top prospect SS. #27 that year in Sickels list of position players and iirc top 100 overall on most of the major lists. Salty was a top 10 catching prospect in the game and #34 on Sickels list. Harrison was a solid mid rotation starter prospect. Feliz was maybe? a lottery ticket because after all, TINSTAPP, but nevertheless was seen as a big time arm with lots of potential. Beau Jones was really the only true lottery ticket throw in part of that trade imo. Like many others I felt at the time we overpaid by one too many legit prospects. Salty, Harrison, and either one of Feliz or Andrus but not both, along with the throw in of Jones, was what I’ve always thought was all we should have paid. We just gave up too much talent for a marginal increase in our ability to make the postseason that year, with only one more year of control after that. I mean getting Tex mid season would have realistically added 2, maybe 3, wins while that really wouldn’t do what we needed to be a playoff caliber team.

  5. I would imagine someone will be writing about the first Teix trade during this series so I don’t want to steal some of that thunder, but yes, it’s in retrospect that you realize that you gave up so many years of control for so little control (at market rate) for Teix. When did the knowledgeable fan start looking at years of control as a component of trade value? I don’t remember it being that way back then, though I was still a teenager at the time so maybe I missed it.

    To snowshine’s point, the Rays have done such a tremendous job knowing when the right time to trade a player based on the years of control/value axis. And it’s kinda sad that you can’t convince the local fan here that it’s actually a really good decision. And accordingly, fans think the team is cheap for doing it which then becomes a reality when there is tremendous fan apathy because no one knows any of the players, people don’t come, and they remain broke. A mid-market team like the Braves could easily duplicate their strategy. And as long as they were able to keep enough good players that the fans wouldn’t become disenfranchised, they could have a private standing policy that they’ll dump any player once they get within that year and a half to a year of control remaining.

    I decided a couple weeks ago that if the powers that be give us a hearty baseball season, I’m going to double up and follow the Rays more closely and in person. My goal is to get to 10-12 games this year, even in the shorter season. After all, the joke is that the Trop is an excellent place to social distance.

  6. From last thread, JonathanF, that’s a cool story. I read your comment as I was watching a snippet on TV of Invincible, the Mark Wahlberg movie about another fella who had a cup of coffee in the NFL. Get in, make some coins, and let it be the springboard to a much brighter career. Nowadays, though, with the minimal player salary being so much higher than it was back then, he probably would try to get a little more mileage out of the situation, and then head off to med school.

  7. Snowshine, you’re absolutely right. Couple of things, though. Let’s talk about the different kinds of trades teams make:

    1) The sell-high: Trades you make because your star is leaving in a year and your team is going nowhere.
    Braves example: Heyward.

    2) The “We’re broke”: Trades you make to get salary relief first and prospects second.
    Braves example: B.J. Upton.

    3) The “Better a year early than a year late”: Getting rid of a guy because you think he’s overvalued and about to decline – an attempted sell-high prompted by player evaluation rather than a walk year.
    Braves example, best case: Shelby Miller
    Braves example, worst case: Andrelton Simmons

    All 30 teams make trades of the first variety. Some of them nail them, like we did with Heyward. And some of them screw them up, like Cleveland did with the Matt LaPorta-for-CC-Sabathia debacle.

    Trades of the second variety are mandated by poor decisions that were previously made – we had to dump Upton because we misevaluated him and gave him a contract that was quickly underwater. (I was a huge supporter of the contract at the time.) Badly run midmarket teams constantly stay around 70 wins because they spend half their time trying to figure out how to dump salary, viz. the Cincinnati Reds.

    Trades of the third variety are brilliant if you’re right and devastating if you’re wrong. Trading a star in his prime, when you don’t have to, is a very high-risk maneuver. Screwing that up – the way the Seattle Mariners did for a solid decade under Jack Z – is a great way to turn a good team into a bad one.

  8. I wonder if you could put every “big” Braves trade into one of those three categories.

  9. Dead money trades, e.g. Kemp for Adrian Gonzalez (but it got us Culberson) fit uneasily into this, but I guess it could be called a “We’re broke” deal on both sides, which is weird. Of course, the Dodgers were only broke because they were so far into luxury tax territory. Or maybe that’s just not a “big” trade.

  10. I was always a big fan of Dusty, and I did not like this trade when they made it. But for a bad team like the mid-seventies Braves, trading one good player for several guys who might be good players was a reasonable strategy (especially if you also get an aging Toy Cannon to replace the good player). Turns out that Lacy and Paciorek, while not stars, did have productive careers for many years after the trade. Unfortunately, as JonathanF reminds us, of the three young guys we took a chance on, the one guy (Royster) that remained a Brave was never very good.

    But unlike the Barker and Teixera deals, this trade was not really taking a chance on prospects. Paciorek and Lacy were 29 and 28 respectively with several MLB seasons under their belts. They were already pretty clearly who they were going to be.

    True, Royster was a 23 year old rookie with some upside. He had hit very well in 1975 in AAA, but hitting stats in Albuquerque and the PCL were quite inflated.

  11. My taxonomy really excludes the “challenge” trade, which is basically trading like for like — and bad contract for bad contract falls into that category. Straight-up challenge trades, like your pitcher for my pitcher or your shortstop for my shortstop, are relatively rare now, but they used to be more commonplace. I wrote a piece about how the Braves filled center field over a 30-year period, and between Dale Murphy and Andruw Jones it was almost all challenge trades:

    1. In January 1987, they traded Brad Komminsk (who’s now best remembered as a legendary tools bust) to Milwaukee for Dion James.
    2. In mid-1989, they traded James to Cleveland for Oddibe McDowell.
    3. (There were no challenge trades for the next few years. In 1991, they released McDowell, signed Deion Sanders, and traded C Jimmy Kremers and RHP Keith Morrison to Montreal for Otis Nixon.)
    4. In 1994, they traded Sanders to the Reds for Roberto Kelly. (LHP Roger Etheridge also went to the Braves, but he never made the majors.)
    5. In 1995, the Braves traded Kelly to the Expos for Marquis Grissom. (OF Tony Tarasco and RHP Esteban Yan also went to the Expos, but neither amounted to much.)
    6. In 1997, the Braves traded Grissom and right fielder David Justice to Cleveland for Kenny Lofton and lefty reliever Alan Embree.)

    https://blogs.fangraphs.com/positional-case-study-atlanta-braves-center-fielders/

  12. @11 You could have given me quite a few guesses, and I would not have been able to guess that the 3rd-best centerfielder in Atlanta history, who was also in the top 50 of all centerfielders per fWAR, was Walter Anton Berger.

    He also concluded his career in 1940, 46 years before I was to be born, so, ya know, there’s that…

  13. Update from Ken Rosenthal on the status of the restart:

    https://theathletic.com/1804433/2020/05/09/rosenthal-latest-details-on-baseballs-plan-to-return/

    For those of you who don’t subscribe to The Athletic, it’s essentially what was floated a week or so ago by Bob Nightengale (teams will stay entirely within their geographic area, play in their home parks without fans, expanded rosters, expanded playoffs, etc.) except they’ve dropped the weird thing where we were switching to the Central and the Pirates were switching to the East (we’d now play only teams in the NL and AL East) and this plan is for 80 or so games, meaning they don’t seem too keen on pushing the playoffs back too far into November.

    They’re gonna present it to the owners on Monday and, if approved, send it to the players for approval on Tuesday and try to get further salary concessions from them.

    I’d guess the biggest obstacle to this plan working is probably a potential resurgence of the virus in the next month as everything starts to open back up, but a close second might be the owners and players agreeing to some sort of salary framework.

  14. To be accurate, the Dodgers got a decade of Dusty Baker while the Braves got a decade of Jerry Royster AND they could have had a decade of Tom Paciorek and Lee Lacy. You can debate whether this was sufficient value for Dusty, but you have to include their value when assessing the trade since they were received in the deal. That the Braves found no way to get value from Paciorek and then released him TWICE has nothing to do with his value in this trade. That the Braves traded Lacy back to the Dodgers in a package for a 33-year old relief pitcher who had pitched over 100 games and 200 innings a year-and-a-half prior doesn’t change the fact that Lacy had value. If the Braves botched this trade, it’s only because they gave away the valuable talent that they received from it; the trade itself was not terrible at all.

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