Big Trades and Von Hayes

Whenever I play a sports video game, I always have just as much fun building my team in manager/dynasty/franchise mode as I do playing the game itself. As a result, I always get a little giddy around Trade Deadline time.

Now the Phillies, as the preeminent wheeler-dealers in baseball over the past 2 seasons, have been linked with everyone from Ty Wiggington to Roy Oswalt to the Easter Bunny in recent weeks, generating no shortage of speculation and hand-wringing from the media and fan base. I’m of the opinion that the Phils, as long as they stay in the race, ought to stand pat until July 31, but that’s a different discussion. I thought it might be fun to go back and revisit a famous trade from yesteryear–the Von Hayes 5-for-1.

Now, the Phillies traded for Von Hayes in 1982, more than 4 years before I was born, and sent him packing before I was old enough to understand baseball, but that trade’s become almost idiomatic in its significance to the Phillies and their approach to roster moves. Essentially, it’s a symbol of how the Phillies gave up 5 players for a 24-year-old outfielder who, in 9 seasons with the club, never really set the world on fire. However, under closer examination, rather than blowing the future for a mediocre player, it becomes clear that the Phillies took the Indians to the cleaners on that fateful day in December 1982.

Here’s the trade:

To Cleveland: 2B Manny Trillo, INF Julio Franco, RHP Jay Baller, RF George Vukovich, C Jerry Willard

To Philadelphia: OF Von Hayes

Part of the value of players is that they can be traded for other assets, so we’ll add to our scale the value added to the Phillies by LHP Kyle Abbott and OF Ruben Amaro (yes, that Ruben Amaro), when the Phillies got them from the Angels in a 1991 trade that sent Hayes to Anaheim. Likewise, we’ll put OF Don Carter (acquired by the Indians for Trillo in 1983) and 2B/SS Jerry Browne, OF Oddibe McDowell, and 1B/OF Pete O’Brien (acquired from Texas for Franco in 1988) in Cleveland’s basket. Everyone else involved in that trade was either released, retired, or involved in a trade of little significance.

So here’s how the balances really stack up:

Phillies: Hayes (1983-1991), Abbott and Amaro (post-1991)

Indians: Trillo (1983), Carter, Vukovich, Baller, Willard, Franco (1983-1988), McDowell (1989), Browne (1989-1991), and O’Brien (1989).

In order to gauge value, we’re using the easiest catch-all statistic I know: WAR. I know that stat’s controversial around these parts, but as you’ll see, the ultimate differences in value are quite large.

Here’s what the Phillies got: Von Hayes (w/PHI) 27 WAR/9 seasons; Traded for: Kyle Abbott (-1.1 WAR/2 seasons) and Ruben Amaro Jr. (0.9  WAR/2 seasons)

Total: 26.8 WAR

The Indians got: Manny Trillo (w/CLE) 0.7 WAR/1 season; Traded for Don Carter (never played in majors); George Vukovich (w/CLE) 2.9 WAR/3 seasons; Jay Baller (w/CLE)-never played in majors again; Jerry Willard-(w/CLE) 2.2 WAR/2 seasons (1984-85);  Julio Franco-(w/CLE) 12.1 WAR/6 seasons, traded for Jerry Browne (4.9 WAR/3 seasons, released), Oddibe McDowell (-1.0 WAR/half season, traded for Dion James), and Pete O’Brien (0.9 WAR/1 season, left as free agent)

Total: 21.7 WAR

Let’s look at the difference between what the Phillies got and what the Indians got, even after counting residual trades, which netted Cleveland 4.8 WAR and cost the Phillies -0.2 WAR. That difference of 5.1 is the difference in value last year between Evan Longoria and Jamey Carroll. It’s very nearly the entire offensive output of the 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates. On its surface, the Phillies won the 5-for-1 trade by an entire 2009 Ryan Howard, and then some. But that’s not the end of the story.

Look at the Indians’ haul. Baller would never play in the majors again. Trillo, an integral part of the Phillies from the late 1970s through the World Series winning 1980 team, was pretty much finished by 1983, and contributed little to the Indians that year before the Tribe traded him for a player who’d never see a minute in the bigs.

Willard, who spent 1983 in the minors, was a solid backstop for Cleveland the next two years, but never made his mark as a full-time player, moving on in 1986. Vukovich was also a platoon player who never broke 500 at-bats for the Indians. What’s more, literally  all of his value was from only one season, 1984, when he enjoyed a spike of 50 points in his batting average. His other two years, 1983 and 1985, he was actually below replacement level, and he never played in the major leagues again after 1985.

This means that just about all of the value Cleveland got from the trade was in the form of Julio Franco. I think it was Glen Macnow (it might have been Angelo Cataldi or Big Daddy Graham–I’m not sure) who wrote that the 5-for-1 trade looks worse and worse every year as Franco plays into his 50s. But anything past 1988, when Cleveland traded him to the Rangers, doesn’t factor into the trade, because any value Franco produced went to a team other than the Indians.

Even in that time, Franco played 6 seasons in Cleveland, averaging a little over 2 wins a year–solid, but nothing to write home about. Year-on-year, he produced somewhere between what Clint Barmes and Dan Uggla did in 2009, if you need a point of reference. Franco didn’t explode until he turned 30–the year after he was traded to Texas. And any value his excellent 1989-1991 seasons had, or his cameo as a bench bat for the mid-2000s Mets had, had no impact on what Cleveland got from the Hayes trade, since they had already flipped Franco.

For Franco, Texas traded utilityman Jerry Browne, who had two very good season with Cleveland before an absolutely abysmal 1991 precipitated a trade, half a season of noted flameout Oddibe McDowell, and a year of first baseman Pete O’Brien, 1989’s answer to Adam LaRoche. All serviceable, none spectacular.

In fact, in that time, the best performer by far was Hayes, who averaged 3 WAR a season in his nine years with the Phillies.

And here’s why the 5-for-1 trade was so beneficial to the Phillies. First, Hayes, 24 at the time of the trade, gave speed and youth to a 1983 Wheeze Kids team that started a 42-year-old Pete Rose, a 39-year-old Joe Morgan, a 38-year-old Steve Carlton, and gave significant playing time to 41-year-old Tony Perez. Hayes and Joe Lefebvre were the only starters under 30 on that team.

Second, not only did Hayes generate more value for the Phillies than all of the players the Indians got put together, he did it from one roster spot. Albert Pujols is valuable because he produces enough for two people but only takes up one spot in the lineup and one player’s worth of salary. So while the Phillies need Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth to produce what Pujols does, the Cardinals have the luxury of adding whatever contributions Ryan Ludwick is able to make to their basket as well. Not only would these 5 players have to outperform Hayes to even up the trade, they’d have to outperform him by a lot, because Franco, Vukovich, and Trillo take up more than one roster spot.

This leads me to two points. First, don’t trade Jayson Werth. It’s not worth trading him in for marginal players, like the Indians got for Hayes, particularly when letting him walk in the offseason nets the Phillies compensatory draft picks anyway. Second, it can often take years to successfully evaluate a trade. We don’t know who got the better of the Roy Halladay deal and three Cliff Lee trades of the past year, and it might take a decade for us to know for sure. It all depends on what happens to Jason Knapp, Tyson Gillies, Justin Smoak, Brett Wallace, and a host of other players who haven’t yet seen significant big-league time.

Most of all, it’s important to be patient and not panic. Not just us, but the front-office people too. Panic leads to trades that Omar Minaya or Steve Phillips would make. Panic leads to a lifetime citywide fixation on a player who only made 12 regular-season appearances for the Phillies. Panic leads to the demonization of a player who was productive and effective for a decade because the flotsam he cost the team got overrated somehow. Let’s keep cool, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.

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