Top 10 Trades in Phillies History: #9 Thomas Steals Abreu From Devil Rays

Acquired in 1997, Abreu spent parts of nine seasons with the Phillies and became one of the franchise’s all-time great players.

Over the next two weeks, in conjunction with the run-up to the July 31 trade deadline, Phillies Nation will be presenting the Top 10 Trades in Phillies History. Consideration was given to the performance of the players traded with their new club v. the performance of the players acquired with the Phillies in addition to heavily weighing the success of the Phillies once the trade was completed.

This series will be immediately followed by the Top 10 Worst Trades in Phillies History, starting approximately on July 7.

Lee Thomas had put together a pretty solid playing career. An All-Star first baseman/outfielder in 1962 for the Los Angeles Angels, Thomas spent eight years in the Major Leagues with the Yankees, Angels, Red Sox, Braves, Cubs, and Astros, accumulating 106 career homers before spending a year in Japan with the Nankai Hawks.

After retiring following the 1969 season, Thomas became a coach and, eventually, the director of player development with the St. Louis Cardinals. In the 1980’s, Thomas helped assemble and develop the Cardinals clubs that won three pennants and the 1982 World Series. In June 1988, the Phillies tapped Thomas to steer the ship as their general manager.

This is the first of three Thomas-era trades that will appear in the Top 10 but it is the last to occur chronologically. Thomas won The Sporting News Executive of the Year in 1993 after guiding the Phillies from worst to first and a World Series appearance. Thomas made several shrewd trades in addition to the ones that will appear in this countdown but struggled with keeping talent for reasonable prices.

Thomas would sign players like Darren Daulton and Lenny Dykstra to long-term deals which made sense in the context of their 1992 through 1994 seasons. The deals look less favorable when injuries and bad decisions cost both players significant time in future seasons. And while Gregg Jefferies, Benito Santiago, and Todd Zeile were solid ballplayers for the Phillies, a team mired in the basement close to their payroll threshold probably isn’t equipped to take on three multi-million dollar contracts as their attendance dwindled and the excitement from 1993 faded away.

Before being replaced in 1998 by Ed Wade, Thomas did give the Phillies one final gift. On November 18, 1997, the Philadelphia Phillies received then-24-year old outfielder Bobby Abreu from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for shortstop Kevin Stocker. In Thomas’ last move of substance with the Phillies, he added one of the greatest players in franchise history for an overpaid and under-producing shortstop.

Thomas found a willing trade partner in Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar. LaMar may be a name Phillies fans remember from his tenure with the squad as their assistant general manager of player development & scouting, a position he held from November 2008 through September 2011. LaMar became the Devil Rays’ first general manager, earning the position soon after the franchise was awarded. From 1998 through 2005, LaMar was the Devil Rays general manager, compiling a 518-777 record.

LaMar had earned his stripes working alongside then-Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz from 1991 through 1995 as director of player development and scouting and later assistant general manager and director of player personnel. LaMar and Schuerholz assembled the 1995 World Series-winning Atlanta Braves.

Thomas and LaMar hooked up on the deal when the Houston Astros left Abreu unprotected in the expansion draft prior to the 1998 season. The Devil Rays selected Abreu in the third round, sixth overall, with the sole intention of trading him to the Phillies. LaMar opined a year later to the Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury that the Devil Rays simply “could not go into our first season without a shortstop”.

While LaMar’s views were progressive, shortstops are indeed scarcer than your average outfielder, Stocker’s salary was $1.8 million in 1998, $2.4 million in 1999, and $3.3 million in 2000, a steep price to pay for a hitter with a .262/.347/.350 line at that time.

The contrast in the seasons Abreu and Stocker had couldn’t have been any starker: while Stocker possessed one of the best gloves at shortstop in 1998, Stocker hit just .208/.282/.313 with six homers and five steals against Abreu’s .312/.409/.497 line with 17 homers and 19 steals. Abreu would hit under .300 just twice in his full seasons with the Phillies, ranking fifth in baseball in fWAR during that period while Stocker would be out of the Majors following the 2000 season.

In Phillies history, Abreu ranks sixth among position players and ninth among all Phillies in WAR with a .303/.416/.513 line and 195 HR and 254 SB in 5885 PA. Abreu ranks fourth in team history in doubles, eleventh in homers, ninth in runs scored, tenth in RBI, seventh in steals, third in BB%, 24th in batting average, ninth in slugging, leads all Phillies with 1500 or more PA in OBP after 1910, and ranks second in OPS under the same criteria.

Abreu never reached the playoffs with the Phillies but he was part of the group that radically changed the Phillies fortunes and the perception of the fans that were attending games at Veteran’s Stadium and Citizens Bank Park. Abreu was a back-to-back All-Star in 2004 and 2005, winning the Home Run Derby in 2005 with an astonishing 41 home runs, 24 of which came in the first round. Needless to say, Stocker did not do these things.

It is sort of amazing that the Phillies were able to acquire one of the best players in baseball for an overpaid shortstop, proving that sometimes, things do go the Phillies way. When the Phillies appeared to be out of contention midway through the 2006 season, the Phillies sent Abreu and pitcher Cory Lidle to the New York Yankees for reliever Matt Smith and a handful of prospects. The follow-up trade wasn’t one of the team’s best trades but it did afford them additional payroll flexibility headed into the 2007 season, the year the Fightin’ Phils would finally return to the playoffs.

These days, Abreu is keeping the Major League dream alive with the Mets and, at age 40, is doing a mighty respectable job of it, hitting .281/.359/.416 with one homer and one steal in 103 PA at press time. Abreu is now just 12 homers away from reaching 300 for his career and sits at exactly 400 steals. If Abreu can reach 300 homers he will join Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Andre Dawson, Bobby Bonds, Reggie Sanders, Steve Finley, Alex Rodriguez, and Carlos Beltran as the ninth player that reached the 300 HR/300 SB club and only the third player, joining both Bondses, to reach 300 HR/400 SB.

Meanwhile, Stocker was believed to be a front-runner for one the vacant Philies’ broadcasting positions that opened up prior to the 2014 season. Stocker has spent the last 14 baseball seasons as a color analyst, currently working for the Pac-12 Network.

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