Of course, the easy answer is Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb. The question being, “What was the worst trade in Seattle Mariners history?” I’ll admit that even I have reasoned this to be the worst transaction in the annals of the franchise, an opinion I put into print over a year ago.
But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to realize that the worst trade in history wasn’t made back in 1997. Rather, it was executed just a few short years ago and nearly flew under the radar. In fact, you may have forgotten about the deal entirely. But you shouldn’t have. Because this move was absolutely, undeniably horrific.
All that said, we first need to understand why the Varitek-and-Lowe-for-Slocumb swap wasn’t the worst trade in Mariners history. So let’s start there.
On the day that then-general manager Woody Woodward pulled the trigger on the Slocumb debacle, it was not viewed as the horrible, Godawful, incredibly one-sided affair that we see it as today. There are two reasons for this.
For one thing, Varitek and Lowe were two prospects that were relatively unproven. They were also expendable. Varitek was being blocked at catcher by a 28-year-old Dan Wilson, and Lowe was just another right-handed arm amongst a litany of right-handed arms in the farm system. Even after the ’97 season concluded, fans weren’t lamenting the departures of Varitek and Lowe so much as they were Jose Cruz Jr., who had been sent to Toronto for relievers Paul Spoljaric and Mike Timlin earlier in the year.
For another, the M’s, who were set to appear in only their second postseason ever, had a devastatingly inept bullpen. A bullpen that was shored up quite nicely by Slocumb, who in spite of not being able to button his shirt correctly, was still a half-decent closer. Slocumb, you may recall, absolutely imploded in 1998, which is the memory that most fans retain of the burly right-hander. But in ’97? He logged a 4.13 ERA post-trade (sounds worse than it is, when his fellow penmates and the ballpark conditions are factored in) and saved 10 big games down the stretch. It wasn’t as bad as people like to think it was.
All things considered, the Slocumb deal was ugly, no denying that, but it wasn’t the ugliest. And we’re looking for the cream of the crop here.
So what deal was the worst, you ask? Great question. The answer is this: Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez.
Let’s take a step back here for a minute. Back to December 7th, 2006, the day the Soriano-for-Ramirez trade was finalized. If you’re a true blue Mariners diehard, I’m going to ask you to rack your brain and come up with the emotions you felt when this deal went down. Chances are, you were upset. Sickened. Pained. Angry. Disgusted. All of the above. I know I was. And if you review comment boards (like this one, for example) from the date that word of this trade came down, you’ll see that most fans shared my sentiments.
The problems with the Soriano-for-Ramirez deal were and are plentiful. I’ll try to summarize them as best I can without harping on details, lest you vomit.
First, there’s the whole “stuff” argument. Scouts and so-called insiders always like to talk about a pitcher’s “stuff,” or essentially his God-given ability to throw the sh*t out of the baseball. Soriano, for one, has great stuff. He can throw in the mid-90s with ease. Back then, when he was a bit younger, he could hit 100 on occasion and absolutely blew opposing hitters away. On top of that, he had a filthy slider, giving him all the tools necessary to be a lights-out big league closer. Ramirez, on the other hand, had bad stuff. These days, he isn’t even a major leaguer, which should tell you just how crappy his stuff was and still is. We don’t need to go into specifics. We all saw Ramirez’s stuff in action. It was gross.
Second, there’s the “what have you done for me lately” argument. Back in ’06, Soriano posted a 2.25 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and notched two saves in 53 games. Ramirez was 5-5 in 14 starts with the Braves, had an ERA of 4.48, and managed a very pedestrian WHIP of 1.52. This, in conjunction with the fact that the left-hander had endured two stints on the disabled list during the ’06 campaign, once for a strained left hamstring (the hamstring on the leg that he pushed off with) and again for a torn tendon in his left middle finger (on the hand that he threw with). In essence, the Mariners were giving up an emerging stud for an injury-prone, replacement-level player who had posted mediocre numbers in a weaker division than the one he was being dealt to.
See, the difference between the Slocumb deal and the Ramirez deal is that we all knew at the moment the trade went down that Soriano-for-Ramirez was a big mistake. We could see it in the numbers. We could feel it in our collective gut. We knew it was a bad move. And yet somehow, some way, our GM didn’t see it that way.
The man to shoulder most of the blame for this abomination is, of course, the Mariners’ then-general manager, one William J. Bavasi. For some reason, Bavasi was so desperate for a back-of-the-rotation starter that he was willing to give up one of the premier setup men in the entire game for a below-average, soft-tossing southpaw. Where he got off thinking that Ramirez would blossom in the American League is beyond me. Let’s face it. How many pitchers go from the NL to the AL with positive results? Very few. And how many of those very few pitchers who actually do see positive results were previously crap in the NL? I’d wager none. So basically, Bavasi was trying to craft a unicorn out of horse manure. Sadly, it didn’t work out.
This isn’t all Bavasi’s fault, naturally. The man was desperate to field a winning ballclub after three straight losing seasons on the job. He was in full “win at all costs” mode, and was prepared to do whatever it took to keep earning a paycheck. Between the end of ’06 and the middle of ’08, Bavasi set this franchise back five years or more by mortgaging the future to keep his worthless ass employed for a few more days. You can’t entirely blame him for doing that. Hell, in the same position, most of us would probably do the same thing. You do what you have to do to survive, and Bavasi did that. Which is why you can at least shift some of the blame for this epic failure to the team’s front office.
Had the likes of Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln not kept Bavasi around for f*ck-up after f*ck-up, we might not even be discussing this deal right now. But alas, Armstrong and Lincoln were convinced that Bavasi, what with his ties to 80-year-old scouts and being related to some other guys that had found success as GMs generations earlier, was the right man for the job. What an eye for talent, those two. Like parents who buy their kid a new car after he totals the first one. Way to go, mom and dad. You’re raising one hell of an American.
There’s another problem with this move, aside from the cast of characters that allowed it to transpire: it never needed to happen. You can ask the question, “Why?” Why even make this deal? It’s one thing to go all-in on an Erik Bedard type of trade; at least that’s semi-justifiable. But Horacio Ramirez? The poor man’s Jose Rosado? Really? Really? That offer would get laughed off the table in a fantasy league. I’m sure when Bavasi propositioned Atlanta with his shrewd maneuver, the Braves’ front office staff ran around the room high-fiving one another before unmuting the phone and telling the Mariners’ GM that they politely accepted. Soriano had all the upside in the world and Ramirez’s ceiling wasn’t high enough to sell on a dwarf. This move was made for the sake of making a move. And from start to finish, it couldn’t have gone over any worse.
We all know the results of this massacre. When he wasn’t nursing a bruised ego (to go along with the rest of his injuries), Ramirez was contributing to an ERA that ended up at 7.16 in his lone season (2007) with Seattle. This, in partnership with his ungodly WHIP of 1.85. Somehow, through it all, he managed to eke out an 8-7 record, which should have the 2010 edition of Felix Hernandez fuming. Three years later, the 30-year-old is currently on the disabled list with the Fresno Grizzlies, Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.
And what for Soriano? After continuing to progress as a reliable setup man in Atlanta, the flame-throwing righty now leads the American League in saves as the closer for the Tampa Bay Rays. As of August 30, the native of the Dominican Republic has put out 39 fires and has a 1.72 ERA to go along with his equally-pristine 0.80 WHIP. He earned an All-Star selection earlier this year for his efforts.
There are very few trades that are bad when they take place, bad as they unfold, and bad in hindsight. But this trade? It was all kinds of bad. I can’t even begin to fathom how I would reason this deal in a court of law, or at the very least a bar debate. All of which leads us to the ultimate conclusion. Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez? Call it the worst trade in Mariners history.