10th anniversary: Dontrelle Willis tradeby Chris Jaffe
March 27, 2012
Ten years ago today, the Marlins made a pretty good trade for themselves, though it might not be quite as one-sided as you might think.
On that day they sent two players to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for a four-pack. The only established player was journeyman hurler Julian Tavarez. Along with him were two aging prospects, hitter Ryan Jorgensen and pitcher Jose Cueto. Rounding out Florida’s haul was the real prize, a charismatic 20-year-old lefty by the name of Dontrelle Willis.
Yeah, that ended up working well for the Marlins.
The young Willis spent all of 2002 in the minors, but in 2003 he won his promotion to the majors and made the most of it. He went 14-6 on the year for the Marlins, helping them claim a surprise wild card crown. From there, despite Willis having a poor postseason, the team claimed the franchise’s second world title—defeating Willis’ former team in the NLCS.
Two years later was his dream season, as he went 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA, leading the league in wins, shutouts, and complete games. He finished second to Chris Carpenter in the Cy Young voting. Willis was just 23 years old.
Then, as happens all too often with talented young pitchers, his arm began to go south. The next year in 2006 his record plummeted to 12-12 while his ERA rose to 3.87. 2007 was even worse, He went 10-15 while surrendering the a league leading 118 earned runs. That was his last year with Florida. Since then, he’s won four games over four years with three teams.
Willis didn’t have a great career, but his great peak ensured the Marlins got the better of that trade.
That said, the trade wasn’t a complete blow out. While the Cubs gave up more than they got, they got some usable parts. In order to get Willis, the Marlins sent Chicago former closer Antonio Alfonseca and reclamation project Matt Clement. Alfonseca was a dud in Chicago, but Clement worked out nicely.
Clement always had a nice fastball, but he lacked control. In 2000 with the Padres, he led the league in walks and wild pitches, en route to a 13-17 season with a 5.14 ERA. Florida picked him up in 2001, only to see Clement post another ERA over 5.00 while again lead the league in wild pitches (despite tossing barely enough innings to qualify for the ERA title).
In Chicago, Clement figured it out. A man who’d walked five batters per nine innings over the previous two years issued only 3.7BB/9IP. He proved to be a pretty reliable starter for the Cubs for the next three years. He was never great like Willis, but Clement helped the Cubs advance to the playoffs in 2003.
In the 2003 NLCS, Clement won his only start, Game Four. Making it a tad sweeter, the pitcher he outdueled on that day was none other than Dontrelle Willis. That victory gave the Cubs a three-games-to-one lead in the NLCS, and had they won one of the remaining trio of games, Chicago likely wouldn’t have minded the Cubs losing that trade as flags fly forever. However, it’s the Cubs and as everyone knows in Wrigley Field flags fly for never.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim the list.
2,000 days since the Cardinals top the Padres 2-0 in Game Two of the 2006 NLDS. Five St. Louis pitchers combine to throw a four-hitter against San Diego.
3,000 days since Colorado signs free agent Jeromy Burnitz.
4,000 days since Miguel Tejada belts the 10,000th home run in A’s history.
4,000 days since San Diego retires Dave Winfield’s number.
4,000 days since major league baseball has a record 11 games decided by one run.
5,000 days since Carlos Delgado becomes the first player to hit a ball into the fifth deck of the Skydome.
5,000 days since the death of slap hitter Elmer Valo.
6,000 days since the King County Council approves a plan for a new $230,000,000 stadium for the Mariners.
6,000 days since the Yankees name Bob Watson their new GM.
6,000 days since the Cardinals hire Tony LaRussa as their manager.
8,000 days since Gary Carter’s only pinch-hit home run. It’s his 305th career homer overall.
20,000 days since Doug Jones is born.
1878 Miller Huggins, Hall of Fame manager, is born.
1890 The Inter-State League rejects the membership application of an all-black club.
1902 The Chicago NL team is first publicly referred to as the “Cubs” when a newspaper says “[team manager] Frank Selee will devote his strongest efforts on the team work of the new Cubs this year.” This nickname would have a nice future in front of it (even though the franchise itself wouldn’t).
1927 Joe Start, early baseball star, dies.
1931 E. S. Bernard, AL president since 1927, dies at age 56.
1938 Luke Appling, White Sox star shortstop, breaks his leg sliding and will miss half the season.
1948 Hank Greenberg invests $100,000 from Cleveland and joins Bill Veeck as a team VP.
1951 Dick Ruthven, pitcher, is born.
1961 Cardinals pitcher Larry Jackson breaks his jaw when hit by a fragment of Duke Snider’s broken bat. Jackson will be out four weeks.
1967 Jaime Navarro, problematic pitcher, is born.
1973 The Braves unconditionally release former star Denny McLain.
1973 Minnesota trades Jim Perry to Detroit. He becomes the first player with 5/10 year power to OK a trade.
1975 Steve Blass is released by Pittsburgh.
1978 A’s owner Charles O. Finley cancels a deal that would’ve sent the team to Denver under the sponsorship of oil magnate Marvin Davis.
1981 San Diego trades Tony Phillips to the A’s. Yes, the Tony Phillips who lasted forever.
1982 The Korean Baseball Organization opens its first regular season.
1986 MLB changes the DH rule for the World Series. It used to be even years with it, and odd years without it – but now usage of the DH will depend on the home park.
1987 The Royals trade David Cone to the Mets.
1989 Sports Illustrated reports that Pete Rose gave hand signals to the Reds dugout about his baseball bets.
1992 Three women file a lawsuit against David Cone, accusing him of exposing himself to them while in the bullpen at Shea Stadium.
1995 The National Labor Relations Board files for a court injunction to restore the previous labor rules for MLB.
1997 Atlanta trades Jermaine Dye to the Royals for Keith Lockhart and Michael Tucker. It’s safe to say that KC gets the better half of this deal.
2000 The Mets purchase Timo Perez from Hiroshima.
2003 Montreal releases Jose Canseco.
2010 University of Minnesota takes on Louisiana Tech in the first baseball game played at Minnesota’s Target Field. 37,757 watch it. I have no idea who won.
2010 The Korean Baseball Organization begins a new 12-second limit rule between pitches to speed up the game. They also widen the strike zone.
2011 The Cubs release pitcher Carlos Silva.
2011 A thief breaks into the spring training abode renting by Tampa Bay players Evan Longoria, David Price, and Reid Brignac. He makes off with $50,000 worth of jewelry and electronics, and also swipes a gun.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.