The Butterfly Effectby Matthew Namee
July 01, 2004
A couple weeks ago, I wondered what might have happened had Dodgers 2B prospect Eric Young done better in his 49-game stint in 1992. That led into a two-part discussion about players and their original teams, which was a lot of fun to write. Then I realized that I left possibly the most fun part out -- I never got around to completely answering the initial question about Eric Young. So, let's do that today (or at least, try).
Have you seen the movie The Butterfly Effect? It came out earlier this year, and in the movie, the Ashton Kutcher character goes back in time and changes one specific thing. That change has far-reaching implications, altering his entire reality.
Kutcher then goes back numerous other times, but we're going to just take one trip back. Back to the second half of the 1992 baseball season. A 26-year-old rookie, Eric Young, has just taken over the Dodgers second-base job. The Dodgers are in the midst of a nightmarish 99-loss season, but the farm system is stocked with talent. Young, who has just batted .337 at Albuquerque (a .277 MLE) looks like the second baseman of the future.
Here is our one little change. In real life, Young hit .258/.300/.258 (zero extra-base hits) in his 49 games that year, and was drafted by the Rockies in the expansion draft that fall. Let's do one little, tiny thing: let's add four hits to Young's 1992 total. Four hits is nothing; it's less than one every dozen games. But four hits is the difference between Young's .258 average and .280, which was essentially his MLE.
So Young hits .280, and his trial is not considered a failure. He is protected by the Dodgers in the expansion draft, and remains the second baseman of the future. The Rockies draft Jody Reed (who they actually drafted and then traded to LA), and Reed becomes the original Colorado 2B.
Meanwhile, Eric Young does a passable job in his rookie season and hangs onto the second-base job. With no hole at second, the Dodgers don't trade Pedro Martinez to Montreal for Delino DeShields. Still, the Expos need to trade DeShields, who is in his arbitration years and beginning to get expensive.
The Yankees are an obvious trading partner, with the uninspiring Pat Kelly at second base, and they send young pitchers Bob Wickman (coming off a 14-4 season) and Sterling Hitchcock to the Expos in exchange for DeShields. DeShields is the Yankee 2B from 1994-96, batting in the .290s every year and helping the club to the World Series in '96.
In reality, the Yankees had some decent one-year guys at second base, but nobody really reliable during the 1994-97 period. Hitchcock was actually traded to the Mariners in December 1995, in a deal that brought Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to the Bronx. Wickman went to Milwaukee in 1996, where he emerged as a solid reliever. And in real life, DeShields was a bust in his 3 years in Los Angeles, batting .241/.326/.327. Of course, the Yankees did win the World Series in '96.
After the season, a number of the team's best players leave as free agents -- DeShields, John Wetteland, Jimmy Key. DeShields signs with the Cardinals, and after a season of stopgaps at second base, the Yankees trade for Minnesota's Chuck Knoblauch.
Well, that's pretty much what actually happened. DeShields did sign with St. Louis after the '96 season, though he was hardly a star at that point. Wetteland and Key also left New York. And after a season of stopgaps at second base in 1997, the Yanks acquired Chuck Knoblauch from the Twins.
Back to the Dodgers. Pedro Martinez stays in the bullpen in 1994, and with Pedro there, the Dodgers see no need to rush prospect Darren Dreifort. In 1995, Martinez moves into the rotation, joining his brother Ramon and Japanese sensation Hideo Nomo. Dreifort is called up to the big leagues that September, and pitches well down the stretch as the Dodgers win the division but fall to the Reds in the playoffs.
In the real 1994, Pedro went 11-5 with a 3.42 ERA as a starter for Montreal. The Dodgers did rush Darren Dreifort, and he ended up having Tommy John surgery (twice, actually). In '95, Pedro had another decent season with the Expos, going 14-10 with a 3.51 ERA. And the Dodgers did win the division but lost to Cincy in the playoffs.
1996 is a great season for the Dodgers. Eric Young hits .300, Mike Piazza has a monster year, and Pedro wins 18 games. The Dodgers have one of the best rotations in recent memory, with the Martinez brothers, Nomo, and young pitchers Ismael Valdez and Pedro Astacio. Chan Ho Park makes some starts late in the year, and Darren Dreifort emerges as a dominant middle reliever.
Real life: 1996 was a decent season for the Dodgers. Eric Young hit .324 (for the Rockies), Mike Piazza did have a monster year (.336/.422/.563, 36 HR), and Pedro won 14 games (for Montreal). The Dodgers had a solid rotation, with Ramon Martinez, Nomo, and young pitchers Ismael Valdez and Pedro Astacio (but also mediocre old guy Tom Candiotti). Chan Ho Park made some starts late in the year, but Darren Dreifort was no great shakes in 19 games (24 SO in 23.2 IP, but a 4.94 ERA).
The Dodgers win 97 games and go on to face the Yankees in the World Series. They lose, but after the season Piazza is signed to a 6-year, $65 million deal that makes him the highest-paid player in the game. At the press conference, owner Peter O'Malley addresses rumors that he wants to sell the club. "They're nonsense," he says. "We just won the pennant. The Dodger-Yankee rivalry is back. Revenues couldn't be better. This isn't the time to sell a ballclub; it's the time to enjoy it."
The Dodgers won 90 games and the Wild Card, but were swept by Atlanta in the Division Series. Piazza wanted a contract extension, but didn't get one. As for the rumors that O'Malley wanted to sell the team... well, read on.
The next year, Pedro Martinez goes 21-5 with a 1.75 ERA. Todd Worrell struggles in the closer role, and Dreifort takes over the job. Los Angeles rides Pedro through the playoffs, and the Dodgers sweep the Indians in the World Series that October. The next month, Piazza is awarded the NL MVP.
The real 1997 season saw Pedro make "the Leap" into superstardom with the Expos, going 17-8 with a 1.90 ERA. Todd Worrell struggled all year as the Dodger closer (5.28 ERA), and Dreifort had his only really good year (2.86 ERA and 63 SO in 63 IP), but had just 4 saves. The Dodgers won 88 games and missed the playoffs, and the Marlins beat the Indians in 7 games in the World Series. The next month, Larry Walker was awarded the NL MVP.
In January '97, Peter O'Malley announced plans to sell the Dodgers. By May he was negotiating with media mogul Ruppert Murdoch, and the deal is done on March 19, 1998.
Two weeks after winning the World Series, the Dodgers ink Pedro to a 5-year, $60 million contract extension that keeps him in Los Angeles through 2003. Dan Duquette and the Red Sox, looking to acquire a big-name starting pitcher, send Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. to the Marlins for ace Kevin Brown, whom they promptly sign to a 4-year extension.
In November, Dan Duquette and the Red Sox traded Pavano and Armas to the Expos for Pedro. The champion Marlins traded Kevin Brown to San Diego in December, for Derrek Lee and a couple other guys.
After a failed attempt at the championship, Marlins owner H. Wayne Huizenga claims that the club lost $50 million in 1997, and he proceeds to dismantle the team. Moises Alou (to Houston) is the first to go, and Kevin Brown and Al Leiter (to San Diego for Derrek Lee) are gone before the new year. Then in May 1998, the Marlins trade Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, and Jim Eisenreich to the Red Sox for Troy O'Leary, Trot Nixon, and Brian Rose.
After winning the championship, Huizenga claimed that the Marlins lost $34 million in '97, and he proceeded to dismantle the team. Alou went to Houston, Brown went to San Diego, and Leiter went to the Mets (for A.J. Burnett, among others). Then in May '98, the Marlins traded Sheffield, Bonilla, Eisenreich, Charles Johnson, and Manuel Barrios to the Dodgers for Piazza and Todd Zeile. Piazza was traded to the Mets 8 days later, for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz, and then Zeile was dumped on the Rangers.
The Padres win 91 games and the Wild Card, and after setting the home run record, Mark McGwire beats out Sammy Sosa for the NL MVP award. Darren Dreifort is outstanding in his first full season as a closer, with 44 saves and a 2.50 ERA. The Dodgers finish the year 94-68, but lose to the Astros in the NLDS. San Diego upsets the Braves and then Houston, and meets the 114-win Yankees in the World Series, where the Pads lose in four straight.
With Kevin Brown leading the way, the Padres won 98 games and the NL West title, and despite setting the home run record, McGwire lost out to Sosa in the MVP voting (thanks in large part to Sosa's Cubs winning the Wild Card). The Dodgers finished the year 83-79, a distant third place, and with no reliable closer, they traded prospects Paul Konerko and Dennys Reyes to the Reds for Jeff Shaw over the All-Star break. Thinking it would help him avoid injury (it didn't), the Dodgers moved Darren Dreifort to the starting rotation, where he had a mediocre year (8-12, 4.00 ERA). San Diego beat Houston and then the Braves to cop the NL pennant, and were swept by the Yankees in the World Series.
In need of a center fielder, the Dodgers send first base prospect Paul Konerko to the White Sox for Mike Cameron that winter. Cameron goes on to have a breakthrough season, batting .245/.345/.450 with 18 homers and 45 steals.
In September '98, the Dodgers' Fox ownership named Kevin Malone the new GM. Malone proceeded to make a series of questionable moves, including signing Kevin Brown to a huge long-term contract and bringing in the aging Devon White. And after the 1998 season, the Reds sent Konerko to the White Sox for Mike Cameron, who batted .256/.357/.469 with 21 homers and 38 steals for Cincinnati.
Obviously, the face of baseball has changed. In real life, the Reds packaged Cameron in a trade to Seattle that sent Ken Griffey Jr. to Cincy before the 2000 season. With no Cameron, the Reds position wouldn't be nearly as strong, and a team like the Yankees would be in a great position to acquire Junior. So, let's say the Yankees send a comparable package... Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, and Ricky Ledee.
But that leaves the M's without a center fielder. In real life, Houston traded CF Carl Everett to Boston for infielder Adam Everett that off-season, but with Gary Sheffield in the lineup, the Sox wouldn't really need Carl Everett's bat. Instead, the Mariners could acquire Everett as a one-season rental, sending shortstop Carlos Guillen back to Houston (where he began his career).
We could keep going on like this for hours (and pages), but you get the point -- a few hits can mean more than anyone realizes at the time. Eric Young's disappointing cup of coffee in 1992 set off a chain of events that nobody could have foreseen.
Matthew Namee cofounded The Hardball Times in 2004, when he was working as the assistant to baseball author and Red Sox executive Bill James. Matthew still lives in Kansas, where he is currently pursuing a law degree. He can be reached at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.