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Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Ten years ago today, the Cubs made one of their best deals in recent times. On that day, they got half an infield virtually free.
On Dec. 4, 2002, the Los Angels Dodgers gave the Cubs first baseman Eric Karros and second baseman Mark Grudzielanek in exchange for catcher Todd Hundley and prospect Chad Hermanson.
Let’s just say this didn’t work out the way the Dodgers expected it would. However, as is often the case in trades that end up lopsided, you can understand the thought process at work for LA.
Karros and Grudzielanek both looked definitely past their prime. In fact, they were pretty much textbook examples of the sort of players you wouldn’t want on your team in their early-to-mid 30s.
Both had been good but certainly never great players in their 20s. Guys like that aren’t known for aging too well once they hit the wrong side of 30. And in fact, that’s exactly what had happened to both. Karros had a respectable if unspectacular .271 batting average at age 34 in 2002—but you need to do more than that at first base. Karros hadn’t, with just middling power and not many walks or speed. The year before had been even worse as he’d hit only .235.
Karros' bounce back in batting average in 2002 gave him some trade value, but he looked like a bad bet moving forward.
Grudzielanek hadn’t yet fallen off offensively. In 2002 he did what he normally did—hit around .270 without much power or many walks—so you figured it would be sooner rather than later that Father Time caught up with him. He wasn’t great, but he was holding up, so package him off with Karros to see what you can get. Besides, the Dodgers had a pair of young infielders they liked in Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora, so the aging Grudz was expendable.
Todd Hundley looked interesting. He’d been great for the Dodgers in 2000, belting 24 homers with a .284 average in just 90 games. Things had fallen apart for him since then. With the Cubs in 2001-02, Hundley had hit around .200 with a disastrously bad relationship with the fans. (Most notably, he once gave a Wrigley Field fan the finger—and it happened just as WGN had its camera on him. Oops!)
Also, Hundley, like the Dodgers infielders, was in his 30s and could be done. He also played catcher, the most physically demanding position. He was perhaps the best bet of the bunch to be through as a productive player.
But Hundley had been very good from 1995-2000. In that prime, he was better than either Karros or Grundzielanek had ever been. That wasn’t so long ago and maybe Hundley just needed a change of scenery. Besides, he still had power, belting 16 homers in under 100 games for the Cubs in 2002. So the Dodgers were willing to take a gamble on him, provided the Cubs threw in a prospect like Hermanson.
Well, Hermanson didn’t do diddly for the Dodgers. He spent the year in the minors, collecting four hits in 11 games for the big league club before they let him depart in the offseason.
However, as minimal as Hermanson’s achievements were, it still nearly outshone Hundley. Hermanson had just four hits? Hundley got only six. Sure, two were homers—but it’s six hits in 21 games played. Hundley was done as a major leaguer.
Meanwhile, Eric Karros had one of the greatest first halves of his career. He entered the All-Star break batting a bizarrely high .323—and then he went 7-for-12 after the break. On July 22, he was hitting .338, which would dwarf his previous career high of .304.
Instead he flopped badly. He batted just .202 with eight extra base hits down the stretch, but his early heroics were enough to give him his best overall offensive season in four years. Still, as Branch Rickey had said, it’s better to trade a player one year too early than one year too late, and the Dodgers had just traded him a half-season too early.
Then there is Grudzielanek. Inconceivably, the 33-year-old enjoyed the best year of his career, batting .314. That proved to be no fluke as he hit .302 from 2003-08. Sure it can help leaving Dodger Stadium but it shouldn’t help that much—especially not for someone who was that old.
So the Dodgers traded Karros a half-season too early, and Grudzielanek a half-dozen seasons too early, all for a pair of players who gave them 10 hits.
As for the Cubs, behind the unexpectedly good production from their new first and second basemen, they made the postseason and nearly claimed the team’s first pennant since 1945.
That was one heck of a one-sided trade that occurred a decade ago on Dec. 4, 2002.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold for you to skim.
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