10th anniversary: Hundley for Karros and Grudzielanek

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.

Day-versaries

2,000 days since Seattle releases former can’t-miss (but did miss) Padres third baseman prospect Sean Burroughs.

3,000 days since Barry Bonds hits home run No. 700. It comes off young Padres ace Jake Peavy.

5,000 days since Baltimore makes the first trip to Cuba by a major league team since 1959, and beats the Cuban team 3-2 in 11 innings. Jose Contreras pitches for Cuba.

6,000 days since Frank Thomas gets his 1,000th career hit.

6,000 days since Wade Boggs walks four times in four PA. He has other four-walk games, but this is the only one with just four trips to the plate.

7,000 days since Houston names Bob Watson its GM. He becomes baseball’s first black GM.

8,000 days since St. Louis signs free agent pitcher Jamie Moyer. It doesn’t take.

9,000 days since the 1987 Baltimore Orioles fall to 0-9 when Jeff Stone drops a routine fly to left to allow the Royals to score the game’s winning run.

10,000 days since the White Sox beat the Indians, 1-0. It’s a game featuring two Hall of Fame pitchers going the distance against each other and another Hall of Famer hitting a home run for the game’s sole score. That happens only three times since 1900, but one of those times was in this game with Carlton Fisk homering off Bert Blyleven to give Tom Seaver the victory.

10,000 days since the Rangers trade aging All-Star Buddy Bell to the Reds.

Anniversaries

1868 Hall of Fame outfielder Jesse Burkett is born.

1885 Shano Collins, 16-year AL outfielder, is born.

1890 Bob Shawkey, four-time 20-game winner, is born.

1899 The Reds release manager Buck Ewing, who has had a good deal of success guiding them for five seasons.

1914 Washington Senators ace Walter Johnson accepts a $6,000 bonus from the Federal League’s Chicago Whales to sign with them. Senators owner Clark Griffith will cry foul—Johnson is already under contract with his club. Griffith will win and Johnson stays in Washington.

1916 Broadway producer Harry Freeze becomes the official owner of the Boston Red Sox. He’ll ruin the team over the next several years, most infamously selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

1930 Harvey Kuenn, perennial All-Star in the 1950s and 1959 batting champion, is born.

1931 Washington trades Bump Hadley, Sad Sam Jones, and Jackie Hayes to the White Sox for Carl Reynolds and John Kerr.

1936 The Pirates trade Cookie Lavagetto to the Dodgers.

1940 The Cardinals trade Mickey Owen to Brooklyn for Gus Mancuso, a minor leaguer and $65,000.

1943 The Red Sox purchase Bob Johnson from Washington.

1944 Hall of Fame catcher Roger Bresnahan dies at age 65 in Toledo, Ohio—the city where he was born and raised.

1946 W. G. Bramham retires as the head of the minor leagues. George Trautman replaces him.

1950 Brooklyn drafts Roy Face from the Phillies in a minor league draft. He’ll later become an ace reliever with the Pirates.

1952 The Tigers trade Virgil Trucks to the Browns in a six-player deal (three men going each way).

1955 St. Louis selects Ellis Kinders off waivers from the Red Sox.

1957 The Indians trade Hall of Famer Early Wynn and outfielder Al Smith for star outfielder Minnie Minoso and Fred Hatfield.

1957 Lee Smith, for a long time the game’s all-time leader in career saves, is born.

1957 The MLB minimum salary is raised to $7,000.

1958 The minor league American Association expands to 10 teams.

1958 Red Murray, who led the 1909 NL in homers with seven, dies at age 74.

1958 St. Louis trades Wally Moon to the Dodgers.

1961 The Kansas City A’s release aging pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

1962 Ben Cantwell, a 20-game winner in 1933 who went 4-25 in 1935, dies at age 60.

1963 Baltimore trades Al Smith and $25,000 to the Indians.

1964 The Reds trade Cesar Tovar to the Twins, where he’ll play for several years.

1964 It’s a rarity—a seven-player trade in which pretty much everyone involved has a better future in front of him than a past behind him. The Washington Senators trade Claude Osteen, John Kennedy, and $100,000 to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Frank Howard, Ken McMullen, Phil Ortega, Pete Richert and a player to be named later (who will become Dick Nen). Most notably, Osteen will have two 20-win seasons for LA, while Frank Howard will lead the league in homers twice and Ken McMullen will join four All-Star teams for Washington.

1968 Houston trades Mike Cuellar to Baltimore for Curt Blefary. Cuellar turns out to be a late bloomer who has a nice run with the Orioles.

1969 San Diego trades Joe Niekro to Detroit for two players.

1973 Cincinnati trades Ross Grimsely to the Orioles. He’ll go 18-13 for the team in 1974.

1973 Ron Santo becomes the first player to exercise 5/10 rights to veto a trade. The Cubs were going to send him to California. The press dubs the 5/10 clause in the collective bargaining agreement the “Santo Clause.” Ho-ho-ho, indeed.

1974 Baltimore trades longtime staff workhorse Dave McNally to the Expos for Ken Singleton and Mike Torrez. McNally soon blows his arm out while Singleton has a nice productive run in Baltimore and Torrez wins 20 games in his only season as an Oriole.

1974 Detroit trades pitcher Woodie Fryman to the Expos.

1975 Ted Turner enters into a tentative agreement to purchase the Atlanta Braves.

1980 Houston signs free agent pitcher Don Sutton.

1981 The A’s sign free agent outfielder Joe Rudi, causing him to return to the club he first achieved stardom with.

1985 Twins/Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez is born.

1988 Baltimore trades longtime star first baseman Eddie Murray to the Dodgers.

1989 The Twins nab Shane Mack from San Diego in the Rule 5 draft. This is a great move for Minnesota.

1990 San Francisco signs free agent reliever Dave Righetti.

1992 Greg Swindell signs with Houston as a free agent.

1995 The New York Daily News reports that many stars, including Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, and the late Mickey Mantle, dodged taxes on their autographs.

1997 The Rockies sign free agent pitcher Darryl Kile. It’ll turn out that bringing a curveball specialist to the thinnest air in the major leagues is a bad idea.

1998 Texas signs free agent first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.

2002 The Cubs sign relief pitcher Mike Remlinger.

2006 San Francisco signs free agent infielder Rich Aurilia.

2007 The Florida Marlins send their most identifiable players to Detroit. Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis go there in return for Andrew Miller, Mike Rabelo, Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, and Dallas Trahern. Detroit gets the better end of this deal.

2008 The White Sox trade starting pitcher Javier Vazquez to the Braves.

2008 The Giants sign free agent shortstop Edgar Renteria.

2011 Reports emerge that the Marlins have signed free agent infielder Jose Reyes.

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