What Might Have Been (Part One: NL)

A few days ago, I was leafing through the 1993 Player Ratings Book, by Bill James. One of the players in the book was Dodgers second base prospect Eric Young, who had batted .337 at Albuquerque the year before. Young was actually a little old for a prospect — he’d turned 26 after the ’92 season — but he had a good shot at becoming LA’s new starter at the keystone.

“[Young] took over as the starter in August,” Bill reported, “and has a good chance of opening the season as the regular second baseman.”

Trouble was, Bill wrote that blurb before the Colorado Rockies plucked Young from the Dodgers in the expansion draft on November 17, 1992. Two picks later, the Rockies selected Red Sox 2B Jody Reed, and then promptly shipped him to Los Angeles for Rudy Seanez. So, the Dodgers replaced Young with Reed in their second base plans for 1993.

Reed was passable for the Dodgers, batting .276, but he left as a free agent in October. Then, in November, the pitching-prospect-rich Dodgers traded one of their many young arms to Montreal for one of the best young infielders in baseball, Delino DeShields. Of course, the guy they traded was Pedro Martinez, who later turned into Pedro Martinez, while DeShields was a disappointment.

So anyway, I read that blurb about Eric Young, and I thought about what might have been. What if Young had done better than .258/.300/.258 in his 49-game trial in ’92? What if he’d hit .280 (which he was more than capable of doing)? The Dodgers would have protected him in the expansion draft; that’s for sure. They wouldn’t have gotten Jody Reed, and they wouldn’t have had a hole at second base after the ’93 season. They wouldn’t have traded Pedro for Delino, and instead of becoming a right-handed Koufax for the Expos and Red Sox, Martinez would have been dominating in Chavez Ravine (can you imagine his ERAs in the pitchers’ paradise of Dodger Stadium?).

What would the Dodgers look like now? What would they look like if interim GM Tommy Lasorda hadn’t made the blockbuster Piazza-to-the-Marlins trade in 1998? What would they look like if they hadn’t traded Paul Konerko and Dennys Reyes to the Reds for Jeff Shaw over the ’98 All-Star break? What if we just put everybody back where they started, where they signed their first contract with a big-league organization? What teams would be the best?

Well, just for the heck of it, I did that. I took every player in baseball and put them back with the organization they originally signed with. That means Barry Bonds is a Pirate again, Ken Griffey Jr. a Mariner. The vaunted Cubs rotation loses Matt Clement to San Diego (his original team), but they get Dontrelle Willis back. (Remember? Willis started off in the Cubs system.) After I did all that, only 11 major-league teams were what you might call “complete” (i.e., a full lineup, 5 starters, and a closer). Today, we’ll look at the National League:

Atlanta Braves

C   Javy Lopez
1B  Wes Helms
2B  Marcus Giles
3B  Vinny Castilla
SS  Rafael Furcal
LF  Chipper Jones
CF  Andruw Jones
RF  Ryan Klesko

Actually, that lineup looks a lot like the actual 2004 Braves. I had actually forgotten that Vinny Castilla started his career on the Braves. He went 5-for-21 with the pennant-winning ’91 and ’92 teams before the Rockies picked him up in the expansion draft. Of course, he went on to have a fine (if overrated) run with Colorado, and he re-joined the Braves a couple years ago.

That’s a solid lineup, but as usual, Atlanta’s strength is its starting pitching:

S1  Jason Schmidt
S2  Tom Glavine
S3  Kevin Millwood
S4  Odalis Perez
S5  Jason Marquis

Yup, Jason Schmidt was originally a Brave. He had a 6.45 ERA in 83.2 innings for the Braves in 1995-96, and was sent to Pittsburgh to complete the trade for Denny Neagle at the end of August, 1996.

To round out this team, Kerry Ligtenberg and Mike Stanton will have to handle the bullpen duties. This has the looks of a playoff club, which is what you’d expect from the Braves.

Houston Astros

C   Raul Chavez
1B  Phil Nevin
2B  Craig Biggio
3B  Morgan Ensberg
SS  Carlos Guillen
LF  Lance Berkman
CF  Bobby Abreu
RF  Luis Gonzalez

Biggio returns to his old position, and the additions of Abreu, Gonzalez, and Nevin soften the blow of losing Jeff Bagwell (to the Red Sox) and Jeff Kent (to Toronto). Phil Nevin was not only originally signed by the ‘Stros — he was the #1 overall pick in the 1992 draft.

Raul Chavez is actually a backup catcher, but he’s the only weak link in this lineup. Meanwhile, Kenny Lofton is available as a defensive sub in center field, and Richard Hidalgo can pinch-hit if necessary.

Late correction: Reader Terry Cox pointed out to me that Melvin Mora was originally signed by the Astros. Since he was the only person to mention this to me, I assume the rest of you were thinking the same thing I was — that Mora was originally a Met. But, Terry’s right.

I’m not sure how that changes this lineup much, though. I see Mora being a jack-of-all-trades for this Astros club, playing third if Ensberg can’t cut it or shortstop if Guillen cools off. He’d get his 500 AB, one way or another.

On the pitching side, the losses of Clemens, Pettitte, and Octavio Dotel are made up for by the returns of Johan Santana, Freddy Garcia, and Billy Wagner:

S1  Roy Oswalt
S2  Johan Santana
S3  Wade Miller
S4  Freddy Garcia
S5  Tim Redding

Top relievers: Billy Wagner, Brad Lidge

That’s right, Johan Santana was an Astro. How’d he get to Minnesota? The Marlins got him in the Rule 5 draft in 1999, and the same day, they traded him to the Twins for a minor leaguer named Jared Camp and some cash. Nice deal for the Twins.

As for Freddy Garcia, he and Carlos Guillen went to Seattle for Randy Johnson in a deadline deal in 1999. Randy started 11 games for Houston; Garcia has started 154 for the Mariners.

Los Angeles Dodgers

C   Mike Piazza
1B  Paul Konerko
2B  Eric Young
3B  Adrian Beltre
SS  Alex Cora
LF  Paul Lo Duca
CF  Todd Hollandsworth
RF  Raul Mondesi

LA’s outfield is about as weak as Houston’s is strong. Lo Duca would share the catching duties with Piazza, who in turn would play a little first base. Henry Blanco is a fine third-string catcher, and Karim Garcia is a passable fourth outfielder. All in all, this is a pretty weak offense.

Jeff Shaw was about to pitch in the 1998 All-Star game when he was traded to the Dodgers in exchange for Konerko and Dennys Reyes. He was representing the Reds, but since he’d just been traded, he wore a Dodgers cap for the game. It was so weird to see this guy pitching in the All-Star game in an LA cap, without having ever pitched an inning in his life for the Dodgers.

At least that trade turned out alright. Yes, Konerko went on to be a productive player, but Shaw had 129 saves and a 3.37 ERA in his 3 1/2 years as the Dodger closer.

Despite the return of Pedro Martinez, the starting rotation is full of question marks:

S1  Pedro Martinez
S2  Kaz Ishii
S3  Ted Lilly
S4  Ismael Valdez
S5  Dennys Reyes/Hideo Nomo

Pedro has been mortal this year, and Nomo has gone from rotation anchor to cannon fodder. Ishii, Lilly, and Valdez are all capable of being good pitchers, but none are particularly predictable in that regard. Of course, that Eric Gagne fella is a pretty good closer…

Montreal Expos

C   Michael Barrett
1B  Brad Wilkerson
2B  Jose Vidro
3B  Geoff Blum
SS  Orlando Cabrera
LF  Cliff Floyd/Rondell White
CF  Milton Bradley/Marquis Grissom
RF  Vladimir Guerrero

I’ve got Floyd and White platooning in the hope that only one of the two will be injured at any given time. They are about as durable as a windshield made of Scotch tape (okay, so that wasn’t my best one…), but fortunately, this team isn’t hurting for outfielders. Matt Stairs is on hand, Marquis Grissom is available for whenever Milton Bradley is suspended.

As for the pitching staff, the Expos finally get the superstar version of Randy Johnson:

S1  Randy Johnson
S2  Javier Vazquez
S3  Cliff Lee
S4  Miguel Batista
S5  Kirk Rueter

Relief ace: Ugueth Urbina

Back in 1993, Kirk Rueter had a fantastic debut for the Expos. He went 8-0 with a 2.73 ERA in 14 starts. Rueter made a name for himself as a Giant, but he went 25-12 with a 4.03 ERA as an Expo.

Cliff Lee never pitched an inning for Montreal, going to Cleveland in the Bartolo Colon deal. Going with him to the Indians was Grady Sizemore, who is an excellent prospect and would be poised to take over in left field for this Montreal team.

Pittsburgh Pirates

C   Jason Kendall
1B  Rob Mackowiak
2B  Jose Castillo
3B  Aramis Ramirez
SS  Tony Womack
LF  Barry Bonds
CF  Jose Guillen
RF  Moises Alou

Barry Bonds was a different sort of player in his Pirate days. In his 7 years in Pittsburgh, Bonds stole 30+ bases on six occasions… and hit 30+ home runs just twice. But when he left, everybody knew he was one of the great ones.

The same can’t be said for Moises Alou, who was the player to be named later in a 1990 deal with Montreal that netted the Pirates Zane Smith. In his minor-league career, Alou put up a .281/.355/.437 batting line, which was pretty good, but hardly suggested the .300/.366/.510 major leaguer that he would become. For Moises Alou’s career (along with a couple other guys), the Expos got a 47-41 record and a 3.35 ERA in 768 innings from Smith, who actually pitched only two full seasons for the Bucs (1991 and ’94).

S1  Esteban Loaiza
S2  Tim Wakefield
S3  Bronson Arroyo
S4  Kris Benson
S5  Jason Johnson

Relief ace: Jimmy Anderson (??)

Okay, so the pitching staff isn’t so great. Loaiza and Wakefield belong in the middle of the rotation, not at the top of it, and Jimmy Anderson deserves the title “relief ace” like Darin Erstad deserves the title “first baseman.” Still, that lineup will score some runs, and the starting pitchers are all decent, if not front-line quality.

Loaiza had a solid 1997 season and was off to a decent start in ’98, but then the Bucs traded him to Texas for Warren Morris and Todd Van Poppel. Wakefield had it worse — he was released by the Pirates at the beginning of the 1995 season. He promptly signed with Boston and went on to a career year (16-8, 2.95 ERA).

In an odd parallel, last winter the Pirates inexplicably put Bronson Arroyo on waivers, and he was claimed by the Red Sox. I have no clue why the Pirates did this. Arroyo was about to turn 26, and he was coming off a fine season in the PCL (2.96 ERA, 116-28 K-BB in 143 innings). Why just dump him? If I’m ever in an elevator with Bucs GM Dave Littlefield, that’s what I’ll ask him.

*****

How about the rest of the National League? The return that struck me the most was actually Dan Wilson, who is in his 11th season with the Mariners. He began in Cincinnati, though, where he was the 7th overall pick in the 1990 draft. The Reds sent Wilson to Seattle in a deal that got them Bret Boone, back in 1993. The Reds also get back two top relievers, Scott Williamson and Trevor Hoffman.

Yes, that’s right, Trevor Hoffman. Before he was a Padre, before he was a Marlin, Trevor Hoffman was a Red. He never actually played for Cincy; he was picked by Florida in the expansion draft before he pitched a major-league inning.

Rafael Palmeiro is back with the Cubs, who also re-claim Dontrelle Willis, Jamie Moyer, Jon Garland, and Kyle Lohse (among others). The Marlins’ top returnees include Edgar Renteria, Livan Hernandez, Mark Kotsay, Kevin Millar, and Nate Robertson.

The Brewers could put together a decent lineup (almost), but they don’t have enough pitching. Here are the returning Brewer position players:

C   Mike Matheny
1B  B.J. Surhoff
2B  Ron Belliard
3B  Mark Loretta
SS  Jose Valentin
LF  Geoff Jenkins
CF  Bernie Brewer?
RF  Gary Sheffield

The Phillies get back franchise player Scott Rolen and promising starter Adam Eaton (I’d forgotten he was a Phillie). Matt Clement returns to the Padres; he was shipped to Florida in a trade for Mark Kotsay in 2001. Of course, Roberto Alomar was traded from San Diego over a decade earlier, in a blockbuster that had Alomar and Joe Carter going to Toronto in exchange for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez.

“What might have been” leaves just five NL teams with full lineups and pitching staffs, and the Astros and Expos look like the strongest of the bunch. Next week, we’ll look at the shuffle in the American League (just think about the bats Cleveland gets back).

References & Resources
I’d like to thank readers Terry Cox, James Pajak, and Chris Kash for pointing out to me my mistakes in this article. I talked about Terry’s contribution above. James reminded me that Jeromy Burnitz was first a Met, not a Brewer (no excuse for me not remembering that), and Chris pointed out that Craig Wilson was originally a Blue Jay (I had no idea).

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