An unfortunate label some players get is being on the wrong end of a classic trade. Often times their names are brought up as if the other team was stupid for giving ANYTHING up for them. The problem with using 20/20 hindsight on trades is at the time, many of the so called disastrous trades looked good.
A case in point is the deal involving Mark Langston. At the time, when the Expos dealt for the Seattle fireballer, it was a bold move that looked to put Montreal over the top in the NL East.
It is now criticized because it cost the Expos a future Hall of Famer.
A native of California and drafted out of San Jose State University in 1981, Langston exploded onto the scene with the 1984 Seattle Mariners. He won 17 games for a sub .500 team and led the American League with 204 strikeouts.
He led the AL in strikeouts in 3 of his first 4 seasons in Seattle. By 1987 he was a Cy Young candidate, logging 19 wins for another losing Seattle team and logging a career high 262 strikeouts.
At that time, Seattle was a squad that had spent more than a decade of existence and had no winning records nor big fan bases to show for it. And Langston, looking at free agency after the 1989 season, was pricing himself out of the Pacific Northwest after another solid 1988 campaign.
The Mariners had to move him. They had a massive trade chip, a legit ace starter, who could blossom out of obscurity in Seattle.
There were rumors that a Wade Boggs for Mark Langston deal was possible. The most prominent potential deal seemed to involve the Mets, who were dangling a combination of Rick Aguilera or Sid Fernandez and Howard Johnson or Dave Magadan.
Meanwhile the Montreal Expos were teetering on the verge of contention. They had an interesting collection of talented hitters, like Tim Raines, Tim Wallach, Andres Galarraga and Hubie Brooks. They had a deep rotation, featuring El Presidente Dennis Martinez as well as Pascual Perez, Kevin Gross and Bryn Smith. Tim Burke was the closer for the bullpen.
Despite all that talent, they were at even .500on May 25, 1989. Instead of looking to trade off their talent, including several potential free agents, the Expos front office decided to go for it.
They pulled off the stunning trade for Mark Langston, giving the Expos a legit ace that suddenly made Montreal look like a contender. And not one player they surrendered looked to contribute much on the 1989 squad.
He struck out 12 Padres in his first game with the Expos and pitched as advertised.The Expos won 12 of the next 17 games and were in first place by 1/2 a game by June 16. Montreal won 17 games in June and another 17 in July, with Langston dominating along the way.
By August 2, the Expos were 19 games over .500 and alone in first place by 3 games over the Cubs. The next day the Expos lost an extra inning game to the Pirates, beginning a startling slide.
From August 2 onward, the Expos post an 18-36 record, the worst in the major leagues. They faded badly from the top spot, finishing the season at a break even 81-81, identical from the year before.
Langston continued to pitch well down the stretch but his record did not reflect it. By the end, the Expos attempt to go for it failed, several key free agents left, including Langston.
He would sign with the Angels and continue to be a solid pitcher and a Gold Glove defender. Meanwhile the package sent to Seattle for Langston began to develop.
Gene Harris struggled in the big leagues as a reliever while Brian Holman had a few decent seasons and came within an out of throwing a perfect game in 1990 before arm issues ended his career.
And oh yeah, the third pitcher included on the deal was Randy Johnson.
The Big Unit would out pitch Mark Langston for the 1995 AL West title in a one game playoff. He would go on to become one of the most dominant pitching forces the game has ever seen.
When his trade from Montreal to Seattle is evaluated, it is looked upon as a steal from a boneheaded Expos front office. But give Langston his due credit. At the time HE was prized chip and the Montreal squad was trying to give their fans a legit pennant title.
If they were merely mediocre during the month of August and September, then Langston might have been the key for Montreal getting over the top.
Instead, he is remembered for being on the wrong end of a big trade. So Langston was not as good as Randy Johnson (few have been.) But he was a solid and reliable pitcher and Montreal felt like their fans deserved a pennant for their troubles.
It did not happen and Randy Johnson made his way into the Hall of Fame. Langston WAS pretty good though, I must say.