Mark Langston 1989 Topps Traded- Sully Baseball Card of the Day for January 21, 2017

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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.

Sully Baseball Honors Doyle Alexander, Mark Langston, Larry Andersen and Delino DeShields

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At some point later on today the Hall of Fame elections will be announced. The Baseball Twitter-verse will explode and everyone will have a thousand opinions about it, including your pal Sully.

Randy Johnson and my personal favorite player of all time, Pedro Martinez, are all but certain to be elected. The odds are in favor that John Smoltz will get in. And while he is a long shot right now, Jeff Bagwell is on the ballot and has many many supporters.

If any of those players get elected, writers will talk about their great accomplishments on the field, the love of their fanbase and also the trades that backfired on their original organizations.

Each one of those candidates were dealt as young players. Two were minor leaguers playing in the organization of their home town teams.

All four were shipped off and each of the deals were maligned as teams surrendered future Hall of Fame candidates in their prime.

But while it is clear that the Mariners, Braves, Expos and Astros all made great moves, four other names will inevitably be dragged into the mud.

“Bet the Expos regretted trading Randy Johnson for Mark Langston!”

“The Dodgers could have had Pedro Martinez in his prime but they sent him away for Delino DeShields!”

“Think the Tigers want a do over in the John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander swap?”

“What were the Red Sox thinking trading Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen?”

All fair questions. But as those four deals will be trashed, we here at Sully Baseball do not want the names of four quality major leaguers to be dragged through the mud. There was a rationale for each of those deals when they were made and all four of the players had careers to admire and not belittle.

So let’s salute all four and make a case for each deal.

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1987 – Detroit Tigers trade minor league pitcher John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander

This deal is talked about as one of the all time bad deals. And yet when it happened, it looked like the Tigers were brilliant for dealing John Smoltz.

Doyle Alexander was a steady if not spectacular starting pitcher. A product of the Dodgers system, he was dealt to the Orioles in a trade involving Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. In fact the names of the players involved in Doyle Alexander trades over the years are eye catching. Besides Smoltz and Robinson, he was included in trades involving Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor, John Montefusco and Duane Ward.

He had appeared in the playoffs with Baltimore and in the 1976 World Series with the Yankees. By age 34, Alexander finished 6th in the Cy Young vote for a 1985 Blue Jays squad that came within a swing of the World Series.

A 200 inning a year work horse, he was sent packing to the Tigers on August 12, 1987 as minor leaguer Smoltz, a Michigan native, went to Atlanta. The Tigers were 1 1/2 games behind Toronto at the time of the deal. Alexander made 11 starts for Detroit, going 9-0 with an ERA of 1.53. He threw three complete game shutouts down the stretch.

On September 27th in Toronto, the Tigers trailed the Blue Jays by 3 1/2 games with 7 to play. A loss would all but seal the Tigers’ fate. Alexander let up a run in the first. The Tigers would tie the game on a Kirk Gibson homer in the top of the 9th and Alexander pitched the bottom of the 9th, 10th and recorded two outs in the 11th before finally yielding to the bullpen. While he did not get a decision, Detroit won in 13.

A week later the Tigers faced the Blue Jays again. A Toronto win would have clinched a tie for the Division Title. Alexander won with 7 strong innings. Two days later, the Tigers clinched the Division. Alexander’s good fortune would end in the playoffs as he lost both of his starts to the Twins in the 1987 ALCS.

In 1988, Alexander was named to his first All Star Team but the Tigers failed to repeat as Division Champs, falling a game shy to Boston. In 1989, he recorded 223 innings in his final season. Smoltz was named to his first All Star Game in 1989 and before long he became the workhorse of the Braves great run.

But the Tigers would not have made the post season without Doyle Alexander in 1987. Smoltz was a steep price, I grant you. But criticizing it is all in hindsight. Alexander was a fine pitcher with a good career.

 

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1989 – Montreal Expos deal a package including Randy Johnson for Mark Langston

People forget how good Mark Langston was. When Roger Clemens won the 1986 Cy Young Award and MVP, he did NOT lead the league in strikeouts. That honor belonged to Langston. He lead the league in strikeouts in 3 of his first four seasons, including 1984, his rookie year.

He looked like a 250 inning ace with an inconsistent Mariners team. He had some down seasons, especially 1985, but his stuff was electric and expensive. The Mariners knew, despite fielding some young talent like a rookie outfielder named Griffey, that keeping Langston in the Pacific Northwest after the 1989 season was a long shot. The free agent to be was the single most coveted trade chip on the market.

The Mets looked like the clear front runner, with players like Howard Johnson and Rick Aguilera and Kevin Tapani available for the right deal. But outgoing Montreal Expos owner Charles Bronfman wanted to make a splash with his luckless team. The rotation featured talented arms like Dennis Martinez, Bryn Smith and Pascual Perez. But on May 25th, the team was at an even .500.

He went for broke and sent a package involving Gene Harris, Brian Holman and the talented but wild Randy Johnson to Seattle. The Mets would ultimately acquire Frank Viola instead of Langston.

The arrival of Mark Langston to Montreal signaled to their fans that they were pushing their chips to the center of the table. And at first, it looked like a brilliant move.

He made his Expos debut on May 28th and beat the Padres with an 8 innings, 1 earned run and 12 strikeout performance. He pitched well in June and July, tossing a complete game shutout against the Cardinals on June 13 and posting a 5-1 record in July. Montreal would surge into first place, taking a 3 1/2 game lead on July 25th on the strength of another Langston shutout.

They remained in first place by themselves as late as August 4th. But a 7 game losing streak in August derailed the team. Their record after August 2nd was 18-37, the worst in baseball after that date. The Cubs would win the Division and the Expos would finish the season at .500, the same percentage as before Langston’s arrival. He left Montreal and signed with the Angels where he continued his fine career.

Meanwhile Gene Harris had a few decent years as a journeyman reliever and Brian Holman was an inconsistent starter for Seattle over 2 and a half seasons. And Johnson harnessed his stuff to become one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.

When the Mariners finally won the AL West title in 1995, they did so in a one game playoff against the Angels. The winning pitcher was Johnson. Langston was the loser.

The Expos took a chance with Langston. It didn’t work out. But it looked smart at the time.

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1990 – Boston Red Sox deal Jeff Bagwell for reliever Larry Andersen

OK, this one is rough. And as your pal Sully is a Red Sox fan, it is going to be a little bit of a challenge to defend it. But here I go.

Larry Andersen had a long and solid career as a reliever. After bouncing around the Cleveland and Pittsburgh systems throughout 1970s, he finally broke through with the 1981 Seattle Mariners. He was a part of the Phillies bullpen when they won the 1983 pennant and pitched in the thrilling 1986 NLCS for Houston.

In 1990, the Red Sox were aiming for a Division Title and possible ALCS rematch with the A’s. They looked like they were finally getting some breathing room against Toronto with an 8 game winning streak that padded their Division lead to 6 1/2 games. Roger Clemens was having one of his best seasons ever and Mike Boddicker was a reliable number 2 starter.

But the rest of the rotation consisted of overachievers like Dana Kiecker and Tom Bolton. And the bullpen was hardly deep. Closer Jeff Reardon was the only reliever to finish the season with an ERA under 4.00. If Boston would have any hope to hold off Toronto for the Division and beat Oakland for the pennant, they would need pitching depth.

Andersen came over from Houston on the last day of August and pitched well in September. In his 15 games and 22 innings pitched, would strikeout 25 while walking only 3. He posted a 1.23 ERA, earning a save against the Yankees on September 21st. Andersen would not allow a run in his first 11 appearancesfor the Red Sox. As it turned out, they needed every bit of help in the pen. Boston finished the season 13-17, but winning the Division on the final day of the season.

They got clobbered in the ALCS. Andersen lost a game in relief as Oakland swept the Red Sox in 4. He would leave Boston and sign with San Diego.

Acquiring the bullpen depth for the stretch run did not cost Boston a single player on the major league roster. And native New Englander Jeff Bagwell looked expendable. He was a fine hitting prospect, but farm hands Tim Naehring, Mo Vaughn, Scott Cooper and Phil Plantier all looked more promising. Besides, Bagwell was a skinny kid without a lot of home run power.

Transformed in Houston he became the Rookie of the Year in 1991 and NL MVP in 1994. The idea of giving up a native New England 1-2 punch of Bagwell and 1995 AL MVP Mo Vaughn tortured Red Sox fans.

Anderson pitched for four more seasons and earned a save in the 1993 NLCS for the Phillies. He finished his career during the 1994 strike, logging 14 plus seasons in the majors.

Andersen is now an announcer with a great set of pipes. It is safe to say he is not one of the most beloved former Red Sox of all time. Hopefully 3 recent World Series titles will heal that wound.

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1993 – Dodgers deal Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields

Man, you thought defending Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen was tough? How about dealing away a pitcher about enter one of the all time primes in baseball history?

The great Dodger tradition of dominant aces wearing blue from Don Newcombe to Sandy Koufax to Don Drysdale to Don Sutton to Fernando Valenzuela to Orel Hershiser all the way to Clayton Kershaw could have included Pedro Martinez as well. They already had Ramon Martinez, who looked like an ace and pitched for the 1988 World Championship team (although did not play in the post season.)

In 1993, the Dodgers were smarting from the failed Darryl Strawberry signing. But manager Tommy Lasorda turned his Godson Mike Piazza into the Rookie of the Year. Eric Karros was another young star slugger and young players like Raul Mondesi and Todd Holandsworth were on their way. With Ramon Martinez and Pedro Astacio in the rotation with the veteran Hershiser, the Dodgers looked ready to contend again. But they needed a table setter more reliable than Jose Offerman.

Ramon’s 21 year old brother Pedro Martinez pitched well for the Dodgers out of the bullpen, striking out 119 batters in 107 innings posting a 10-5 record and 2.61 ERA. But his slender build made the Dodgers nervous. What were his long term prospects? He was an arm injury waiting to happen.

Montreal had a 24 year old speedster named Delino DeShields. He was the Rookie of the Year runner up to David Justice in 1990 and got some MVP points in 1992. He was a consistent .290 hitter who was good for 40 or 50 stolen bases a year. So they flipped the inevitable injury plagued years of Pedro Martinez’s career for the young DeShields who would be driven home by Piazza and Karros for years to come.

Or maybe not.

The stolen bases kept coming but the average plummeted when DeShields arrived in Los Angeles. He was part of back to back trips to the post season but by 1996, he was riding the bench in the Division Series.

He left LA for St. Louis where he led the league in triples and regained his stroke in 1997. But by then Pedro was putting up historic numbers. Martinez won the Cy Young Award for Montreal in 1997. Then he moved to Boston, won another pair and could have won even more.

DeShields played his final games as a part time player for the 2002 Cubs. Pedro would be the Cy Young runner up that season. Two years later the Red Sox would break the curse.

Delino DeShields was clearly no Pedro Martinez. But he did play in the major leagues for 13 seasons and some of those years he was a very good player.Only 47 players in history stole more bases than he did. His son, Delino Jr. was drafted 8th over all by the Astros in the 2010 draft.

Junior was picked off the Astros roster by the Rangers in the Rule 5 draft this winter. Who knows? Maybe he will have a great career and the Astros will regret losing Junior.

His dad was quite a player. He was no Pedro, but who is?

Salute Delino DeShields along with Doyle Alexander, Mark Langston and Larry Andersen. They all played long and admirable careers. No shame in that.

Cliff Lee’s Trade is the Sequel to the Mark Langston trade

The Mariners went into the season with some optimism and some solid talent… but a slow start took them out of the race early and not even the presence of Ken Griffey Jr. could turn things around.

So Seattle took their left handed ace who was in his walk year and traded him off. It seemed like New York, looking for another October run, was the likely landing spot, but instead sent him to a team that had never won a pennant before and despite financial troubles was going all in.

The Mariners fell apart after the trade but some good solid talent came back giving them some optimism for the future.

Meanwhile the ace flourished at first, but then came back down to earth.

Which Mariners team am I talking about?
This year’s team? Or the 1989 team?

Which left handed ace am I talking about?
Cliff Lee? Mark Langston?

In 1989 there was some optimism with the arrival of manager Jim Lefebvre and rookie Ken Griffey Jr. And a quick glance sees there was some talent on that team.

An infield of Jim Presley at third, Harold Reynolds at second and Alvin Davis at first is nothing to sneeze at. And oh yeah, they had a young shortstop named Omar Vizquel.

Griffey anchored the outfield that had Hac Man Leonard and a young Jay Buhner.

Plus pitchers who had some success in their careers like Billy Swift, Erik Hanson, Scott Bankhead and Mike Jackson were all on the staff.

But they fell into 5th place well behind the A’s when it was clear that Mark Langston, their best pitcher and a legit #1 starter, wasn’t coming back.

The Mets looked like the likely landing spot as they had tons of young pitching talent they seemed ready to move. (They ultimately would trade Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani and David West that summer to the Twins for Frank Viola… a move that helped clinch a World Series for Minnesota, not New York.)

Instead they found a partner with the Expos who were jammed packed with talent and had their eyes set on unseating the Mets.

Langston dominated the Padres in his first start, striking out 13 and giving up 1 earned run over 8 innings.

He began his Expos career with a 10-3 record and people declaring him the second coming of Steve Carlton. The Expos were in first by the All Star break and at the height of Langston’s winning ways, the Expos built up a 3 1/2 game lead and remained in first place by themselves as late as August 4.

When Langston threw a complete game shutout on July 25th against Philadelphia, the Expos were riding a 6 game winning streak and matched their 3 1/2 game lead for the widest margin of the year.

Then the roof caved in.

The Expos lost 40 of their last 62 games. Langston lost 6 of his last 8 decisions and the Expos, who seemed to have everything in line to win the National League East for the first time in a non Strike Shortened season, finished the year at .500, 4th place and 12 games behind the Cubs.

Langston left Montreal for the Angels.
Meanwhile one of the players in the haul from Montreal became a more fearsome pitcher than Langston ever was… future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson who did indeed lead the Mariners to their first ever post season berths.

Which brings us to 2010.

The bookends of Ken Griffey’s career has him see aces dealt from the Mariners.
Cliff Lee is sent not to the Yankees but to the Rangers, who like the Expos, are pushing their chips to the center of the table.

Like Langston, Lee came out smoking but has slowed down considerably.

Now with an 8 1/2 game lead heading into the last day of August, it is safe to say the Rangers aren’t going away. But can Lee turn things around to help deliver a pennant?

And there seems to be little doubt that, like Langston in Quebec, his stay there is temporary.

I wonder who in the haul back be the future Hall of Famer? I’ve got my eye on you, Justin Smoak.

By the way… there’s another part to this analogy of the Mariners dealing ace left handed starters.

Remember when the Mariners had to deal Randy Johnson when HE was facing free agency?

Once again they found an unlikely trading partner looking to finally win a pennant (The Astros)… the ace pitched well but fell short of a pennant (Johnson lost to the Padres twice in the Division Series)… and left town (to the Diamondbacks)… and the Mariners got back a nice haul (Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen were big parts of the 2000 and 2001 playoff teams.)

What I am saying is… the Mariners are good at this whole “trading a left handed ace away” thing.

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