A good amount of blame for the 12-season losing streak can be traced back to the late 1980's and early 1990's. During that time, the Tigers essentially neglected the farm and deteriorated the foundation of the organization while the big league club rode veterans to okay seasons and the occasional pennant race. Today, I wanted to look at a few of the trades made during the late 1980's that made Tigers' fans shake their heads in the 90's as the losing began. Again, I am using the techniques laid out before.
July, 1987: Acquired Doyle Alexander from Atlanta for John Smoltz
You will remember one of the key assumptions made in this model is that a player's value stops after they become a free agent. John Smoltz was a free agent after the 1996 season, stopping his value as far as this trade is concerned. This trade does show a couple of things: not all wins are created equal and there is such a thing as a win-win trade. There is no doubt that the dominating performance by Doyle Alexander in 1987 directly led to a division title. There is also no doubt that short of 1993, John Smoltz was not going to be the difference between a good team and a top team in the league. Eventually, I hope to incorporate these trades into a business model that helps quantify the effect of these wins. In the mean time, we'll call this trade a loser even with the knowledge that the Tigers miss the playoffs in '87 without Alexander.
August, 1988: Acquired Fred Lynn from Baltimore for Chris Hoiles, Robinson Garces, and Cesar Mejia
I am very curious how the Bill LaJoie/Sparky Anderson regime would stand in the information age. There were a lot of questionable moves made, and this was one of them. At the time of this deal, Hoiles was struggling and injured in AAA after blitzing through the minor leagues his first two professional seasons. This seems like a bad case of selling low. In fairness, Matt Nokes and Mike Heath seemed to have a handle on catching, and the Orioles probably wouldn't have dealt Mickey Tettleton to the Tigers had they not had Chris Hoiles on hand. Leading the division at the waiver deadline, it made sense to go after one more bat, but ultimately the decision did not pay off.
March, 1989: Acquired Mike Brumley from San Diego for Luis Salazar
This deal, if nothing else, shows some of the falacies of my rating system. The Padres are getting a lot of credit for turning Salazar into Darren Jackson, who was dealt for Derek Bell, who was part of the huge blockbuster with the Astros in which they received Steve Finley and Ken Caminiti. It's very difficult to say the Tigers would have gotten that much out of Luis Salazar, but this trade was fun to look at anyways.
Acquired Mike Heath from St. Louis for Mike Laga and Ken Hill
Tigers fans bemoaned the loss of Ken Hill throughout much of the 1990's, but the Cardinals didn't get much out of this deal either. His best seasons came between 1992 and 1997, but notice how none of them came from team he was traded to in this particular deal. Hill took so long to develop into a top pitcher that it is hard to fault the Tigers for trading him six years before he broke out, especially with the solid performances that Mike Heath put up in the late part of the 1980's. The Cardinals, too, gave up on him after the 1991 season and dealt him to Montreal for Andres Galarraga. Gallaraga was ineffective in his one season with St. Louis before moving to the thin air of Denver to resuscitate his career. This trade was not as bad as it was made out to be.