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A note from Cubs history: The time Ryne Sandberg almost got traded to the Mariners

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Before Ryno became a Cub, the Phillies nearly sent him to Seattle.

MLB Photos via Getty Images

Ryne Sandberg is a Cubs Hall of Famer, having spent all but 13 games of his career in a Cubs uniform, after the Phillies traded him to the Cubs in January 1982 along with Larry Bowa in exchange for Ivan De Jesus. He’s beloved by Cubs fans and recently came back to the organization after a stint managing his original club.

The anniversary of that trade came up on Saturday and over the weekend, I came across this article which noted that the Phillies, after what they considered a “disappointing” 1981 season following their 1980 World Series title.

And so Phillies general manager Paul Owens set about fortifying his team. He had quite a number of prospects and young players to trade:

The youth they had to entice such a deal included Keith Moreland, Len Matuszek, Lonnie Smith, Bob Dernier, [Julio] Franco, Sandberg, and [Luis] Aguayo.

In the end the Phillies would wind up trading every one of those players, with Sandberg and Dernier winding up with the Cubs.

One of the first deals Owens made with his former manager Dallas Green, just hired as Cubs GM, was to ship Moreland, Dan Larson and Dickie Noles to Chicago in exchange for Mike Krukow.

But that wasn’t the only team Owens had been talking to:

Owens had talked to Seattle about a package for [Floyd] Bannister that included Moreland, Sandberg, pitcher (and future Cy Young winner) Mark Davis and one other player. The Phillies countered and the two teams parted ways to “think about it overnight.” The next morning, Seattle awoke to the news that Owens had sent Moreland, along with pitchers Dan Larsen and Dickie Noles, to the Cubs for Mike Krukow, who had led the NL in starts in the strike-shortened 1981 season.

Floyd Bannister, who had been the first overall pick in the 1976 draft by the Astros, hadn’t lived up to those expectations. In the big leagues one year later, he’d put together a series of unmemorable seasons, but at age 26, the lefthander still appeared to many to have some good years ahead of him. In fact, he did, playing a key role in the White Sox’ 1983 A.L. West title.

Krukow pitched only one year in Philadelphia before he was traded to the Giants (along with Davis) for Al Holland and Joe Morgan. The latter became part of the “Wheeze Kids,” the older players who led the Phillies to the World Series in 1983.

The Phillies must have felt they were offering too much to the Mariners for Bannister, which is why they pulled the trigger on the Moreland trade to the Cubs. Obviously, that trade and the Sandberg deal worked out much better for the Cubs than for the Phillies in the long run.

But had Sandberg, Moreland and Davis wound up in Seattle, the Mariners might have become a good team much more quickly than they did in real life. The Mariners didn’t have a winning season until 1991 and didn’t make the postseason until 1995. Meanwhile, Moreland had some decent years for the Cubs and Sandberg won an MVP award and helped lead his team to a pair of postseason appearances on his way to Cooperstown.

There’s another interesting sidelight to the eventual two-for-one deal that brought Sandberg to the Cubs:

According to the Chicago Tribune, Green wanted Bowa and Sandberg in exchange for Ivan deJesus but the deal could possibly expand to include Cubs left-handed reliever, Bill Caudill.

Four days later Jayson Stark reported more names flying back and forth between the two teams. The Phillies were interested in a young relief pitcher named Lee Smith, but the Cubs weren’t biting on the Phillies offer of Sparky Lyle, Del Unser or catcher Don McCormack in return. If the Cubs were going to part with Smith, they wanted outfielder George Vukovich in return and Philadelphia balked at including him.

Caudill eventually wound up with the Mariners, after the Cubs sent him to the Yankees for Pat Tabler. New York traded him (and Gene Nelson) to Seattle the same day for Shane Rawley and Bobby Brown.

Meanwhile, none of the other players noted in that quote would really have helped the Cubs. Green was right to refuse. Lyle and Unser were almost done, McCormack was a prospect who never panned out (he played in only five major-league games) and Vukovich (a Chicago native who played college ball at Southern Illinois) had one 4+ bWAR season in Cleveland (1984) before going on to play in Japan.

Green knew his old team well. He made the right deal for the Cubs, and fortunately Ryne Sandberg had his Hall of Fame career in Chicago and not Seattle.