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Cubs history: The time they swapped an extraneous outfielder for a top starting pitcher

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Otherwise known as “Brock for Broglio.”

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Over the winter, I’m going to look back at trades the way I look at the draft. All the information to be consumed is information that was available at the time of the move. After all, anything else could be coaching, luck, or sticking a dagger in the side of your former team. My glances will start in the “here and now,” and veer a bit to “looking back.” Today, I start with a reasonably lengthy look at a trade that made quite a bit of sense for the Cubs at the time: Lou Brock plus two for Ernie Broglio plus two.

*****

The date is June 15, 1964.

The Cubs might have pulled a huge heist today, obtaining quality starting pitcher Ernie Broglio (along with pitcher Bobby Shantz and outfielder Doug Clemens) from the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Lou Brock, along with prospects Paul Toth and Jack Spring. Broglio was the second-best starter last season for the second-place Redbirds.

The departing Brock is often considered a terrible defensive player. Between Brock and the remaining Billy Williams, both are largely limited to left field. While Wrigley Field’s gaps are small per league standards, their down-the-line distances are rather lengthy. Both corner outfielders have plenty of down-the-line room to contain, and Brock and Williams are difficult to put in the corners at the same time. Brock in center has been.... eventful. Though, the events haven’t been productive. Brock has struggled out of the gate in 1964, particularly with the glove.

The Cubs were over the .500 mark in 1963 for the first time (82-80) since 1946, so the talent pool with the Cubs looks as strong as it’s been in a while. Sending off a redundant piece to add to the rotation seems a rather wise call. Broglio debuted with the Cardinals in 1959 after a series of off-seasons getting claimed on waiver wire/Rule 5-like moves. In that season, he served mainly as a starter, posting a 90 ERA+ for St. Louis. In 1960, he served in a fireman/starter type role, appearing in 52 games, with 24 as starts. His ERA+ that season was a massive 148, which led the league.

Shifted to the rotation for real in 1961, his numbers slipped, but his ERA stayed over the noted 100 mark. 1962 (144) and 1963 (119) saw his ERA+ well over par, again. So far in 1964, his ERA+ has been at 110. Mild red flags could be raised over his FIP jumping slightly over the 4.00 mark (4.05) after two seasons at 4.00, but a rotation of Dick Ellsworth, Larry Jackson, Bob Buhl, and Broglio looks quite competitive for the rest of the 1964 campaign.

The outgoing Paul Toth used to be with St. Louis before the September 1962 trade for Harvey Branch. Spring was acquired (for cash) a month ago from the Angels. Neither figures to matter much in the future. Clemens is a bit of a spare-part outfielder. The veteran Shantz figures to upgrade the Cubs bullpen down the stretch.

You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Brock would have been a nice piece to hang onto for awhile, but with the team having difficulty finding appropriate defensive homes for Brock and Williams at the same time, upgrading the rotation in a time of need for a player without a position seems a fair gamble.

*****

The Cubs had been a .500 team up until the trade, and were in sixth place, 5½ games behind the league-leading (there were no divisions, yet) Philadelphia Phillies. The Cubs were in front of the Cardinals in the standings, as the Redbirds were spinning their wheels. Jackson was the Cubs’ top starter, and is probably lost to many of us that never watched or listened to him pitch. Books aren’t written about him, but he was a really useful Cubs starter for years. Ellsworth (age 24) and Buhl (35) were both league-average starters, as well. Had Broglio (28) continued at his St. Louis pace, the Cubs would have had a nice rotation for a few seasons.

Part of Broglio’s problems were injuries, which is why developing your own, then as now, was constantly useful. Lew Burdette (37) was the fourth starter, with the next-most other starts (six) going to Sterling Slaughter (22), who was a new name to me.

The Brock angle of the trade is rather comic from a contemporary perspective. The Cubs, for all I’ve been able to gather, wanted Brock to swing for the fences, like Williams, Ernie Banks, and Ron Santo. Current hitting gurus would largely agree. Hitting infield grounders to the shortstop, trying to outrun them, is bad baseball, mainly because infield defense is absurdly good these days. Back then, defenders weren’t usually as good as Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Javier Baez are now.

In effect, the Cubs were playing current Astros-ball with Brock, only without the computers. St. Louis gleaned fantastic results from Brock by having him hit like he was a back-of-the-lineup guy at Cal State-Fullerton in modern times. Baseball can be a fickle and changing beast.

Brock never did end up as a good defender. Williams’ defense was a drag for much of his career, as well. While defensive numbers are often a mixed bag, it appears St. Louis was better defensively than the Cubs in 1964, which could also contribute to a downward spiral for a pitcher like Broglio who wasn’t heavily reliant on strikeouts.

None of the other pieces mattered much. Clemens was a spare outfielder for the Cubs for a few seasons. In 1964, he hit better with the Cubs (OPS+ of 119) than the other options in Billy Cowan, Len Gabrielson, and Jimmy Stewart. (Or, for that matter, Brock with the Cubs at 77.) Shantz was in his last year of major-league ball. Spring pulled off a fascinating small-sample-size stint with the Cardinals. In three innings of relief, he was touched for eight hits and a walk (yikes!), but only one of the runs scored. Toth, who had started two games for the Cubs pre-trade, spent the rest of the season in the Cardinals pipeline, before being purchased by the Yankees in the off-season.

We know the end of the story. Brock reached the Hall of Fame, and Broglio was far from it, his career ruined by injuries. Trades, though, should be analyzed initially on what should be expected with less harshness toward what really happened. Injuries can’t be accurately projected. Nor can slumps. If a trade makes sense at the time, as Brock-for-Broglio did, less bitterness should be tossed in the future. Which is why I’m a huge fan of the Five Minute Rule. Assess trades as completely as possible as they happen. Project out what should happen, as best as possible. If one player or the other ends up inexplicably as an outlier, so be it.

If both end up in the opposite outlier categories, you get a flukish trade, like Brock for Broglio. Which trades do you want assessed next? I have a few in mind. Run the gamut of the Cubs’ time in the league, not just the trades you remember. Baseball history can be very educational.