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Cubs trade retrospective: The team goes all-in, trading prospect Joe Carter for Rick Sutcliffe

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This was a big risk of a deal, but in the end it worked out.

Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The next in a string of looking at Cubs trades as if they happened today.

June 13, 1984

Sensing a potential division title, or more, the Cubs have traded prospect Joe Carter to Cleveland for right-handed pitcher Rick Sutcliffe. Apparently, Dennis Eckersley might be looking for a new jersey number. The story sounds about 95 percent accurate, though the Cubs might not have properly run all the necessary players through waivers properly yet. (Because Cubs?) That will be a separate debate topic.

The Cubs are getting Rick Sutcliffe, who has struggled thus far with a rather weak Cleveland Indians side. The Cubs are also getting reserve catcher Ron Hassey and reliever George Frazier. The Cubs pen is sketchy enough that Frazier will probably be useful. Hassey is probably better short-term and worse long-term than prior back-up Steve Lake, who figures to regain the back-up spot in 1985.

Outgoing? Joe Carter is the centerpiece for Cleveland. How he does will be a contributing factor on how this swap is perceived in the future. For a more immediate return, the Tribe are also receiving Mel Hall, Don Schulze, and Darryl Banks. Schulze is a poor-man’s Frazier. Banks had a 3.86 WHIP in Iowa this year. That’s WHIP, not ERA, which was 19.29. Maybe you might want more from the 13th pick in the draft than a 3.86 WHIP, but if Sutcliffe produces, nobody will care.

*****

Sutclifffe produced. Until a certain inning in San Diego that I can finally watch again, after November 2016. I know pitcher wins aren’t supposed to matter anymore, but that he won 16 of his 20 regular-season starts was incredibly satisfying to me that season. Much of the commenting below will be about Sutcliffe, so I’ll go elsewhere.

For those of you who don’t remember Joe Carter, he was a very nice long-term bat-first corner outfielder. His defense wasn’t brutal, but it serves as a rather nice future assessment tool. If Carter could have been a capable center fielder, he might have been a borderline Hall of Famer. From 1986-1991, he was a beast. However, limited to the corners, and a bit below average there, he’s more above-average than Hall Of Really Good.

As outfielders are developing, whether they are defensively versatile is a key assessment tool. Carter was good for a long while, but the Cubs had a current need, and Carter wasn’t a center fielder, or elite in either corner. He’d have been useful in the upcoming years, but winning the division in 1984 was about as important as eliminating St. Louis in 2015.

Hassey was injured shortly after joining the Cubs. Upon returning from his July 4 injury in September, he only batted more than once in a game twice. It would have been nice to have had him backing up Jody Davis more, but neither Lake nor Hassey grasped the opportunity.

That Frazier was a bit of a leverage guy in the Cubs bullpen is an example of why I like eight-man bullpens. In 1984, and for years after, it was figured a team could get by with two leverage guys, and a few other pieces. Why did that ever make sense? If all the pitchers are going seven or eight per outing? Fine. However, that wasn’t especially likely for the last sixty years.

What teams do now? They draft pitchers, and develop them. If he isn’t a starter? Have him as a reliever. Back in the 1980s and before, minor league starters were still pitching seven or eight innings. What an absurd waste of a few reliever spots in each affiliated squad. Some players are better served as relievers. That shouldn’t have been a tough lesson to learn. If that fourth-rounder from a California college or university has two usable pitches, use him as a reliever.

Back then, it was more important to use a starting pitcher up the ladder for seven or eight innings a night while the relievers had no particular role. Seems silly to me, as well. Waste the development chances for relievers, while you ruin the starters. Let the players show if they’re worth keeping around or not, with on-field opportunities.

Eckersley gave his uniform number 40 to Sutcliffe. It’s a bit odd that the Cubs front office botched running players through waivers. It seems someone ought to have claimed Hall and Carter off of waivers to quash the trade, or make the trade more inconvenient. Of course, I’m completely good with automatically claiming a few players off of waivers to keep the Brewers or Cardinals getting a player back. It’s odd that in the mid-1980s, teams were less vindictive.

This belongs on a list of the best 20 trades the franchise has made, due to Sutcliffe’s production the years after. Cubs fans who don’t remember 1984 have no idea how important it was for a playoff appearance that season. That Carter was useful but not historic aids in the assessment. If only Sutcliffe could have recorded a few more outs on October 7, 1984.