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Cubs 4-inning saves: Kent Bottenfield, July 4, 1997

This righthander had an odd career and was involved in a really one-sided trade.

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The Cubs picked up Kent Bottenfield as a free agent before the 1996 season. He had three previous years in the big leagues without much success as a starter for the Expos, Rockies and Giants.

The Cubs put him in the bullpen and he was reasonably good for two years in blue pinstripes, overall posting a 3.34 ERA, 1.339 WHIP and 1.3 bWAR in 112 relief appearances — no starts.

It’s in that context that we see the lousy 1997 Cubs play the even-worse 1997 Phillies on the Fourth of July. The Cubs came into the game with a 35-49 record. That’s bad, but Philly was more than 10 games worse at 23-59.

The Cubs hit former White Sox No. 1 pick Scott Ruffcorn hard, putting five runs on the board before the end of the third inning. By the time starter Terry Mulholland’s spot in the order came up in the top of the sixth, the Cubs had a 6-3 lead.

So Jim Riggleman batted for Mulholland and Bottenfield came on in relief. He finished the game, allowing five hits but no runs. He didn’t walk anyone, nor did he strike out anyone. The 57-pitch effort got him his second save of the year, and as it turned out, his last save as a Cub, when the Cubs completed a 9-3 win.

Bottenfield wanted to start and the Cubs didn’t want to guarantee him a spot in the 1998 rotation, so they let him walk in free agency. He signed with the Cardinals and had a “meh” year in ‘98, but in 1999 he was outstanding, going 18-7 with a 3.97 ERA and 3.2 bWAR. It got him a nod for the NL All-Star team that year.

Just before the 2000 season began, the Cardinals did something really smart, something most teams should do with a guy like this: They traded him (along with Adam Kennedy) to the Angels for Jim Edmonds.

That, as you surely know, was an excellent deal for St. Louis, maybe one of the best in their franchise history. Bottenfield didn’t even last the full year in Anaheim. The Angels traded him to the Phillies in July after 21 pretty bad starts (5.71 ERA). He pitched poorly in Philly as well and had a bad year in 2001 in Houston and was done. Maybe he should have stuck with relief pitching.