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A look at Cubs trades in the expansion era: 1980

A couple of these deals did bear fruit, eventually.

Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Cubs had been in marginal contention from 1977-79 and began 1980 like they’d do the same. They were 11-6 on May 3 and tied for first place in the N.L. East.

Then things went south, and in a hurry. From July 2 through the end of the season the Cubs went 32-58 and wound up with a 98-loss season. Manager Preston Gomez was fired in mid-July.

A couple of these trades turned out to be interesting. Others, not so much.

June 23: Acquired Cliff Johnson from the Indians for a PTBNL (Karl Pagel, June 30)

This trade was just silly. Johnson could hit, but his best position was DH, which the Cubs didn’t have. So they tried him at first base, where he wasn’t good (and taking playing time from Bill Buckner) and even three games in left field, which were laughable.

On August 8, Johnson hit a walkoff grand slam in the conclusion of a suspended game from May 28, his one big highlight as a Cub. After the season the Cubs traded him to the A’s for a minor leaguer who never played in MLB and he went on to have some good years with the Blue Jays, going 7-for-19 in the ALCS in 1985.

The Cubs should have just played Pagel. He had just three at-bats for the Cubs in 1978 and 1979, striking out in all of them. But he had absolutely demolished Triple-A pitching in 1979, batting .316/.436/.617 with 39 home runs, 96 runs scored, 123 RBI and 100 walks, He was 24. Why wouldn’t you give a guy like that a chance?

He never got much of a chance in Cleveland, either; just 53 at-bats from 1981-83, hitting one home run. Interestingly, it was off a really good pitcher, Dennis Martinez, then pitching for the Orioles, a two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth. All it did was turn what would have been a 7-4 loss into a 7-6 loss.

I’ll never understand why Pagel never got a chance with the Cubs.

That was the only player-for-player deal made by the Cubs during the 1980 season. Afterwards, though...

October 17: Acquired Jay Howell from the Reds for Mike O’Berry

Another one that would have been really good if the Cubs had just kept Howell, who went on to have a really good career as a closer for the Yankees, Dodgers and A’s, posting 155 career saves and making three All-Star teams.

Dallas Green sent him to the Yankees in August 1982 to complete a PTBNL deal in which the Cubs had acquired Pat Tabler in August 1981.


December 9: Acquired Leon Durham and Ken Reitz from the Cardinals for Bruce Sutter

Sutter was traded because he’d received $700,000 in arbitration, at the time the largest contract in Cubs history. Owner Bill Wrigley claimed that was too much and the Cubs couldn’t afford it, so Sutter had to be swapped.

Sutter had good years in St. Louis and Atlanta, but Durham was a very good player for several years in Chicago. Sutter posted 6.0 bWAR after he left the Cubs and Durham had 19.1 bWAR for the Cubs. So this one’s a win, even though Reitz had one bad year in Chicago, then retired.

December 12: Acquired Phil Nastu and Joe Strain from the Giants for Jerry Martin and Jesus Figueroa

Nastu had been seen as a pretty good young pitcher (25 at the time of the deal), but he never played for the Cubs, pitching one year in the Cubs system and another one in the Baltimore organization, then out of baseball.

Joe Strain was the typical kind of pickup the Cubs would make in that time, a decent defensive player who just could not hit. He played just 25 games for the Cubs and batted .189/.250/.203, then played one more year in the Cubs minors and one in the Rangers organization before he, too, was done. Somehow his defense got him 0.4 bWAR for those 25 games.

Martin had negative bWAR for the Giants, then was traded to the Royals where he had one decent year, then wound up arrested for cocaine possession in 1983.

Figueroa had played 115 forgettable games for the Cubs in 1980. He never played in the majors again.

By bWAR, then, the Cubs “won” this trade. Sheesh.

The Cubs made one other very important acquisition in December 1980. They selected Jody Davis from the Cardinals in the Rule 5 draft, possibly the best Rule 5 pick in Cubs history.

Overall I’ll give the 1980 trades a C, only because of Durham.


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