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A look at Cubs trades in the expansion era: 1983

A number of building blocks for the 1984 team were acquired the previous year.

Ron Cey bats for the Cubs in 1985
Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Cubs did improve in 1982 over 1981, even though they still lost 89 games. Dallas Green continued the makeover of the franchise with a number of deals in ‘83 that helped lay a base for what happened in 1984.

Let’s remember some guys!

January 19: Acquired Ron Cey from the Dodgers for Vance Lovelace and Dan Cataline

While Cey was definitely on the downside of his career at age 35, he had enough left in the tank to hit 84 home runs in three-plus years with the Cubs and receive some downballot MVP votes in 1984. He posted 10.5 bWAR in his Cubs seasons, pretty good for a player in his late 30s. It also showed that Green was serious about building a winner; Cey had significant postseason experience (four postseasons, all with World Series in them).

Lovelace never played for the Dodgers, later surfacing for a few games with the Angels and Mariners from 1988-90. Cataline never played in the major leagues. The Dodgers were basically dumping Cey because they had Pedro Guerrero ready to install at third base.

Still, this was a big win for the Cubs.

Fun fact: Ron Cey’s wife’s name is Fran. Say it out loud.

January 26: Acquired Steve Trout and Warren Brusstar from the White Sox for Scott Fletcher, Randy Martz, Pat Tabler and Dick Tidrow

Trout had three good years and one mediocre one for the Cubs and then got off to a good start in 1987 and was traded in a deal we’ll cover later.

Brusstar was a useful reliever in ‘83 and ‘84 and then was released after a bad year in ‘85.

Tabler never played for the Sox. They traded him to Cleveland for Jerry Dybzinski before the ‘83 season, a terrible deal for them, as Tabler played another decade in MLB and Dybzinski had a memorable baserunning gaffe in the 1983 ALCS.

Tidrow was pretty much done by the time of this deal after some good years with the Cubs. He had one bad year with the Sox, a worse one with the Mets, then retired. He became a longtime executive with the Giants after his playing career. He died in 2021, aged 74.

Martz pitched in just one game for the White Sox, spent most of 1983 at Triple-A and was released.

Fletcher was a very good defensive second baseman who couldn’t hit much, one of the last of his kind. He was eventually traded to the Rangers and played for them for several seasons, returned to the Sox and finished his career with the Brewers, Red Sox and Tigers, retiring after 1995.

The Cubs got 12.6 bWAR from Trout and Brusstar. The Sox got 7.8 bWAR from Fletcher (in his first Sox stint) and Tidrow, so this one was another win.

April 1: Acquired Steve Lake from the Brewers for a PTBNL

The PTBNL was a minor league pitcher named Rich Buonantony, who never played in the majors.

Lake was a decent backup to Jody Davis from 1983 until he was simply released in mid-1986. The Cubs reacquired him for one last year in blue pinstripes in 1993.

This acquisition led, in certain games, to a “Lake/Trout” catcher/pitcher battery.

May 22: Acquired Dick Ruthven and Bill Johnson from the Phillies for Willie Hernandez

The Cubs look real bad for making this deal but at the time it wasn’t seen that way. Hernandez had been good but not spectacular for the Cubs since 1977 and the Phillies kept him for only one year before trading him to the Tigers, where he won both the MVP and Cy Young in 1984. No one could have predicted that.

The centerpiece of this deal was Johnson, who had been viewed as a very good prospect at the time. But Johnson pitched in only 14 MLB games for the Cubs in ‘83 and ‘84. He died, far too young, in 2018 at age 57.

Ruthven was part of Green’s obsession with his former players with the Phillies. While Ruthven had been a decent starter in Philadelphia, he was clearly in decline by the time the Cubs got him and even though he had a mediocre year in 1984, Green decided to reward his old Philly pal by putting him on the NLCS roster, as opposed to using Rick Reuschel or Rich Bordi in that spot. Ruthven never pitched in the 1984 NLCS; perhaps Bordi or Reuschel could have helped. Or Hernandez, for that matter, if this deal had not been made at all.

This was not a good trade for the Cubs.

December 7: As part of a three-team trade, acquired Scott Sanderson from the Expos. The Cubs sent Fritzie Connally, Craig Lefferts and Carmelo Martinez to the Padres and the Padres sent Gary Lucas to the Expos. The Expos completed the deal by sending Al Newman to the Padres

Sanderson was a Chicago-area native (Glenbrook North High School). In fact, I have a strong memory of seeing him play high school basketball and thought he might head to the NBA after he played at Vanderbilt. But baseball was his better sport. Sanderson spent six years with his hometown Cubs, but injuries prevented him from fulfilling his promise. Still, he posted a 3.81 ERA and 12.2 bWAR with the Cubs, before leaving and signing as a free agent with the A’s in 1990. He died, also way too young at 62, in 2019.

Fritzie Connally — whose given first name was actually “Fritzie” per his baseball-reference page — never played for the Padres, eventually surfacing for 46 games in Baltimore in 1985.

Lefferts — well, the Cubs could have used him, he played 11 more years in MLB, mostly for the Padres and Giants. Used mostly as a reliever in his early years, he posted 101 career saves before being made a starter in 1992.

Fun fact: Lefferts will stand forever, now that pitchers don’t bat, as the last relief pitcher to hit a walkoff home run, which he did for the Padres vs. the Giants April 25, 1986.

Martinez, who is one of nine Cubs to homer in their first MLB at-bat, played eight more years in the major leagues, mostly with the Padres. His baseball-reference page says he’s a cousin of Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez.

The Cubs got 12.2 bWAR from this deal and the Padres got 15.8 from Martinez and Lefferts, so this was a deal that helped both teams. The Expos, who gave up Sanderson, got negative bWAR from Lucas and Newman.

Overall, a solid B for the Cubs deals in 1983.


Give the Cubs a grade for their 1983 trades.

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