The Cubs had regressed, a bit, from their 1982 record of 73-89 to 71-91 in 1983. They hired Jim Frey as manager, a World Series-winning guy, and hopes were a bit higher in 1984.
The first trade Green made that calendar year turned out to be a difference-maker.
March 26: Acquired Gary Matthews, Bob Dernier and Porfi Altamirano from the Phillies for Bill Campbell and Mike Diaz
The backstory to this deal is almost as good as the performances posted by Matthews and Dernier for the Cubs.
The Cubs had lost 13 games in a row in Spring Training that year. Green was pissed. Forty years later, spring wins and losses mean absolutely nothing, as the games are used for different purposes now.
But then? Green wanted to win, period, and he thought the team was lackadaisical.
Matthews had been a trade acquisition by the Phillies from the Braves when Green was the field manager there, coming off their World Series win in 1980. Three years later, the Phillies felt Matthews was in decline at age 32. Dernier was a spare-part outfielder who hadn’t done much offensively in Philly, though he did steal 42 bases in 1982 and 35 in 1983.
The Cubs had signed Campbell as a free agent hoping he’d reclaim his stardom from his Boston days in the 1970s. Diaz played only briefly for the Cubs and never for the Phillies; they traded him to the Pirates a year later.
Well, you know what happened. Matthews became an inspirational leader and fan favorite nicknamed “Sarge” for his take-charge attitude. He batted .291/.410./428 with 14 home runs and 101 runs scored. His 103 walks were the most for a Cub in 24 years, since Richie Ashburn had 116 in 1960, and led the N.L., as did his .410 OBP. Dernier played a fine center field, won a Gold Glove and stole 45 bases, the most for a Cub since Johnny Evers had 46 — in 1907!
The two combined for 6.3 bWAR in 1984. Campbell’s bWAR was negative in that season. It was a spectacularly good trade, even though neither Matthews nor Dernier came close to doing that in future years with the Cubs. To this day Dernier is a beloved Cubs ambassador who makes frequent appearances at Wrigley Field.
March 26: Acquired Tim Stoddard from the Athletics for Stan Kyles and Stan Boderick
Stoddard, a Chicago-area native with World Series experience (1979 and 1983 Orioles), had been traded to the A’s in December 1983. For some reason, they decided they’d rather have two Cubs prospects.
Stoddard had a pretty good year for the Cubs (3.82 ERA, 0.7 bWAR) before leaving as a free agent after the season. Neither “Stan” ever played in the major leagues.
Fun fact: Stoddard, who stood 6-foot-7, was a member of the North Carolina State team that won the NCAA basketball championship in 1974.
March 31: Acquired Derek Botelho and Don Werner from the Royals for Alan Hargesheimer
Hargesheimer pitched, and not well, in five games for the Royals in 1986.
Botelho pitched, and not well, in 11 games for the Cubs in 1985.
Werner had played briefly for a few Reds playoff teams in the 1970s. He never played for the Cubs.
A nominee for “Most Useless Cubs Deal of the 1980s.”
April 9: Acquired Ron Meridith from the Braves for Terry Leach
This was a bad trade. Meridith pitched in 35 “meh” games for the Cubs in 1984 and 1985.
Leach, who had been with the Mets in 1981 and 1982, was reacquired by them from Atlanta and pitched fairly well for them for five years, including in the postseason in 1988. Then he went to the Twins, where he was a good reliever on their 1991 World Series title team, and finished up with two years with the White Sox in ‘92 and ‘93.
Leach posted 9.0 bWAR after he left the Cubs. Meridith had 0.1 bWAR as a Cub. The Cubs, who had acquired Leach in ‘83 for a couple of minor leaguers, should have kept him.
April 23: Acquired Paul Noce from the the Padres for Terry Austin
This was a minor deal, but the Cubs did get a tiny bit of value from Noce as a backup infielder in 1987. Austin never played in the majors.
May 27: Acquired Dennis Eckersley and Mike Brumley from the Red Sox for Bill Buckner
Buckner cried at the news conference after the deal, that’s how much he loved being a Cub. But there was no spot for him in the lineup after Matthews was acquired. Matthews took Leon Durham’s spot in left field, so Durham was moved to first base and Buckner became a pinch hitter.
Eckersley threw well for the Cubs in ‘84 and ‘85 but declined in ‘86 and was traded. We will talk MUCH more about that later. Brumley played one year for the Cubs in ‘87 and then was involved in a larger deal that we’ll also discuss later.
Buckner, as you know, went on to play in the World Series with the Red Sox, and we won’t belabor the... well, you know. But the fact is, Buckner was one of the best “put the ball in play” hitters of his time:
Most seasons with 100+ games played & less than 40 strikeouts:— Jim Passon (@PassonJim) May 27, 2019
19 • Stan Musial*
18 • Tris Speaker*
17 • BILL BUCKNER
17 • Eddie Collins*
16 • Frankie Frisch*
16 • Nap Lajoie*
16 • Paul Waner*
15 • Nellie Fox*
15 • Charlie Gehringer*
15 • Tony Gwynn*
Buckner fell 285 hits short of 3,000. If not for injuries that robbed him of probably 200+ games and two labor disputes that cost him probably 100 more, he’s probably got those 3,000 hits and is in the Hall of Fame. Maybe he’ll get there someday.
June 13: Acquired Rick Sutcliffe, George Frazier and Ron Hassey from the Indians for Joe Carter, Mel Hall, Don Schulze and Darryl Banks
Sutcliffe fell out of favor in L.A. with Tommy Lasorda and was exiled (yes, many felt that was true in those days) to Cleveland, where he performed poorly. Someone with the Cubs saw he still had talent. Sutcliffe’s 1984 season was one of the best in Cubs history, period, never mind the best after being acquired by trade. It won him the N.L. Cy Young Award and helped lead the Cubs to the playoffs.
If not for injuries, Sutcliffe likely wins more than 200 career games and strikes out 2,000 and would rank as one of the top five pitchers in modern Cubs history. He got jobbed out of a second Cy Young in 1987; his year was far better than Steve Bedrosian’s, who won the award in one of the closest votes ever — one switch of a first and second place vote would have given the Cy to Sutcliffe, who had 6.0 bWAR to Bedrosian’s 2.3.
Frazier was a decent reliever for the Cubs and Hassey provided some value as a backup catcher. The Cubs needed the latter, as backup Steve Lake missed most of the ‘84 season with hepatitis. Jody Davis started a Randy Hundley-esque 141 games at catcher in ‘84.
Carter had a nice career, including that walkoff homer to win the World Series for the Blue Jays in 1992. He hit 398 home runs, and his career is one of the best ever for a Cubs No. 1 pick. Does he hit more homers with Wrigley as his home park? Maybe, but he also played 173 career games at DH, which the Cubs could not offer him.
Hall also had a decent career, though not to the level some had hoped when he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting with the Cubs in 1983. His post-baseball life was not good. He was convicted of several sexual assault crimes in 2009 and is in prison until at least 2031. Some of the details can be found here.
Overall this trade did provide value for both teams, but the Cubs broke their 39-year postseason drought in 1984 largely because of it. It’s sobering to remember that 2024 marks the 39th anniversary of this deal.
July 15: Traded Chuck Rainey to the Athletics for a PTBNL (Davey Lopes, August 31)
Rainey was expendable after the Sutcliffe and Eckersley acquisitions. Why the Cubs and A’s waited until August 31 — the deadline for postseason qualification — to have Lopes come to Chicago is not known.
As was the case with Ron Cey, Lopes was far past his Dodgers prime when the Cubs got him. L.A. had traded him to Oakland for a minor leaguer in 1982 and by late ‘84 the A’s thought he was done.
He wasn’t, though he barely played in September ‘84 (4-for-17 with six walks and three steals in 19 games) and played in two NLCS games (one at-bat).
In ‘85, though, Lopes had a fantastic year as a part-time player. In 99 games and 325 PA, Lopes hit .284/.383/.444 with 11 doubles, 11 home runs and 47 stolen bases (with just four CS, an excellent percentage). The next year he declined and the Cubs traded him to Houston (more in a future installment). The 47 steals, along with 54 by Ryne Sandberg, helped the Cubs to 182 stolen bases, second to the Cardinals’ 314 in the N.L. At the time it was the most steals by a Cubs team since 1911 (!) and they have not come close to that since.
Lopes’ 47 steals in ‘85 remains the MLB record for a season for a player 40 years old or older. This was a very good trade for the Cubs.
December 4: Acquired Ray Fontenot and Brian Dayett from the Yankees for Ron Hassey, Rich Bordi, Porfi Altamirano and Henry Cotto
After losing the NLCS, Green spent much of his time re-signing free agents Sutcliffe and Steve Trout. This was the first postseason-1984 player trade.
It’s a deal filled with spare parts. Dayett was the centerpiece, in 1983 he’d hit .288/.388/.587 with 35 home runs for Triple-A Columbus in the Yankees system. But he was already 26 and the Cubs never really gave him a chance to play. When they did, they found out his best position was probably “DH,” which of course the Cubs didn’t have at the time. After the 1987 season the Cubs sold his contract to the Nippon Ham Fighters of NPB.
Dayett did have one memorable game as a Cub. On June 3, 1987 he hit a grand slam as part of a nine-run first inning against Houston. He wound up 3-for-3 with three walks and three runs scored as the Cubs won 22-7.
Fontenot was a lefthander with a similar style to Ron Guidry and the Cubs thought maybe he’d be even half that good. He wasn’t. In two years with the Cubs Fontenot had a 4.23 ERA and 1.4 bWAR.
None of the guys who went to the Yankees did much, if anything, for them. Only Cotto played more than one full sason for the Yankees. Hassey became a decent backup for the A’s, White Sox and Expos and retired after 1991.
All told, there were no really bad deals here and a couple of really good ones, a solid A for Dallas Green in 1984.
Give the Cubs a grade for their 1984 trades.
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