Jim Frey was fired as general manager of the Cubs in October 1991 and replaced by Larry Himes.
Before that, though, Frey tried signing three high-priced free agents: George Bell, Danny Jackson and Dave Smith. Only Bell had decent numbers for the Cubs, and of course was involved in a key trade we’ll cover in the next installment.
Trade-wise, not much happened in ‘91.
March 29: Acquired Steve Carter from the Pirates for Gary Varsho
Varsho had been a bit-player outfielder for the Cubs for three years. He continued this role for the Pirates, Reds and Phillies through 1995, and coached for the Phillies and Pirates, briefly managing in Philadelphia in 2004. His son Daulton is now an outfielder for the Blue Jays.
I don’t remember Steve Carter at all, and that’s because after a year at Triple-A Iowa, he left as a free agent and played in the Tigers, Reds, Astros and Marlins organizations through 1995.
Varsho had negative bWAR every year he played in the majors after 1990. The Cubs got zero bWAR from this deal, so... did they win it?
April 7: Acquired Chuck McElroy and Bob Scanlan from the Phillies for Mitch Williams
It was literally two days before Opening Day. In fact, the day before this deal was finalized, Williams had pitched in an exhibition game against the Brewers at Wrigley Field, walking two.
This deal, per several Tribune articles, had been discussed much of the offseason between Frey and the Phillies, and the sticking point was apparently Philadelphia’s unwillingness to pay Williams’ full salary ($1.5 million, pretty big money in those days). When they finally agreed to do so, the deal was done. Williams was quoted:
‘’I’m a little angry over the way it was drawn out,’’ Williams said.
‘’They could have taken this deal four months ago. If I’m bitter at all, it`s because I just got home, unpacked and went shopping. Then they call me and tell me I’m traded.’’
Williams had three very good seasons in Philadelphia, posting 102 saves and 2.8 bWAR. As was the case in Chicago, he walked a lot of guys (170 in 231⅓ innings). And there’s the famous World Series walkoff homer hit by Joe Carter of the Blue Jays in 1992 off him. The Phillies traded him to Houston after 1993.
McElroy and Scanlan were both decent middle relievers for the Cubs (1.6 bWAR in three years for McElroy, 0.2 bWAR for Scanlan). So not only did the Phillies win the bWAR contest, but this forced the Cubs to scramble for free-agent relievers over the next few seasons, including Smith, Doug Jones and Mel Rojas, all of whom flopped in Chicago.
This was another bad deal by Frey.
April 21: Acquired Jeff Baldwin from the Astros for Dean Wilkins
Wilkins, as you know from a previous installment in this series, was acquired by the Cubs from the Yankees in the Steve Trout deal in ‘87. He pitched briefly and mostly ineffectively for the Cubs, and the Astros took him in the 1990 Rule 5 Draft.
So this was essentially Houston making a trade so they could keep Wilkins. He pitched in seven games for them with an 11.25 ERA and -1.8 bWAR.
Baldwin never played for the Cubs.
So, another “win”?
June 26: Acquired Steve Adkins from the Yankees for David Rosario
Adkins, a Chicago-area native who went to high school in DeKalb, made five starts for the Yankees in 1990. He never played in the majors for the Cubs. Rosario never played in the majors at all.
A nominee for “Most Useless Trade of the 1990s.”
September 6: Acquired Jeff Hartsock from the Dodgers for Steve Wilson
Wilson, who had shown some promise for the Cubs after coming over in the Rafael Palmeiro deal, pitched infrequently in L.A. and was done after ‘93. Total bWAR for the Dodgers: 1.0.
Hartsock made four relief appearances for the Cubs in ‘92 and posted a 6.75 ERA with 15 hits, four walks and two home runs allowed in 9⅓ innings, posting -0.2 bWAR. All four appearances were in blowout losses; the Cubs lost the games by a combined score of 46-13.
September 29: Acquired Turk Wendell and Yorkis Perez from the Braves for Mike Bielecki and Damon Berryhill
Frey does it again, making a trade with Atlanta with just a few days left in the season. Why this was done is beyond me.
Bielecki had declined since his great 1989 season and Berryhill had barely played in ‘90 and ‘91 due to injuries. Both players suited up in Atlanta for brief cameos at the end of ‘91 and both were journeymen around the league for a few years, both hanging it up after ‘97. Total bWAR for Berryhill after the trade was -0.6 and for Bielecki, 2.2.
Perez pitched in three games for the Cubs at the end of ‘91 and was released at the end of the season. Why they even bothered may never be known.
Wendell was a character, as you might recall, included in his antics was jumping over the foul line when coming on and off the mound. Some of the other things he did are detailed in his SABR biography, including:
Chewing black licorice and brushing his teeth between innings. The clean-living Wendell didn’t want to chew tobacco – in fact, he noted in 2010 that he had never tried tobacco in any form or had even a sip of alcohol. “Or any drug,” he also emphasized. The tooth-brushing was a direct consequence of the licorice and his desire for dental hygiene. “I don’t like the way licorice makes my teeth feel. It just sits there. I don’t want my teeth to get stained.”
When Wendell joined the Cubs in 1993, he chose uniform No. 13, which at the time had not been worn in 27 years, since Bill Faul, also a bit of an eccentric, wore it in 1966.
Wendell had three brief trials with the Cubs before sticking in 1996. He had a very good season that year, with a 2.84 ERA and 18 saves in 21 opportunities. You’d have thought that might have gotten him another chance to close, despite a high walk rate. Instead, the Cubs signed Mel Rojas, who was a disaster. The Cubs sent both Wendell and Rojas to the Mets in a deal we’ll cover later on. Wendell had some good years in New York and pitched in two postseasons for them, including the World Series in 2000.
He later became outspoken against steroid use in MLB. From his SABR bio:
Wendell continued to hold forth on the business of baseball. He had two central topics. First and foremost, he remained vehemently opposed to steroids. One example came shortly after signing with the Rockies, when he told the Denver Post that it was “clear just seeing his body” that Barry Bonds had been taking them. In talking with Kernan, he called out McGwire and Alex Rodriguez for what he felt were disingenuous statements. He also reiterated his belief that the major leagues should have a worldwide draft.
After baseball, Wendell purchased and ran a ranch in Colorado. His son Wyatt is currently pitching in the Arizona Diamondbacks system.
These trades neither helped nor hurt the Cubs much, but I can’t give them more than a D grade.
Give the Cubs a grade for their 1991 trades.
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