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A look at Cubs trades in the expansion era: 1997

Some deals made this year helped lay the groundwork for the 1998 Cubs wild card season.

Henry Rodriguez
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The Cubs didn’r make a single major player-for-player deal in 1997 until midseason. Instead, coming off a 1996 season they had finished by losing 12 of their last 14, their big dive into the free-agent market was Mel Rojas, who had been a pretty good closer for the Expos in 1996.

Wow, was that a mistake, Rojas was brutally bad. The Cubs did rectify that by a midseason trade, though.

(They also signed Kevin Tapani as a free agent. That worked out better.)

March 30: Acquired Curt Lyons from the Reds for Ozzie Timmons and and Jay Peterson

Lyons was 21 and had pitched in a handful of games for the Reds in ‘96. He had good years in the Reds organization and... well, I’m not sure what happened. He never pitched for the Cubs in the majors, and looking at his minor-league record in the Cubs organization (10 starts, bad numbers), I suspect injuries were involved. He went back to the Reds the following year, wasn’t any good there, then bounced through the Yankees and Cleveland systems and indy ball before he was done, age 25, in 2000.

Timmons, who appeared somewhat promising for the Cubs in ‘95, wasn’t as good in ‘96 and played in only six games for the Reds, also playing briefly in Seattle and Tampa Bay before a year in Japan and some time in the Mexican League and indy ball, not hanging it up until after 2006. He is currently (at least as of this writing) the Brewers hitting coach.

Peterson never played in the majors.

A big fat zero for both teams in this deal.

June 23: Acquired Gil Heredia from the Expos for Saul Bustos and Dave Jefferson

Heredia, who’d had some decent years for the Expos, pitched in 31 games for Triple-A Iowa in ‘97 and left via free agency. He later posted 7.2 bWAR in four years with the A’s from 1999-2002, including pitching for them in the postseason in 2000.

Neither Bustos nor Jefferson ever played in the majors.

Another big fat zero for both teams, and the Cubs might have had something in Heredia that they just let walk.

July 31: Acquired Matt Pool from the Rockies for Frank Castillo

Castillo posted a 5.42 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) for the Cubs in ‘97. Then he made 14 starts for the Rockies and posted... a 5.42 ERA. He left after the season and played several more years with the Tigers, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Marlins. He died, far too young at 44, in a boating accident in Arizona in 2013.

Pool never played in the majors. The Rockies got 0.8 bWAR from Castillo. So... slight negative value for the Cubs.

August 8: Acquired Lance Johnson, Mark Clark and Manny Alexander from the Mets for Mel Rojas, Brian McRae and Turk Wendell

This one’s much better.

This deal was the beginning of building a better Cubs team for 1997. (FWIW, Clark and Alexander were PTBNL on August 8, joining the Cubs August 14).

Rojas, who the Cubs thought would be a good closer, was just awful. His 4.42 ERA was bad, but not horrible — but it was the six blown saves, many of them with multiple-run innings, and the 11 (!) home runs he allowed in just 59 Cubs innings that had Cubs fans booing him every time he entered a game.

McRae had two good years with the Cubs but had declined some in ‘97 and though he did have a decent year (2.6 bWAR) with 21 home runs and 20 steals for the Mets in ‘98, the Cubs got his best years. Wendell did pitch well for the Mets and got into a World Series for them.

Lance Johnson was past his prime by 1997 but as a platoon center fielder, played pretty well for the Cubs in 1998. Mark Clark made 33 starts with 1.9 bWAR for the Cubs in their wild card year, and Manny Alexander was a decent bench player for the Cubs, though the numbers don’t really show that.

Overall, the Mets probably got a bit more WAR out of this deal but Ed Lynch felt he needed to start cleaning house, and it worked.

Kicker on the Rojas deal: He really was done at the time of the trade. His first game with the Mets was August 9, he came into a game tied in the top of the ninth 3-3. First six batters: Triple, RBI single, walk, lineout, RBI single, three-run homer. I remember hearing about that game and just laughing my head off. In 1998-99 Rojas pitched for four teams (Mets, Dodgers, Tigers, Expos) and posted an 8.38 ERA in 63 games with 15 home runs allowed in 72 innings. Hoping to get back to the majors, he pitched in Taiwan, Mexico and indy ball from 2000-02, throwing fairly well, but no one called.

Fun fact: He’s Moises Alou’s cousin.

August 16: Acquired Frisco Parotte from the Yankees for Rey Sanchez

Sanchez hit .312/.338/.420 in 38 games for the Yankees in ‘97, better than he’d ever hit for the Cubs, and posted 0.7 bWAR in just those 38 games. He went on to play eight years after that for the Giants, Royals, Braves, Red Sox, Mariners, Devil Rays and Yankees, not really hitting well but providing 13.8 bWAR, almost exclusively from defensive value.

Parotte has a cool-sounding name but never played in the majors.

August 31: Traded Shawon Dunston to the Pirates in a “conditional deal”

The Pirates had just lost two shortstops to injury at the time and needed someone, anyone, to play the position. It was reported at the time that the Cubs would receive a PTBNL, but I have not been able to locate the name of any player who came back to the Cubs in this deal, as far as I know the Cubs didn’t get anyone in return. On September 10 the Cubs acquired Ramon Morel (no relation to Christopher) from the Pirates, but that’s reported as a straight waiver deal. Morel pitched in three games for the Cubs, then was let go.

The Cubs had just re-signed Dunston for the ‘97 season after letting him walk following ‘95, when he signed with the Giants. Trading him away was extremely unpopular with fans and teammates. Mark Grace called him “irreplaceable,” which is a bit of hyperbole. The Cubs replaced him at short with Manny Alexander, who ... wasn’t as good.

Dunston wound up spending a lot of the rest of his career with the Giants, settled in the Bay Area, and has worked for the Giants in a number of capacities since retirement. His son, Shawon Dunston Jr., was drafted by the Cubs in 2011, played five uninspiring years there, but was still playing indy ball last summer for Lancaster in the Atlantic League.

December 11: Acquired Sandy Martinez from the Blue Jays for Trevor Schaffer

Martinez is a blip in Cubs history — he caught 45 games for them in 1998 and 17 in 1999.

But he’ll always be part of a famous video in Cubs history:

You can’t see much of Martinez, but he caught all of Kerry Wood’s 20-K game, one of the most famous in Cubs (and MLB) history.

Schaffer never played in the majors and Martinez overall had slight negative (-0.4) bWAR for the Cubs. So that’s a loss, I guess, but Martinez — and we — will always have that game.

December 12: Acquired Henry Rodriguez from the Expos for Miguel Batista

H-Rod had two fine seasons in Chicago (and part of another before being traded in a deal we’ll cover later), accumulating 3.8 bWAR and 75 home runs. Thirty-six of those 75 homers were hit at Wrigley Field, after many of those fans would throw “O! Henry!” candy bars on the field for the popular slugger.

Rodriguez didn’t do much after leaving the Cubs, so they got two of his better seasons.

Batista pitched about the same length of time in Montreal, and not all that well, accumulating just 1.4 bWAR for the Expos. So I suppose with just those two teams, the Cubs “won” this deal — but Batista pitched 12 more seasons after that, accumulating 15.1 bWAR through 2012 and having some good years as a starter in Arizona and Seattle, getting a ring with the Diamondbacks in 2001.

December 23: Acquired Mickey Morandini from the Phillies for Doug Glanville

This was not a popular trade at the time it was made, because many Cubs fans thought Glanville was just coming into his own as a center fielder.

Morandini, though, won Cubs fans over with his defense and key hits, and he had a 3.9 bWAR season for the Cubs in ‘98 and got some downballot MVP votes. But in ‘99 he kind of lost his mojo and posted a bad year (-1.1 bWAR) and the Cubs let him walk in free agency.

Glanville played with the Phillies through 2002 and had 8.7 bWAR for them before leaving as a free agent and signing with the Rangers, where he later returned to the Cubs in a deal we’ll cover later.

Looks like the Phillies got the better of this deal, but Morandini was a key player in the Cubs’ 1998 wild card season.

Glanville, of course, became a thoughtful and well-regarded sportswriter and broadcaster after his playing career and often appears on Marquee Sports Network during Cubs games.

The Cubs got some key 1998 parts in these 1997 deals, so I’ll give them an overall B grade.


Give the Cubs a grade for their 1997 trades.

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