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Stan the Plan? (Part III: 1988-89)

Part one
Part Two

Continuing on with the world's most sporadic blog series . . .

1988

January 27, 1988: Signed Juan Eichelberger as a free agent.

Ah, the grand affair resumed. (Eichelberger had been granted free agency two months earlier.) From the first post: "I always loved the name Juan Eichelberger. For his career, he walked 283 batters and registered 281 strikeouts. Yet, he was merely bad, not horrible." I'll stand by that.

March 12, 1988: Signed Lonnie Smith as a free agent.

Smith had been a playoff magnet already---'80, '81 (NLDS), '82, and '85---and the Braves wanted in on that action. Smith is the classic down-and-out, motivated veteran with skills who re-paid his dues and made good. Because he's viewed in hindsight, it's extremely hard to think of a current player who could serve the same purpose for the Nats. There aren't many 32 year-old, former Rookie of the Year/all-star outfielders who are forced to spend nearly an entire season at Triple-A for another shot at the big leagues. I don't know if Smith was a unique player in this respect, but I can attest that if you ever saw him play, you knew that at any rate he had a style all his own.

March 24, 1988: Sold Graig Nettles to the Montreal Expos.

Only 43 years-old at the time of his departure. Hung around for the entire season with Montreal (final game: October 1, 1988) and hit a robust .172 off the bench. A buddy of mine, a local county cop, sometimes has to shoot deer repeatedly after they've been struck by cars on rural roads, just to put the poor animals out of their misery. He says they're stubborn creatures and flail around a lot. Very sad. That's the end of Graig Nettles' career.

March 28, 1988: Traded Jeff Dedmon to the Cleveland Indians. Received a player to be named later. The Cleveland Indians sent Tommy Kurczewski (minors) (June 22, 1988) to the Atlanta Braves to complete the trade.

Dedmon had just turned 28 and had pitched well at times for Atlanta over the course of several seasons. He lacked an out pitch big-time, though, and pitched only 33.1 innings the remainder of his career, all in '88 for Cleveland. Fourth-most similar pitcher is Ed Sprague. No, the other one.

April 10, 1988: Signed Ramon Caraballo as an amateur free agent.

A marginal middle infield prospect, Caraballo stalled by the time he reached Richmond in '92-93, though he was a regular on the 1993 "Great Eight" Richmond Braves (so named because every position player was purportedly a prospect). And, as one can see, there was a lot of talent on that team. Oh, and the manager? Grady Little.

May 17, 1988: Released Damaso Garcia.

Out-hit by Graig Nettles---by over fifty points. Suck on that and like it.

Also May 17, 1988: Signed Jerry Royster as a free agent.

I remember thinking Jerry Royster was cool. The reason for that escapes me now. Managed the 2002 Brewers for most of the year. His .361 winning percentage dwarfed his career .333 slugging percentage. Yikes.

May 20, 1988: Signed Melvin Nieves as an amateur free agent.

We'll get back to him a few years down the road---but we won't get back to him as much as the Braves would've liked, though.

June 1, 1988: Drafted Steve Avery in the 1st round (3rd pick) of the 1988 amateur draft.

We'll get back to him a couple years down the road, but for not as long as the Braves would've like, though.

Also June 1, 1988: Drafted Jimmy Kremers in the 2nd round of the 1988 amateur draft.

We'll get back . . . eh, who am I kidding?

Still June 1, 1988: Drafted Matt Murray in the 2nd round of the 1988 amateur draft. Drafted Turk Wendell in the 5th round of the 1988 amateur draft. Drafted Mark Wohlers in the 8th round of the 1988 amateur draft. Drafted Tony Tarasco in the 15th round of the 1988 amateur draft. Drafted Scott Ruffcorn in the 39th round of the 1988 amateur draft, but did not sign the player.

Not a bad draft. Of course, these are all of the dudes from that draft to make the majors, so every draft is probably going to look better than it was when presented like that. At any rate, you know how wild Wohlers got at the end of his career? That's Scott Ruffcorn for you. Only Steve Garvey's zipper had less control. Oh, and on behalf of Mr. Tarrasco: YOU SUCK, MAIER. MAY YOU BE FORCED TO WATCH A 'BECKER' MARATHON.

June 10, 1988: Signed Jim Morrison as a free agent.

No, Chris Berman did not resist. . . . Typical pre-renaissance Braves---they indulged the final 92 at-bats of a thirty-five year-old's career. Morrison hit .152/.229/.239. That's even worse than a Doors pun, so I won't even try it.

June 26, 1988: Purchased German Jimenez from the Jalisco (Mexican).

Twenty-five year-old purchased from the Mexican League. They'd do pretty much the same trick two years later with Armando Reynoso. Jimenez went 1-6, 5.01 with the Braves in '88. Actually fared better than Belgian Suzuki.

July 26, 1988: Released Gary Roenicke.

The one-month anniversary of the signing of German Jimenez. Alas, it was not a happy anniversary. End of the line for the elder Roenicke, a pretty decent role player (career .247/.351/.434, 117 OPS+). Younger brother Ron outlasted him by about six months---technically. Ron was granted free agency at the end of '88, but he played in only fourteen games the whole season. Plus, who cares?

July 28, 1988: Released Ken Griffey.

Was thirty-eight at the time, but a father's pride can move mountains. Or something. Little-known fact is that Ken Sr. actually hung around into '91 following the super-charged reunion with Junior-san the previous September.

August 26, 1988: Traded Ken Oberkfell and cash to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received a player to be named later. The Pittsburgh Pirates sent Tommy Gregg (September 1, 1988) to the Atlanta Braves to complete the trade.

The two-month anniversary of the signing of German Jimenez, but it was not . . . Okay, I'll stop. Oberkfell was a stretch-drive acquisition for the Pirates, who were stubborn contenders in the NL East. I remember Bill James thinking Gregg could hit. Maybe he could. But he didn't.

September 29, 1988: Traded Kevin Coffman and Kevin Blankenship to the Chicago Cubs. Received Jody Davis

Is it possible the Braves won this trade? Of course not; Davis hit .161 in parts of three seasons in Atlanta. But it's stunningly close. (By the way, Coffman pitched 110.2 career innings, gave up basically a hit per inning pitched and surrendered only five homers. Yet he had a 6.42 ERA. Why? Well, he walked 95 and struck out 47. That'll do it, yeah.)

October 15, 1988: Juan Eichelberger granted Free Agency.

One could say the saga of Juan Eichelberger continues. One could more accurately say it ends. Last stop for the Eichelberger express.

November 4, 1988: Jim Acker granted Free Agency. Rick Mahler granted Free Agency. Jim Morrison granted Free Agency. Jerry Royster granted Free Agency. Ozzie Virgil granted Free Agency.

All but Acker were gone; Morrison and Royster were done; Virgil was mostly done. Virgil was the classic '87-high (27 homers), '88-rehab (nine homers) guy. Actually, maybe Dale Sveum was. But Virgil's '87 season got him up to nearly the million-dollar range, which in today's baseball dollars is roughly $12.354 billion. Talk about a waste of money.

December 4, 1988: Released Chuck Cary. Released Ed Olwine.

Cary wasn't a bad pitcher---lefty with okay control who could strike guys out. He pitched pretty well for the '90-91 Yankees, but inasmuch as these were the '90-91 Yankees, he went 10-16 combined. He had trouble keeping the ball in the yard, too. In 1987, Olwine, a lefty, pitched in 27 games but went only 23.1 innings. LOOGY? Or just bad (5.01 ERA)? Surprise, surprise---the '88 Braves were his last stop.

December 5, 1988: Drafted Geronimo Berroa from the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1988 rule V draft.

Ah. Now I knew Berroa could hit. It only took three more organizations to find that out. Broke down right in time to join the '97 Orioles---the first of many times that team would unwittingly buy into washed up players over the next five seasons.

Also December 5, 1988: Drafted Matt Stark from the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1988 rule V draft.

Pass. No clue. I'm stumped. No matter.

December 23, 1988: Signed Darrell Evans as a free agent.

Merry Christmas!

1989:

January 6, 1989: Signed Jim Acker as a free agent.

It was like he never left . . .

March 25, 1989: Purchased John Russell from the Philadelphia Phillies. Purchased Jeff Treadway from the Cincinnati Reds.

Something happened to John Russell after the 1986 season. He was 25, had played two-thirds time at catcher for the Phillies, and had good power for a catcher (isolated power of .203). Then . . . nothing, barely over 100 at-bats the next two seasons combined. For one thing, Lance Parrish happened; he became Philly's catcher in '87. But I suppose Russell was injured, too. I don't recall. At any rate, the three main Atlanta catchers in '89---Davis, Russell, and Bruce Benedict---combined to go 99 for 550. That, my friends, is a .180 batting average. Treadway, on the other hand, could hit. He batted .320 during Atlanta's worst-to-first season in '91 and resurfaced in Cleveland to bat over .300 again. Treadway had a horrible defensive reputation; it's interesting, however, how Bobby Cox was able to play matched sets of offense-defense at second (Treadway and Lemke) and short (Blauser and Belliard). But that's a couple years down the road. For now, Treadway is a guy who could lash some singles and pop the occasional homer.

March 27, 1989: Released Matt Stark.

Still no clue. Sorry.

March 28, 1989: Released Albert Hall.

Classic benchwarmer gets some playing time, thrives; earns more playing time, fails scenario. Hall was fine in '87, awful in '88, a Pirate (for 20 games) in '89. At least he didn't finish his career a Brave.

March 29, 1989: Purchased Mark Eichhorn from the Toronto Blue Jays.

When I was a kid, I though Eichhorn was scary. That delivery, man! I don't really remember why the Blue Jays sold him---injury and declining effectiveness, obviously---but he was a 28 year-old reliever with a track record of success back when relievers were really relievers. He used the Braves as his transitional team, then bounced back with the Angels. Pitched 885 innings and had an even three ERA for his career. He was basically Troy Percival, Rob Nenn, or John Wetteland---to name just three---with 300 fewer saves.

March 30, 1989: Traded David Miller (minors) and cash to the Texas Rangers. Received Dwayne Henry.

Henry was a fun pitcher, a guy with (as I recall) dynamite stuff who had very little idea where it was going. Was way too unreliable to stick in parts of two seasons with Atlanta, but served Houston and Cincinnati fairly well for a couple seasons in the early 90s. A point I haven't mentioned yet: By now, we're going to start to see pitchers Leo Mazzone coached for a short time in Richmond. Sometime in 1990, I guessed it was, he was essentially "traded" for the incumbent Atlanta pitching coach, Bruce Dal Canton.

Signed Ricky Trlicek as a free agent.

Never pitched for the Braves. Somewhat impossibly, had seven decisions in only 18 relief appearances for the '97 Red Sox.

June 5, 1989: Drafted Tyler Houston in the 1st round (2nd pick) of the 1989 amateur draft. Player signed June 19, 1989. Drafted Ryan Klesko in the 5th round of the 1989 amateur draft. Player signed June 18, 1989. Drafted Mike Mordecai in the 6th round of the 1989 amateur draft. Player signed June 10, 1989. Drafted Joe Roa in the 18th round of the 1989 amateur draft. Player signed June 14, 1989. Drafted Todd Greene in the 27th round of the 1989 amateur draft, but did not sign the player.

Remember how bad the Braves' catchers were in 1989? In hindsight, this looks like a "need" pick, as Houston was a catcher. Of course, Houston was also a high school catcher, so maybe not. Whatever the case, Houston was a bust for the Braves; he was finally traded to the Cubs for a pitcher named Ismael Villegas.

July 2, 1989: Traded Dion James to the Cleveland Indians. Received Oddibe McDowell. Traded Zane Smith to the Montreal Expos. Received Sergio Valdez, Nate Minchey, and Kevin Dean (minors).

Quite an interesting day! James-for-McDowell was either a dump trade, or challenge trade, or both. After batting over .300 in '87, James had been mired in the .250s for the next season-and-a-half. McDowell had all kinds of tools (too bad he was basically done, except for one late hurrah, before Bodes ever became a GM!), but had already been discarded by the Rangers as a disappointment. Initially, the trade worked for both sides. However, both players had down years again in '90 and were out of the majors in '91. James bounced back much better; McDowell only had a nostalgic stint with Texas in '94. Smith, you might recall, went from Opening Day starter to 1-12 in a matter of months. He was traded to Montreal, stuck in the bullpen, pitched lights-out, and finished with one of those ever-common 1-13, 3.49 seasons. Valdez, I recall Skip Caray touting, had a good arm. But he was destined to bounce around. Minchey wasn't even 20 at the time of the trade and later made his name with the Red Sox, such as it was.

August 12, 1989: Signed Ed Romero as a free agent.

August 23, 1989: Traded Ed Romero to the Milwaukee Brewers. Received a player to be named later. The Milwaukee Brewers sent Jay Aldrich (September 1, 1989) to the Atlanta Braves to complete the trade.

Those resourceful Braves. Romero was a scrub middle infielder who gutted out nearly 2,000 career at-bats. The Braves flipped him for Aldrich, who was a minor league reliever back when that wasn't much of a compliment.

August 24, 1989: Traded Jim Acker to the Toronto Blue Jays. Received Tony Castillo and Francisco Cabrera.

A trade worth it on the basis of one hit, right? In addition, Castillo was a pretty decent lefty short reliever; he was flipped to the Mets in late '91 for Alejandro Pena (and eventually spent part of '95 as Toronto's closer).

Traded Paul Assenmacher to the Chicago Cubs. Received players to be named later. The Chicago Cubs sent Kelly Mann (September 1, 1989) and Pat Gomez (September 1, 1989) to the Atlanta Braves to complete the trade.

This one turned out badly. Assenmacher was a skilled lefty reliever in his late-20s who was just coming into his own and had a four-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio while fanning better than a batter per inning at the time of the trade. Obviously, it was a stretch-drive dump for the benefit of the Cubs, who were actually on the verge of winning something. Mann was touted as a hot-shot catching prospect but never did squat. Well, presumably he squatted into the catching position, but . . .

August 25, 1989: Signed Pedro Borbon as a free agent.

The other one.

October 15, 1989: Terry Blocker granted Free Agency.

NOOOO!!!!!!

November 6, 1989: Signed Greg Olson as a free agent.

Baseball's weird game. Olson ended up with twenty-five times more at-bats than Mann did. A bizarro all-star berth, too.

November 13, 1989: Darrell Evans granted Free Agency.

So the circle was complete: start in Atlanta, end in Atlanta. Went twelve years between 40-homer seasons, which has to be a record, right?

* * * *

Okay, we're going to stop at this point in 1989. The year's not up yet, but we're coming up on some very important acquisitions, and I'd rather concentrate on those than engage in more fluff.

In the meantime, what can I say about these 1988-89 transactions? Essentially, they're starting to get better. Look them over a second time; you'll see some cohesion beyond merely fielding twenty-five guys because they had to.