On August 30, 1990, the Boston Red Sox acquired relief pitcher Larry Andersen from the Houston Astros in exchange for minor-league third baseman Jeff Bagwell. The Red Sox were in a tight race with Toronto for the American League Eastern Division championship. The bullpen supporting closer Jeff Reardon was not doing the job, and Andersen was pitching well for the last-place Astros. Andersen provided the deisred bullpen support, allowing only three runs in 22 September innings; and, the Red Sox held off the Blue Jays by two games. Andersen was declared a free agent; the Red Sox hoped to sign him but he signed with San Diego. Bagwell, at the time of the trade a 22-year-old AA third baseman, moved to first base the following spring and made the Astros. He won the 1991 National League Rookie of the Year award and went on to a career better than that of many Hall of Famers.
The relevance should be clear - on July 23, 2013, the Baltimore Orioles acquired relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for minor-league third baseman Nick Delmonico. Rodriguez will become a free agent at the end of this season. While it's possible that Rodriguez may be so happy with the Orioles that they'll have an advantage in re-signing him, tangibly they've acquired him for two months.
Back in the 1930's, the Detroit Tigers had acquired future Hall-of-Fame lefthanded pitcher Carl Hubbell. For unknown reasons, the Tigers allowed Hubbell to be acquired by the New York Giants for, essentially, nothing. On the surface, that's a terrible blunder, but as it turned out it made very little difference in the big picture. For during Hubbell's Hall of Fame career, the Tigers were never in a pennant race that they didn't win anyway. So, at least based on that measure, the Tigers wouldn't have been any more successful with Hubbell than they were without him.
So, we have (1) an Orioles trade that is a parallel to an historical trade; (2) the historical trade worked about as well for both teams as they could have hoped; and (3) anecdotal evidence that a team can give away a Hall-of-Famer without affecting the number of championships it won. Given that, I thought it might be interesting to see what impact Jeff Bagwell might have had if he had stayed with the Red Sox - in how many more years would they have made the playoffs? That history might provide perspective on the impact of surrendering Nick Delmonico for Francisco Rodriguez.
Bagwell played with the Astros from 1991 through 2005; he only played 39 games with the Astros in 2005 and there was no postseason in 1994, so this analysis will look at 1991-1993 and 1995-2004. It helps that Andersen left the Red Sox as a free agent after the 1990 season, so we don't have to allow for his contributions. This analysis will also ignore any other moves that the Red Sox might or might not have made.
1991 Bagwell was the National League Rookie of the Year after moving to first base in spring training; he was worth about 4 games better than replacement.The Red Sox finished in second place in the American League East, seven games behind the Blue Jays. Even if Bagwell had played full-time with the Red Sox, which is doubtful, he probably would have been at best a 2-game improvement over the players the Red Sox did have. He wouldn't have gotten the Red Sox a championship.
1992 The Red Sox finished in last place. Bagwell wouldn't have made a major difference.
1993 The Red Sox finished in fifth place, fifteen games behind the Blue Jays. Again, Bagwell wouldn't have made a major difference.
1995 The Red Sox won the Eastern Division, so Bagwell wasn't necessary for them to make the postseason.
1996 The Red Sox finished third in their division, seven games back but only three games out of the wild card. Bagwell had a great season for the Astros, worth 7.5 WAR (according to baseball-reference.com), so they would have made the playoffs had they kept Bagwell. Maybe. The Red Sox' best offensive players were first baseman Mo Vaughn (5.6 WAR), designated hitter Jose Canseco (3.0 WAR in 96 games), and utility cornerman Reggie Jefferson (1.9 WAR in 122 games, 413 plate appearances.) It starts to get speculative here, but I'll say that if Bagwell had played all season, starting by taking all of Jefferson's playing time and the rest from Canseco, the Red Sox could have edged Baltimore for the wild card. It's not a sure thing.
1997 The Red Sox finished in fourth place, twenty games out and 18 games out of the wild card. Bagwell wasn't good enough to make up that dfference.
1998 The Red Sox finished in second place, twenty-two games behind the 114-win Yankees but good enough to win the wild card. Bagwell (1) wasn't necessary for them to make the postseason and (2) wasn't going to make them catch the Yankees.
1999 The Red Sox finished in second place, four games behind the Yankees but again good enough to win the wild card. Bagwell wasn't necessary for them to make the postseason. In 1999, Bagwell did have a 7.4 WAR season, and the Red Sox DH spot wasn't real good, so it's possible that if they had Bagwell, they would have caught the Yankees for first place.
2000 The Red Sox finished in second place, 2.5 games behind the Yankees and six out of the wild card. Bagwell didn't have a great season (5.4 WAR) but that still would have been much better than the Sox got from Brian Daubach (0.2 WAR) in 142 games. I'll say it - the Andersen for Bagwell trade cost the Red Sox a postseason berth in 2000.
2001 The Red Sox finished in second place, 13.5 games behind the Yankees and 19.5 out of the wild card. Bagwell wasn't going to overcome that.
2002 The Red Sox finished in second place, 10.5 games behind the Yankees and six out of the wild card. And, they got less than nothing from their first basemen and desginated hitters. But by 2002, Bagwell was starting to decline; he produced only 3.7 WAR. It's possible, but very unlikely, that Bagwell could have made the difference and gotten the Red Sox into the playoffs.
2003 The Red Sox finished in second place, six games behind the Yankees but good enough to win the wild card. Bagwell produced 4.1 WAR; he wasn't necessary for them to make the postseason but wasn't by himself going to make them catch the Yankees.
2004 The Red Sox finished in second place, three games behind the Yankees. They were good enough to win the wild card and went on to win the World Series. It's hard to imagine Bagwell making the season any more successful.
Conclusions: Trading the full career of Jeff Bagwell for one month of Larry Andersen was a bad trade. It definitely cost the Red Sox the 2000 Eastern Division title. And it's conceivable, although improbable, that it cost them two other postseason berths and a division title (instead of a wild card.) The trade of Bagwell had less impact on Red Sox success than I would have thought.
Applying this to the Orioles trade of Nick Delmonico for Francisco Rodriguez, it seems very unlikely that the loss of Delmonico will make much of a difference to the Orioles. Even if Delmonico becomes a Hall of Famer, his absence probably won't cost the Orioles much. And, if Rodriguez pitches well, and the Orioles do make the postseason this year, it will likely have been worth it - Delmonico probably won't have more impact.
I was dismayed when I heard that the Orioles traded Delmonico for Rodriguez for the usual reasons - Delmonico could develop into a star, Rodriguez won't have much impact in twenty innings, even if he does pitch well in twenty innings, he wouldn't be that much better than what they could get for nothing. The more I listen to people, the more I look at the facts, I'm reluctantly becoming convinced that although the trade is a bad trade, it's a trade the Orioles should (and did) make.