November 17, 1992: Trevor Hoffman is drafted by the Florida Marlins from the Cincinnati Reds as the 8th pick in the 1992 expansion draft.
In the business world, it’s easy to under value inventories, or to “de-value” your inventory if you have too much of something. The product loses it’s value, or employees don’t respect the stock because of the seemingly endless supply. It’s easy for a company to waste something if there’s too much on hand, and it’s easier for items to be stolen since the staff feels there’s so much inventory available, and that “no will miss just this one” because there will always be more to replace the lost inventory.
Well, the Reds were stockpiled with relievers in the late 1980’s and through 1990. Jeff Montgomery had been drafted by the Reds in 1983 and worked his way up through the farm system and he made his major league debut in 1987. In 14 games (25 innings) Montgomery went 2-2 with a 6.52 ERA, allowing 25 hits in 19 innings. At the time, the Reds had John Franco as closer, and a bullpen consisting of Ron Robinson, Frank Williams, Rob Murphy, Bill Landrum, Tom Hume, and Bill Scherrer. In the minors with Montgomery were Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton, future Reds star relievers. The Reds had a lot of pitching talent available to promote, to trade, to develop, and to use as insurance.
So, the Reds had a lot of relievers and they decided that Montgomery was expendable. As was the case for most of the relievers during this time, Montgomery had been a starter in the minors and it appears that he was having trouble adapting to bulllpen duty for the Reds. So, the Reds decided to trade him to the Kansas City Royals for a power hitting, low average hitting oufielder, Van Snider.
This was a big mistake. Snyder batted about 35 times for the Reds over the next two years, hitting one home run. The Reds sent him to the Yankees in the trade for Hal Morris and Snider never played in the majors again. Jeff Montgomery, however, went on 13 season major league career, pitching 549 games, gathering 304 saves and compiling a 3.27 ERA. He was named to three all-star teams. The Reds could have used him in the early 1990’s when their bullpen performance suddenly dropped.
The Reds made a big trade in November of 1992, when they acquired starting pitcher Tim Belcher for an ailing/aging Eric Davis and swingman Kip Gross. 24-year-old John Wetteland was a thrown in; after three partial seasons with the Dodgers, Wetteland had compiled a 8-12 record with a 3.84 ERA.
The Reds repackaged Wetteland in a deal just two weeks, dealing him, reliever Bill Risley, to the Expos for third base power prospect Willie Greene, reserve outfielder Dave Martinez, and lefty reliever Scott Ruskin.
It’s not really clear why the Reds wanted Greene so much at this time. Chris Sabo was coming off a very good 1991 season, having batted .301 with 26 homers in his fourth big league season, but Sabo did just have one more full season in the majors. Greene was a major power prospect, but just couldn’t make enough consistent contact or play well in the field to hold a job. Greene exceeded 400 plate appearances three times for the Reds, the only three times in his career that he did so. Greene played parrts of seven seasons for the Reds, hitting 63 homers with a high of 26 in 1987. He clubbed 87 homers for his entire major league career.
Scott Ruskin put in about 55 innings as a lefty specialist over two years for the Reds. Dave Martinez played 16 big league seasons, but only one with the Reds. He batted .254 with 3 homers in 1992 and filed for free agency. Bill Risley, the other reliever traded by the Reds with Wetteland , went on to pitch parts of seven big league seasons. He appeared in 157 games, compiling a 3.98 ERA.
Meanwhile, Wetteland became one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. A five time all-star, Wetteland finished sixth in the Cy Young voting in 1999 when he went 4-4 with 43 saves. His best year came in 1993 when he went 9-3 with a 1.37 ERA and 43 saves, strking out nearly 12 batters per nine innings that season. Meanwhile, the Reds used 24 pitchers that year and gave up their most runs in a season since 1952, jumping up 176 runs over the previous season, essentially one run more per game. For his 12 year career, Wetteland pitched in 618 games with 330 saves and a 2.93 ERA.
The Reds didn’t stop there. After a poor 1991, the Reds bounced back to win 90 games in 1992 with Norm Charlton earning 26 saves and Rob Dibble 25. Meanwhile, they had a bad hitting shortstop with a great arm named Trevor Hoffman in the minor leagues. Hoffman was converted to pitching in 1991, and in two seasons minor league pitching, Hoffman had pitched in 89 games, carrying an ERA under 3.00, striking out a batter per inning. He had advanced as high as AAA for the Reds in 1992.
Apparently he had pitched enough for the Florida Marlins to notice him, and select him as the eighth overall pick in the 1992 expansion draft. The Marlins only kept him for 28 games and dealt him to the San Diego Padres for both lefty reliever Rich Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield, who had finished third in MVP voting the previous year. Hoffman was on his way to becoming arguably the most dominant reliever in baseball through the 1990’s and 2000’s. He’s been named to nine all-star teams, and twice finished second in the National League Cy Young Award balloting. Through August 4, he’s appeared in 963 games, finishing a major league record 802 games with a major league record 578 career saves. He has a career 2.75 record and has struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings for his career. His best season was 1998 when he went 4-2 with a 1.48 ERA and 53 saves.
During this time, the Reds typically were able to keep a closer and find relief help, and there’s no telling what may have happened with free agency and other personnel issues, but it’s really hard to fathom how these three guys got away. Montgomery was the least of the three, but Wetteland nor Hoffman didn’t even get to put on Reds’ uniforms in a big league game before joining other teams. Those two guys alone account for 1581 game appearances and 908 saves. Add in Montgomery, and the totals rise to 2130 games and 1212 saves. There’s little doubt these guys could have contributed much to the Reds’ cause.
AND….we got virtually nothing in return. We received no one for Hoffman, and essentially nothing for Montgomery. Concerning the Wetteland deals, the Reds got 1 1/2 seasons of Tim Belcher, but we dealt Eric Davis to get him, and then we got a couple of decent seasons from Willie Greene. It would appear that Reds GM Murray Cook, after acquiring Jose Rijo and Danny Jackson in the fall decided that Montgomery, who had been in the AAA rotation, was expendable. However, he did not get value in the trade. Wetteland’s trades were Bob Quinn’s last as Reds GM, despite being GM for almost another full year. I don’t know when the players had to be protected for the expansion draft, but Hoffman was drafted about one month after Quinn left and Jim Bowden became GM of the Reds.
John Franco and Randy Myers also came and went during this timeframe, but they were at least traded with some value received and the Franco deals have already been discussed. Franco was traded for Myers and then Myers was later traded for second baseman Bip Roberts. Franco pitched through 2005 recording 424 saves and pitching 1119 games with a 2.89 ERA. Myers pitched through 1998, recording 347 saves through 728 appearances and lifetime earned run average of 3.19.
To see whom the Reds had in their bullpen in the years beginning in 1988, check out this link from baseball-reference.com, which lists the team’s players year by year (no stats listed unless you click on the player’s name to dig deeper.) Our teams could have been much better if we had understood how good our young pitchers actually were at the time.