A few weeks back, I stumbled upon a blockbuster trade that happened nearly nine years ago. The trade included several people who had already established themselves as productive major league players and some prospects that would go on to have solid careers as well. The ten-player deal between the Diamondbacks and Brewers has so many recognizable names, so I figured it would be fun to do a recap of the trade. We’ll talk about the Diamondbacks side first, since they acquired the biggest (both literally and physically) player in the deal. Let us begin.
Standing at 6’6 205 LBS, Richmond Lockwood Sexson was the epitome of a hulking, slugging first baseman. Sexson possessed the kind of right-handed power that does not come by very often. He started off his career with the Cleveland Indians and hit .255/.305/.514 with 31 home runs and 116 RBIs over 525 plate appearances in his first full season in the big leagues. However, since those late ‘90s Indians teams were absolutely stacked, Cleveland figured that Sexson would be more useful to them as a trade chip. As a result, he was dealt to the Brewers in the middle of the 2000 season as part of a deal for reliever Bob Wickman. Sexson would go on to hit 133 home runs in his 3+ years with the Brewers, including two seasons of 45 bombs. Sexson would spend just one injury plagued season in Arizona, before signing a four year $50 million deal with the Mariners before the 2005 season. After two solid years with the Mariners, Sexson completely dropped off a cliff in 2007 while he was just 32 years old and had a wRC+ of 84. Not good for a middle of the order power hitter. Sexson continued to struggle in 2008 and was released by the Mariners. He then latched on with the Yankees to be their designated lefty masher, but was released after hitting just one home run in 35 plate appearances. Big Sexy would never appear in another major league game.
Shane Nance was virtually the opposite of Richie Sexson in size, stature, handedness and position. Standing at just 5’8, Nance was a lefty reliever who ranked as the Brewers #15 prospect prior to being included in the deal. According to Baseball America’s write up of him prior to the 2002 season, Nance’s arsenal was not incredibly impressive, but he earned high marks for his ability to get people out. He made his debut with the Brewers in 2002 and went on to pitch in 49 games in the major leagues. Overall, his career numbers are not very impressive, as he posted a 5.02 ERA (5.72 FIP) and had high walk (1.85 BB/9) and homerun (1.67HR/9) over 43 innings. In 2004, Nance had a 5.84 ERA over 12.1 innings for the Diamondbacks. He would spend just one more year in professional baseball, posting a 5.16 ERA in 59.1 innings over 45 games in AAA for the Diamondbacks and Royals.
Noochie Varner was the player to be named later in the deal. He played mostly outfield while in the minor leagues, but made a few cameos at second and third base. Varner played briefly in AAA in 2004 with the Diamondbacks and hit .321/.396/.443 in 387 plate appearances at the level, but it apparently was not enough to get him a second look there in 2005. One would think that his name being Noochie would be reason enough. Overall, in 8 seasons in the minor leagues, Varner hit .299/.356/.432 while playing for five different organizations.
Now for the fun part of the deal. The Brewers received an absolute ton of talent for their first baseman. The Diamondbacks must have really, really wanted Sexson. Although hindsight is 20/20, it is shocking to see how much Arizona was willing to part with in order to get their man.
Junior Spivey had rather unspectacular numbers in the minor leagues before making his major league debut with Arizona in 2001 at age twenty-six. He received regular at bats down the stretch as the team’s starting second baseman and hit .258/.354/.423 over 195 plate appearances. However, that was not enough to get him playing time during the Diamondbacks postseason run, as Spivey did not appear in a single playoff game. In 2002, Spivey absolutely went off and hit .301/.389/.476 with 16 home runs and 103 runs en route to a spot on the National League All Star team. Spivey’s 4.7 WAR was good for third among all second baseman while his 124 wRC+ ranked fifth. That would be Spivey’s one and only worthwhile season as a big leaguer, as his production declined greatly in 2003 while spending over a month on the disabled list. Spivey also missed more than 100 games in 2004 due to injury. Spivey’s last major league season was split between Milwaukee and Washington in 2005. He would then toil in the minors and independent leagues for a few more seasons before calling it quits. Overall, Spivey retired with a .270/.354/.436 line over 1785 plate appearances. Pretty solid.
Craig Counsell will be remembered for three things. The first is the ridiculous batting stance he used to have, which was probably the subject of many conversations through the 00’s before he toned it down a bit as he got older. The second is his 0-fer streak, which is the longest in major league history for a position player at 45 at bats. The third and probably most enduring memory is when Counsell scored the winning run in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series on Edgar Renteria’s walk off single. Counsell was drafted in the 11th round of the 1992 draft by the Rockies and appeared in just four games for them before being traded to the Marlins in 1997. Counsell was a key piece of the Marlins championship team and was the Marlins starting second baseman until June 1999, when he was traded to the Dodgers. Counsell caught on with Arizona in 2000, after being released by Los Angeles at the end of Spring Training. Counsell would go on to spend the next twelve years of his career playing for the Diamondbacks and Brewers. After being dealt to the Brewers in 2004, Counsell went back to the desert for two years before coming returning to Milwaukee in 2007 and playing there until he retired after the 2011 season. Counsell last season as a regular was 2006 and he spent the remainder of his career as a utility infielder. He was never much with the bat – his career OPS+ is a measly 79, and he finished his career with a .255/.342/.344 line over parts of 16 seasons. Counsell was arguably most valuable when he was coming off the bench for Milwaukee in his latter years (minus the whole not getting a hit in 45 at bats thing), but nonetheless had a very solid major league career.
Chad Moeller enjoyed the finest offensive season of his career in 2003 while a member of the Diamondbacks, hitting .268/.335/.435 over 269 plate appearances. Moeller only appeared in 100 games once in his career and was mostly relegated to backup duty over parts of 11 seasons in the major leagues. However, in case you were unaware, Chad Moeller is awesome. This link should tell you all you need to know. http://www.takingbadschotz.com/?p=6474
Now it’s time for the men who were considered prospects as part of this deal. All three of these players would go on to have productive major league careers, although it would take one of them a lot longer to figure it out than the other two.
If you’re left handed and throw hard, there is a good chance that there will always be a team willing to take a chance on you. Jorge De La Rosa fits under this umbrella. De La Rosa, who is currently on the Rockies 60-day DL recovering from Tommy John surgery, did not have his first productive season as a big league starter until he was 28 years old. The Diamondbacks signed De La Rosa in 1998 as an amateur free agent, but he never appeared in any major league games for the club. He made his debut with the Brewers in 2004, pitching to the tune of a 5.17 FIP due to a high walk rate (5.56 BB/9) and a ridiculously low amount of strikeouts – 5 in 22.2 innings (1.99 K/9). In 2005, De La Rosa was somewhat more valuable for the Brewers out of the bullpen, but his walk rate (8.08 BB/9) was almost as high as his strikeout rate (8. 93 K/9) in 42.1 innings over 38 appearances. After struggling at the outset of the 2006 season, De La Rosa was shipped off to Kansas City, where he went on to have an uninspiring year and a half out of the Royals rotation. He was then traded to the Rockies in April of ’08 and had one more mediocre year before finally putting it together in 2009. That year, De La Rosa was one of the best left handed starting pitchers in the National League and went 16-9 with a 4.38 ERA (3.91 FIP) with a very solid strikeout rate (9.39 K/9) in 185 innings over 33 games (32 starts). The walks were still a bit of a problem – 4.04 BB/9 and 10.4 BB%, but for the first time De La Rosa was putting up the kind of results to match his stuff. The next two seasons were marked by injuries for De La Rosa – he made just 30 starts combined, and he has yet to come off the disabled list after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. Although he is no rotation savoir, the pitching-starved Rockies could surely use his power arm to stabilize their starting staff.
Lyle Overbay is one of my least favorite players in the league, but for no good reason at all. Overbay was ranked as the #65 prospect in baseball overall by Baseball America coming into the 2003 season, but he was only able to accrue 305 plate appearances for the Diamondbacks between 2001 and 2003 mainly due to the presence of Mark Grace. Overbay had his coming out party in 2004 for the Brewers, when he hit .301/.385/.478 and led the league with 53 doubles. His 16 home runs and 87 RBIs were not what you’d want out of a starting first baseman, but they were solid for his first season as a starter. Overbay would have another solid season in Milwaukee before being traded to Toronto, where he would spend the next five seasons. While Overbay was a solid everyday player, he never put up the kinds of power numbers indicative of an everyday first baseman. From 2006-2010, he ranks near the bottom in ISO and wOBA for first basemen, besting luminaries such as Ryan Garko, Jorge Cantu and Rich Aurilia, Overbay signed with Pittsburgh in 2011, but was released in August after posting some pretty dreadful numbers. He returned to Arizona and spent the rest of the season as a back up pinch hitter and first baseman and was re-signed to play caddy to Paul Goldschmidt once again in 2012. He has flourished in the role thus far and is currently hitting .339/.432/.532 over 75 plate appearances. The 35 year old should be able to hang on for a few more years as a bench player.
Unlike Overbay, Chris Capuano has always been a personal favorite. Capuano appeared in 9 games (5 starts) for the Diamondbacks before the trade and then made 17 rather uninspiring starts for the Brewers in 2004 before a breakout year during the following campaign. In 2005, Capuano went 18-12 with a 3.99 ERA in 219 innings over 35 starts. Capuano’s 4.66 FIP was not all that impressive though, due to a high walk rate (3.74 BB/9) and a poor home run ratio (11.6 HR/FB%). Nonetheless, it was a very solid season for the then 26-year-old left-hander. 2006 was an All Star year for Capuano, who posted very similar numbers to the previous season, despite winning seven fewer games. The one thing he greatly improved on was his walk rate (1.91 BB/9), which helped lower his FIP by more than half a run to 4.04. 2007 marked the beginning of Capuano’s injury problems, as he missed more than a month with a groin strain. When he did pitch however, he was rather ineffective and posted a 4.45 FIP over 29 games (25 starts). Then the injury bug really hit. Capuano had Tommy John surgery before the ’08 season and did not make it back to the major leagues until June of 2010. While Capuano’s comeback story was great, it did not inspire the Brewers to plug him into the rotation on a consistent basis, as Capuano spent the majority of the season as the long man and spot starter. Prior to the 2011 season, Capuano signed on with the Mets to try and reclaim his glory as a starting pitcher. He had a good year pitching at back end of the rotation, with solid walk and (2.56 BB/9 and 6.6BB%) strikeout (8.13 K/9 and 21 K%) rates. Capuano parlayed his fine year into a 2-year $10 million deal with the Dodgers this past offseason and has been their best starting pitcher not named Kershaw thus far. Through twelve starts, he is 8-2 with a 2.82 ERA (3.93 FIP) over 73.1 innings, while looking like one of the best free agent signings of the offseason. Capuano’s BABIP against is just .228, which could mean that he’s in for a rough stretch in the near future. In fact, it may have already started, as he has given up 11 earned runs over 10.1 innings in his last two starts. It remains to be seen if Capuano will keep up the good work, but as of right now he looks well on his way to his second career All Star selection.
Despite the fact that there were several blockbuster trades this past offseason, we are less likely to see one of this size and magnitude going forward because of teams’ increased emphasis on developing and hanging on to their homegrown players. It is rather obvious that the Brewers were the big winners of this deal, as Sexson accrued only 104 plate appearances for the Diamondbacks before bolting to Seattle. The Brewers meanwhile, received three fourths of their starting infield and pitcher who was the ace of their rotation for a couple years. That’s a pretty substantial haul right there.