Part four. Live free or veto hard. You can find parts one, two and three here, here and here.
Vetoed trade: Aug. 2003, Rangers send Rafael Palmeiro to Cubs for unknown return
Completed trade: None
In 2003, the Rangers had a bit of a roster crunch at first base. Mark Teixeira was ready for the big time, but Rafael Palmeiro was still in the picture as well. During the first half, Texas made it work. Future Gold Glove winner Teixeira did manage to start 38 games at first base, but he also started 11 games at third, nine in left, seven in right and five at designated hitter, with Palmeiro getting most of the action at first. The week before the All-Star break, making it work came to an end.
With an 8-6 win over the Twins, the Rangers had won four of their past five games. Unfortunately, thanks in large part to a 7-20 showing in the month of June, Texas was still 20 games out of first. The next night, Teixeira started at first, and then 65 of the final 69 games at first after that. Palmeiro slid into the DH role, but he didn’t exactly hit like one. From July 9-30, he hit just .232/.280/.362, and Texas had seen enough. They tried to ship him off to the Cubs, but Palmeiro laid down his no-trade clause. A week and change later, Palmeiro passed through waivers unclaimed, and the Cubs and Rangers once again tried to work out a deal. And once again, Palmeiro shot it down, partly for family reasons, but also because he didn’t want to platoon with Eric Karros.
Palmeiro would rediscover his stroke down the stretch, as he posted a .965 OPS in August and September, but having twice bit the hand that fed him, Palmeiro was quickly kicked to the curb by Texas in the offseason, and the only team that would have him were his other former team, Baltimore, who paid him $2 million less than he made in 2003 for the pleasure of his employment in both 2004 and 2005. Texas wasn’t likely to gain much from the transaction, but Palmeiro not only lost out on what would have been his last chance to see postseason action, he also likely cost himself some money as well.
Rebuffed by Palmeiro, Chicago landed on Randall Simon as their secondary target for replacing Hee Seop Choi, who manager Dusty Baker just couldn’t stand. Unfortunately, Simon wasn’t better than Choi. In 2003, Choi posted a .341 wOBA and a 104 wRC+, while Simon had .320 and 91 marks, respectively. But while Choi struck out 29 percent of the time, Simon struck out less in less than nine percent of his plate appearances, which made him just ducky in Baker’s book. With Simon in the fold, Choi was demoted, and never started again for the Cubs that season — he got six September PA’s, and one PA in the National League Division Series. And while Simon hit decently in Chicago, including a .333/.333/.583 in 24 postseason PA’s, the Cubs let him walk in the offseason and traded Choi for Derrek Lee, a move that actually worked out very well for Chicago. The prospect they sent to Pittsburgh in exchange for Simon, Ray Sadler, finished his big league career with just eight PA’s, so Pittsburgh didn’t really benefit in this vetoed trade either.
Vetoed trades: June 1976, A’s send Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to Red Sox for $2 million, Steve Dillard and Andy Merchant; A’s send Vida Blue to Yankees for $1.5 million; January 1978, A’s send Vida Blue to Reds for $1.75 million
Completed trade: March 1978, A’s send Vida Blue to Giants for Gary Alexander, Dave Heaverlo, Phil Huffman, John Henry Johnson, Gary Thomasson, Alan Wirth and $300,000
This one wasn’t vetoed by a player, but rather a commissioner — Bowie Kuhn, to be precise. Already reeling from the decision that would allow the first batch of players to become free agents after the ’76 season, Kuhn was eager to keep his totalitarian finger on the button, and squashed the trades/purchases…four days after they were executed. Finley flew off the handle, as the players had already suited up for their new teams. Fingers even purportedly warmed up twice for Boston, though he never actually got into a game. Finley refused to play the three players for more than a week, claiming that they no longer belonged to him. He then sued Kuhn to recoup the money, though he would ultimately lose.
He also lost Fingers and Rudi to free agency without getting anything in return. But since Blue had signed a contract extension in order to be more attractive to the Yankees before Finley sold him to New York, he stayed with Oakland, and Finley kept trying to offload him. He would be denied again by Kuhn a year later. In December of 1977, he agreed to sell Blue to the Reds, but the venerable commissioner — or “Village Idiot,” as Finley took to calling him — once again blocked the transaction. It was reported that Kuhn had put in place an informal $400,000 cap on any transaction, and Blue’s sale to Cincinnati obviously blew well past that cap.
The trade that Finley was able to complete didn’t work out all that well initially, as the group of players Oakland received only provided 2.4 WAR, but in ’79 he traded Johnson for Dave Chalk, Mike Heath and cash. Chalk was a bust in Oakland, but Heath would stay with the team for seven seasons and compile the modest sum of 9 WAR. That may not be much, but it was more than the team got from the initial group, and Heath was also eventually traded for Joaquin Andujar, who … had a cool name. Andujar didn’t help Oakland much, he was cooked at that point of his career, but still, that’s something too, right?
Finley and the A’s undeniably came out losers in all of this. Finley may not have pumped the money received from these transactions back into the team, but he would have at least received something for Fingers and Rudi. The Red Sox also came out losers in the deal. While Rudi and Fingers wouldn’t have closed the 15.5 game gap between Boston and New York (with Baltimore in between) in ’76, if they Fingers and Rudi had had positive experiences with the Olde Towne Team and re-signed, they might have helped alter Boston’s fortunes in the next three seasons, when they won 90-plus games in each but never reached the postseason. Blue would have no doubt helped the Yankees as well, but since they reached the World Series in ’76 and won it in ’77 and ’78, we won’t cry for them.
As for San Francisco, they got what they paid for — Blue finished third in the Cy Young Award voting in ’78, was an All-Star in three of his four seasons with the Giants and tallied 12.2 WAR for them — but it didn’t help them reach the postseason. They never finished better than third in the NL, and figuring that they could finish third without him, they shipped him out before the ’82 season — and then finished in third. In the end though, they still traded a pile of garbage for a guy who immediately posted a six-win season and almost won the Cy Young Award. Let’s chalk that up in their win column.
Fingers and Rudi also made out well, who signed free-agent deals that dwarfed what they had been making. Instead of the $71,000 that Fingers made in ’76, he earned $266,667 during each of the next six seasons thanks to the six-year, $1.6 million deal that he signed with San Diego. Rudi made out even better, as his $67,200 from ’76 jumped to $400,000 as he netted a five-year, $2.09 million deal with the Angels. And contrary to what Kuhn believed, the deals that they and other free agents signed following the ’76 season did not torpedo baseball.