26 Years Ago Today:
The Blue Jays traded 28-year-old John Olerud to the Mets for 27-year-old Robert Person.
I don’t know if it is the worst trade in team history, but it is my least favourite trade.
We won the World Series in 1992 and 1993. Then 1994, 95 and 96 didn’t go as well. The Jays won with an older lineup, and that lineup seemed to age quickly after the second World Series year. Seeing how things were heading, our GM Pat Gillick left the team after the 1994 season to take over the Orioles.
Gord Ash got the job with the Jays. But, unfortunately, it wasn’t a good spot. There was only one way the team could go, which wasn’t up.
And Ash inherited a very loved, strong-willed, opinionated manager in Cito Gaston. None of those are bad traits for a manager. But, when you are a new GM, it is easy to be steamrolled by a strong manager.
So, the Jays had a line-drive hitter who played excellent defense at first base and was coming into his prime years in Olerud. But we also had an aging outfielder, Joe Carter, who couldn’t handle playing the outfield every day anymore, but he could play first (not as well defensively as Olerud, but he could play the spot). Add in that he was a two-time World Series hero. And we had a young potential superstar, Carlos Delgado, who had primarily been a DH but could play first (if you weren’t picky about the ability). So we had three guys for two spots.
The intelligent thing for a team that should have been rebuilding would have been to keep the younger two and see if they could trade the older player.
But Cito understandably loved Carter. Joe helped him get 2 World Series wins. So he pushed to trade Olerud to make room for Carter to play daily. Cito was never a fan of John.
A strong GM might have stood up to his manager and said, ‘No, Carter’s time is done. We need to rebuild around the younger guys.’
Or a good GM could have gotten a good return for a player like Olerud.
Ash traded for Robert Person.
Person, at 27, had pitched 101.2 innings for the Mets. He had a 4.07 ERA in 30 games, 14 starts, 86 strikeouts and 37 walks in those 101.2 innings. However, little in his minor-league history suggested he would become a star.
Person was a Jay for two seasons plus a month. He had an 8-13 record and a 6.18 ERA in that time, pitching in 61 games, 22 starts, 177.2 innings. He allowed 179 hits, 97 walks, 142 strikeouts, and, most notably, 29 home runs.
On May 5, 1999, we shipped him to the Phillies for Paul Spoljaric (his second stint with the Jays would last one season, 4.65 ERA in 62 innings, mostly pitching out of the pen).
Person? Well, he turned around his career with the Phillies. He had a 38-24 record and 4.23 ERA in 4 seasons, 108 games, 99 starts. He would win 15 games in the 2001 season. He still wasn’t good, but he was better than we saw.
Carter would play one more season with the Jays. Hitting .234/.284/.399 with 21 home runs (and a pretty impressive 102 RBI, considering those numbers). After the season, he’d leave as a free agent, signing with the Orioles, traded to the Giants mid-season and then retired.
Olerud? He would play three seasons with the Mets, hitting .315/.425/.501 with 63 homers. After that, he played five years for the Mariners, hitting .285/.388/.439 with 72 homers. As Matt noted, John played better after leaving Toronto. Cito wanted John to be an all-out pull hitter. Instead, he did better as a spray hitter. He finished a 17-year career with a .295/.398/.465 line, 2239 hits, and 255 home runs. Not quite a Hall of Fame career, but a decent one.