The Long Shadow of the Randy Johnson Trade

Originally Published:  May 20, 2016

I had an idea recently, where I was going to look into the most damaging moves of all the local franchises.  True, I’ve already got my important and award-winning rundown of all the Worst Trades, Draft Picks, & Free Agent Signings (located in the bar above, with splits per team, and per GM), but this would be a look at the very worst.  The moves with long-lasting damage beyond just a crappy signing or a couple of crappy seasons.  Moves with ramifications beyond just the listed parties.

Like the Supersonics signing Jim McIlvaine, which was an onerous deal in its own right (7 years, $35 million, which is still bad in 2016 numbers) for a player who brought absolutely nothing to the table, and effectively derailed what was otherwise a championship organization (they’d lost to the 72-win Bulls team the season prior to his signing) by making Shawn Kemp disgruntled and eventually seeing him force his way into a trade for Vin Baker, who alongside Kemp, added about 60 lbs of unwanted lard to his frame during the 1998-1999 lockout, which ultimately ended both careers prematurely, and accelerated the Sonics’ decline into an also-ran in the 21st century.

Or the Percy Harvin deal and contract, which cost us three draft picks, a whole lotta money, Golden Tate, and the first half of our 2014 season before the offense was finally back to its old self.

Or the Steve Hutchinson Poison Pill fiasco in 2006, which cost us our Hall of Fame left side of the offensive line, ultimately speeding up our offensive decline overall, possibly assisting in Shaun Alexander getting repeatedly injured behind a less-effective line, and definitely over-paying for Nate Burleson in retaliation, who was a fine return man, but less than ideal as a wide receiver.  The 2006 Seahawks should’ve been a championship contender, but instead fell to 9-7, BARELY won a mediocre NFC West, and was a 4th seed that had to go on the road to top-seeded Chicago in the Divisional Round (where we lost in overtime to Rex Grossman of all quarterbacks).

I mean, I could go on and on.  The Mariners trading Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to the Yankees so they could go on to win all of the World Series titles, while we had a shit-house bullpen and less-than-spectacular play at first base.  The Seahawks drafting Dan McGwire over Brett Favre (which probably set us back two decades and almost led to us being moved out of state).

But, instead I thought I’d take a look at just the Randy Johnson deal.  Made on July 31, 1998, during a losing Mariners season in the midst of our overall prime years, we were apparently concerned about his back, and how many more years he had left in baseball.  He would go on to play 11 more years, making the All Star Game 5 more times, winning 4 consecutive Cy Young Awards, and 1 World Series title and a share of that series’ MVP award.  Thanks to our lack of foresight, Randy Johnson sits in the Baseball Hall of Fame with a Diamondbacks cap on, and I won’t be the first to say he looks ridiculous in it.  But, them’s the breaks.

In return, the Mariners received Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and John Halama.  While I’m man enough to admit that these three players were solid building blocks on our best teams of 2000 and 2001, I will never shake the feeling that we would’ve been better off with Randy Johnson and two other replacement players on those teams.  So, let’s take a look at how those players fared, and who we would end up getting back in trade for these players!

John Halama (1998-2002)

I’ll start here, because it’s easiest.  Halama was with Seattle for 4 seasons, from 1999-2002.  In his first two seasons, he was primarily a back-of-the-rotation starter, and a fairly mediocre one at that.  He faced more of a relief role, with some spot starts sprinkled in over the last two years of his deal.  Then, at the end of the 2002 season, he was granted free agency, and would go on to play 4 more years in various cities.

Carlos Guillen (1998-2003)

Guillen had a cup of coffee in 1998 & 1999 before getting more of a chance in 2000, and becoming the team’s starting short stop in 2001.  He played in Seattle through the 2003 season, but injuries would hamper him and he was dealt to the Detroit Tigers, where he was an All Star three times, and played a big part of some great Tigers offenses/teams around that time.  In return, the Mariners received minor league pitcher Juan Gonzalez (N/A), who never saw the light of day with the Mariners, or any of our minor league squads; and infielder Ramon Santiago (2004-2005), who played in all of 27 games with Seattle before he was released after the 2005 season, and picked back up by the Tigers where he was a solid reserve player for them for the next 8 seasons.

Freddy Garcia (1998-2004)

This is the guy who almost makes the Randy Johnson trade worthwhile.  ALMOST.  Maybe, if the Mariners had more foresight to hang onto Guillen during the prime years he spent in Detroit, this trade could’ve worked out better than it did.  But, Freddy was a solid, if unspectacular ace for us during our best seasons.  He came up in 1999 and started for us up until the 2004 trade deadline (the year where the franchise totally bottomed out, and was looking for anything it could find to rebuild on the cheap).  Freddy had two All Star appearances and came in 3rd in Cy Young voting in his best season of 2001.  He won a ton of games (helped in large part by some really spectacular offenses) and held or holds a bunch of Mariners pitching records (probably “held” when you think about how great Felix is).  And while he was fine, as far as aces go, he was never really overwhelming, particularly in the playoffs, where he had okay numbers, but never dominating.

On June 27, 2004, he was traded with reserve catcher Ben Davis for the following:

Mike Morse (2004-2009, 2013)

This was back when Morse was a short stop, in his smaller, skinnier days.  He was a prospect who always thrived in Tacoma, but never could in Seattle, either because of health or ineffectiveness.  On June 28, 2009, he was traded by Jackie Z to the Washington Nationals for Ryan Langerhans – where he would go on to have his very best seasons as a power-hitting outfielder.  We would go on to make a deal with them to bring him back in 2013 (which cost us effective on-base-getter John Jaso), but by then the ‘roids had probably worn off or whatever, because he returned to his injury-plagued self and would be traded in August of that same year to Baltimore for Xavier Avery (2013-2014) (who never made it past Tacoma before leaving in free agency).

Ryan Langerhans (2009-2011)

Here’s a reserve outfielder who had his ups & downs.  Late game heroics led to his being nicknamed Ryan Jagerbombs, but he was otherwise unimpressive in his three seasons with the Mariners.  He would go on to be traded to Arizona for cash in July of 2011.

Miguel Olivo (2004-2005, 2011-2012)

Olivo was a shitty all-around catcher whose only positive contribution was the long ball, which he didn’t even hit all that well to justify how long he stayed in the league.  He was with Seattle for about a year before being traded again at the 2005 deadline to San Diego for pitcher Nathaniel Mateo (2005-2006), who never got past AA ball, and backup catcher Miguel Ojeda (2005), who was waived and picked up by Colorado at the end of the season.  Meanwhile, Miguel Olivo would end up returning to Seattle on a free agent deal in 2011, thanks to Jackie Z, because he had one solid season hitting dingers in Colorado of all places.  Olivo started for two more years to the chagrin of us all.

Jeremy Reed (2004-2008)

I guess, if you had to pick a “centerpiece” to the Freddy Garcia trade to the White Sox, Reed would be it.  The Mariners had let Mike Cameron leave at the end of the 2003 season, where he would go on to sign with the Mets in 2004 (Cammy would go on to have a few more productive seasons – through at least 2009, before falling off the cliff the last couple years of his career), so we had a significant need to find a new centerfielder.  Reed had never played in the Majors when we acquired him, but he was as “Major League-ready” as they got, yet he didn’t see his call-up with us until September of 2004.  He started right off the bat in 2005, after an encouraging 2004 call-up, and produced some VERY underwhelming numbers.  He never hit for a high average, was just so-so at getting on base, and had no power to speak of whatsoever.  On top of that, he was carrying about a 50% success rate on stolen bases, and wasn’t exactly Willie Mays in the outfield.  His playing time decreased significantly through the 2007 season before picking back up on a bad 2008 Mariners team.  After that season, though, is where things get a little interesting.  In the offseason, on December 11, 2008, he was part of a 3-way trade between us, the Mets, and the Indians (in one of Jackie Z’s very first moves as GM of the Mariners); we traded him with relievers Sean Green and J.J. Putz, and utility infielder Luis Valbuena, and in return the Mariners received:

Mike Carp (2009-2012)

Carp was a reserve corner outfielder and first baseman who for whatever reason (injuries, Justin Smoak, Jackie Z’s overall incompetence) never was more than a reserve player.  We traded him to Boston for cash prior to 2013, where he had a number of memorable moments for the World Series champs.

Ezequiel Carrera (2009-2010)

Carrera never made it past Tacoma in our system as an outfielder, before being traded in June 2010 with other career minor leaguer Juan Diaz for Russell Branyan.

Russell Branyan (2009, 2010)

Prior to the 2009 season, the Mariners signed Branyan as a low-cost/high-upside first baseman option.  He proved to be pretty effective in that role (31 homers on a mostly punchless team); so effective, in fact, that the Mariners decided to let him walk in Free Agency after the season!  He went to Cleveland, which is where we come back in, as the Mariners were so fucking inept at hitting in 2010, we had to tuck our tails between our legs and trade the Indians two minor leaguers (the aforementioned Ezequiel Carrera & Juan Diaz, which brought with it horrifying visions of Bavasi disaster deals to Cleveland for Choo and Cabrera; thankfully that wasn’t the case here) to bring Branyan back for a stretch run on a historically-terrible offense.  Without Branyan’s help, we may not have gotten anywhere NEAR the 513 runs we scored that year (which, in the annals of MLB history, is among the worst all time, outside of the Dead Ball Era).  Branyan would – once again – be granted free agency after the year ended, and would not return to Seattle, as his career quickly dwindled into nothingness.

Endy Chavez (2009, 2013-2014)

Chavez was a spectacular corner/reserve outfielder for us in 2009, until Yuniesky Betancourt ran into him on a shallow pop fly, causing him to tear his ACL.  We released Chavez after that year, and he didn’t play in the bigs in 2010.  He would come back to Seattle on a series of 1-year minor league deals, starting in 2013, always finding a way to make it to the Big League roster, until Spring Training of 2015, where he was released and never played in the Bigs again.

Maikel Cleto (2009-2010)

Cleto was a starting pitcher at the very low minors for the Mariners.  He would be traded in December 2010 to the Cardinals for short stop Brendan Ryan.

Brendan Ryan (2011-2013)

Known exclusively for his superb defense, this no-hit wonder at the plate would start WAY too many games for the Mariners in his time here (thanks to absolutely no better options anywhere else in the minors).  He was sent to the Yankees in September 2013 for, I think, cash.

Aaron Heilman (N/A)

Heilman was a reliever who never pitched an inning at any level for the Mariners.  He was acquired in trade and traded away in less than 7 weeks, before the 2009 season would start.  In a deal with the Cubs in January 2009, the Mariners would get back the following:

Ronny Cedeno (2009)

Reserve infielder, who played in 59 games, before being traded to Pittsburgh (with a bunch of other minor leaguers) at the trade deadline for the following:

Ian Snell (2009-2010)

Crappy starting pitcher who could not resurrect his career, would never pitch again in the Majors after 2010.

Jack Wilson (2009-2011)

Crappy short stop who was good defensively, but would eventually be replaced by Brendan Ryan, who was better defensively, yet somehow even worse offensively.  Wilson was traded at the August 31st deadline to the Braves in hopes of giving this veteran – who had never experienced the post-season – a chance to play some meaningful baseball.  It would never happen, as the Braves fell one game short of the Wild Card.  Wilson was traded for minor league infielder Luis Caballero (2012-2015), who was still in the Mariners’ minor league system as of 2015, but has yet to get past AA.

Garrett Olson (2009-2010)

The other player we got in the Heilman deal was Garrett Olson, a reliever who could spot-start on occasion.  He was here for two years, then the Pirates picked him up off of waivers in March 2011.

Jason Vargas (2009-2012)

One of the best, if not THE best, players in this whole Jeremy Reed mega-deal was Jason Vargas, a 4-year starting pitcher who really took off once he found his changeup.  From 2010-2012, he averaged over 200 innings per year.  After the 2012 season, we ended up trading him at the height of his value, to Anaheim for Kendrys Morales.

Kendrys Morales (2013, 2014)

This was supposed to be a deal that was beneficial to both teams.  Vargas and Morales were on the last years of their original deals, and would be full-on free agents after 2013.  The Angels would let Vargas leave in free agency after 2013 (where he was okay for them, but injured for a lot of the season).  The Mariners offered Morales the tender after a pretty solid 2013, but he wouldn’t sign, and waited until the 2014 regular season started before signing with the Twins.  Much like the Branyan deal, we would come a-callin’ at the deadline in 2014, trading away reliever Stephen Pryor to bring Morales back.  But, he wouldn’t be sufficient-enough to push us into post-season play, and he ended up leaving again in free agency, for the Royals.

Franklin Gutierrez (2009-Present)

The last vestige of the Randy Johnson trade, everyone!  In case you’ve been trying to keep track all this way, all the other players have left us.  Now, there is only Guti, a reserve corner outfielder who was once a Gold Glove defensive centerfielder until a bevy of health issues sapped his energy, speed, and strength.  Now, he’s a right-handed platoon partner with Seth Smith, who will likely be allowed to leave in free agency after this season, never to be heard from again.

In case you couldn’t follow all of that, I’ll try to quickly summarize here:  in exchange for Randy Johnson, the Mariners got a crappy 5th starter/Jamie Moyer clone on a team that already employed Jamie Moyer, a decent short stop who was traded away IMMEDIATELY before his prime, and a pretty good/solid starting pitcher for 5+ years … and ultimately, beyond all those original three guys, a whole lotta crap, with a few gems (Vargas, Guti, Chavez, Jagerbombs) mixed in.  We’re now about 18 years later, and if I had it all to do over again, I would 100% give back all the players we ended up with in return for just a handful more of years out of The Big Unit in his prime.