When it happened, I was 12 and Ken Caminiti was one of my favorite players, but I don't remember getting terribly upset when he was shipped off to the Padres. If anything, I was angry that he was going to San Diego, which was the favorite team of a good, but obnoxious friend. Of course, I had to dislike any team from San Diego because of it. Still, I wasn't sure what I'd find when looking at this trade, since Derek Bell did have some good seasons and the Astros went to the playoffs with him. With that as your context, here's the analysis of the Padres and Astros mega-deal.
On December 28, 1994, the Houston Astros sent five players to the San Diego Padres for Derek Bell and five other players. The 1994 baseball strike was still chugging along, though Astros General Manager Bob Watson and Padres GM Randy Smith (son of current Astros president Tal Smith) decided to swap the meat of their roster in the kind of high-volume trade that just doesn't happen anymore. The Astros were coming off a shortened 1994 season where they won 66 games and finished a half-game behind the Reds in the NL Central. The Padres, however, struggled to win 47 games and allowed more runs than they scored. Here are the players involved:
- From the Astros
- Ken Caminiti, a 32-year old third baseman
- Steve Finley, a 30-year old center fielder
- Andujar Cedeno, a 25-year old shortstop
- Roberto Petagine, a 24-year old first baseman
- Brian Williams, a 25-year old right-handed pitcher
- From the Padres
- Derek Bell, a 26-year old center fielder
- Doug Brocail, a 27-year old right-handed reliever
- Ricky Gutierrez, a 24-year old shortstop
- Phil Plantier, a 26-year old left fielder
- Craig Shipley, a 32-year old utility infielder
- Pedro A. Martinez, a 26-year old right-fielder reliever
With this many players changing hands, let's look at how many seasons each team got out of their haul. The Padres controlled their players for 11 1/2 seasons and paid $30.337 million in salary to their players. The Astros got 13 1/2 seasons of control out of their side and had to pay $21,077,500 to them. On the surface, this appears to be a straight salary dump. The Astros paid out $4.3775 million in 1995 to their players while the Padres paid $10.64 million. It also appears that the Astros were getting the 'prospects' in the deal as three of the six players were drafted in the first or second round, while two of the Padres' new players were in the final season of their contracts and needed pricy extensions after the season. Part of the Astros' 4 million came from Plantier, who was traded back to the Padres in July of 1995 for two pitchers (Jeff Tabaka and Rich Loiselle). Plantier had the highest salary of all six players the Astros received at $2 million, but I'm not sure how much the team assumed of that in the trade.
Clearly, the Astros gave up quite a bit of salary for a couple of young guys in Bell and Gutierrez. Bell was a star player for Houston, finishing 14th in MVP voting in 1995 and leading the team to three straight playoff appearances at the end of the decade. Gutierrez was a decent player, but never won the starting job from either Orlando Miller or Tim Bogar. On the other hand, the Padres picked up the 1996 MVP in Caminiti and an all-star center fielder in Finley. Caminiti also won Gold Gloves in 1995, 1996 and 1997. Both players helped get the Padres into the playoffs in 1996 and into the World Series in 1998.
The other interesting part of this trade is both teams played in pitcher's parks, but only three of the 11 players included in the deal were pitchers. Houston's Astrodome had a park factor of 93, 92, and 93 from 1995 to 1997, while San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium had park factors 97, 95 and 94 over that same time frame. The Astros logic probably went something like this: we want a high-average hitter who can take advantage of those gaps in the outfield, but can also play one of the corner outfield spots and cover a ton of AstroTurf (which is exactly what they got in Bell, a center fielder until joining Houston). They also picked up a former first round pick in shortstop Gutierrez to shore up their infield defense. For the Padres, they fought their pitcher's park by improving their infield and outfield defenses while gaining some power for the lineup.
Speaking of power, we should discuss the elephant in the room with Cammy. His life and death was one of the saddest and most cautionary tales you can find in professional sports. He admitted before his unfortunate demise that he was a steroid user in 1996 when he had 41 Win Shares and won the MVP. Caminiti did see a power jump after the trade, hitting 66 home runs in two years, but part of that could be attributed to leaving the 'Dome. Current Padres GM Kevin Towers, who was the team's scouting director in 1994, said he suspected Caminiti was using performance-enhancers at the time, and now feels guilty about what happened to him. Towers had a ton of respect for Cammy and since the team was winning, didn't say anything. For Caminiti, the steroids may have helped him overcome the injuries that constantly plagued him, or caused more injuries. One thing is sure: Caminiti was a tough, tough man. My favorite story was during a two-game series the Padres and Mets were playing in Monterrey, Mexico, Caminiti was attached to an IV due to dehydration, diarrhea and nausea, but all he needed was two bags of fluid and a Snicker's bar before hitting two home runs in the second game to key a Padres victory.
So, who were the winners in this trade? On the player side, Caminiti, Finley and Bell all got long-term contracts, which is definitely a victory for them. On the team side, the Astros did win 32 more games over the next five years, but that included 102 and 97 win seasons in 1998 and 1999. Houston improved their win total every season until 1999, while the Padres see-sawed above and below .500 over that same time, with two 90-win seasons and three 70-win seasons. Both teams increased their runs scored totals over the next three seasons and each one outperformed their actual records by a bit. The Padres, though, jumped from 479 runs scored in 1994 to 668 runs scored in 1995. Granted, they played 27 more games in '95, but it's still a significant jump, from 4.09 runs a game to 4.63. The Astros, on the other hand, went from 5.14 runs scored to 5.18.
In the short term, the Padres had a higher winning percentage at .526, compared to the Astros .516 clip over the next two seasons following this deal. The Padres total was also due to a 91-win season in 1996. The Astros won in the long-term with a .557 winning percentage in the five years following the trade compared to the Padres' .516 winning percentage. The Padres made the playoffs twice and the World Series once while the Astros made the playoffs three times. I also calculated a rough Win Share total for 1995 and 1996 with these two teams and the advantage was hugely in the Padres favor. San Diego had an edge of 120 Win Shares to 74, led by almost 70 from Caminiti himself. The Astros, of course, struggled to find a third baseman after trading him away. Over the next ten seasons, Dave Magadan, Sean Berry, Bill Spiers, Caminiti himself, Chris Truby, Vinny Castilla and Morgan Ensberg all started games at the hot corner, with no player starting more than two consecutive seasons.
In the end, this trade was a salary dump through and through. Yes, the Astros did get better, but that was also due to a young rotation emerging and a couple of smart trades by new GM Gerry Hunsicker. The Astros got rid of a couple older, more expensive players but basically just got Bell in return. They got two good years out of Doug Brocail, but shipped him off to Randy Smith, who was then the GM in Detroit. The Padres got an MVP and a World Series loss out of it, so it's safe to say they got the better end of things. It's also telling that two years later, both GMs were looking for new jobs.