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How the Rockies saved their bullpen, acquired an NL Manager of the Year and started Moneyball

Patrick Lyons Avatar
February 14, 2022

As unbelievable as it may sound, the franchise now known as the Cleveland Guardians made a trade on April 1, 1983 that continues to impact their on-field roster to this day.

Nearly 40 years ago, a trade tree began that included a series of players such as six-time All-Star Kenny Lofton, two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a Colorado Rockies manager.

Cleveland shipped SS Jerry Dybzinski to the Chicago White Sox for OF Pat Tabler days ahead of the 1983 Opening Day. Five years later, Tabler was dealt to the Kansas City Royals for LHP Bud Black.

Black moved to the Toronto Blue Jays for three players, one of whom was flipped back to the Jays for RHP Willie Blair.

Then, Blair went with C Ed Taubensee to the Houston Astros in a package that included Lofton. From there, Lofton established himself as one of the best in the game and aided the franchise back to postseason for the first time in 54 years.

The tree continues for a total of 21 transactions and includes a list of 61 players. Current Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase is connected to the original trade in ’83 that transpired 15 years before he was even born.

At only 23-years-old, Clase is under team control for another five years, there’s still hope the Dybzinski-Tabler deal can continue to have a life of its own. 

Thanks to a carefully-curated website called MLB Trade Trees, the task of uncovering all the branches, limbs and leaves has been a lot less time consuming and arduous as its been in the past. 

Most Branches

For the Colorado Rockies, the longest and most gnarly deal made in franchise history began with the current pitching coach for Cherry Creek High School, RHP Dave Veres.

Veres and a minor leaguer were acquired from the Montreál Expos for OF Terry Jones, a player drafted by Colorado in their inaugural year of 1993.

The acquisition of Veres, a reliever who would put up consecutive above-average seasons in Denver, would be the first of several arms to contribute mightily to the bullpen.

Two years into a three-year deal with RHP Darryl Kile, the Rockies traded their ace alongside Veres and RHP Luther Hackman to the St. Louis Cardinals for 2B Brent Butler and three relievers: RHP José Jiménez, RHP Manny Aybar and RHP Rich Croushore.

Jiménez went on to save 41 games in 2002 to set a new club record, but Aybar and Croushore would be shuffled elsewhere in the months following their acquisition. 

Croushore’s branch alone is comprised of seven trades and 12 players, such as LHP Ron Villone, RHP Mark Leiter and SS Joe Espada, the current bench coach for Houston.

Oct 5, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch (14) (left) and bench coach Joe Espada (19) watch batting practice before the Astros play the Tampa Bay Rays in game two of the 2019 ALDS playoff baseball series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The branches on the trade tree for Aybar extend further and are more notable than any other that it eventually spawned a New York Times’ Bestseller and a film that garnered six Academy Award nominations.

First, he was dealt straight up for LHP Gabe White with the Cincinnati Reds at the start of the 2000 season. Despite the change in scenery just three games into the season, White went on to have the greatest season for a Rockies reliever of all-time, according to bWAR (4.5), and the eighth-best season for any pitcher in franchise history. 

White and RHP Luke Hudson went to Cincinnati for 2B Pokey Reese and LHP Dennys Reyes following the 2001 season.

Reyes, along with OF Todd Hollandsworth, were traded to the Texas Rangers for UT Jason Romano and OF Gabe Kapler, a player who later managed the Philadelphia Phillies and, more recently, went on to win the NL Manager of the Year in 2021 with the San Francisco Giants.

Sep 24, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler (19) celebrates a run scored in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, Colorado traded Reese the next day to the Boston Red Sox for C Scott Hatteberg, a 32-year-old backstop who simply couldn’t play behind the plate anymore. He was released two days later.

And 12 days later, the Oakland Athletics signed Hatteberg to play first base. Thus begins Moneyball: the organizational philosophy, the book and the movie.

Deepest Roots

The 1993 MLB Draft provided the Rockies with their first crop of in-season selections. With the 28th overall pick, Colorado took Oklahoma high schooler RHP Jamey Wright in the first round.

Following four seasons in the purple pinstripes, he was traded in the club’s first three-team deal in Dec ’99, along with RHP Justin Miller and C Henry Blanco. 

The Rockies received 3B Jeff Cirillo and LHP Scott Karl. Cirillo made the NL side in the 2000 All-Star Game before going elsewhere in one of the better deals in club history.

The Seattle Mariners shipped RHP Denny Stark, RHP José Paniagua and LHP Brian Fuentes to Colorado for Cirillo nearly two years from the day he was first acquired.

Stark finished ninth in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting in 2002 while Fuentes went on to save a franchise record 115 games en route to one the greatest careers for a Rockies’ reliever.

Jun 15, 2008; Chicago, IL, USA; Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Brian Fuentes (40) celebrates with catcher Chris Iannetta (20) after recording the final out of the game against the Chicago White Sox at US Cellular Field. The Rockies beat the White Sox 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

When Fuentes left via free agency after the 2008 season, the Rockies received a compensation pick for the 2009 draft and selected LHP Rex Brothers.

Brothers spent half a decade in the Coors Field bullpen before going to the Chicago Cubs in a deal for minor league prospect LHP Wander Cabrera in 2015. 

Though the trade tree died on November 1, 2019 when Cabrera was released by the organization, it survived longer than any other for Colorado and stems back over 26 years.

Modern Saplings

Colorado has not made many trades in recent years. However, one of the more notable transactions in the last decade could carry on for quite a long time.

The famed deal of Troy Tulowitzki has a trade tree that continues to grow fruit, both at the big league and minor league level. 

One of the four players acquired in Jul ’15 from the Blue Jays was RHP Jesús Tinoco. The strong right-hander was eventually moved to the Miami Marlins in 2020 for RHP Chad Smith, a reliever with a promising 2021 for Triple-A Albuquerque. (Though Tinoco eventually came back to Colorado via waivers last season, whatever happens with him going forward will no longer be an official part of the Tulo tree.)

May 31, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Jesus Tinoco (32) pitches in the ninth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Another player from the Toronto swap, RHP Jeff Hoffman, was dealt with RHP Case Williams to the Reds for RHP Robert Stephenson and OF Jameson Hannah last offseason. (Same situation with Williams as we see with Tinoco: though Williams returned to the organization in the RHP Mychal Givens trade last July, it was through an unrelated transaction.)

Stephenson has two more years of club control while Hannah has yet to make his debut. Should the Rockies get creative following the lockout, we could see that seismic Tulowitzki trade continue to bear fruits.

Diamond Gems

  • The deal that sent OF Corey Dickerson and 3B Kevin Padlo to the Tampa Bay Rays continues in the form of RHP Germán Márquez. While there aren’t any branches on Colorado’s side, the trunk that grows straight up like a strong bamboo is just as magnificent.
  • According to MLB Trade Trees, the average tree WAR for the Rockies is -1.1 while -1.8 is the total for Cleveland.
  • Oddly enough, the Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks both have a trade tree that pre-dates the first game in their franchise history. RHP Victor Zambrano (1996) and RHP Greg Aquino (1995), respectively, were signed as amateur free agents before being shipped elsewhere in later years.

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