Best and most disappointing Dodger acquisitions in 25 years

A few weeks ago, I was listening to the Kamenetzky Brothers on 710 ESPN Radio discuss the most disappointing athletes in LA sports history. The brothers (who have a really underrated weekend show) started the discussion in reference to David Beckham.

I started to think about my own list of most disappointing LA athletes, and it seemed like Dodgers made up more than half the guys on it. With Dodgers fans constantly calling for the team to make a high-profile acquisition, I thought it prudent to look at the best and most disappointing Dodger acquisitions of the past 25 years. Looking at the lists, it's possible the Dodgers have the worst history of any team in recent years when it comes to acquiring players.

By "acquisition," I mean a player who was acquired either through a trade or signed as a free agent from another MLB organization. When a trade had taken place, I tried to place more weight on individual player performance, rather than examining a trade on the whole.

It should be noted that Manny Ramirez is not ranked because frankly, he could qualify for either list.

Below is my list of the 10 best and 10 most disappointing:

BEST

10) Tim Leary

Before the 1987 season, the Dodgers traded first baseman Greg Brock for Leary and reliever Tim Crews. Leary wasn't great in 1987, but in 1988 he was an important part of the Dodgers World Series team. He went 17-11 with a 2.91 ERA and also won a silver slugger award as the NL's best hitting pitcher. In the World Series, Leary threw 6.2 relief innings with a 1.35 ERA. In the middle of 1989, he was traded to Cincinnati and never came close to repeating his 1988 success.


9) Gary Sheffield

Most Dodger fans have poor memories of Sheffield because he was traded for Mike Piazza. But Sheffield wasn't necessarily the reason why the Piazza deal didn't work out. Sheffield performed exactly to expectations, while Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson, and Jim Eisenreich all struggled. In nearly four seasons with the Dodgers, Sheffield hit over .300 every year, had an OBP over .400 every year, had a slugging percentage over .520 every season, and hit over 34 homers or more and 100 RBIs or more in each of his three full seasons. His 1999-2001 offensive seasons are as good as any Dodger in team history. But Sheffield isn't higher because of his attitude. He regularly criticized the organization, publicly whined about his contract, and openly demanded a trade several times. At first, he refused to move to left field, which weakened the team defensively. Despite his strong performance, fans never felt comfortable cheering for him. The Dodgers then had difficulty trading Sheffield because his no-trade clause limited the number of suitors. He was finally dealt to Atlanta for Odalis Perez and Brian Jordan in 2002.


8) Tim Belcher

In 1987 Belcher was the player-to-be-named-later in a trade with the Oakland A's for Rick Honeycutt. While Honeycutt was an excellent setup man for the A's, Belcher was a pretty good pitcher himself. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1988 and started Game 1 of the World Series that season. He won two games in the 1988 NLCS, and won Game 4 of the World Series. Belcher continued to be a solid starting pitcher for the Dodgers until he was traded with John Wetteland for Eric Davis and Kip Gross in one of the worst deals in team history. Belcher remained a MLB pitcher for nine seasons (although his numbers were always best in Dodger blue).


7) Derek Lowe

In 2005, Paul DePodesta signed Lowe to a 4-year $36 million contract and was crucified by the media for overpaying. It turned out to be the best free agent pitcher signing of that offseason. Lowe started 32 or more games in those four seasons, never posted an ERA over 3.88, and had double-digit win totals each year. He was the team's Opening Day starter in three-straight seasons and won a postseason game over the Cubs. This was one of the most solid free agent pitcher signings of the past decade for any team.


6) Shawn Green

Before the 2000 season, the Dodgers traded Raul Mondesi and Pedro Borbon for Green and Jorge Nunez, and subsequently signed Green to a multi-year deal. Green had some good years and mediocre ones, but he set an LA Dodger record with 49 home runs in 2001. He followed that up with 42 homers in 2002, displaying rare power for a Dodger hitter. After below expectation seasons in 2003 and 2004 (because he played hurt), Green was traded to Arizona for Dioner Navarro in a move that was motivated by salary just as much as performance.


5) Kevin Brown

Say what? Wasn't Kevin Brown a huge disappointment? Well, the numbers tell a different story. Most people remember Kevin Brown as baseball's first $100 million man after he signed a then-record 7-year $105 million contract which included free trips on a private jet to Macon, GA. They also remember a surly Southern pitcher who never won a Cy Young Award and wound up in the Mitchell Report. But Brown actually pitched really well for the Dodgers in his five years in LA. In four of Brown's seasons, his ERA was never above 3.00, despite pitching at a time when offensive records were being set. He led the NL in both ERA and WHIP in 2000. He missed nearly all of one season due to injury and about one-third of another, but when he pitched, Brown was one of the best in the game at the time. Traded at age 39 to the Yankees, Brown's career fell apart the moment he left LA, as New York fans will remember him getting shelled in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS against the Red Sox.


4) Brett Butler (twice)

Butler signed as a free agent before the 1991 season at age 34 and continued to be an excellent lead-off man. Butler posted high on-base percentage numbers every season and stole plenty of bases (although he was also caught stealing a bunch). The Dodgers let him go to the Mets after the 1994 Strike, but then traded back for him in August 1995. Butler was part of two Dodger playoff teams. He is also remembered for being diagnosed with throat cancer in May 1996 and then defied expectations by coming back in September of that season. He played one more year for the Dodgers before retiring in 1997 at age 40.


3) Hideo Nomo (twice)

I probably shouldn't count Nomo because he didn't come from another Major League club, but Nomo was a high-profile acquisition from Japan in 1995 who cost the Dodgers millions. "Nomomania" swept LA in 1995 as Nomo started the All-Star Game, was named NL Rookie of the Year, and confounded hitters by leading the NL in strikeouts. He continued to be an excellent pitcher for the Dodgers for several seasons, as he threw the first no-hitter in Coors Field history (pre-humidor), and pitched on two playoff teams. But Nomo struggled in 1998 was traded midseason to the Mets with Brad Clontz for Dave Mlicki and Greg McMichael. After bouncing around the majors, the Dodgers signed Nomo in 2002 and he had two more excellent seasons for the team again, before flaming out in 2004.


2) Andre Ethier

The best trade Ned Colletti ever made was Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez for Ethier before the 2006 season. At the time, Ethier was a little-known prospect in the A's organization. Since then he has put himself in position to be one of the best hitters in team history, having already won a Silver Slugger Award and started in an All-Star Game. If he continues at his current rate, then Ethier will be remembered well in Dodger lore.


1) Kirk Gibson

It's easy to forget that two of Gibson's three seasons in LA were horrible. But oh, how great was 1988! Gibson won the NL MVP Award, was the team leader in the clubhouse, and his memorable World Series home run was voted the greatest moment in LA sports history. His No. 1 ranking is based entirely on one magical season, as injuries subsequently wrecked his career and he never was the same player again.


MOST DISAPPOINTING

10) Carlos Perez

At the 1998 trade deadline, then-GM Tommy Lasorda traded a group of prospects that included Ted Lily for Perez, Mark Grudzielanek, and Hiram Bocachica. Perez had been a promising young pitcher in Montreal, and wound up going 4-4 in 11 starts down the stretch for the Dodgers in 1998. Kevin Malone then saw fit to give Perez (the brother of former MLBers Melido and Pasqual) a 3-year $15.5 million deal. Perez then imploded, going 2-10 with a 7.43 ERA in 1999 and 5-8 with a 5.56 ERA in 2000. He was well-known for his excessive strikeout celebrations which used to piss off opposing hitters. His short-temper led to a famous incident where he smashed a water cooler repeatedly on camera with a baseball bat in the dugout. Perez was arrested for DUI in Vero Beach in 1999 and then a Delta flight attendant sued the Dodgers after she accused Perez of choking her and threatening to shoot her. He never even pitched in the third year of his deal.


9) Andruw Jones

When the Dodgers signed Andruw Jones to a 2-year $36 million contract before 2008, they were acquiring a 5-time All-Star with 10 gold gloves. Still, Jones hit just .222 in 2007, which led to him only receiving a 2-year deal at age 31. Fans hoping he'd revert to his old form were beyond disappointed as Jones showed up to spring training overweight and out of shape. He hit .158 and whined the whole time. He was put on the DL, partially to keep him away from the team and the Dodgers released him while still owing him $18 million. They are going to pay him $6 million this season and then he'll finally be off the books.


8) Jason Schmidt

While fans knew there was a chance that Jones might not perform, there were slightly higher hopes for Jason Schmidt. After several excellent seasons in San Francisco, the Dodgers signed Schmidt to a 3-year $47 million contract before the 2007 season. There was some concern that Schmidt had suffered some minor injuries with the Giants, but since Ned Colletti and trainer Stan Conte both came from San Francisco, the belief was that they knew his arm well enough. Instead, Schmidt spent the vast majority of his Dodger time on the DL, winning just three games in 10 starts. He retired in 2009, and the Dodgers collected some insurance money on his contract.


7) Juan Pierre

It's hard to classify Pierre as a "disappointment" since many people predicted he would play poorly. But any time you sign someone to a 5-year $45 million contract, there are some implicit expectations. In three seasons (2007-09), Pierre failed to do many of the things that lead-off men are supposed to. His on-base percentage was below-average as he rarely drew a walk. He had poor flyball recognition which negated his speed on defense. And he displayed an exceptionally weak arm in the field. Pierre's acquisition was even more frustrating as it took at-bats away from both Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, before the Dodgers finally figured out that Pierre was best left on the bench. He got on a bit of a hot streak during Manny Ramirez's 50-game steroid suspension, but not enough to prevent the Dodgers from trading him to the White Sox and picking up more than half of his salary.


6) Kal Daniels

In 1989, the Dodgers were supposedly trading for a budding superstar when they sent Tim Leary and Mariano Duncan to Cincinnati for the 25-year old Daniels and Lenny Harris. Just the season before, Daniels had led the NL in OBP and he was seen as a guy with 30-30 potential, having hit 26 homers and stolen 27 bases in previous seasons. But Daniels never stole more than six bases for the Dodgers in a season again. After hitting .296 with 27 home runs in 1990, Daniels regressed quickly due to knee surgery and was never the same player. He could barely hit his weight and was shipped to the Cubs for a minor leaguer. He was out of the game by 1993.


5) Todd Hundley (twice)

Just two years removed from setting the MLB record for home runs in a season for a catcher, the Dodgers traded Charles Johnson and Roger Cedeno to acquire Hundley from the Mets. Hundley went on to introduce steroids to the Dodger clubhouse connecting players with Mets trainer Kurt Radomski, if the Mitchell Report is to be believed. Eric Gagne, Kevin Brown, and Paul Lo Duca were among the players who received HGH shipments from Radomski. Hundley himself put up freakish steroidesque numbers. He hit .207 with 24 home runs in 1999 and then just played half a season in 2000 due to injury. His defense was atrocious the entire time as baserunners stole against him with ease. Part of what puts Hundley so high on this list is that the Dodgers then reacquired him before the 2003 season in a trade that sent Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek to the Cubs. The Dodgers went on to pay Hundley $7 million a season for two years. He only wound up playing 21 games in 2003 and hit just .182 as a backup, while keeping his steroid connections active.


4) Charles Johnson

Remember that this article recognizes most disappointing players, and so that also means the player had reasonably high expectations. Johnson's expectations were exceptionally high when he was acquired in 1998. Most people remember the Mike Piazza trade for brining over Gary Sheffield and Bobby Bonilla. Sheffield actually produced pretty well for the Dodgers (despite having a bad attitude), and the expectations for Bonilla were never high (at least, they shouldn't have been). But the key to the entire Piazza deal was supposed to be Charles Johnson, regarded as one of the best young catchers in the game and considered a whiz behind the plate. Just one season removed from being a World Series hero with the Marlins, Johnson hit .217 after the trade and seemed mentally anguished to be outside his hometown of Miami. He struggled defensively too. The Dodgers then shipped Johnson to Baltimore in what was effectively the three-team deal that brought them Hundley. He performed reasonably well after that. Had Johnson lived up to his potential in LA, then the Piazza trade would be looked at completely differently today.


3) Delino DeShields

After the 1993 season, the Dodgers failed to re-sign second baseman Jody Reed. Needing someone to play the position, the Dodgers traded Pedro Martinez to the Expos for DeShields. At the time, DeShields was considered a rising star and he was thought to have Hall-of-Fame potential after posting high OBPs and stealing plenty of bases in Montreal. But when DeShields came to LA, his career was never the same. He never hit higher than .256, he struck out regularly, and he seemed disinterested on defense. In 1996, DeShields hit just .224 with a .288 OBP and virtually no power. The Dodgers let him go to St. Louis via free agency while Pedro Martinez became a Hall of Fame pitcher.


2) Eric Davis

In 1991 the Dodgers traded John Wetteland and Tim Belcher for Davis and Kip Gross. For years, Davis had been known as "The Next Willie Mays" and he was considered one of the game's best players, having led the Cincinnati Reds to a surprise World Series win over the Oakland A's in 1990. Entering 1992, the Dodgers were thought to have a dream outfield with Davis, his childhood friend Darryl Strawberry, and Brett Butler. But Davis suffered every injury imaginable, and he toiled through two miserable seasons in LA, hitting .228 and .234 before practically being given away to Detroit. He had some decent seasons later in the career, but never became anything close to Willie Mays.


1) Darryl Strawberry

Strawberry was a legitimate MLB superstar in the prime of his career when he signed a 5-year $22.25 million contract with the Dodgers before the 1991 season. To this day, he is probably the biggest name free agent signing in team history as he was as big as any MLB star at the time. But Strawberry has became a poster child for free agent bust. His 1991 season started poorly, but Strawberry rallied to hit 28 home runs that year as the Dodgers lost the division to the Braves. After that, injuries and cocaine caused Strawberry to hit just 5 home runs in each of the next two seasons as he hit just .237 and then .140. While on the DL in September 1993, Strawberry was arrested for beating his girlfriend Charisse Simons. In 1994, he disappeared before the team's final exhibition game against the Angels, before finally being discovered in the wee hours of the night having abused cocaine. Strawberry was sent to rehab and then had his contract bought out in May of that season. Since then, his life has been filled with ups and downs (mostly downs), as he has struggled to stay sober.


Honorable Mentions:

Best - Jay Howell, Takashi Saito, Paul Quantrill, Todd Worrell, Jesse Orosco, Tom Candiotti, Jose Lima, Eddie Murray, Odalis Perez

Most Disappointing - John Tudor, Tom Goodwin, Devon White, Brian Jordan, Daryle Ward, Hee Seop Choi, Fred McGriff, Bobby Bonilla


More by Phil Wallace:
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Previous Native Intelligence story: The paper chase

Next Native Intelligence story: It's never too late

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