A Decade of A's Trades: The 1990s
The 1990s began with the A’s in the World Series in 1990 and two wins away from the Series in 1992. After that, the A’s fell, and fell badly with a streak of six consecutive losing seasons.
So, the kinds of trades the organization made changed as Oakland went from being among the best of the best to being just another club trying to get by.
Sandy Alderson, who had used trades to build the A’s into a powerhouse in the 1980s, didn’t see trades in the same way in the 1990s, not for a team that finished exactly 100 games under .500 from 1993-98.
By that time, longtime manager Tony La Russa was in St. Louis and Alderson had stepped aside in favor of his lieutenant, Billy Beane, at the end of the 1997 season.
In this time of baseball being shut down during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, it seems like a good moment to look back. at the A’s trades decade by decade. We’re already looked at the trades of the 1970s and 1980s, and this is a year-by-year rating of the most consequential trades for each year of the 1990s.
The deals: On Aug. 29, 1990 the A’s traded pitcher Joe Bitker and outfielder Scott Chiamparino to the Rangers in exchange for DH Harold Baines. On the same day, the A’s sent pitcher Daryl Green, outfielder Felix Jose and third baseman Stan Royer to the Cardinals in exchange for Willie McGee.
The results: Baines had been one of Tony La Russa’s favorite players when both men were with the Chicago White Sox, and that didn’t change when Baines came over at the end of the 1990 season. Although Baines’ best season with Oakland was in 1991 when the depleted A’s finished second, in the postseasons in 1990 and 1992 he was a gamer, averaging .333 with two homers and nine RBI. McGee only hit .273 in his only month-plus with the A’s, but he helped the post-season push by scoring 23 runs in 29 games. And he’d played enough games for the Cardinals to win the NL batting title with the .335 he’d had in five months with St. Louis.
The deal: On July 31, the A’s traded pitchers Russ Cormier and Matt Grott to the Expos in exchange for Ron Darling.
The result: This trade deadline deal didn’t produce immediate benefit, Darling going 3-7 down the stretch in 1991. But in 1992 he went 15-10 to pitch the A’s into the playoffs. Darling, now a color analyst for TBS and a contributor for the MLB network, finished out his career with the A’s and didn’t have another winning season.
The deal: The A’s traded right fielder Jose Canseco to the Rangers in exchange for reliever Jeff Russell, right fielder Ruben Sierra and starter Bobby Witt.
The result: Canseco was in the on-deck circle on Aug. 31 in the first inning when he heard his name called by manager Tony La Russa. Canseco was being lifted for pinch-hitter Lance Blankenship because Sandy Alderson had just completed a trade with the Rangers. To that point, Canseco was one of the game’s best players. He’d hit 226 home runs from 1986 until the day of the deal, the most in the big leagues. But Alderson judged the A’s, owning a 6½-game lead, needed pitching down the stretch. He sort of got it. Witt was 1-1 with a 3.41 in six starts, then was rocked in his only playoff appearance, pitching in relief. Russell got into eight games, went 2-0 and didn’t give up a run in 9.2 innings but suffered a blown save in the playoffs. Sierra drove in 17 runs and scored 17 more in 27 games in 1992 after the trade, then had a nice post-season, averaging .333 with half of his eight hits going for extra bases. He never hit for much of an average with Oakland in 1993 and 1994 before a mid-1995 trade to the Yankees, but he did drive in 193 runs combined those two seasons.
The deal: On July 31, the A’s traded left fielder Rickey Henderson to the Blue Jays in exchange for pitcher Steve Karsay and outfielder Jose Herrera.
The result: By the end of July, it was becoming obvious that the A’s were played out. Jose Canseco was gone. Mark McGwire was injured. The starting pitching was shot. At the time of the Henderson trade, the A’s were 43-58 and 13.5 games out of first place. Karsay was a highly touted prospect, but he couldn’t stay out of the trainer’s room. He had shoulder surgery in 1993, then elbow surgery in 1995 and Tommy John surgery in 1996. After missing all of the 1995 and 1996 seasons because of injury, he was 3-12 as a starter for the A’s in 1997 before being traded to Cleveland. In all, he’d be on the disabled list seven times and never did much for the A’s, although he’d stick around in the majors until 2006.
The deal: None.
The result: What can I say? The season was cut short by a strike on Aug. 11, and baseball wasn’t heard from again until 1995, and only then after a strike led to a joke of a spring training.
The deal: On July 27, the A’s traded pitcher Jason Beverlin and right fielder Ruben Sierra in exchange for outfielder Danny Tartabull.
The result: The A’s, in particular general manager Sandy Alderson, wanted to dump Sierra, who was frequently hurt and in and out of the lineup. After one tiff between Alderson and Sierra, manager Tony La Russa referred to Sierra as the “village idiot.” The Yankees, in particular general manager Gene Michael, wanted to dump Tartabull, who no longer fit in in the Bronx. Boom. Instant deal.
The deal: On Feb. 13, the A’s traded closer Dennis Eckersley to St. Louis in exchange for pitcher Steve Montgomery.
The result: If anyone needed further proof that the A’s of the Bash Brothers era were gone, this trade did it. Dave Stewart, Bob Welch and Mike Moore were gone from the rotation. Jose Canseco, Walt Weiss, Rickey Henderson and Dave Henderson all were gone from the lineup. And this time it was to for Eckersley’s exit, enabling him to rejoin Tony La Russa just months after La Russa had left the A’s for the Cardinals. Montgomery pitched in just a dozen games in relief for the A’s before moving on.
The deal: On July 31, 1997, the A’s traded Mark McGwire to the Cardinals in exchange for pitchers Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein.
The result: This was the last major trade for Sandy Alderson before turning the general manager duties over to Billy Beane. McGwire had hit 52 homers in 1996 and had 34 homers in 105 games in 1997 at the time of the trade. He was getting older, 33, and Alderson was hoping to get some pitching. Mathews was OK in relief over the next 3½ years, but Ludwick and Stein never did much. McGwire went on to become baseball’s first 70-homer guy in 1998, the first of his four full seasons with the Cardinals.
The deal: On Nov. 7, 1997 the A’s traded third baseman Scott Brosius to the Yankees in exchange for left-handed starter Kenny Rogers.
The result: Yes, technically this is another 1997 deal, but it’s the first deal in the reign of Billy Beane, whose first season in charge was 1998, so it is what it is. Rodgers would be a good short-term pickup for a pitching-depleted A’s roster. He went 16-8 with a 3.17 ERA for the 1998 club, then made 19 starts in 1999 (5-3, 4.30) before being traded to the Mets. For Brosius, this was a gift beyond belief. He arrived in New York just in time to help the Yankees go to the World Series the next four years, winning the first three. And Brosius was the World Series MVP in his first shot in 1998.
The deal: On July 31, the A’s traded closer Billy Taylor to the Mets in exchange for relievers Jason Isringhausen and Greg McMichael.
The result: The A’s were back being competitive by this time. After six consecutive losing seasons, Oakland would finish at 87-75, good for a second-place finish in the American League West. Isringhausen was a big part of that. He had a 2.13 ERA and eight saves in 20 games after the deal, the saved 67 games the next two seasons as the A’s won the West with 102 wins in 2000 and finished second in 2001 despite winning 103 games.