The Astros and Royals have a connection which extends beyond interleague play. The two teams combined for two trades which were watershed events in the history of each franchise. As we approach the trade deadline, maybe a peek at these two trades will help us put the whole trading predicament in perspective. The two trades sent Carlos Beltran to the Astros in 2004, and John Mayberry to the Royals in 1971. The latter trade is widely considered one of the more lopsided trades in history, and it was in favor of the Royals. The former trade turned out to be a rental, but it was a successful rental, and perhaps gave the Astros some payback for the previous trade more than three decades earlier.
John Mayberry (Sr.) Trade
In 1971, the Astros traded 23 year old first baseman John Mayberry for two relief pitchers, only one of whom ever played for the Astros. The relief pitcher, Jim York, was picked up to be what was known in those days as an ace reliever. York was decidedly mediocre in his four years with the Astros. He had one season with an ERA+ of 107 and three seasons with an ERA+ between 65 and 88. Young Mr. Mayberry became the best htting first baseman in the AL, and has been voted the Royals' all time first baseman. Mayberry proved to be a RBI producing slugging machine for the Royals. In 1975, Mayberry was No. 2 in AL MVP voting, No. 1 in AL OBP (.417), No. 3 in HRs (36), and No. 2 in AL OPS (.963). Although Mayberry is best known for prodigious power--Ryan Howard drew comparisons to Mayberry as a rookie--a lesser known fact is that Mayberry led the AL in walks twice.
Mayberry had been a much ballyhooed prospect in the Astros' minor league system, and he was given cameo appearances in the majors in three consecutive years, starting at the age of 19. The very young hitter never hit for average in his brief major league appearances for the Astros, even though he showed flashes of power. After less than two hundred at bats, the Astros gave up on the 22 year old Mayberry. I think this provides some lessons about sample size and showing patience with prospects who are called up to the majors.
This was a defining trade for the Astros of the 70's because of its connection to plundering the results of one of the greatest farm systems in history. The Astros' farm system of the 60's produced such future MVPs and all stars as Joe Morgan, Jimmy Wynn, John Mayberry, Sonny Jackson, Jerry Grote, Larry Dierker, Cesar Cedeno, and Don Wilson. In the late 60's, the Astros pursued the elusive power hitting first baseman, trading for Joe Pepitone and Curt Blefary, with little resulting success. Mayberry seemed like a home grown solution to that problem. But the Astros' management didn't want to depend on the young power hitter. In 1971 the Astros targeted a legitimate power hitting RBI man, Lee May, who was like the Carlos Lee of his day. The Astros traded Joe Morgan (and others, including starting pitcher Jack Billingham) to the Reds in order to get their power hitting first baseman. Morgan was the missing piece which turned the Reds into the Big Red Machine. Three days after the Morgan trade, Mayberry was traded to the Royals. Astrosdaily rates the Mayberry trade as one of the five worst in Astros' history, noting that three of Mayberry's next four seasons with the Royals were better than May's best season with the Astros. At a time when Mayberry was posting annual OBPs over .400, May had an OBP as low as .296 for the Astros.
The Mayberry trade was important for the Royals, because it allowed the team to develop one of the best infields in the major leagues, starting a transition from expansion team to contender. According to this site, John Mayberry ended up with a career WAR of 21. Jim York ended up with a career WAR of -0.2. Do you have a problem seeing who won that trade?
Carlos Beltran Trade
Carlos Beltran may be the most talented player to come through the Royals' system. He certainly was popular among Royals' fans. However, as the end of the Royals' period of team control over Beltran approached, the Royals believed that they would be unable to afford Beltran. As a result, they planned to trade him during the 2004 season--much to the chagrin of Royals' fans.
In a three way deal, the Royals traded Beltran to the Astros. For the Astros, this turned out to be a momentous trade, because Beltran would become a critical player in taking the Astros past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in team history. The Astros sent Octavio Dotel to the A's and catching prospect John Buck to the Royals.
Beltran and Buck were the two players who traded places in Houston and Kansas City. Beltran posted a 3.5 WAR in just one half season with the Astros. John Buck took six years in Kansas City before he accumulated a WAR as high as Beltran achieved in half a season with the Astros. And the WAR comparison doesn't count Beltran's achievement in the playoffs. Beltran put up a 1.59 OPS in the divisional series and a 1.52 OPS in the NLCS. With eight home runs in 12 games, Beltran's had one of the best individual playoff performances in history. Although the Astros were disappointed that they couldn't re-sign Beltran after the 2004 season, this trade was successful in pushing the Astros deeper into the playoffs than the team had ever experienced.
Why was this a decisive trade for the Royals? This article by "Unknown Royals' Fan" lists the Beltran deal as one of the Royals' five most important trades. The Royals fan's reasoning:
When small market teams must trade stars, it’s critical that they replace them with other star-level prospects. Allard Baird had failed to do this with Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye, and by 2004, the Royals had one great bargaining chip left—Beltran.
Baird had one more chance, and he blew it. Beltran was dealt away for Mike Wood, who was at best a serviceable pitcher for a couple of years; John Buck, quite possibly the worst starting catcher in MLB; and Mark Teahen. When Teahen is the success story of a trade, you know it was bad; Teahen has been a versatile but mediocre player for the Royals since the trade.
He concludes that the trade was a turning point because the Royals cupboard subsequently has been bare of true all star level players Thus, the failure to get impact prospects when the team's star asset is traded can put a team into a negative spiral.
You know what they say about people who don't learn from history. I see two lessons from these trades. First, show patience with your young players when they struggle at the big league level. Second, if you trade your star players for prospects, you better get enough in return (or, alternatively, your evaluation of prospects has to be very accurate), or else you will put your team in the kind of ditch which prolongs the losing.