Thursday, July 30, 2009

Historic Hot Stove: Curt Schilling

Cliff Lee was traded from Cleveland to Philadelphia yesterday afternoon for an array of pitching prospects. The Phillies, who already enjoy a comfortable lead in the NL East, acquired Lee as an added bit of security for the division race as they attempt to defend their World Series crown. And though the Phillies have been involved with some significant deadline deals in the last few years (Bobby Abreu, Scott Rolen), the Lee acquisition is easily the biggest pitching name they've been linked to since Curt Schilling was traded to the Diamondbacks in the summer of 2000.

At the time, Schilling was in his ninth year as a Phillie. After being traded to Philadelphia from Houston in 1992, when he was still a reliever, Schilling played a key role in the Phillies 1993 World Series run. The next couple of years saw him dealing with injuries, and barely eking by with 15 or 20 starts. Finally healthy in 1997, Schilling put up his first 300 strikeout season, and even duplicated the feat the next year. By this time, though, Schilling's prickly personality started taking over, and the annual trade-deadline Schilling-shopping rumors started showing up. Nothing came of it, though, until 2000.

It was then that his demands for a trade became serious, giving Philly GM Ed Wade no choice but to trade the ace.
Schilling had let it be known he wanted to be traded, and if the Phillies hadn't done it by Monday's deadline he'd have made them live with him - and he would have made it an uncomfortable experience - through the end of next season, when he will be eligible for free agency.

And that's not all.
When he demanded a deal, Schilling initially gave the Phillies a list of six teams he would approve - the New York Yankees and Mets, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cleveland and Arizona.
The six teams slowly dwindled to two as each either made other moves or decided that they couldn't or wouldn't meet the Phillies' price. In Cleveland's case, Schilling actually removed them from his list when word came that they were nearing a deal.
That left Arizona and the Mets as the principle players in the Schilling Sweepstakes.

The Mets offer featured phenom outfielder Alex Escobar, pitcher Grant Roberts and two more 21-year-old Class AA pitchers. Wade felt he needed players ready to make an impact on the major-league level rather than prospects to dream on for a few years.

All along, Wade said he wouldn't deal Schilling unless 'overwhelmed.'

Arizona's package met both criteria.
On July 26, 2000, the Phillies agreed to trade Curt Schilling to the Diamondbacks for Travis Lee, Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, and Vicente Padilla. The combination of major league-level batting talent in Lee and major league-level pitching talent in Daal was enough for Wade, and the destination more than suited Schilling.
"I made up 12, 13 games in the standings in one day," Schilling said.
"I'm in a pennant race, it's time for me to pony up," said Schilling (6-6, 3.91 ERA in 16 starts -- 5-2, 2.00 in the last eight outings). "This is what I wanted. I did not have a need to leave. I had a desire to contend right now. This is a win-win situation for both parties."
Of course, the main reason that this trade energized so many people was because it paired two of the best pitchers in baseball on the same staff - Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. The comparisons to all-time greats came almost immediately ("'Koufax and Drysdale come to mind,' Arizona General Manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said. 'I'll take these two guys.'" or "Big Unit and Schilling and three days of chillin."). The magnitude of that one-two punch wasn't lost on Schilling either. From Sports Illustrated:
"For years people would say, or managers would tell me, 'Can't wait till you get out there and throw, because we need a win,' " [Schilling] says. "I realized that when I get the ball, [my team] is expected to win. Now when Randy took the mound and we lost, I was crushed. I haven't been able to watch somebody and feel that way in a long time."
The trade did not pay immediate dividends for the Diamondbacks. On the day of the trade, they were sitting alone in first place, one game ahead of the Giants. From that point on, though, they played sub-.500 baseball, and had actually dropped into third place by the end of the season. Schilling's contribution was solid, but not spectacular. He posted a 5-6 record with a 3.69 ERA in 13 starts for Arizona that year.

The next year would be better, though. In his first full season with the club, Schilling went 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA (157 ERA+) while striking out 293 batters in 256 innings pitched (he finished second in the Cy Young voting). Combined with Johnson's third consecutive Cy Young year, in which he posted a line of 21-6, 2.49 ERA, 188 ERA+, and 372 strikeouts, the D-Backs won the West with a 92-70 record and then went on to win the World Series over the New York Yankees. Johnson and Schilling again carried them through the postseason, combining to earn the win in all four World Series victories and sharing the World Series MVP honors. It's pretty fair to assume that, without this trade, that would never have happened.

So will the Phillies be on the right end of a similar story in three months when talking about their acquisition of Cliff Lee? It's impossible to know for sure, though you can bet that this Schilling trade was running through everyone's minds as they made their pursuit. I have to say, though, that with Cole Hamels in the rotation alongside Lee and their offensive cast, it's looking pretty good for Philadelphia fans. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

1 comment:

tHeMARksMiTh said...

It pains me to see the Cliff Lee trade. The Braves didn't have a shot either way, but this just hurts for next season.