Medich, Fosse, Kingman and Free Agency

Most late-season deals in major league baseball revolve around two things: the playoffs and money.

Namely, can this player help us win in the post-season, and conversely, if we trade this player away can we get more for him than what we’d get if he became a free agent and we couldn’t sign him. That’s leveraging the value of a compensatory draft pick against the prospects you receive now.

Many think that’s a new thing.

It’s not.

In the first years after free agency became a thing, teams tried to get what they could for potential free agents if it was clear that they wouldn’t be resigned, or would cost too much.

That whole thing started in 1977, the first year played under full-scale free agency. Yes, the rules were different then. There was no direct or indirect compensation for free agents. Basically, if you lost a free agent, you were SOL and hoped you had a replacement for that player.

After the 1976 season, 24 players went through that process, including big names such as Bobby Grich, Reggie Jackson, Gary Matthews, and most of the Oakland A’s. Charlie O. Finley tried to get something for his players, but was thwarted by Bowie Kuhn at almost every juncture. The other owners saw this, and some were going to try to get something tangible for the players headed to free agency. About 54 players or so were going to be available after the season; some more valuable than others, of course.

During the June 15th trade deadline, the Mets cleaned house, and one of the moves was sending Dave Kingman to the Padres. The Padres had invested in free agency, grabbing Gene Tenace, Rollie Fingers and George Hendrick. The deal was a bust for the Padres, though. Kingman did hit 11 home runs in 56 games, but San Diego was awful as always, and he wasn’t the best fit. To shoehorn him in the lineup, they either played him at first (moving Mike Ivie to the bench), or supplanted Gene Richards and Jerry Turner, who were both promising youngsters. They even tried Kingman at third, and found out why he was moved off the hot corner in the mid 70’s.

Kingman was going to be a free agent after the year, and it was clear San Diego couldn’t sign him, either, nor did they really want to. So the Padres put him on waivers in September, hoping someone would grab him. They’d at least get the waiver price. The Angels bit, and he went over there on September 6th.

Soon, the Angels were aware that Kingman wouldn’t sign with them just because. There would be no ‘hometown’ discounts. On the 15th of September, California moved him on to the Yankees for Randy (not Rudi) Stein. He clubbed four home runs for the Yankees as they held on to the AL East pennant.

The other team that engaged in these kind of deals were the Seattle Mariners. The expansion team was bad, but they hoped to get better in a hurry by entering the free agent market, and had a hope that players would look favorably to them if they acquired them before they declared themselves free.

Ray Fosse had rebounded greatly from the Pete Rose incident in the 1970 All-Star game, but from maybe the worst season an All-Star caliber player had ever endured (.140/.192/.191 in 1975 for the A’s in 82 games). He hit over .300 in 1976 for the Indians, and while his numbers were down in 1977, he was still just 30 and still a good catcher.

Fosse had been a platoon player to Fred Kendall, and decided he was going to test the market. The Mariners decided to try to get him in the fold, so they sent lefty Bill Laxton on to Cleveland for Fosse. In essence, they rented Fosse for a month in hopes of keeping him in the fold.

Four days later, the Mariners struck again. Doc Medich had been the centerpiece of a trade before the 1976 season between the Yankees and the Pirates where New York grabbed Willie Randolph and Doc Ellis for one year of a league average pitcher. Pittsburgh moved him along to Oakland in March of 1977 along with five other players for Phil Garner, Tommy Helms and a never was.

Medich toiled in obscurity for Oakland, and he didn’t like it one bit. He was going to medical school in Pittsburgh and wanted to be close by. He definitely was going to file for free agency. Seattle, though, gave it a try, and bought Medich on September 13th. Finley always wanted cash, so it was the perfect deal for him.

It was soon obvious to Seattle that Doc meant what he said – he was going to be a free agent. So they put him on waivers and the Mets, who had nothing to lose but a start by Jackson Todd, grabbed him on September 26th. Medich started one game, losing to Terry Forster and the Pirates. Seattle got the waiver price, and won all three games Doc started, enabling them to not finish last. Hooray?

None of these gambles worked out for the teams. Kingman signed with the Cubs, hitting mammoth home runs and not doing much of anything else. Fosse signed with Milwaukee, but totally wrecked his knee during spring training and played just 19 more games. Medich decided that green was more important than being close to Pittsburgh, and signed with Texas where he spent 4 1/2 years as a league average pitcher, and earned one million dollars for his efforts (big big money then).

As you watch the deals, deals, deals in the last few months of the year, you’ll see future free agents go hither and yon. It’s not a new thing, not at all, but don’t be surprised if the move doesn’t pan out.

 

 

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