When it comes to trade deadline deals, everyone has their favorite cautionary/prodding tales. Mine concerns Frank Viola and David West.
The year was 1989, the season after Viola won a Cy Young Award with the Twins, two years after he was the MVP of the World Series. Frank was an innings-eating, lefthanded horse, but he was headed to free agency and was going to cost the Twins too much to keep.
I was writing for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk at the time. Pitching for the Mets Triple-A farm team, The Tides, David West was the greatest young lefthander to come along since Sandy Koufax (sound familiar?). Each week in 1988, someone from one of the New York dailies or the big sports magazines came down to write about him. Dominating for the Mets Triple-A farm team, there were constant pleas in New York to simply promote him and keep him, rather than mortgage the future, and the Mets did showcase him a few times. But the Mets had much of the core that won a World Series in 1986, and should have been there in 1988, if not for the miracle work of Dodgers ace Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson.
Adding Frank Viola to that team, to a staff that already included David Cone, Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez (Dwight Gooden was hurt) seemed a no-brainer.
So West went to the Twins, along with middle reliever and occasional starter Rick Aguilera, and Kevin Tapani, who was at about the same juncture in his career as J.A. Happ is now. Viola gave the Mets 12 good-to-great regular-season starts, but the Cubs won the National League East by six games. Viola finished third in the Cy Young voting the following season – Houston’s Doug Drabek (Kyle’s daddy) won it – but the Mets again finished second, four games behind the Pirates.
The Twins? Thought you’d never ask. West never became Sandy Koufax, serving as a middle reliever for most of his career, including for that 1993 Phillies National League championship team. But Rick Aguilera developed into one of the game’s premier closers, and Tapani developed into a steady starter who won 19 games once and 16 games twice. Most importantly, the Twins reached the postseason again before the Mets did, winning another World Series in 1991. Aguilera collected two saves, a victory and a loss in their seven-game battle with the Braves. Tapani won a game, lost a game. West was a crucial middle relief piece.
The Phillies are feeling good about repeating as World Champs and Roy Halladay seems a no-brainer, even at the talent cost discussed. But understand: One of those guys they give up is likely to be a star.
If three or four are, well, ouch. And if the Phillies don’t win another title, well ouch again.