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Padres traded Nate Colbert 40 years ago

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This day in 1974 the Padres cut ties with their all-time home run leader, trading Nate Colbert to Detroit for shortstop Ed Brinkmann, outfielder Dick Sharon, and minor league pitcher Bob Strampe. Brinkmann was traded to the Cardinals just moments later, essentially making it a three-team trade. In exchange for Brinkmann and player-to-be-named-later Danny Breeden (who hadn't played in over a year, and never played again), the Padres received pitchers Rich Folkers, Alan Foster, and Sonny Siebert.

Colbert had just completed his worst season to date, setting new lows with 14 home runs and a .207/ .319/ .364 slash line, but he was just one year removed from his third consecutive All-Star selection. Early this year Scott Ferkovich of Detroit Athletic Co. wrote a trade retrospective from the Tigers' perspective, and it reflects that the Detroit brass viewed Colbert's 1974 as an outlier, not a sign of sudden decline.

"When you have the chance to get a player like this, you have to take him," declared Detroit Tigers’ General Manager Jim Campbell. "There just aren’t that many of them around, especially at his age." It was November 18, 1974, and he was referring to Nate Colbert. Campbell had just acquired the slugger in a trade with the San Diego Padres, and there were those in baseball who were calling it a steal on the part of Detroit. "He’s a Norm Cash-type player," Campbell went on. "His credentials certainly match Norm’s. Our scouting reports indicate he just needed a change of scenery. There’s no question he can play."

There were a few reasons it was thought that Colbert would benefit from a fresh start in a new city. He would be returning to his familiar role of starting first baseman after spending 1974 being shuffled between left field, the bench, and back to first base on Willie McCovey's days off. Between the promise of stability and starting over with fans who hadn't turned on him, and the fact that he was still just 28 years old, Colbert seemed like a perfectly logical candidate for a bounce-back season.

That did not happen.

Colbert got off to a hot start, recording two homers and seven RBI in his first three games, but added just two more home runs and 11 more RBI over the next two months. He was batting .147/ .231/ .276 after 173 plate appearances in 45 games when the Tigers sold his contract to Montreal on June 15. He didn't fare much better there, and was out of the bigs after struggling in just 16 games split between the Expos and A's in 1976.

None of the players the Padres got in return took the world by storm, but none performed as poorly as Colbert, either. Sharon also hit below the Mendoza line in 1975, but added value by being traded even-up for Willie Davis after the season. Davis was San Diego's starting center fielder in 1976; despite performing ably, he was released after that season, ending that branch of the trade tree. Similarly, Siebert was sent to the A's after just six games for Ted Kubiak who, like Davis, was released after the 1976 season.

with Tigers G bWAR
Nate Colbert 1975
45 -1.4
with Padres G bWAR
Dick Sharon 1975 91 -0.2
Willie Davis 1976 141 1.7
Rich Folkers 1975-76 78 0.0
Alan Foster 1975-76 43 1.5
Sonny Siebert 1975 6 0.2
Ted Kubiak 1975-76 183 -0.9
Total chain 542 2.3

As you can see, the Padres managed to wring some value out of their return, but it's tough to say they "won" the trade when the highlight is a single season of 1.7 WAR from a player one degree removed from the original trade. Two years after the Padres made the trade, all traces of the players they acquired were gone, and Colbert was out of the game, neatly tying a bow on it and ensuring it had no far-reaching impact. The same cannot be said of Colbert himself, whose 163 home runs in a Padres uniform still top the list four decades later.