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Revisiting the 12-player trade between the Padres and Astros 20 years later

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Today marks 20 years since the monumental 12-player trade between the Padres and the Astros took place. The sheer quantity of players involved would still be noteworthy, but the fact that 11 of the players (everyone except the player to be named later) were already major leaguers is what made the swap one for the ages. Either way, as noted by the New York Times a day after the trade, the 12 players involved were the most since a 13-player deal between the Tigers and Athletics in 1957.

The Padres -- barely a year removed from the infamous fire sale of 1993 -- were under new ownership and looking to improve from the outside, and willing to take on salary to do so. They ran into a logical partner with the Astros, who were looking to clear some money off the books. From the same Times article:

The general managers, Bob Watson of Houston and Randy Smith of San Diego, began discussing this trade at the general managers meetings in Phoenix in mid-November.

"As we got closer to new ownership, Larry Lucchino and I talked," Smith said from San Diego. "They were prepared to add some salary if I felt it could improve the club. We kept adding to it and put it to bed yesterday."

Although Smith and Watson worked out the details, Lucchino said he and Tal Smith, the Astros' new president and Randy's father, agreed to it on Tuesday. Watson chose to view the deal from the baseball viewpoint rather than the economic one, although it has been widely known that the Astros were out to make serious inroads into their $30.5 million payroll. They already had traded Pete Harnisch, a $3 million pitcher.

The highest-paid player in the deal, All-Star third baseman Ken Caminiti, was due to make slightly more in 1995 than all of the players being acquired by Houston.

Acquired by Astros 1995 salary
Derek Bell $1,450,000
Doug Brocail $155,000
Ricky Gutierrez $210,000
Pedro Martinez $175,000
Phil Plantier $2,000,000
Craig Shipley $562,000
Total $4,552,000

(salary information from each team's 1995 Baseball Reference page)

Acquired by Padres 1995 salary
Ken Caminiti $4,600,000
Andujar Cedeno $1,150,000
Steve Finley $4,500,000
Roberto Petagine $115,000
Brian Williams $275,000
Sean Fesh (PTBNL) ---
Total $10,640,000

As you can see, Houston sent out over twice as much 1995 salary commitment as they took on. Each team got what they paid for, both immediately and over the course of the next several years. While WAR isn't the end-all, be-all, it works here for an at-a-glance overview.

Acquired by Astros 1995 bWAR Total bWAR w/ HOU
Derek Bell 1.9 11.4
Doug Brocail 0.3 0.1
Ricky Gutierrez -0.3 -2.8
Pedro Martinez -0.7 -0.7
Phil Plantier -0.1 -0.1
Craig Shipley -0.6 -0.6
Total 0.5 7.3

(statistics via each player's Baseball Reference page)

Acquired by Padres 1995 bWAR Total bWAR w/ SD
Ken Caminiti 3.2 17.5
Andujar Cedeno -2.2 -2.6
Steve Finley 1.5 8.6
Roberto Petagine 0.0 0.0
Brian Williams -1.0 -1.0
Sean Fesh --- ---
Total 1.5 22.5

The Padres received thrice the production from their returns, both in 1995 alone and over the course of the players' tenures with their new clubs. More telling than numbers, however, is the impact Caminiti and Finley had on the Padres. Both won their first Gold Glove awards in 1995, then had huge offensive campaigns for the 1996 National League West champions, with Caminiti taking home the NL MVP award. They kept on raking in the free world in 1997 and '98, and were integral in the latter year's team reaching the World Series.

When Caminiti and Finley left via free agency following the 1998 season, the rest of the players San Diego received were long-gone. Brian Williams walked as a free agent after 1995, and Cedeno was traded to Detroit along with Brad Ausmus in 1996, shortly after Petagine was sent to the Mets for Pete Walker (who would appear in just one game for the Padres).

Bell and Gutierrez stuck with the Astros the longest; each spent five years, through the 1999 season. Plantier was traded back to the Padres during the 1995 season, as was Martinez after it, and Brocail was dealt to Detroit after the 1996 season in a deal for Brad Ausmus and others.

One recurring theme amongst the players involved in this trade is that the majority of them returned from whence they came. Of the players the Padres sent to Houston, only Derek Bell didn't return to the Padres. "The other" Pedro Martinez and Ricky Gutierrez are kind of technicalities; Martinez was traded back to San Diego in October 1995 for Ray Holbert, but was sent to the Mets two months later, and Gutierrez spent the last 11 games of his career with San Diego's AAA affiliate in Portland in 2006. Brocail, Plantier, and Shipley did see on-field action with the Padres again, though. The Astros traded Plantier back to the Padres for Rich Loiselle and Jeff Tabaka on July 19, 1995 for his second of three stints with the team. Shipley returned to San Diego via free agency after the 1995 season, as did Brocail after the 2005 season.

Of the five major league players the Astros dealt the Padres, three eventually returned to Houston. Andujar Cedeno was the first; he got into three games in late 1996 after being acquired in a conditional deal with Detroit. Both Williams and Caminiti signed with the Astros as free agents before the 1999 season.

With a different twist of fate here or there, this trade could have involved a full dozen players with major league service time on their resume. Sean Fesh, the PTBNL who was sent to the Padres organization the next summer to complete the trade, had a number of good seasons at AAA for a number of clubs, but never got the call. While his inclusion in this trade cements his status as a historical footnote, Fesh did have a productive 17-year career in the minors. I'd get into more detail, but he deserves a post of his own. That and I know I'd get carried away if I started now, and a thousand words is probably enough before breakfast. Two thousand words, if you count that photo of Cammy; you know what they say pictures are worth.