In a classic change-of-scenery trade of two underachievers who had worn out their welcomes, the Padres acquired outfielder James Mouton by sending pitcher Sean Bergman to the Astros on this day 20 years ago.
Mouton had spent the 1997 season as Houston’s last-resort outfielder, and was being squeezed out by the combination of his own ineffectiveness and the acquisitions of Moises Alou, Carl Everett, Rob Butler, and Dave Clark, four new faces who more than offset the loss of a young Bobby Abreu and an end-of-the-line Chuck Carr.
Bergman had essentially been the mound version of that for the Friars, getting shelled both in spot starts and relief, and was made even more expendable by new additions Kevin Brown, Brian Boehringer, Dan Miceli, Donne Wall, Don Wengert, Pete Smith, Mark Langston, Archie Corbin, Carlos Reyes, and Stan Spencer. Those who weren’t locks were more than enough to create a healthy competition for the roles vacated by Tim Worrell, Doug Bochtler, and Rich Batchelor.
With the outfield of Greg Vaughn, Steve Finley, and Tony Gwynn chiseled in stone, Mouton went to Spring Training vying for a spot on the bench, a goal he achieved when he was included on the Opening Day roster. It was all downhill from there, as he was sent to AAA Las Vegas for extended stays on three occasions. He raked for the Stars, but could never make it click with the big club, finishing the season with a .190/ .268/ .254 line in just 71 trips to the plate, a far cry from his .249/ .321/ .338 in four seasons in Houston. His four stolen bases in his 55 games also paled in comparison to his 79 in limited duty with the Astros. Of course it’s hard to steal too many bases when you only reach base 19 times on your own volition, but he was also used as a pinch-runner in 18 games, including his final eight games of the season as a September call-up. As you’ve likely concluded, he was not included on the Padres’ postseason roster, nor did he return for 1999; he was set adrift in the waters of free agency and came to shore in Montreal.
Even if Bergman had fallen on his face in Spring Training and never thrown another pitch, the trade would have been at worst a draw for Houston, but that was not the case. He followed his worst season with his best, making the rotation and remaining in it for the season, ending up with his first and last sub-4 ERA. Like Mouton, he was left off his club’s postseason roster, though in his case it was due to the talent in front of him, not his own failings. The next season saw Bergman turn back into a pumpkin, and the Astros cut him loose at the end of August.
This deal was the Padres’ last trade of the offseason; their next swap took place in early April, which is exactly when I’ll get into the details.