The 5: Impactful midseason trades in Valley sports history
Midseason trades can be tricky.
Expiring contracts complicate the value of an acquisition, no matter the talent involved. Adding a big piece to an already stable ship can backfire.
And for teams doing a bit of rebuilding or resetting, well, it’s always hard to plot a clear course after making a blockbuster deal. In the Valley, pro sports teams have hit it big with midseason deals, though not always in the immediate future.
That said, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ trade for J.D. Martinez this season certainly falls in the category of instant-impact.
Here is a subjective list of five trades by Arizona sports teams that, in hindsight, look darn good in very different ways.
Suns trade now for later – 1988
It was a bad year for the Suns in 1987-88. Phoenix would finish 28-54, but before it reached that point, the front office led by Jerry Colangelo made a risky move. He traded forward Larry Nance — still productive by averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds per game — to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a package that also included Mike Sanders and a future pick.
In exchange, the Suns acquired a pick, Mark West and Tyrone Corbin. The most important piece of the Feb. 28 deal, however, was rookie point guard Kevin Johnson, who in a half-season with the Cavs had played backup minutes to starting guard Mark Price. With Phoenix, Johnson bloomed. He played heavy minutes and averaged 20 points and 12 assists per game as the Suns won 55 games in 1988-89, then became an All-Star the next two years as Phoenix began a stretch of 13-straight seasons in the postseason. Of course, the peak was the 1992-93 team, where Charles Barkley, Johnson and others fell in the NBA Finals to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
D-backs make a one-two punch – 2000
The 2000 Arizona Diamondbacks weren’t terrible. They went 85-77 but finished third in a deep division. Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley and Randy Johnson were among their stars — not a bad collection of talent by any means. But a midseason trade helped push the D-backs over the edge as 2001 begun. On July 26, 2000, general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. shipped first baseman Travis Lee and pitchers Omar Daal, Vicente Padilla and Nelson Figueroa to Philadelphia in exchange for three-time All-Star Curt Schilling.
Forming a tandem with Johnson, Schilling went 5-6 to finish off 2000 before going 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 35 starts during the Diamondbacks’ World Series run in 2001. The two shared MVP honors as Schilling posted a 1.69 ERA in three postseason starts and struck out 26 to walking just two batters in 21.1 innings.
The Suns’ salary dump – 2004
In a vacuum, it was just about saving money. On Jan. 5, 2004, the Suns traded point guard Stephon Marbury, fresh off an All-Star season in 2002-03, along with Penny Hardaway and Cezary Trybanski to the New York Knicks.
Phoenix received backup point guards Howard Eisley and Charlie Ward, the expiring contract of often-injured Antonio McDyess and Maciej Lampe. They also received two first-round picks and the draft rights to Milos Vujanic, who never left Europe for the NBA.
In any case, this seems like a lopsided deal. Consider though, that accepting a rebuild at this time and place in the franchise’s history couldn’t be more perfect. Like the deal for Kevin Johnson, the Suns made the trade to finish with 29 wins. The next year, after signing free agent Steve Nash and keeping former interim coach Mike D’Antoni on full-time, the Suns rolled to 62 wins and made the Western Conference Finals in the first iteration of the “Seven Seconds or Less” era.
Vermette helps ‘Yotes’ to conference finals – 2012
The deepest run by the Arizona Coyotes since their Valley arrival came after GM Don Maloney shipped a 2012 second-round pick, a 2013 fifth-round pick and goalie Curtis McElhinney to the Columbus Blue Jackets to acquire center Antoine Vermette. It turned out that was giving up very little for quite a lot on Feb. 22, 2012.
True, it was only with 22 games left in the year. But in a tight Pacific Division where four of the five teams finished with 40-43 wins, it was Arizona’s 7-1-2 finish over its last 10 regular season games that set up a run to the Western Conference Finals. Once in the playoffs, Vermette proved key. He scored three goals in the first two games and by the end of 16 games against Chicago, Nashville and Los Angeles had scored 10 points, including five goals and five assists.
Of course, Vermette remained with the Coyotes for another two-plus productive seasons before being traded and then returning to Arizona for the 2015-16 season.
Trading for J.D. – 2017
Is this a bit premature? Maybe. Still, few times in the history of Valley sports has a newcomer not only found his way so quickly but done so at such an impressive level of production.
With a home run on Thursday during the Diamondbacks’ 7-0 win over the Rockies, Martinez hit his 23rd home run in his 49th game as a D-back. For perspective, at that pace for an entire 162-game schedule, he’d hit 76 dingers — 15 more than current home run leader Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins is projected to finish at for the year if his pace continues.
Of course, there’s a wide spectrum to where this story finishes.
While it could be presumed prospects Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King were a no-brainer to be packaged out of Arizona by GM Mike Hazen in exchange for Martinez, how the slugger’s impact in a likely playoff run will dictate the narrative.
And if his success leads to a free agent deal with the D-backs this upcoming offseason, it will do so even further.