Angel Aviator's trades post, and some of the answers to it, got me thinking -- what if the Angels had held onto some of their best talent, instead of throwing it away in a series of panicky trades -- Aikens-for-Cowens, Cowens-for-Thompson, Thompson for Ott being one memorable string. Or the horrific Lansford/Clear/Miller for Burleson/Hobson trade, made because the team couldn't wait another few months for Dickie Thon to turn into a superstar.
The whole 1980s -- which were certainly successful in their own right -- could have looked more like this:
C: Dave Engle then Brian Harper
1B: Willie Aikens and Wally Joyner
2B: Bobby Grich and Mark McLemore
SS: Dickie Thon, with Schofield backing up in case of beaning
3B: Lansford, until Jack Howell was ready
LF: Mike Easler, Brian Downing, Chili Davis
CF: Ken Landreaux and Devon White
RF: Tom Brunansky
DH: Don Baylor, Mike Easler, Brian Downing, then Dante Bichette
And you'd still have some useful spare parts lying around like Rance Mulliniks and Gary Pettis, plus all that saved money from not buying up every crappy free agent. And yes, this also means you wouldn't have traded for Rod Carew -- blasphemy to many, though not to me.
Anyway, it's fun to play around with this stuff, so (with the exception of Bruce Bochte, who was traded away in mid-1977) I started with what the roster looked like on opening day 1978 (the team's first real successful year in the free agent era) and filled in lineups going forward mostly of homegrown types, with a few of the real-world free agents & trades thrown in.
C: Downing ('78-80), Engle ('81-84), Rayford ('85) Harper ('86-94), Myers ('95), Fabregas ('96-97), Nevin ('98), Greene ('99), Molina ('00-05), Napoli ('06-
1B: Bruce Bochte ('78-80), Aikens ('81-83), Bochte ('84-85), Joyner ('86-91), Sorrento ('92-96), Erstad ('97-99), Nevin ('00-04), Erstad ('05), Kotchman ('06-
2B: Grich ('78-86), McLemore ('87-92), Easley ('93-99), Kennedy ('00-06), Kendrick ('07-
SS: Chalk ('78), Anderson ('79-81), Thon ('82-91), DiSarcina ('92-99), Eckstein ('00-04), Cabrera ('05-
3B: Lansford ('78-89), Howell ('90-96), Hollins ('97-98), Glaus ('99-04), McPherson ('05-06), Figgins ('07)
LF: Rudi ('78-79), Easler ('80-81) Downing ('82-86), White ('87), Davis ('88-90), Polonia ('91-93), Curtis ('94) Anderson ('95-
CF: Landreaux ('79-86), Pettis ('87), White ('88-94) Edmonds ('95-99), Erstad ('00-04), Figgins ('05-06), Matthews, Jr. ('07-
RF: Bostock ('78), Dan Ford ('79-81), Brunansky ('82-92), Salmon ('93-03), Vlad ('04-
DH: Baylor ('78-82), Easler ('83-86) Downing ('87-90), Bichette ('91-96), Stevens ('97-98), Nevin ('99), Stevens ('00-01), Fullmer ('02-03), DaVanon ('04), Rivera ('05-06), Willits ('07)
Some holes and simplifications here and there, obviously. And the whole exercise has a Strat-o-Matic type feel of after-the-fact insight. But mostly, those are quality teams generated by homegrown talent, but largely avoided due to bad and/or risky judgment.
I didn't really even begin to run the nubers, but I'm sure one of the biggest disparity between the Fantasy Angels and the real ones came in 1983:
1983 Fake Angles (bold) versus the real McCoy:
C: Engle .305/.350/.449, 116 OPS+
Boone .256/.289/.353, 77 OPS+
1B: Aikens .302/.373/.539, 149 OPS+
Carew .339/.411/.409, 128 OPS+
2B: Grich .292/.414/.460, 142 OPS+ (both)
SS: Thon .286/.341/.457, 127 OPS+
Foli .252/.263/.300, 56 OPS+
3B: Lansford .308/.357/.475, 135 OPS+
DeCinces .281/.332/.495, 126 OPS+
LF: Downing .246/.352/.449, 115 OPS+ (both)
CF: Landreaux .281/.328/.451, 115 OPS+
Lynn. 272/.352/.483, 129 OPS+
RF: Brunansky .227/.308/.445, 102 OPS+
Valentine .240/.283/.435, 96 OPS+
DH: Easler .307/.349/.441, 116 OPS+
Reggie .194/.290/.340, 74 OPS+
Those Fake Angels would have been an offensive juggernaut, better at every position except center field and arguably third base (Lansford missed half the season), and better on average by 25 OPS+ points. The real Angels were in the middle of the pack offensively, and lost 92 games.
Oh, and what did the real team get back for those good young players sent away? Ken Forsch went 11-12 with an ERA+ of 99 in 219 innings. Rick Burleson hit .286/.348/.345 in 119 ABs; Rob Wilfong hit .254/.293/.339 in 177 ABs. Doug Corbett pitched 17 innings. And Rod Carew had his last good year, appearing in 129 games. That's just two full-time contributors, in exchange for seven good young ballplayers.
How about a decade later?
1993 Fake v. real
C: Harper .304/.347/.425, 107 OPS+
Myers .255/.298/.362, 75 OPS+
1B: Sorrento .257/.340/.434, 107 OPS+
J.T. Snow .241/.328/.408, 95 OPS+
2B: Easley .313/.392/.413, 115 OPS+ (both*)
SS: DiSarcina .238/.273/.313, 56 OPS+ (both)
3B: Howell .239/.318/.423, 103 OPS+ (see note)
Gonzales .251/.356/.319, 79
LF: Polonia .271/.328/.326, 75 OPS+ (both)
CF: White .273/.341/.438, 108 OPS+
Curtis .285/.361/.369, 95 OPS+
RF: Salmon .283/.382/.536, 142 OPS+ (both)
DH: Bichette .310/.348/.526, 116 OPS+
Davis .243/.327/.440, 102 OPS+
* Torey Lovullo actually played more 2B for the Angels that year.
NOTE -- Howell played in Japan that year (he was 31); those are his career averages.
So, not as dramatic, but still significantly better at five positions. What production in 1993 did the Angels receive in return for those five players? A grand total of 65 at bats from Kelly Gruber.
Anyway, something to think about while pondering trades. (And yes, you could play the same game pre-1978; just look up the 1976 perforances from Jose Cardenal and Jay Johnstone, for example.) I doubt seriously we'll see another panicky trade along the lines of Brunansky-for-Corbett/Wilfong....