On December 11, 1975, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Willie Randolph, Ken Brett, and Dock Ellis to the New York Yankees for Doc Medich. One can certainly understand the Buc’s interest in Medich. He had just turned 27 years old two days before the trade and over the previous three seasons Medich had a record of 49-40, averaged 262 innings pitched, and an ERA+ of 110. Surely, the best was yet to come and the Pirates were willing to stake 3 players on their bet.
Dock Ellis was 30 years old at the time of the trade and coming off his worst season in Pittsburgh: 8-9, 140 IP, ERA+ of 93, and a WHIP of 1.471. Ellis had steadily declined since the Pirates 1971 World Series Championship season in which he finished 4th in Cy Young Award voting and a career best record of 19-9 and 226.2 IP. By all indications, the trade from Pittsburgh’s perspective must have looked like a swap of a declining ace for an up and coming ace.
At the time of the trade, Willie Randolph was only 21 years old, had played 30 games for the Pirates, made 70 plate appearances, and batted a paltry .164. The Pirates had the 25 year-old Rennie Stennett firmly entrenched at second base since 1974, which made Randolph all the more expendable.
At the age of 26, Ken Brett was already on the fourth stop of his 9 team journey through the major leagues. 1974 was the best year of his career and represented the Pirates in his only All-Star game appearance. His 43 game starts with the Pirates were the most with any of the nine teams, but obviously, Pittsburgh did not believe that Brett had a future in the Steel City.
So, how did the turn trade out for the Pirates? Doc Medich finished 1976 with a record of 8-11, 179 innings pitched, an ERA+ of 99, and a 1.344 WHIP. He had the only losing record of the 5 Pirate starters as the team went 92-70, but finished 2nd in the National League East. It was Medich’s only year with Pittsburgh. On March 15, 1977, Medich was involved in a 6 players for 3 trade with the Oakland A’s.
The Pirates placed their bets on Rennie Stennett at second base, who would play 157 games in 1976, bat .257, and steal 18 bases, but in his 3 remaining seasons in Pittsburgh he averaged only 110 games, and was out of the major leagues by the age of 30.
And for the Yankees? Dock Ellis had a comeback year in 1976 with a 17-8 record, an ERA+ of 108, and pitched 211 innings with a 1.28 WHIP. The Yankees won the American League pennant and were swept in the World Series by the Cincinnati Reds. He would start only 3 more games in pinstripes the next season before the Yankees traded him to the Oakland A’s with Larry Murray and Marty Perez for Mike Torrez. Torrez would spend less than a full season with the Yankees, but he helped get them to the World Series again in 1977, which they won over the Dodgers 4 games to 2.
Willie Randolph replaced Sandy Alomar, Sr. at second base and went on to play 13 seasons for the Yankees. The Yankees made it to the World Series in 4 of those seasons and won the Series twice. Randolph made 5 All-Star game appearances as a Yankee and led the American League with 119 walks in 1980 before retiring after 18 seasons at the age of 37.
MY GRADE FOR THE TRADE: Foregoing hindsight, this trade certainly made sense for Pittsburgh. However, while Medich’s record prior to the trade was enticing, was he really worth three players? I am assuming that this trade was primarily about Medich and Ellis, but I wonder if the Yankees saw something in Randolph that the Pirates missed and if Randolph was not their primary target in the trade all along? I do not know what led to Stennett’s shortened career, but I assume that the Pirates did not see it coming, and one could not blame them for having doubts about Randolph’s future. Still, one has to wonder if the Pirates did their due diligence regarding Randolph?
From the Pirates perspective, they were trading a pitcher in decline, a mediocre pitcher, and a weak bat for an ace. Still, three players for one with less than stellar numbers warrants a grade of B-. From the Yankees perspective, getting three players for one with less than stellar numbers, and especially if their target was Randolph all along, warrants a grade of A.
Leave a comment with how you would grade the trade.