|Babe Ruth (1918)|
- #10. Philadelphia Phillies trade Larry Bowa and Ryne Sandberg to the Chicago Cubs for Ivan DeJesus. (1982)
- #9. The Cincinnati Reds trade Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for Milt Pappas. (1965)
- #8. The Cubs trade Dennis Eckersley to the A's for three guys that never made it to The Show (OF David Wilder, IF Brian Guinn, and P Mark Leonette). (1987)
- #7. Chicago Cubs trade Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals for Ernie Broglio. (1964)
- #6. Tigers trade John Smoltz to the Braves for Doyle Alexander. (1987)
- #5. The Expos trade Randy Johnson, Gene Harris and Brian Holman to the Seattle Mariners for Mike Campbell and Mark Langston. (1989)
- #4. The Expos (again) trade Pedro Martinez to the Red Sox for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas. (1997)
- #3. Cincinnati Reds trade Christy Mathewson to the New York Giants for Amos Rusie. (Rusie would only play 3 more games before retiring with arm trouble). (1900)
- #2. Mets trade pitchers Nolan Ryan and 3 other players to the California Angels for Jim Fregosi. (1971)
- #1. The Red Sox sell Babe Ruth to Yankees for $200,000. (1919)
For example, lets say you are trailing 4-3 and you have Dave Roberts on 1st base in the bottom of the 9th. And just for fun, let's say that you're managing the Red Sox in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. The right move is to steal second. It increases your chance to win. Even if Roberts is caught stealing, it is still the correct move.
Legend holds that Harry Frazee sold Ruth to finance a musical, but the truth is that Ruth was demanding a 100% raise. Frazee actually unloaded The Babe for the same reason that the Expos traded Pedro: money. The Red Sox owner said of the deal at the time:
"With this money the Boston club can now go into the market and buy other players and have a stronger and better team in all respects than we would have had if Ruth had remained with us."However, it seems clear that Frazee was only covering up the fact that he had put his financial priorities about his team's chances to win. The New York Times knew that the Yankees had made out like bandits before Ruth played his first game in pinstripes:
"The short right field wall at the Polo Grounds should prove an easy target for Ruth next season and, playing seventy-seven games at home, it would not be surprising if Ruth surpassed his home run record of twenty-nine circuit clouts next Summer."So, that seems like a trade that you don't need hindsight to criticize. To find the worst front office move ever, we need to find a move at least as comically stupid as selling Babe Ruth.
As I write this, the Washington Nationals have the best record in baseball (89-54) and the best top 3 starters in the National League. If you simulate the rest of the season 10,000 times, the Nationals win the World Series an amazing 26.0% of the time.
Without Strasburg, their World Championship chances drop to 19.7% -- a 24% reduction in their chance at a title. To look at it another way, shutting down Strasburg costs the team .063 World Championships (.260 minus .197). And this doesn't even account for any psychological effect on the other players because their team is waving the white flag in September.
Is it worth cutting your title chances by almost 1/4th to keep Strasburg healthy?
Without shutting him down, the chance of a "complete recovery" from Tommy John surgery is 85-92%. Just for the fun of it, let's assume that shutting down Strasburg raises the success rate to a 100%. So, shutting him down might eliminate a 15% chance of ruining his arm.
Strasburg becomes a free agent after 2016, at which point he has absolutely no value to the Nationals. So Washington is trying to save his arm for the next four years.
The Nationals are a good team. But they aren't the 1927 Yankees. At best, the Nats start 2013 as the favorites to win the World Series. Unlikely, but possible. Even as the best team in the majors, they have about a 15% chance to win the World Series. Without Strasburg, this drops to about 11%.
As a rough rule of thumb, each win adds about 1% to a team's World Championship chances (among teams in playoff contention). If Strasburg averages a WAR of 4.0, then the Nats' chance of winning it all drops by about 4% without him.
So the Nationals lose .04 World Titles in 2013 if Strasburg is on the DL for the entire season. Add up the years from 2013 through 2016, and you could conceivably get the value of a healthy Strasburg up to .16 World Series titles.
But we assumed that shutting down Strasburg is only increasing the chance of him staying healthy by 15% (at most). So shutting him down only nets you .024 World Series titles -- less than 40% of the value that you are giving up this year, by shutting him down.
And remember, this is assuming that the Nationals have the best team in baseball for the next 4 years -- a pretty absurd assumption. It is far more likely that the Nats regress to the mean. If they do, then a healthy Strasburg has even less value in terms of World Championships.
So, even in the most charitable analysis, the Nationals are idiots. And you don't need the benefit of hindsight to figure that one out.