To hell and back: 10 San Francisco Giants who were traded away, then re-acquired
by Troy Nelson, 22gigantes.com
Tis the season for returning unwanted Christmas gifts to the store for something better.
After the recent signing—or should I say re-signing—of pitcher Boof Bonser by the San Francisco Giants, I got to thinking about the number of players the Giants have traded away or let walk, only to re-acquire them years later.
Kind of like a re-gift.
The list that follows is by no means exhaustive. It is not ranked in any kind of order, nor does it reflect the most significant players in this category. It is, moreover, a list of Giants players who, for all intents and purposes, went to hell and back. (Have you figured out who the player pictured above is yet? He’s No. 2 on my list.)
You may know of other players that I left off this list. If so, I would love to read about them in your comments.
As for my list, it includes guys you may have never heard of and Hall of Famers alike.
No. 10: Boof Bonser
Let’s start with the Boofer. Boofster? Boofman?
Boof—his real name is John—Bonser was the 21st overall pick in the 2000 draft by the Giants. (Matt Cain, by comparison, was drafted 25th overall in 2002).
Suffice to say the Giants thought highly of Bonser when they selected him 11 years ago.
So why did they package him just three years later (along with two other outstanding arms in Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano) for A.J. Pierzynski, a player who—as Bleacher Report’s Matt David notes— many Giants fans detest to this day?
Giants GM Brian Sabean was smitten with him, that’s why.
“It’s not often you can send a reliever and two prospects away for a front-line, All-Star, left-handed hitting catcher,” Sabean said at the time.
Pierzynski batted .272 with 11 HR and 77 RBI for the Giants in 2004, his lone season in San Francisco. Teammates called him a “cancer” and publicly said they wouldn’t mind seeing him traded.
Hindsight is 20/20, but Sabean has to still be bitter about that trade.
Maybe that’s why he snagged Bonser off the waiver wire this week.
Sabean will have to wait until midsummer, though, before getting a return on his old investment. Bonser is recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
In the meantime, he has…
No. 9: Brian Burres
Like Bonser, Brian Burres is a 30-year-old former draft pick by the Giants.
Burres was taken in the 31st round of the same draft Bonser was selected, in 2000.
The left-handed pitcher hung around in the Giants organization until 2005, when he was waived by San Francisco and scooped up by the Orioles.
Burres made his Major League debut with the O’s on September 8, 2006 and has since logged big league innings with Pittsburgh and Toronto.
He owns a 18-25 lifetime mark with a 5.75 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 5.6 SO/9 rate, and 4.0 BB/9 rate in 358.1 innings.
What the Giants see in him is a mystery to me, unless they are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again, like they did in 2011 with…
No. 8: Ryan Vogelsong
After going four full seasons without throwing a major-league pitch, Ryan Vogelsong finished the 2011 season with a 13-7 record, 2.71 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9 rate, and 3.1 BB/9 rate. He garnered a vote for the NL Cy Young award and led the Giants’ vaunted pitching rotation in earned run average, complete games, wins (tied with Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum), and shutouts (tied with Lincecum).
Vogey’s story is the stuff Hollywood dreams are made of.
Taken by the Giants in the fifth round of the 1998 draft, the right-hander was shipped to Pittsburgh in 2001 as part of the trade that brought Jason Schmidt to the Bay Area.
Vogelsong’s first season as a Pirate came to an abrupt halt when he tore a ligament in his elbow and had to undergo Tommy John surgery.
In 2007, with nobody offering him a job here in the U.S., Vogelsong high-tailed it to Japan, where he pitched for the Hanshin Tigers for a couple of seasons.
He signed a minor league deal with the Phillies in 2010 but was waived in July. The Angels took a flier on him after that, but they, too, cut him loose.
Then came 2011.
Vogelsong was invited to the Giants’ spring training camp in February and pitched well enough to earn a minor league deal.
When Barry Zito went down with a foot injury in April, Vogelsong got the call.
And never looked back.
Vogelsong won nine of his first 10 decisions and was named to his first All-Star Game in July. He won the Giants’ Willie Mac Award, given to the most inspirational player on the squad.
It was truly a renaissance year for Vogelsong.
Pitchers aren’t the only players who have been traded and reacquired by the Giants over the years…
No. 7: Bill Mueller
Bill Mueller was selected by the Giants in the 15th round of the 1993 June draft and it didn’t take long for the Missouri native to make it to the majors.
The third baseman made quite the splash in his rookie season, batting .330/.401/.415 (0.816 OPS) in 200 at bats. He was pretty damn good with the glove, too, averaging just 12 errors per season at the hot corner from 1996 to 2000.
The trouble is, for as well as he could hit, Mueller did not have the type of home run power usually reserved for corner infielders.
The Giants shipped Mueller to the Chicago Cubs on November 18, 2000 for reliever Tim Worrell.
It didn’t take long for Brian Sabean to hit the ‘back’ button on his remote.
Two years later, in the thick of a pennant race with the Dodgers, Sabean called the Cubs to see if they might want to get a refund on Mueller. After all, the Cubs were probably going to lose him to free agency anyway and the Giants needed a reliable bat in the lineup.
San Francisco sent minor leaguer Jeff Verplancke to Chicago to complete the trade and Mueller never really panned out for the Giants. He batted just .154/.214/.154 down the stretch, appearing in just eight games.
Mueller became a free agent after the 2000 season and the Giants never made an effort to re-sign him.
Instead, the 32-year old signed a three-year contract with the Boston Red Sox and immediately had a banner year in Beantown, winning the AL batting title with a .326/.398/.540 slash line. He also roped a career-best 19 home runs and 85 RBI and instantly became a fan favorite. He won a Silver Slugger Award, too, and finished 12th in AL MVP voting, but most importantly, Mueller led the Sox to the playoffs, and a year later, their first World Series title since 1918.
The next player on our list was just five years old when the Red Sox won the World Series in ’18…
No. 6: Bobby Thomson
Bobby Thomson, born October 25, 1923, is obviously best-remembered for his “shot heard ’round the world,” which catapulted the New York Giants into the World Series in 1951.
Thomson was 22 years old when he was signed by the Giants as an amateur free agent in 1942. He made his Major League debut on September 9, 1946, nearly five years before his infamous (and now controversial) home run.
The Flying Scot, as he was nicknamed, played eight seasons at the Polo Grounds, before he was traded along with Sam Calderone to the Milwaukee Braves in 1954 for a whopping $50,000 and four players, including ace pitcher Johnny Antonelli, who would make five All Star appearances with the Giants.
Thomson was a three-time All-Star himself and finished among the league leaders in MVP voting thee times during his first stint with the Giants.
In 1957, the Braves sent Thomson back to the Giants.
It was more of an emotional trade than anything else.
The Giants wanted to bring him back to the Polo Grounds one final time before they packed up the moving vans and headed west to San Francisco the following season. The fans gave him a rousing ovation, thanking him for his accomplishments in the Bronx.
Thomson never got to play as a Giant in San Francisco. He was traded to the Cubs about a week before Opening Day in 1958.
Thomson was a .270 career hitter with 264 home runs and 1,026 RBI in 1,779 games.
No. 5: Rich Aurilia
Many fans in San Francisco don’t realize that shortstop Rich Aurilia did not originally come out of the Giants’ farm system.
Aurilia was actually drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 24th round of the 1992 amateur draft and then traded to the Giants two years later (for pitcher John Burkett).
He toiled in Triple-A for three years, appearing in 150 minor league games, where he hit just 10 home runs during that span.
The home run power that eventually endeared Aurilia to Giants fans finally came in 1999 when he smashed 22 homers in his first full season. He hit 20 more dongs in 2000 and smashed a career-high 37 long balls in 2001.
But the home run production began to drop after that and, in 2004, the Giants allowed Aurilia to walk.
Aurilia signed with the Seattle Mariners in 2004 and was traded midseason to the Padres. After that season, he signed a couple of free agent contracts to play for the Cincinnati Reds.
San Francisco GM Brian Sabean reacquired Aurilia on December 4, 2006, signing the 35-year old to a two-year, $8 million dollar contract.
Aurilia agreed to a one-year, $1 million dollar deal with the Giants in 2009 before calling it quits at age 37.
No. 4: Bob Brenly
Bob Brenly is probably just an after thought in Toronto.
Blue Jays fans got to watch the eventual MLB manager and broadcaster play for all of half a season in 1989. Before that, Brenly was San Francisco’s starting catcher (and an All-Star in 1984).
In 1976, Brenly was signed by the Giants as an amateur free agent at age 22. He spent six years working his way up through the Giants’ farm system before making his Major League debut on August 14, 1981.
Brenly was non-tendered in the winter of 1988 and signed on with Toronto as a free agent. His days as a Blue Jay lasted until July 18, 1989 when he was released after struggling with a .170 batting average.
The Giants picked him up off the waiver wire a couple of weeks later. He played in just 12 games for the G-men.
Brenly finished his playing career in San Francisco before retiring at the end of the ’89 season.
No. 3: Vida Blue
Vida Blue will always be an Oakland Athletic in the minds of A’s fans. And rightfully so.
The legendary left-hander was taken by the A’s in the second round of the 1967 draft—when they were still in Kansas City.
Blue was part of the great A’s dynasty in the 1970s, where he won a Cy Young award (1971), an MVP award (1971), and was named an All-Star three times (1971, 1975, 1977).
Like many other popular A’s players at the time, Blue became a victim of Charlie Finley’s trade-happy trigger finger. In 1978, Finley (who tried to move Blue twice before but was denied by commissioner Bowie Kuhn) finally got his wish and the 27-year old pitcher—who was still in his prime—was sent across the bay to San Francisco.
Unlike another former Cy Young-winning A’s pitcher who crossed the bay, Blue made Giants fans very happy in his first tour of San Francisco. He went 54-30 from 1978-’81, going to the All-Star Game in three out of four years.
Blue went 13-17 with a 4.49 ERA in his two years with the Royals, who released him near the end of the 1983 season.
The Giants, longing for a proven winner on the hill, took a chance on Vida in 1985 and 1986. He went 18-18 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in his final two seasons in the big leagues.
Blue was signed to a free agent contract by the Oakland A’s on January 20, 1987, but never appeared on the mound for them.
No. 2: Bob Knepper
Bob Knepper began—and ended—his career as a San Francisco Giant. All told, he spent seven of his 15 seasons in the Giants’ orange and black uniform and the other eight years in those horrid Houston Astros uni’s of the 1980s.
San Francisco selected the 18-year old in the second round of the 1972 amateur draft. After four years in the minors, Knepper made his Major League debut, making four starts down the stretch for the Giants, going 1-2 with a 3.24 ERA in 25 innings.
He became a fixture in the Giants’ rotation from 1977-’80, compiling a 46-48 record, 3.64 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 1.60 SO/BB ratio.
Cabell would spend just one year in San Francisco—the strike-shortened 1981 season—where he batted just .255 with two home runs and 36 runs batted in 96 games.
Knepper, meanwhile, seemed to flourish in Houston, where he was named to the NL All-Star team twice (1981, 1988) and compiled a 89-90 record, 3.50 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.
Perhaps still remorseful about the trade, the Giants signed Knepper to free agent deals in 1989 and 1990, but by then the 35-year old was on the tail end of his career.
No. 1: Willie McCovey
Wait. Willie McCovey played for another team besides the Giants?
Yep. Two, actually.
The iconic first baseman spent 19 of his 22 big league seasons in San Francisco, but for a brief time, he played in both San Diego and Oakland.
Big Mac was originally signed as an amateur by the Giants in 1955 at the tender age of 17.
When he first arrived on the big league scene in 1959, he made a splash bigger than the ones seen in the cove that currently bears his name outside AT&T Park.
McCovey batted .354/.429/.656 with 13 HR and 38 RBI in just 52 games, winning the NL Rookie of the Year award.
By 1973, the Hall of Famer had already amassed 413 home runs.
With all due respect to Stretch, at the time, the trade for Caldwell seemed to be a smart move. The 25-year old lefty went 14-5 with a 2.95 ERA and 1.26 WHIP for the G-men in 1974.
But Caldwell tumbled to an 8-20 record over the next two years in San Francisco. (He would hit his stride in Milwaukee a couple of years later.)
Meanwhile, McCovey batted .253 for San Diego in 1974 and hit 22 homers, driving in 63 runs.
A year later, he put up nearly identical numbers for the Padres (.252, 23 HR, 68 RBI).
McCovey struggled mightily in 1976 (.204, 7 HR, 36 RBI) and the Padres traded him to the A’s on August 30. He became a free agent at the end of the season.
On January 6, 1977, the Giants brought McCovey home, signing the 39-year old to a four-year contract that would ensure he finished his illustrious career where he started it.
Perhaps McCovey was touched by the gesture.
He went on to have a phenomenal season for the Giants in 1977, hitting .280/.367/.500 with 28 HR and 86 RBI for a San Francisco team that was mostly hapless.