On Dec. 28, 1994, the Padres and Astros made a blockbuster trade involving 12 different players. Astros’ stats Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley were entering the final years of their contracts, and the Padres bounced on their availability. Shortstop Andujar Cedeno, journeyman starting pitcher Brian Williams and prospects Sean Fesh and Roberto Petagine were also sent from Houston to San Diego. The Padres sent outfield regulars Derek Bell and Phil Plantier to the Astros, with pitchers Doug Brocail and Pedro Martinez. Infielders Ricky Gutierrez and Craig Shipley were acquired by Houston. The deal was driven by financials for Houston, who were shedding large contracts that were only set to grow and getting back controllable talent. The Padres were looking to improve their brand by putting a quality product on the field.
The size of this trade makes it difficult to analyze the value added and lost by each side, but with time it becomes less and less difficult. Finley and Caminiti were cornerstones for the Padres over the next four seasons. Caminiti posted a massive 147 OPS+ and an average of 30 home runs a season over his Padres’ career, while Finley provided strong defense and above average offense in center field. Sean Fesh was the only player who did not make it to the majors. Roberto Petagine, Brian Williams and Andujar Cedeno all played for the Padres over parts of four seasons, but not one made a significant impact on the team. The Padres traded Cedeno to start a string of trades that eventually brought in Phil Nevin, but the value that came straight from Cedeno was minimal.
The Astros saw the group of Pedro Martinez, Doug Brocail, Phil Plantier, Craig Shipley and Ricky Gutierrez play out in a similar way to the group of Padres’ extras. Brocail was part of a large trade as a throw-in piece that netted catcher Brad Ausmus, but otherwise, was just a mediocre reliever for a couple seasons in Houston. Gutierrez is perhaps the highlight of the group, playing in 469 games over five seasons with Houston as a shortstop, providing mediocre offensive numbers but providing stellar defense at shortstop. Derek Bell was seen as the prize in the trade, and he put up very similar numbers to Finley during his five seasons with the Astros.
Arguably, the massive trade boils down to just Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley for Derek Bell and Ricky Gutierrez. In the Padres’ four-year period with Caminiti and Finley, they made the playoffs twice with two first-place finishes in the division. The team’s other 44 seasons have only resulted in three playoff appearances. This period represented a highly successful time period for the Padres, and it was a team shaped by the presences of Caminiti and Finley.
The Astros played just as well, poaching three playoff appearances in five seasons with Bell and Gutierrez. Arguably, this success had less to do with the trade and more to do with the rest of the team’s roster. Finley would have provided similar, if not more value, to the Astros to Bell, and Caminiti was the (possibly steroid-fueled) National League MVP in 1996. That season, the Astros missed the playoffs by six games, and it is highly possible that with Caminiti on the roster, that they could have made the playoffs that season.
The deal is interesting enough considering its size, however there is another angle that is particularly curious. The teams involved reacquired nine of the 12 players traded in the deal at later points in their careers, including the Astros signing Caminiti through free agency and the Padres re-signing Craig Shipley one season after the trade.
In retrospect, Caminiti’s performance alone was worth making the trade for the Padres. The Padres got the better end of the deal, however, the Astros did recuperate some value with Bell and Gutierrez. The Padres did take on a significant amount of money compared to the Astros, however, it is a small price to pay for a rare postseason appearance for the Padres.