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Saturday, January 01, 2022

Transaction Retrospection: The Pirates Take Roberto Clemente From The Dodgers In The Rule 5 Draft

In a 2019 piece for The Athletic, Stephen J. Nesbitt unraveled some of the mythology surrounding Clemente’s brief Dodgers tenure.  The popular version of the story is that Montreal tried to shield Clemente from rival scouts by limiting his playing time and benching him whenever he had a good game, or removing him from the lineup if he had a big hit early in a game.  However, SABR researcher Stew Thornley noted that the right-handed hitting Clemente was almost never deployed against right-handed pitching, so a strict platoon could have been more to blame for Clemente’s lack of playing time than any attempt from the Dodgers to try and “hide” him.

Besides, while Clemente hit only .257/.286/.372 in his 155 plate appearances with Montreal, his raw ability was hard to miss.  (Clemente was also on fire while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico around the time of the R5.)  The Pirates took clear notice, and since they had the first pick of the 1954 Rule 5 Draft, Clemente was quickly Pittsburgh-bound that offseason.  If the Dodgers’ strategy was indeed to just hope that other teams would ignore such a prominent prospect, the bet didn’t pay off.

As Nesbitt notes, longtime Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi has told a few different stories in regard to why or how Brooklyn lost Clemente, such as Pirates GM Branch Rickey backing out of a gentleman’s agreement to not take Clemente in the Rule 5 Draft.  In another version, Bavasi claimed the Dodgers signed Clemente solely to keep him away from the arch-rival Giants, and eventually direct him via the R5 to an also-ran team.  Bavasi also said in an e-mail to Thornley in 2005 that Jackie Robinson personally told the front office that adding Clemente to the team and removing a white player from the roster “would be setting our program back five years.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 01, 2022 at 05:21 PM | 12 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: dodgers, roberto clemente

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: January 01, 2022 at 11:03 PM (#6059309)
The whole set of rules around 5 are completely different today but if things had worked out this way today then ... by the time Clemente completed his 6th year of service time and became FA-eligible, he'd have had just a 95 career OPS+ to that point althought coming off a 121 and his first season hitting over 300. Outstanding defense of course so he had 15 WAR including a couple of 4-WAR seasons. He was turning 26. In short, he looked a bit like Jason Heyward, only much worse (114 OPS+, 30 WAR). I'm sure there are better comps but through age 25, b-r's cranky sim system offers Claudell Washington through 25 then a long string of that other noted FA flop Carl Crawford.

The Pirates though have been good about buying these guys out -- Marte, McCutchen and Polanco all got such deals that coverd the arb years, 2-3 FA years and a couple of options. So if 2021 had been his age 25 season, the Pirates probably would have tied him up back before the 2019 season, running through 2023 or 2024 plus two options, all at reasonable prices. Retaining his age 26-30 seasons, the Pirates pick up a tidy 30 WAR for probably not much more than $60-70 M. Of course being the Pirates, they might well have traded him after, say, age 28.

Clemente as an FA after his age 30 season is still looking at a big contract. He's coming off two 7-WAR seasons (and about to get better). Rendon comes to mind -- a year younger, he got 7/$245. So call it 6/$210 (in today's dollars), maybe having to give the 7th year to close the deal. At 46 WAR, I don't think the Dodgers are gonna mind giving up $210+ M for that. Good replacement for the aging Mookie (he'd be be turning 35 by then).
   2. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 03, 2022 at 12:04 PM (#6059427)
Who are the other notable Rule 5 picks from this era to when it became what we know today? IIRc, Bobby Bonilla and George Bell were also Rule 5 picks? Was that under the old rules?
   3. sanny manguillen Posted: January 03, 2022 at 01:15 PM (#6059441)
Bobby Bonilla

The 1985 Pirates went 57-104, then lost Bonilla (30.2 bWAR) and Bip Roberts (20.5) in December. They traded Jose DeLeon in July to get Bonilla back from the White Sox.
   4. SoSH U at work Posted: January 03, 2022 at 01:49 PM (#6059450)
Who are the other notable Rule 5 picks from this era to when it became what we know today?

Darrell Evans.
   5. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: January 04, 2022 at 12:17 AM (#6059535)
Bip Roberts

I loved the TV spot in which he bragged about how valuable his baseball card was, only to find that he was confusing his card with Robin Roberts' card. Funny.

Also, he was named "Bip".
   6. Jose is Absurdly Correct but not Helpful Posted: January 04, 2022 at 08:20 AM (#6059544)
Johan Santana was a Rule 5 pick. The Marlins took him then traded him to the Twins that day. The Twins carried him throughout the 2000 season despite being terrible. That worked out.
   7. Random Transaction Generator Posted: January 04, 2022 at 08:59 AM (#6059549)
The Blue Jays thrived with their Rule 5 picks in the early/mid 1980s:

Willie Upshaw, George Bell, Kelly Gruber, Manny Lee, Jim Acker
   8. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: January 04, 2022 at 02:28 PM (#6059612)
In a technical sense, Christy Mathewson and Hack Wilson were taken in the rule 5 draft, though both were taken from minor league teams.
   9. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: January 05, 2022 at 01:00 AM (#6059688)
Wasn’t the Christy Mathewson story that the owner of the Reds was planning to sell the Reds and buy the Giants, so he traded their top pitching prospect to the Giants first?
   10. vortex of dissipation Posted: January 05, 2022 at 01:54 AM (#6059690)
Wasn’t the Christy Mathewson story that the owner of the Reds was planning to sell the Reds and buy the Giants, so he traded their top pitching prospect to the Giants first?

It was even more underhanded than that. John T. Brush, the owner of the Reds, actually had stock in the Giants when he was the owner of the Reds. The Giants acquired Mathewson from Norfolk in 1900. They would have had to pay an additional S1,000 to Norfolk if they had kept him after the season. By returning him to Norfolk at the end of the season, they saved $1,000. The Reds, under Brush, then drafted him for $100, and sent him back to the Giants for a washed-up Amos Rusie. The whole deal was a collusion between Brush and the Giants. Brush eventually sold the Reds and became majority owner of the Giants in 1902. But Mathewson would never have been sent back to Norfolk and been available to draft if the Giants weren't trying to save some money, and manipulated the deal with the Reds so that they could both return him to Norfolk and get him back from the Reds after Cincinnati had drafted him.
   11. Ron J Posted: January 05, 2022 at 08:31 AM (#6059698)
#10 And Norfolk eventually got their money. Brush ended up paying the money and Monte Ward was Norfolk's lawyer.
   12. alilisd Posted: January 05, 2022 at 10:41 AM (#6059707)
Also, he was named "Bip".

Leon Joseph "Bip" Roberts

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