Tony Phillips (Almost) Played for the Padres?

As someone once said (or should have said), Twitter is 99% crap and 1% gold. Every now and then, you are rewarded for your patience with a nice shiny bit of information:

This date in #Rangers history: (1980) Texas trades 1B Willie Montanez to the #Padres in exchange for 3B Tucker Ashford & RHP Gaylord Perry

I see this and think… that can’t have been a good trade for the Padres. Montanez was a decent ballplayer but he wasn’t here long and Perry did win the Cy Young Award for the Pads. So I check the records, and it turns out that there isn’t much to celebrate on either side.

The 41-year-old Perry went 6-9 with a 3.43 ERA (114 ERA+) before being traded to the Yankees for Ken Clay and Marvin Thompson on August 14. On the other side, the 32-year-old Montanez hit .274/.325/.353 (95 OPS+) for the Padres before being shipped to Montreal on August 30… for Tony Phillips and cash.

Hello. That Tony Phillips? As in, the man ranked no. 66 all time among right fielders in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract?

What a brilliant trade. Why hadn’t I heard of this?

It might have something to do with the fact that Phillips never played a game in the Padres organization. By the time they acquired him in 1980, the minor-league season had ended. If they recalled Phillips (I don’t know), they didn’t play him.

Toward the end of spring training 1981 (March 27, to be exact), the Padres sent Phillips, Kevin Bell, and Eric Mustad to Oakland for Roy Moretti and Bob Lacey. I realize my outrage is three decades too late, but who in the heck are Moretti and Lacey?

Well, much like Phillips, they’re guys who never played for the Padres. Moretti made 33 relief appearances for Reno of the California League in 1981, then kicked around various other organizations for a few more years before retiring in 1984 at age 26. He never reached Double-A.

Lacey’s stay in San Diego was even shorter — he lasted less than a week. On April 1, the Padres traded him to Cleveland for minor-league second baseman Juan Bonilla, who although not very good would start for the Padres for a few seasons.

Did I mention that Phillips played second base? Granted, it took him a long time to develop into the Tony Phillips adored by statheads everywhere (he’s one of those Steve Finley “better in his thirties” freaks of nature), but the guy had skills.

In 1980, before the Padres acquired him, Phillips hit .249/.374/.331 as a 21-year-old shortstop in the Double-A Southern League. He led the circuit in walks (98) and finished fourth in stolen bases (50) despite being one of its younger players.

Not to belabor the point (okay, to belabor the point), but here’s what Phillips and Bonilla did in 1980. Which of these seasons would you rather have:

Player   Age Lvl Pos   G  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS   BA  OBP  SLG
Phillips  21  AA  SS 136 502 100 125 18  4  5  41 98 89 50 19 .249 .374 .331
Bonilla   24 AAA  2B 139 502  66 152 27  2  4  55 19 39 12  5 .303 .326 .388

Younger, better on-base skills, more speed, further to the left on the defensive spectrum… yep, can’t have any of that. Gah!

It’s okay; I’m good. Just… who would do such a thing?

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12 Responses »

  1. I once heard a rumor that Albert Pujols was a possible PTBN for the Padres in a trade in 2000 or so that the Pads passed on. Any truth?

  2. My recollection of that is that the Padres asked for Pujols instead of Ben Johnson … but got told “dream on” … which they/we have ever since :-)

  3. Steve, not quite… We made a trade with the Cardinals and asked for Pujols (NO ONE – not even the Cardinals knew what they had is what I’ve heard) and we got Ben Johnson in return for the trade. I know we asked for Pujols and they said, “No.” I do not think their “No was an emphatic – at least as emphatic as it should have been…

  4. Projections show that Pujols as the PTBNL would have helped the Padres avoid last place in 2003 and the resulting Matt Bush debacle.

    The Padres would go on to win the World Series in 2004-2006. Pujols was then traded, mid-contract, back to St. Louis for Jim Edmonds and cash considerations at the end of 2007.

    Ahhh… what could have been.

  5. “…what could have been.”

    Just think. We could have had “Cash considerations” in addition to Edmonds! What a perfect world that would have been…oh yeah the no Matt Bush and World Series titles would have been nice too.

  6. GY, being 1980 I can easily see talent evaluators looking at those lines and thinking, “Bonilla hit .300 with better power and against AAA pitching; he’s major league ready. Phillips? .250 and no power? Kid needs time to develop and may not make it to the bigs with so little power.” I think from today’s perspective it’s easy to look at how all of his BB’s translated into many more runs scored than Bonilla, but I can understand why that may have been overlooked 30 years ago.