While we all wait for the return of Mariners baseball, we have an opportunity to reflect on some of the franchises’ rich history. Today, we reveal the greatest trade in Mariners’ history.
What are the 10 best trades in Seattle Mariners history? Well, what they are, first and foremost, are entirely subjective. While we can add together the numbers and find the statistically best trade, we won’t be doing that in this series. Instead, we will be blending our statistical analysis with several x-factors, including what the deal meant for the team at one time.
Remember, winning trade is good. But even an inconclusive trade or one that both sides benefit from isn’t bad. The goal isn’t to win every trade, the goal is to win games and to improve your team to help you win as many games as possible. Basically, a trade doesn’t have to be a disaster for one team for that trade to be considered for this list.
As I said, we won’t be laser-focused on the WAR outcomes (though those are part of our analysis), but rather what the trade brought the team in return. With that in mind, let’s reveal the best trade in Mariners’ history.
Mariners trade Mark Langston and Mike Campbell to the Expos for Randy Johnson, Brian Holman, and Gene Harris
When the Seattle Mariners traded their ace Mark Langston to the Montreal Expos in May of 1988, many Mariners’ fans undoubtedly thought “here we go again, the team just traded their best player”. But what transpired over the next 10-years was not only magical, it was franchise saving.
When Seattle acquired Randy Johnson, his stat line would indicate a prototypical flamethrower who couldn’t find the strike zone. But it didn’t take long for the baseball world to learn how different Johnson was. Nicknamed “The Big Unit” thanks to his massive 6’10” size, Johnson was something nobody had ever seen before.
He was intimidating. He threw hard, had no idea where it was going, and hitters felt like he was right on top of them thanks to his size. He had a menacing mustache and mullet flowing out of the back of his cap that almost resembled a Hollywood ideal of the intimidating sheriff of the Wild West.
But while Johnson had a unique look, his first 3 full-seasons in Seattle left many skeptical about his long-term success. From 1990-1992, Johnson led the league in walks all 3 seasons while also leading the league in hit batsmen in ’92. But Seattle stuck with their flamethrower and it began to pay off. From 1992-1995, Johnson would lead the league in strikeouts and claiming 3, Top 3 Cy Young seasons, including winning the award in the magical 1995 season.
1996 would see Johnson miss most of the season with back issues, but he would return strong in 1997, racking up 297 strikeouts and posting a 2.28 ERA while finishing as runner-up in that year’s Cy Young voting.
Unfortunately, the relationship between the Mariners and their ace was fracturing and bad blood was beginning to boil from under the surface. The two sides were unable to find common ground and on July 31, 1998, Seattle trade the best pitcher in franchise history to the Astros for a trio of prospects who would become key contributors in the best 4-year stretch in franchise history.
In his 10 seasons with the Mariners, Johnson would make 266 starts for Seattle, racking up 2,162 strikeouts and 39 bWAR in that time. He would also make 5 All-Star teams, finish inside the Top 3 of Cy Young voting 4 times including his win in 1995, and pitch the first no-hitter in franchise history.
In addition to finding the greatest arm in franchise history, Seattle even got a little sweetener in the deal, as Brian Holman managed to post an 8.0 bWAR in 3-seasons in Seattle.
The decision to trade Langston for Johnson was not only franchise-altering, but it was also franchise saving. Without Johnson, the miraculous 1995 season doesn’t happen and we may very well be talking about the Tampa Bay or Indianapolis Mariners as a result. Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez will get a lot of credit for saving baseball in Seattle, and rightfully so, but Johnson was just as big of a factor and still hasn’t gotten the respect he deserves from the organization.
Randy Johnson was a special pitcher and without him, our beloved Mariners would cease to exist.