Addition by Subtraction

By Larry Dierker

At first blush, it would appear that the Astros and Blue Jays swapped free radicals. The Astros’ problem with Ken Giles was an on the field issue.  He was seemed devoid of equanimity.  And it’s hard to pitch without it. He seemed to be fighting himself half the time and even when he saved a game, the way he pumped his arm gave me the impression that he had just killed Hitler or Bin Laden. When he blew a save, he beat himself up over it.

It’s almost impossible to play in the major leagues with a smile like Jose Altuve. Energy and focus are enough. When that leads to a win it easy to smile. Well, easy for most players.

The other side of the deal is Roberto Osuna. His problem was abusing another person. I don’t know enough details to comment on that. But he was punished so I assume there was an incident of some sort. Perhaps the Astros clubhouse atmosphere will have a salubrious effect on him. Giles just couldn’t channel the vibe.

Both teams likely view the trade as addition by subtraction. You hope a change of scenery will help. Time will tell.

We traded Mitch Meluskey to the Tigers in 2000 to clear the air.  As a rookie, he was disrespectful of our veteran players and even go into a fight with one of them during batting practice. He had a lot of talent, but we guessed his attitude would get in the way. We did not get equal talent in the trade, except for what we added by subtraction. It didn’t work out for Mitch in Detroit.  We won again the next year.

Looking at the Giles/Osuna trade without character issues, the Astros appear to have gotten the best of it.  But the Jays know Osuna better.  Fans in both cities should be circumspect until they see how it plays out. Osuna would still be in Toronto if the Jays thought his past would not be a problem in the future.  I doubt the Astros think Giles can change his personality. The difference is that Osuna has been more successful than Giles. The Blue Jays have to fix Giles. He needs to find his old slider and he needs to either get much better control of his fastball or learn how to make it move. I’m not sure what Osuna needs, but there must be something.

My take is that the Astros got the better end of the deal. Still, there is a nagging thought. Last summer in Toronto, Osuna retired Carlos Correa on a comebacker to end the game. Osuna held the ball and taunted Correa. He forced him to run all the way to first before throwing him out.  I was watching the game and it ticked me off.  Why would you want to show a guy up? In my mind, it’s bush (amateurish). Afterward, Correa complained about it too. Both players were headed to the All-Star game in Miami.

I don’t know if they buried the hatchet at that time or if there is still bad blood. But I do know that players who taunt opposing players are typically unpopular in their own clubhouses. Considering that “on the field” stunt together with his off-field problem, it may help to understand the Blue Jays part of the deal. When the deal looks too good to be true, you have to ask yourself, “Why would they do this?”

Perhaps they have another closer and are looking at a long-term process with Giles. Either way, both teams will likely be tiptoeing on eggshells for a while. The best outcome would be that a fresh start mentality is all the two pitchers need to “get over it.”

In 1998, Gerry Hunsicker asked if I was willing to take a chance on Carl Everett. We needed a centerfielder and we could get him for John Hudek, a closer who seemed to be in decline. I wondered why the Mets would do that. Carl was a disappointment in New York, but he was still young and had enormous talent. Gerry told me that he had been involved in an abuse situation in the room where the families wait for the players after the game.  We made the deal mostly because it wouldn’t kill us if it didn’t work out.

Carl Everett had two big years for us and we won our division both years. His contributions on the field were fantastic.  We couldn’t have won in 1999 without him. Still, everyone knew he could snap.  Several times he yelled at pitchers after being hit by pitches. Once he went halfway to the mound, and the rest of us were on the top step of the dugout. He managed to control his anger that time and we did not fight. On another occasion, he got to the ballpark with just enough time to change and go down for batting practice. When he looked at the lineup card and realized he wasn’t playing and his group was already hitting, he ripped the lineup card off the wall and tore it to pieces. Then he walked out into the stadium and sat down in the first row back of the on-deck circle.

It must have been an odd sight for the grounds crew and others who arrive early. Here I was with my uniform on, sitting in the box seats with Carl in his civvies. He settled down and I breathed a sigh of relief.  In an odd way, I welcomed the hostility running through his veins. We were a stoic, non-violent team.  That was my preference.  We didn’t have a single fight on the field in my five years.  But those two years with Carl, we were on the edge several times. And I liked that edge.  Mike Jackson was our set-up man and he could be combative too. A little bit of that attitude is helpful, at least in my opinion.  A lot of it is combustible. Nobody welcomes an explosion.

We traded Carl to the Red Sox in 1999 and he had a big year for them in 2000, while we struggled. Then in 2001, Carl’s anger surfaced. When I saw their manager, Jimy Williams at the winter meetings, he said. “What is it with this guy?  He’s crazy!” I admitted he was on the verge with us several times and admitted I felt lucky.

We got shortstop Adam Everett in that trade. Adam was perhaps the best fielding shortstop in Astros history. But he couldn’t hit enough to stay in the lineup. Now he is working in the Astros farm system. Good guy. That one turned out well for the Astros even though Adam never became the player they hoped he would be.

There is an element of risk in almost every trade you make. When you’re dealing in free radicals, that risk is multiplied.

Image: Roberto Osuna  By Arturo Pardavila III –, CC BY 2.0.  Cropping by Convergent1, August 1, 2018.
Image: Ken Giles  By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA – Ken Giles, CC BY-SA 2.0,  Cropping by Convergent1, August 1, 2018.
Image: By Houston Astros –, Public Domain,