Colorado Rockies: 10 Biggest Trades in Franchise History: 10-8
#8: Jeff Cirillo to the Seattle Mariners for Brian Fuentes, Denny Stark and José Paniagua
When a player is going through a slump or coming off a down year, many fans like to suggest trading him. That logic, while understandable on the surface, is misguided. Good trades aren’t made by trying to give away assets that have already depreciated, they’re made by identifying which assets are going to depreciate (or improve) next.
This trade is an excellent example of how that’s done. Cirillo was an all-star third baseman for the Rockies in 2000, and despite suffering some regression in 2001, he was still an effective player, hitting .313 while playing solid defense.
But beneath the surface numbers, there were some causes for concern with Cirillo. His OBP dropped to a new career low, and he was well into his 30s. Colorado decided to bet that Cirillo’s best years were behind him, and moved him for a trio of players that were all in their 20s.
Paniagua was traded to Detroit before he played a single game for Colorado. Stark had a reasonably successful debut season with the Rockies in 2002 but was mostly ineffective in his brief stints at the big league level. What made this trade a winner for Colorado was the inclusion of the left-hander from Merced, Calif.
It wasn’t clear at first that Fuentes was anything special. At the start of the 2005 season, he was set to be the left-handed setup man for closer Chin-hui Tsao (remember him?). But after Tsao was sidelined with a shoulder injury, Fuentes stepped into the Rockies closer role and ran with it.
From 2005 through 2008, Fuentes saved 111 games for Colorado. He became the first Rockies reliever to be named an All-Star in 2005, then made the team again in 2006 and 2007.
Fuentes wasn’t your typical closer: he threw with a short, awkward side-armed motion and didn’t blow people away with velocity. But he still found a way to rack up strikeouts, and was nearly as effective against right-handed hitters as he was against lefties, a rare trait in southpaws.
By the time Fuentes became the Rockies closer in 2005, Cirillo had long since washed out in Seattle. His first season with the Mariners was a disappointment, but the second year was terrible. Cirillo barely hit over .200 and lost his starting job before being shipped to San Diego after the season ended; he never became a full-time MLB player again.
All told, the Rockies got six seasons from arguably the best reliever in team history, and the Mariners got to pay over $6M a season (still a big investment for a player in 2002) to watch Cirillo give them a .603 OPS at third base.
If you want a shining example of a team selling high on a player, you would be hard-pressed to do better than this. Maybe the Rockies saw Cirillo’s decreasing OBP and rising age and knew this was coming. Maybe they just realized he was going to get expensive and didn’t want to pay him.
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Whatever the reasoning was, we can look back on this move now, years after all the players involved have retired, and definitely say this: The Rockies got the better of the Mariners in this deal.