Colorado Rockies forgotten players: Bret Saberhagen

The Colorado Rockies were making a run for the playoffs for the first time in their history so they decided to trade for an ace starting pitcher. That was Bret Saberhagen but he’s often forgotten as a Colorado Rockie.

The Colorado Rockies were looking to improve in their starting rotation entering the final two months of the 1995 season. They were in first place in the NL West but their rotation had an ERA of 5.04 entering the All-Star break so the need was apparent. Enter Bret Saberhagen.

Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard had Saberhagen, essentially, fall in his lap. The Mets were starting to show signs of being a bit cheap, something for which they’ve been known for since. A few days prior to trading Saberhagen, the Mets traded Bobby Bonilla to the Baltimore Orioles because the Mets were in a “firesale.”

The Rockies acquired Saberhagen and a player to be named later for Juan Acevedo and a minor leaguer. This was viewed as a light return for Saberhagen, even at the time. The day after the trade, future SiriusXM host and MLB Network host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo was on WFAN radio in New York City and said that the return for Saberhagen was light and the Mets were being “tightwads.”

Russo questioned the Mets trading Saberhagen since he still was signed for the 1996 season as well and Saberhagen had expressed interest in staying with the Mets long term. Russo also described the return for Saberhagen as light because the Mets got “two pitchers, one of whom is ten [years old] and the other guy is someone who gave up 3,000 hits in 40 innings.” The latter player in which he was referring to was Acevedo, who had an ERA of 6.44 and he allowed 82 hits in 65 2/3 innings for the Rockies in his rookie season of ’95.

You can hear part of that rant from 25 years ago here.

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Saberhagen, 31 at the time, was coming off a 14-4 season in 1994 in which he pitched to a 2.74 ERA in 24 starts before the player’s strike wiped out the season. Saberhagen was an NL All-Star, came in 3rd in the NL Cy Young Award voting, and came in 22nd in NL MVP voting.

When Saberhagen pitched for the Kansas City Royals from 1984 through 1991, he won the AL Cy Young Award twice (1985 and 1989), had two top-ten MVP votes, two All-Star appearances, and he won a Gold Glove Award. In 1995, he hadn’t pitched as well as he did in 1994 but he still pitched to a 5-5 record with a 3.35 ERA (120 ERA+) in 16 starts.

Once he came to the thinner air of Denver in the era before the humidor, Saberhagen had his ERA skyrocket to 6.28 in his nine starts as a Rockie. The Rockies rotation, in general, saw their ERA go up after the All-Star break and the Rockies fell out of first place. However, in the first year with the Wild Card, the Rockies still made the playoffs that way.

In the NLDS, the Rockies lost in four games to the eventual World Champion Atlanta Braves. Saberhagen, who won the World Series MVP award for the Royals a decade prior when he was 21, was bombed in his only start in the NLDS for the Rockies when he started Game 4. He went four innings, allowing seven hits, six runs (five earned). Greg Maddux and the Braves beat the Rockies in Game 4 by a score of 10-4.

Saberhagen still had one more year on his contract but he was injured and missed the entire 1996 season. He signed with the Red Sox but he was never the same as he was in 1994 or prior, due to injuries and age. He last played in the majors in 2001. Acevedo later returned to the Rockies in 2001 but he played for eight teams in eight seasons in the majors. Only one season was spent with the Mets (1997).

Next: Another chapter in the Arenado-Cardinals rumors?

The trade didn’t really work out for either the Rockies or Mets but Saberhagen was one of the best pitchers of the late 1980s that is often forgotten about as being a Rockie.

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