Andres Galarraga

11/25/1991: Cardinals trade Ken Hill for Andres Galarraga

 By the end of the 1991 season, the St. Louis Cardinals knew they once again would be in the market for a power-hitting first baseman.

At 35 years old, Pedro Guerrero had just completed his third season on the Busch Stadium Astroturf, and the wear and tear had begun to impact his numbers. In his first season with the Cardinals, Guerrero earned an all-star game berth with a .311/.391/.477 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage and his 42 doubles led the National League. In 1990, the native of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, saw his numbers dip but remain respectable, as he hit .281/.334/.426 with 13 homers and 80 RBIs. However, in 1991 he hit just 21 extra-base hits in 115 games.

At season’s end, Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill made it clear that he didn’t intend to bring Guerrero back.

“Pete understands the whole situation,” he said. “He was beat up virtually all year and there’s his age, defensively, trying to play first base on artificial turf.”[1]

 California Angels first baseman Wally Joyner was an option, though he ultimately signed a four-year, $18 million deal with the Kansas City Royals. Outfielder Danny Tartabull also was on the market, but he signed with the New York Yankees for more than $5 million per season. On Nov. 20, Maxvill announced that the Cardinals had no intentions of pursuing Joyner, Tartabull, or fellow free agent Bobby Bonilla.

“After tons of meetings we have decided that we are not going to bid on any major free agents,” Maxvill said. “This doesn’t mean we are out of the free-agent market completely, forever. Just these three top dogs who are going to command $4 to $6 million a year for five years.”[2]

Five days later, on Nov. 25, the Cardinals announced that they had traded 25-year-old right-handed pitcher Ken Hill to the Montreal Expos for Andres Galarraga.

Between 1988 and 1990, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound first baseman from Caracas, Venezuela, averaged 24 home runs and 87 RBIs. In 1988, he earned his first all-star appearance and Silver Slugger Award, and in 1989 and 1990, he was recognized with a Gold Glove.

In 1991, however, Galarraga struggled. After arthroscopic knee surgery, Galarraga batted just .219 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 400 plate appearances. A midseason groin pull limited his at-bats and his effectiveness. Suddenly the big first baseman’s tendancy to strike out (he led the league in strikeouts in 1988, 1989, and 1990) weren’t offset by his power stats. Even more importantly, his $2.65 million salary was now expendable for the cash-strapped Expos.

 “If Galarraga has a normal year, we don’t get him for Ken Hill,” Maxvill said.[3]

Rex Hudler, who played alongside Galarraga in Montreal, loved the move.

Ozzie Smith should be doing a triple backflip right now,” he said, “and Todd Zeile should be too. He is going to make a big difference at first base. I’m sorry Kenny Hill won’t be here, but it’s a great pickup for the club. Galarraga’s liable to go off next year. He needs a change of scenery. You bring in the walls, which he doesn’t even need, and bring him to this town and he’ll have a great year.”[4]

Cardinals pitcher Bob Tewskbury also noted the Gold Glove awards Galarraga had earned in 1989 and 1990.

“Defensively, he helps us immediately,” Tewksbury said. “He’s as good as anybody with the glove. With his bat, it might be a gamble, but a change can make a big difference.”[5]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz immediately questioned the move, wondering why the Cardinals gave up a pitcher with Hill’s potential to replace one declining first baseman for another.

“We all have been impatient with Hill’s progress, but he’s young and capable of rolling up a sequence of monster seasons,” Miklasz wrote. “This is the danger: Hill is still on the way up; Galarraga has been on the way down.”[6]

Miklasz also wondered why Galarraga’s numbers were declining at age 30 when he should be in the prime of his career. “The theories,” posited Miklasz: “He got fat. He swings at too many pitches, especially sliders away. He can’t catch up with a fastball on his fists. A procession of meddling Montreal batting instructors destroyed his swing and confidence. He is a sensitive, emotional person who couldn’t cope with the criticism in gloomy Montreal – the place where careers go to die.”[7]

Galarraga admitted that he had been frustrated by the criticisms he received from both the Expos and their fans.

“I’m angry that the fans in Montreal booed me so much and forgot what I’d done before,” he said. “Didn’t they know I was hurt? And then management talking about my weight all year the way they did … putting pressure on me when they knew I was the weight I always was.”[8]

Expos third baseman Tim Wallach said that the Olympic Stadium boos also played a part in Galarraga’s performance.

“He took it very hard,” Wallach said. “I still think he’s got a lot of good years ahead of him. I think just being able to get out of Montreal is going to be the best thing for him. He’s a sensitive guy, and you could tell he was hurting a lot.”[9]

Cardinals manager Joe Torre said it was clear in watching Galarraga play the previous season that he was attempting to guess which pitch was coming. Torre said he went through a similar yearlong slump after he won the National League MVP Award in 1971.

“I don’t think any more things could have gone wrong for him and the Expos than they did last year,” he said. “If he plays to his capabilities, he could be every bit the offensive player Bonilla is. This is an excellent ballpark for him and, with the fences being moved in, it will help him.”[10]

Hill was not the Expos’ first choice. Dan Duquette, making his first trade as Montreal’s general manager, initially asked for left-handed pitcher Rheal Cormier, a French-speaking native of New Brunswick, Canada, whom the Expos felt their fans would embrace as one of their own. Montreal Gazette columnist Pat Hickey noted that based on each players’ stats, the Cardinals’ insistence on trading Hill instead of Cormier worked to the Expos’ favor.[11]

 “I’m not happy. I’m not unhappy,” Hill said. “I’m shocked, but I know it’s business.”[12]

Hill gave the Expos a hard thrower who recently had developed a forkball and begun to improve his sometimes erratic control. In 1989, Hill had walked 99 and struck out 112 in 196 2/3 innings. The following year, he walked 33 and struck out 58, and in 1991 he struck out 121 while walking 67.

“It also gives us some capital to play with,” said Duquette, noting that Hill made just $180,000 in 1991. “We’re more flexible now and can go after a run producer or bullpen closer, either in the free-agent market or from another club.”[13]

One possibility Duquette suggested was Guerrero. “He’s the type of player who could help our ballclub,” he said.[14]

Nonetheless, Expos ace Dennis Martinez was unimpressed by the trade.

“Is that all they got?” he asked. “I bet he will bounce back in St. Louis. Hopefully they will let him go his own way. The Expos wouldn’t let him do that. They just kept talking about his strikeouts.”[15]

Ironically, despite Maxvill’s indication that Guerrero would be playing elsewhere, he ended up joining Galarraga on the Cardinals’ roster in 1992. St. Louis offered Guerrero salary arbitration, knowing that if he declined the offer the Cardinals would receive two draft picks as compensation. Instead Guerrero, who had been seeking a multiyear contract, accepted their one-year offer to play left field.

“We have all spring to see what we’re going to look like defensively. We’ve got to get better offensively,” Torre said. “You’ve really got to throw out the stuff after he got hurt last year. Right before he broke his leg, he looked like he was coming around.”[16]

Neither Guerrero nor Galarraga would have the bounce-back season the Cardinals hoped for in 1992. Injuries once again plagued Guerrero, who started just 38 games due to neck, shoulder, and ankle injuries. Despite their initial plans to play him primarily in left field, he made just 10 starts there, with 28 coming at first base. He hit just .219/.270/.295 with one home run and 16 RBIs.

It was his final season in the big leagues. In 1993, Guerrero split his season between the Sioux Falls Canaries of the Northern League and the Carros de Jalisco of the Mexican League. He played for the Canaries again in 1994, then played for the California Angels’ Double-A affiliate in Midland, Texas, in 1995 before retiring.

 Galarraga had a strong spring training performance in 1992, but broke his wrist in the second game of the season. He ended up playing in 95 games for St. Louis and posted similar numbers as he had in 1991. In 325 at-bats with the Cardinals, he hit .243 with 10 homers and 39 RBIs. During the season, Maxvill explored restructuring Galarraga’s contract to feature a low base salary with incentives for the 1993 campaign, but Galarraga preferred seeing what might be offered on the open market.[17] After the season ended, the Cardinals chose not to pick up the $3 million option year on his contract and Galarraga became a free agent.

That offseason, he signed with the expansion Colorado Rockies. At Coors Field, Galarraga immediately unleashed his potential, batting .370 with 22 homers and 98 RBIs. In five of the following six seasons, he finished in the top 10 of the National League MVP voting.

 While Galarraga didn’t pan out for the Cardinals, Hill went 41-21 with a 3.04 ERA in three seasons with Montreal. In 1994, Hill went 16-5 with a 3.32 ERA (ironically, the highest ERA of his three seasons with the Expos) and placed second in the National League Cy Young Award voting behind only Greg Maddux.

The following year, Hill returned to the Cardinals but went just 6-7 with a 5.06 ERA before he was traded to the Cleveland Indians for prospects David Bell, Rick Heiserman, and Pepe McNeal.

Hill retired in 2001 after a 14-year career that included stops in Texas, Anaheim, Tampa Bay, and Chicago (White Sox).

Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player.

[1] Rick Hummel, “Quick Shop: Cards Covet Few Free Agents,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 12, 1991: C1.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Top Free Agents Aren’t In The Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 21, 1991: D1.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Cards Acquire Galarraga,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 26, 1991: C1.

[4] Dan O’Neill, “Acquisition Of Galarraga Is A Hit With Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 26, 1991: C4.

[5] Dan O’Neill, “Acquisition Of Galarraga Is A Hit With Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 26, 1991: C4.

[6] Bernie Miklasz, “A Live Arm For Dead Bat?” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 26, 1991: C1.

[7] Bernie Miklasz, “A Live Arm For Dead Bat?” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 26, 1991: C1.

[8] Jeff Blair, “‘Scapegoat’ Cat off to Cards,” Montreal Gazette, November 26, 1991: C7.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Cards Acquire Galarraga,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 26, 1991: C4.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Cards Acquire Galarraga,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 26, 1991: C4.

[11] Pat Hickey, “Figures say Expos come out winners,” Montreal Gazette, November 26, 1991: C1.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Hill Surprised, Unhappy By Expos Trade,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 26, 1991: C4.

[13] Jeff Blair, “‘Scapegoat’ Cat off to Cards,” Montreal Gazette, November 26, 1991: C1.

[14] Rick Hummel, “Cards Acquire Galarraga,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 26, 1991: C4.

[15] Jeff Blair, “‘Scapegoat’ Cat off to Cards,” Montreal Gazette, November 26, 1991: C7.

[16] Rick Hummel, “‘Left Fielder’ Guerrero Accepts Cards’ Offer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 20, 1991: D1.

[17] Rick Hummel, “Van Slyke, Bonds Quiet At The Plate,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 7, 1992: D4.

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