Twins Acquire John Smiley

March 17, 1992

Frank Viola spent enough time in the National League to know what a pitcher named John Smiley can do. Frankie V. also spent enough time in a certain American League clubhouse to know what Tom Kelly can do with a pitcher like Smiley.

“To go out and get a 20-game winner, without giving up a major leaguer, that’s pretty incredible,” Viola said. “Andy MacPhail has pulled off some good ones and this is, too. This guy’s not a No. 1 starter, but he’s a quality pitcher and he’s going to give you 210 or 220 innings. He’s a guy who only is going to give you five or six innings before tiring out. But for the way TK plays his team and works his bullpen, he’s going to be perfect for the club. The Twins are going to be right in the middle of it again.”

-From Dan Barreiro’s column in the Star Tribune 3/18/92

The World Champion Twins sent minor leaguers Denny Neagle and Midre Cummings to the reigning NL East Champion Pittsburgh Pirates for 20-game winner John Smiley. The move was universally considered a great one by Andy MacPhail for a franchise who just lost Jack Morris to free agency. Conventional wisdom said that getting a 20-game winner for two minor-leaguers was a great move.

The 27-year old Smiley had a good season with the Twins in 1992, perhaps his best. He finished 16-9 with a 3.21 ERA (127 ERA+) and a career-best 1.20 WHIP. He also had career bests in K/9 innings (7.3) and WARP3 (7.5).

Smiley didn’t hang around long after the Twins finished second in the AL West in 1992. He signed with the Cincinnati Reds where he played all but one of his remaining seasons.

Midre Cummings spent five seasons in Pittsburgh, but never was an every-day player. He had somewhat of a breakout season in 1997 between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, but never really returned to that form. He came back to Minnesota for a stint in 1999 and 2000, and ended his career after the 2005 season with a career .257/.318/.385 line.

Denny Neagle went on to have a solid pitching career. The former Golden Gopher had his first good season in 1995 with Pittsburgh. He traveled around a bit, had his best season with Atlanta in 1997 (20-7 2.97 ERA, finished third in NL Cy Young voting, 7.4 WARP3), and finished his career with some tough years in the thin air of Colorado.

The Twins got a good pitcher for a season in which they were contenders, and the immediate results seemed positive. Once Smiley left and Denny Neagle began to establish himself, it became more difficult to evaluate the trade.

It is unlikely that Neagle would have stayed in a Twins uniform his entire career, particularly considering that his prime came during the lean years in Minnesota. John Smiley was able to help the Twins in 1992, a year in which they had World Series hopes. Though it would have been nice to see what Neagle could do in Minnesota, this trade was a win for MacPhail and the Twins.

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4 Responses to Twins Acquire John Smiley

  1. Beth says:

    Cool look back into time. I think this is true of most trades–either they can’t be evaluated as who gets the advantage immediately (for example, the Pierzynski for the three pitchers trade of ’03/’04) or through time the advantage fades (this one).

  2. Beau says:

    Heh heh, Neagle had a few other late career troubles, too, not pitching related. Even though I watched the Twins religiously in 1992 (I was 12 years old), and I thought the trade was a good one at the time (I was a Pirates fan as well), the years somehow soured my memory on Smiley. For some reason, I kept remembering him as having a mediocre season, while I watched Neagle tear up the league in the late 90’s and thinking we wasted a minor league for Smiley. Now I see why memory shouldn’t be relied on!

    I’m going to make this site part of my daily stop now; I love what you’re doing with it! Amongst all the Twins blogs, I like the niche you’ve found.

  3. Scot says:

    Funny, I didn’t remember Smiley’s season going so well either.

    1992 ERA+
    John Smiley MIN 127
    Jack Morris TOR 102

    If the goal was to replace Morris, the Smiley trade did that and more.

  4. […] On the whole, however, the Twins’ moves to allow Morris to sign elsewhere after 1991 and to trade for Smiley to take his place look very good in […]

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