Here’s how this deal was discussed.
John Schuerholz: Hey Bobby, I need a DH that can also play first base and let George Brett DH on occasion to keep my best hitter fresh.
Bobby Cox: We got Gerald Perry, but he’s blocking some younger talent. Speaking of young talent, I could use a veteran to help with a rotation full of young pitchers bursting with, um, talent.
Schuerholz: What about Liebrandt?
Cox: Didn’t he have a 5.14 ERA last year?
Schuerholz: He’ll bounce back. Besides, Gerald Perry hit four homeruns last year and you want me to take him in return. Let’s just work out the particulars and make this happen.
Cox: I like your style, John. We should work together!
And the rest…is history.
Well, not really, but the Braves did well to add Liebrandt to the fold before 1990 and resign him ahead of the ’91 season. Liebrandt had struggled to develop with the Reds before his ’83 trade to the Royals. He quickly turned the corner the following year before a break-through 1985 campaign that included a 2.67 ERA. After three more solid seasons, things unraveled for Liebrandt in ’89. If FIP existed back then, one might argue that he wasn’t really much worse than he was before, but when your ERA goes from 3.19 to 5.14 in one season, questions are raised. After the trade, Liebrandt finished 1990 with the second best ERA of his career despite missing action. His control, which showed signs of decline in ’89, rounded back in form with just 1.9 BB per nine, the best rate of his career. The Braves kept him on after the season and he was a quarter of the four-man rotation with Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery that started 141 of 162 games, or 87%. His biggest pitch of the season, however, came in the bottom of the 11th of Game 6 of the 1991 World Season when Kirby Puckett sent the series to seven games with a 2-1 homer. Liebrandt would pitch one more season with the Braves and remained very effective, but less than a week after the Braves signed Greg Maddux, Liebrandt was traded to the Rangers.
Perry struggled in his only year with the Royals, hitting just .254 with a .680 OPS. It would be the last time he was a regular starter. Though he flamed out in KC, Perry stayed in the midwest and spent five years with the Cardinals. Schuerholz’s other get in the trade, Jim Lemasters, spent two seasons in the upper minor leagues for the Royals, but couldn’t break into the bigs. As for Rick Luecken, who the Braves also acquired with Liebrandt, he would pitch in 36 games with the Braves with a 1.94 WHIP, bad by even bad Braves standards. He complained about his role on the team, but Bobby Cox’s answer was simple – “that phone rings and I tell you to warm up.” Luecken would later be waived in September of 1990 and the Blue Jays picked him up, but dropped him after the season. He briefly played for Iowa the following year as a Cubs farmhand, but never learned how to throw strikes.
Oh, and Cox and Schuerholz? Those guys would become thick as thieves. All thanks for Charlie Liebrandt.
(Last sentence not yet verified.)