Transaction of Today – March 15, 1978…As part of a 4-team trade: The Atlanta Braves sent Willie Montanez to the New York Mets. The Texas Rangers sent Tommy Boggs, Adrian Devine and Eddie Miller to the Atlanta Braves. Texas Rangers sent a player to be named later and to the New York Mets. The Texas Rangers sent Bert Blyleven to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pittsburgh Pirates sent Nelson Norman and Al Oliver to the Texas Rangers. New York Mets sent Jon Matlack to the Texas Rangers. The New York Mets sent John Milner to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Texas Rangers sent Ken Henderson (March 15, 1978) to the New York Mets to complete the trade.
To put it mildly…there is a lot to unpack here. Okay, first off, this deal was effectively completed on December 8, 1977. The only reason it shows up for today is that last little thing involved with the trade – a player to be named later – happened today forty years ago. To sum up, the deal involved eleven players changing teams – including one Hall of Famer! And as was the Braves’ luck, they didn’t fair all that great.
This deal is truly what happens when something pretty simple gets real damn complicated real damn quick. It came down to this – the Rangers wanted Al Oliver. In return, the Pirates demanded Bert Blyleven. How did the Braves get involved? Because of Ted Turner. Do I really need to say more?
Okay, I well. The Mets really liked Willie Montanez and the Braves rather liked the idea of not paying Montanez $350,000. Kids, back in the late 70’s, $350K was actually a pretty big total. The Rangers owner, Brad Corbett, gave the Braves a trio of players to pry away Montanez. The first baseman had spent less than two years with the Braves and was an All-Star the season before. Nevertheless, Atlanta wasn’t enamored with him in the slightest. We’ll get back to what they received in a second.
With Montanez in the fold, the Rangers were able to get Jon Matlack and John Milner in the deal from the Mets. Texas kept Matlack to help replaced Blyleven but dealt Milner to help get Oliver. Matlack was an interesting arm who the Mets had only recently added to the team a few months before.
Texas replaces Blyleven with Matlack, replaces Grieve with Oliver. They also get infielder Nelson Norman out of the deal. He ultimately was a bit player. The trade didn’t help the Rangers, however, as they won seven fewer games the next year. That wasn’t Matlack’s fault. He did quite well replacing a future Hall-of-Famer. Unfortunately, injuries quickly took away his best stuff. Oliver continued to hit, but the team fell further behind in the AL West before trading Oliver to the Expos before the 1982 season.
Mets trade Matlack, add offense with Grieve and Montanez along with Henderson. The 1977 Mets were a solid pitching club but finished last in runs scored. The trade helped a little, though Grieve spent much of the ’78 season on the shelf. Meanwhile, the pitching staff declined and the Mets lost the most games in the NL after making this deal. Oddly, Montanez would be traded to the Rangers in the summer of ’79. He’d also play for the Pirates, the fourth team of this weird deal, in 1981-82. He was traded for John Milner, yet another member of this trade.
Pirates received Blyleven and Milner. The latter would spend the next three seasons as a good platoon hitter. The best piece of the entire trade, Blyleven, made 103 starts over three seasons for the Pirates before the Pirates traded him in December of 1980. They’d get next-to-nothing in that deal, too. But before they traded him away, Blyleven would be a key component in Pittsburgh’s 1979 Championship squad. Milner was also a contributor. Of all of the teams, only the Pirates seemed to get any better for this trade.
And the Braves? Sigh.
Originally a Braves pick back in 1970, Adrian Devine pitched 77 games with the Braves from ’73-’76. Atlanta traded him, along with Ken Henderson, three other players, and a quarter million dollars for Jeff Burroughs. A great pickup at the time, Burroughs played two really fine years with the Braves before declining in 1979. Devine was a relief ace for the Rangers in 1977, saving 15 games and picking up eleven wins. The Braves thought they were getting that version of Devine, but nope. After two more years in Atlanta, they traded him back to the Rangers. In that deal, they’d get Doyle Alexander. Yeah, they would later deal Alexander away to get John Smoltz. But before that, Atlanta would trade Alexander away only to reacquire him.
Tommy Boggs had pitched 19 times over two seasons with the Rangers and was a nice, young arm who Texas drafted second overall in 1974. He’d get his chance in Atlanta. His arm briefly held up for a fine season in 1980, but that was about all they got out of him.
Finally, Eddie Miller was another high draft choice by the Rangers – a second rounder in 1975. A speedy outfielder, Miller played parts of four seasons with the Braves, but never stuck, hitting .251/.300/.275. He did swipe 42 steals in 51 tries, but like they say: you can’t steal first. The Braves traded him before the ’82 season for Roger Weaver, who spent one year in Richmond.
So, that’s about all the Braves got out of this deal. Well, except for salary relief, which was essentially all Atlanta was looking for. To that end, they won. At least, that’s more than the Mets and Rangers can say of this trade.