TOT: Braves Trade NFL wide receiver for NLCS MVP

TOT: Braves Trade NFL wide receiver for NLCS MVP

Transaction of Today – August 25, 1995…The Atlanta Braves traded Andre King (minors) to the Chicago White Sox for Mike Devereaux.

The August trading season was expected to be killed by the decision last year to eliminate “waiver trades” after the trading deadline, though the unique season that was put together to deal with COVID has changed that. Though occasionally a blockbuster happened, waiver trades often filed out a roster. Perhaps a team was looking for a reliever or a pinch hitter off the bench for the stretch run. They could get that and, frequently, on the cheap. After all, it doesn’t take much to pay a month’s salary for a role player.

Twenty-five years ago today, the Atlanta Braves finalized a trade for an outfielder who was beginning the journeyman stage of his career. It ended up being a big deal. All it cost them was a guy who caught two passes in the 2001 Sugar Bowl.

Mike Devereaux entered 1995 on a bit of a mission. He long had been a solid, dependable player for the Baltimore Orioles since they traded Mike Morgan for him in a deal with the Dodgers ahead of the 1989 season. His best year came in 1992, when he hit .276/.321/.464 with a career-high 24 homers. It helped the Orioles finish with 89 wins, but that was still seven behind division champ and eventual World Series winner, the Toronto Blue Jays.

While not great, Devereaux was useful and could handle center field for the O’s. That type of player still carries value. But 1994 changed that. Not only was he losing a step, but his offense completely disappeared. Since coming to Baltimore, Devereaux had a .260/.313/.419 slash. That might not sound like much, but it’s also a 103 adjusted OPS. Combine that with the ability to play center and you have a good player to fill out your lineup. That player was not available in 1994 as Devereaux hit an abysmal .203/.256/.332. With the speedy and young Curtis Goodwin on his way, the Orioles didn’t offer Devereaux a contract once the strike ended.

Devereaux found employment with the Chicago White Sox. Playing more right field with long-time South Sider, Lance Johnson, in center, Devereaux fit in with a group of misfit toys that supplemented Frank Thomas. Ozzie Guillen was still at short, Tim Raines was playing LF, and John Kruk was the DH. Chicago ended 1994 in first place and was considered a favorite in the Central. Of course, the Indians blitzed the division instead and the White Sox, who canned Gene Lamont after an 11-20 start, never threatened.

For his part, Devereaux rebounded, slashing .306/.352/.465 with 10 homers in 92 games. It’s pretty surprising that Chicago didn’t find a taker for Devereaux before late August, to be honest. Devereaux took a $2 million cut from his 1994 salary to sign with the White Sox, earning just $1.35 million in 1995. But as the season neared its final month, the guy who finished 7th in the 1992 MVP race was still playing in Chicago.

That was until today, 25 years ago, when the Braves agreed to acquire Devereaux in exchange for their top pick of the 1993 draft, Andre King.

Andre King’s Two-Sport Journey

A Fort Lauderdale product who was originally born in Jamaica, Andre King was your typical 90’s-era draft choice by the Braves that valued super-high tools over polished skills. King was fast. Incredibly fast. He also had some real pop in his bat and there was a lot of hope in Atlanta that the uber-athlete could become their next Ron Gant. He would end up being a little closer to the next Deion Sanders, though more so because he, too, would play in the NFL.

King crushed in Danville in 1993, hitting .309 with nearly a walk for every strikeout. After the year, he was named the #3-best prospect in the Appalachian League by the circuit’s managers. The hope was rising, but it was dashed by a .246/.313/.339 season with Macon the following year. In 1994, he was having a similar season in Durham in the Carolina League when the deal was announced.

Shifting Carolina League homes from Durham to Prince William, King finished the 1995 campaign with nine games. They would be the only nine games he played in the White Sox organization. A few months later, the Cardinals selected him in the Rule 5 draft and then immediately included him in a three-player deal with the Reds and Royals. In the trade, fellow Rule 5 selection, Miguel Mejia, was traded to the Cardinals while Mike Remlinger went from the Reds to the Royals. Funny enough, Remlinger would head back to the Reds on waivers just over a year later before famously being traded to the Braves after the 1998 season.

In a short amount of time, King had gone from the Braves to the White Sox to the Cardinals and now, finally, to the Reds. He spent most of 1996 with Winston-Salem, his third stop in the Carolina League, but struggled terribly. If you combine his 13 games in Double-A, King hit .174/.281/.309 in 1996.

After a year in the Rays’ system with just as little success, King’s baseball career came to a close. In 452 games over five seasons, King hit only .237/.332/.347 with 86 steals and 22 homers. After the 1997 season, King enrolled at the University of Miami. Over four years there, King caught 64 passes for 834 yards and three scores. He received decent playing time but struggled to emerge with Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, and Andrew Johnson among others also in the mix at wideout.

Despite his less-than-overwhelming numbers, King joined the rare club to be both selected in the MLB and NFL drafts after Cleveland took him in the 7th round of the 2001 draft. King’s rookie season was also his most successful. He caught 11 passes for 149 yards. Over the next three seasons, he caught 19 more passes for 178 yards. He also saw time on kick returns and returned one punt. In 2003, he caught one pass for 16 yards in Cleveland’s 36-33 loss to the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs. Cleveland blew a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter.

After nine games with the Browns in 2004, the 31-year-old’s NFL dream came to a close. He never scored a touchdown.

Devereaux’s Run

Joining his new team, Devereaux was clearly not going to be a starter for the Braves. With Marquis Grissom in center and David Justice in right field, Devereaux’s easiest pathway to playing time was in left field where Ryan Klesko took a seat against left-handed pitching. Mike Kelly was in that role, but the former uber-prospect flamed out and would be traded that upcoming winter. Dwight Smith, the fifth outfielder on the team, was Bobby Cox‘s favorite pinch hitter and left-hand hitter himself.

Devereaux didn’t hit much down the stretch despite being used 29 times. In 57 PA, Devereaux mustered just a .255/.281/.364 line with a homer. But Devereaux was not picked up for the 1995 regular season. He was there for the playoffs. And that’s where he would pay off for Atlanta.

It did not start that way, though. The Rockies, Atlanta’s first-round opponent, only had one game all-year started by a left-hander. As a result, Klesko was given starts in every game. Devereaux would play all four games, but never entered before the 7th. At the plate, he went 1-for-5. But his time to shine was coming.

In the stark contrast to the Rockies, the Reds were going with an all-lefthanded rotation. That put the Braves in a situation where Ryan Klesko would start just two games. Surprisingly, he started while David Justice took a seat in Game Four. Devereaux moved over to right field instead.

In Game One on the road, things were deadlocked at one entering the 11th inning. Fred McGriff opened with a walk before a bunt moved him into scoring position. After Javy Lopez grounded out, Devereaux stepped to the plate. It was his first at-bat after replacing Justice in the field in the bottom of the 9th. Michael Jackson fell behind 2-1 before Devereaux ripped a single to center. McGriff came rumbling home, beating the throw from Darren Lewis to put Atlanta on top and they would escape with the 2-1 win.

The next night, Devereaux got the start in left field. He went 1-for-4 with a double in another extra-innings game before being lifted for Klesko in the 10th inning and the bases loaded. A wild pitch put Atlanta on top and after Klesko popped out, Lopez delivered a crushing three-run homer to propel Atlanta to the 6-2 win. For Game 3, Devereaux remained in the lineup as the left fielder. It was a quiet game for the outfielder as he singled in three at-bats while adding a walk to his day. Atlanta cruised to a 5-2 win behind Greg Maddux.

As I mentioned, for Game 4, Devereaux shifted to right field as Klesko re-joined the starting lineup for the first time since Game 1. Pete Schourek and Steve Avery matched up. The Braves pushed the first run of the game across in the third when Mark Lemke singled in Rafael Belliard. In the 7th, with both starters out of the game, the Braves turned the lights out for the impressive Reds team of that season.

Grissom led off with a triple. With one out, Chipper Jones walked. A passed ball brought in Grissom and advanced the rookie third baseman. That led to an intentional walk for McGriff. Devereaux stepped in with the Reds on the ropes and delivered the knockout blow with a first-pitch, three-run bomb into the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium left-field bleachers. In left field, Ron Gant could only watch as the crowd went crazy.

Atlanta shutout the Reds 6-0, completing the first four-game sweep in NLCS history. The Reds put up a .782 OPS in 1995, scoring 747 runs – both good for second behind the Rockies. Unlike the Rockies, they couldn’t beat the powerful Braves even once. Devereaux picked up four hits in the series and drove in five runs. Once the sweep was complete, he was named NLCS MVP.

Devereaux’s World Series exploits are mostly non-existent. He did deliver an RBI single in the Game 3 loss in Cleveland and didn’t play in Game 5, the only postseason game he missed that October. His biggest moment of the World Series may have been in Game 6 when the defensive replacement jumped for joy after Grissom caught the final out of the series.

The Braves didn’t bring back Devereaux in 1996, choosing to go with the oft-injured Jerome Walton instead. Devereaux landed a return engagement with Baltimore as a reserve/insurance for Jeffrey Hammonds. Devereaux struggled in his return, hitting .229/.305/.350. Brief stops in Texas and with the Dodgers didn’t help, though the former Arizona State product finally got to play for the team that originally drafted him back in 1985.

The trade was a huge success for the Braves. It gave them exactly what they were looking for – a better alternative to Mike Kelly when games meant the most. And it cost them precious little more than a struggling prospect with a nice ceiling, but a low floor. We often talk a lot about the big deals that make-or-break a general manager’s legacy, but these small deals can’t be overlooked because while they are often just footnotes, they can still tell a big story.

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