(Go here for the rest of our grades.)
I wasn’t thrilled when I heard the John Schuerholz was hired as GM. Yes, he had a World Series title on his resume but the Royals descended into mediocrity after their ’85 championship, thanks to some questionable trades by Schuerholz.
You’ve heard of the David Cone for Ed Hearn swap, one of the 10 worst trades ever made. Later that year he dealt Danny Jackson to the Reds for Kurt Stillwell and Ted Power. He capped off 1987 with another misguided move, sending up-and-coming hurlers Greg Hibbard and Melido Perez to the White Sox for an over-the-hill Floyd Bannister.
Then, in a span of 8 days in 1989, he signed Storm Davis and Mark Davis to huge contracts and traded Charlie Leibrandt to the Braves for Gerald Perry. The Davises flopped in KC while Leibrandt, making a fraction of their salaries, averaged 13 wins and had a 3.31 ERA in in three seasons with Atlanta.
After a sixth place finish in 1990, Schuerholz resigned from the Royals, although it was widely reported he didn’t have a choice.
His first moves as Braves GM didn’t inspire much confidence. Hard to get excited about signing Sid Bream (the white Dan Driessen), Juan Berenguer and TP, who finished 1990 with 19 errors and a .601 OPS. His first trade, for 32-year-old journeyman Otis Nixon, seemed negligible. TP went on to become MVP, Otis led the league in steals and Berenguer saved 17 with a 0.979 WHIP. When Berenguer was injured, JS swapped a couple of scrubs for Alejandro Pena, who was even better than Berenguer.
It would be six years before he’d make a bad deal.
But in late March, 1997, JS lost his mind. Over a span of two days he exchanged David Justice, Marquis Grissom and Jermaine Dye for Kenny Lofton, Michael Tucker, Alan Embree and Keith Lockhart. I actually liked the trade with Cleveland; Justice was coming of an injury, while Lofton was the most exciting player in the game, batting .317 with 14 homers and 75 steals in ’96. With the Braves, he was caught stealing nearly as often as he was successful, and his defense was disappointing.
JS rebounded the following offseason. After flirting with Brady Anderson, he instead signed the BIg Cat, Galarraga finished the year with a .991 OPS. But he ended the decade on a sore note, trading Bret Boone and Ryan Klesko to San Diego for Wally Joyner, Reggie Sanders and Quilvio Veras.
But the good far outweighed the bad. In 2002, he stole Gary Sheffield from the Dodgers for Brian Jordan, who was beginning to regress, and Odalis Perez. A year later he picked up a 20-game winner, Russ Ortiz, for one-year wonder Damian Moss. Forced to trade Kevin Millwood, Schuerholz was still able to secure a quality player, catcher Johnny Estrada, an All-Star in 2004.
Though his missteps were rare, they were major. Trading Adam Wainwright, Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz for a couple of mercenaries made zero sense and were a big reason the Braves went five years between playoff appearances. But there were some gems regardless, like his acquisitions of Tim Hudson (for a fourth outfielder and a middle reliever), Rafael Soriano (for Horcaio Ramirez) and Edgar Renteria (for Andy Marte).
Though his drafts were spotty, his last one was sublime. Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel were among the Braves’ picks in 2007.
When JS moved upstairs in 2007 there was no questioning whether he left the Braves in better shape than he found them. Sure, there were regrettable trades but every GM has those. JS kept the franchise competitive despite almost constant roster churn. And, unlike his successor, he never saddled the Braves with an onerous contract. Never.
Though I curse his name every time I watch Wainwright twirl another masterpiece, Schuerholz ranks highest on our list.