Appreciating John Schuerholz

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 JS 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.

But from then on, there would be no disputing JS’ HOF credentials.

His first moves as Braves GM didn’t inspire much confidence. Hard to get excited about signing Sid Bream (the white James Loney), 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, Berenguer saved 17 with a 0.979 WHIP and Otis led the league in steals. When Berenguer was sidelined by injury, JS swapped a couple of scrubs for Alejandro Pena, who was even better than Senor Smoke.

It would be six years before he’d make a bad deal.

Over a span of two days in March 1997 Schuerholz made two deals that would haunt the Braves, exchanging 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. But 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 falling short in his pursuit of Brady Anderson, he instead signed the Big Cat; Galarraga finished the year with a .991 OPS. JS 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, who became 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 he still pulled off some nifty heists, acquiring Tim Hudson (for a fourth outfielder and a middle reliever), Rafael Soriano (for Horacio 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. Despite an almost constant roster churn, he kept the franchise competitive. And, unlike his successors, he never saddled the Braves with an onerous contract. Never.

Sure, we’ve quibbled with his people skills and criticized his stint as the team’s president. But there’s no denying JS belongs in Cooperstown.

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