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Red Sox Trade Lookback: Jose Canseco traded back to Oakland for John Wasdin

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Way back Wasdin, that is.

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John Wasdin #46

As I talked about last weekend, we are going to try to be covering more history with the Boston Red Sox with notable anniversaries around the team. That was within a 25th anniversary post about the signing of Steve Avery, and we’re going back to that year with another big transaction to try and bolster the pitching staff.

But before we get to that, we should start with the original acquisition of Jose Canseco, who would be the departing portion of this trade, and really the more famous side of it. In fact, by the time the Red Sox acquired the slugger prior to the 1995 season he was already established as one of the biggest names in the sport and was in the back half of his career. Coming off a big season with the Texas Rangers, Canseco was traded to a Red Sox team looking to make a playoff push.

The bad news for Canseco in Boston was that he had some issues staying healthy. He missed a significant time in the first half of that 1995 season and then another big chunk in the latter portion of the ‘96 campaign, and by the end of his two seasons with the Red Sox he had only played 198 games in those seasons. Even so, he was one of the better hitters in the game over that stretch.

But after the 1996 season, the Red Sox were looking to take that next step. They had made the postseason in ‘95 and won 85 games in ‘96, but they were still coming up shy of where they needed to be. Most notably in that 1996 season, they just didn’t have the pitching. So, as we talked about last weekend, they signed Steve Avery to try and bolster their rotation, but that wasn’t the only move.

After the Red Sox fired manager Kevin Kennedy, who was friends with Canseco, following the 1996 season, the slugger requested a trade out of Boston. It took some time for the deal to come together, and after all of the injuries the Oakland Athletics needed Canseco to undergo a physical, but eventually the Red Sox got a young pitcher they’d hoped would help usher in a new era at Fenway. John Wasdin wasn’t that, but he was probably better than you remember.

Wasdin wasn’t exactly a huge name coming back to Boston in that trade, and nationally the story was clearly much more focused on Canseco going back to Oakland where his career started and most flourished. But he also wasn’t a nothing return. He was one of the better young arms in the league, a former first round selection who had made two appearances on the Baseball America top 100 list.

Unfortunately, he never blossomed into a start caliber pitcher for the Red Sox. In fact, those of you around in the 90s I’m sure immediately think of “Way Back Wasdin” when you hear the name. That nickname was not unearned, to be fair, as the righty regularly put up home run rates that would easily eclipse the league-average during that era. That said, he was a fairly reliable reliever during his three-and-a-half-year stint in Boston. After adjusting for park effects, by FanGraphs’ measures Wasdin finished his Red Sox career two percent better than league-average by ERA, and despite the propensity for home runs only five percent worse by FIP.

After starting the season with the Red Sox in the 2000 season, Boston decided to send Wasdin back out west to the Colorado Rockies to get more veteran help in return. It was part of a large deadline trade that also included Jeff Frye and another former top prospect in Brian Rose going to Colorado, with the Red Sox getting Rolando Arrojo and Mike Lansing as part of the return package. That trade didn’t quite work out for either side, and the Red Sox would break up a two-year postseason streak that season.

As for Wasdin, he bounced around the league for a decently long career, but he was never really able to latch on anywhere as more than a depth pitcher on the roster. By the end of his career he’d pitched for Oakland, Boston, Colorado, Baltimore, Toronto, Texas, and Pittsburgh.

It would be a few more years before the Red Sox took that next step they were looking for following that 1996 season, and Wasdin is unfortunately known most for a nickname in reference to how many home runs he allowed. But given that the team was in a position where they had no choice but to trade an oft-injured player in Canseco who was demanding a deal, getting a pitcher like Wasdin who could serve in multiple roles and pitch like an average pitcher is not a terrible get.