Chicago Cubs: Two stars you can’t help but wonder about – even now
#2 Rafael Palmeiro (1985/1), 71.9 career WAR
There’s no argument about Palmeiro: He is easily the best eligible first baseman not in the Hall. And there’s no mystery regarding his exclusion: He’s perceived as putting too many things in his body with long names ending in “-one.” But of the Cubs’ 99 problems, Raffy surely ain’t one; they dispatched him to the Republic of Texas after the 1988 season, long before ‘roids were a thing.
That was, in retrospect, a trade of Brock-Broglian proportions. The major leaguers the Cubs got in return were – and sensitive readers may wish to look away here – Mitch Williams, Steve Wilson, Paul Kilgus, and Curtis Wilkerson.
Yikes. These guys combined to contribute -0.2 WAR (yes, that little dash is a minus sign) to the Cubs during their stay on the North Side. Only Williams made a positive contribution, and only at the price of shortening the life of any teammate or fan who watched him pitch as though he were facing a giraffe’s strike zone.
As with Brock, the sin wasn’t trading Palmeiro. The Cubs had good young players ready to serve at the only two positions Palmeiro could credibly play: first (Mark Grace) and left (Dwight Smith). The sin was getting so little in return. The Cubs needed pitching, and while we don’t know what other offers GM Jim Frey might have had, trading Palmeiro for one better pitcher would have been more optimal than trading for three shaky ones.
#1 Greg Maddux (1984/2), 106.6 career WAR
Ten demerits if you didn’t guess this one. The Cubs decided they really didn’t need Greg Maddux after his absolutely filthy 1992 season. He was then just 26 years old and already the 19th best Cubs pitcher of all time. During his first shift with the Cubs, Maddux had a 3.35 ERA, 114 ERA+, 95 wins, and 26.4 WAR (that put him just behind Bill Hands). Maddux would finish as the 11th best Cubs hurler, after earning his Hall of Fame spurs in another city with a really busy airport.