Kind of ironic that on Veterans Day, 1997, the Devil Rays traded a player who would up being a 13-year MLB veteran for a player who lasted just a year in the big leagues following the trade. On November 11th, 1997, the Rays acquired outfielder Mike Kelly from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for a player to be named. That player to be named happens to be someone you may remember: outfielder Dmitri Young, who the Rays selected in the Expansion Draft. Why did the Devil Rays od the trade? The exact opposite of cherishing our nation’s history, a small sample size.
Young was the 4th overall pick in the 1991 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals and did nothing but hit as he worked up the minor league ranks. In 1996 as a 22 year old at Triple-A Louisville, Young posted a .333/.378/.534 line with 31 doubles, 8 triples, 15 homers, 64 RBI, 15 of 21 stolen bases, and just 67 strikeouts against 34 walks in 122 games and 497 plate appearances. He did scuffle a bit in his first extended big league in 1997, posting a .258/.335/.363 line with 14 doubles, 5 homers, 34 RBI, 6 of 11 stolen bases, and 63 strikeouts versus 38 walks in 110 games and 377 plate appearances.
Kelly on the other hand, was drafted 2 picks ahead of Young in the 1991 MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves and had never really hit. That was evident from his first full pro season in 1992, when Young slammed 25 homers and stole 22 bases from Double-A Greenville but managed just a .229/.328/.444 line, striking out 162 times versus just 65 walks. After Young managed just decent performance in 1994, posting a .262/.334/.476 line as a 24 year old at Triple-A Richmond with 15 homers and 9 stolen bases but 96 strikeouts versus 32 walks in 82 games, the Braves called him up hoping that his power-speed potential would come together in the big leagues, but it did not. In 233 plate appearances for the Braves between 1994 and 1995, Kelly managed just a .220/.273/.383 line with 16 doubles, 5 homers, and 7 stolen bases, striking out 66 times against just 14 walks. The Braves traded Kelly to the Reds and Kelly had a terrible 1996, managing just a .209/.287/.332 line in 329 Triple-A plate appearances. But then in 1997 at age 27, Kelly finally had a good year, posting a .349/.441/.645 line with 10 homers, 10 stolen bases, and 39 strikeouts versus 26 walks in 179 plate appearances splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A, and then Kelly continued his good hitting into the big leagues, posting a .293/.338/.543 line with 13 doubles, 6 homers, 19 RBI, 6 of 7 stolen bases, and 30 strikeouts against 10 walks in 73 games and 151 plate appearances.
Why did the D-Rays trade Dmitri Young for Mike Kelly? One season, 1997. Kelly was 4 years older than Young and had a fluky breakout season, and Chuck LaMar and the Devil Rays fell for the shiny numbers. At least the D-Rays’ move was based in history- Kelly had the same given first name, Mike, as Hall of Famer King Kelly- although King Kelly was mashing in the big leagues by 21 years old and dead by 36, so that may not be the best match.
How did this trade turn out? Badly for the Devil Rays. Kelly posted a .240/.295/.401 line for the D-Rays in their inaugural season with 11 doubles, 1o homers, 33 RBI, 13 of 19 stolen bases, and 80 strikeouts versus 22 walks in 106 games and 303 plate appearances. Kelly was released by the D-Rays in April of 1999 and out of baseball after just 2 plate appearances with the Rockies that season. Young, meanwhile, posted a .304/.353/.488 line (111 OPS+) for the Reds over the next 4 seasons, averaging 17 homers and 74 RBI per year, and finished his solid 13-year big league career with 2 All-Star appearances, a .292 average, and 171 home runs. The Rays would draft his younger brother Delmon Young first overall in 2005 and also traded him- but in that circumstance they knew what they were doing and received two players in Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett who would help shape the future of their franchise.
On this Veterans Day (and tomorrow, when you have your day off), remember to cherish the soldiers who have fought valiantly to keep America the country we know and love. And if you need a baseball message to lighten the tone a little bit, remember to view the complete picture on players and not depend on small sample sizes. Our country was not built on just one war or one great president but continued success. The same is true with the baseball players who have made America’s pastime something special for us to behold every single season.