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OC Register: Alexander: SoCal’s all-time blockbuster deals

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The Rams’ deal for pass rusher extraordinaire Von Miller this week reiterated a fact of life in Southern California professional sports, as we noted at the time: Teams and executives that truly understand this market and its demands aren’t afraid to swing for the fences, to go bold in acquiring franchise talent rather than remaining meek and hoping that developing their own will be enough.

There’s a long history of it in this market. But which are the most consequential deals, the ones that had the greatest impact on their teams, their region or their sport? We’ve got the list, in order of relevance. It will probably start some arguments, but isn’t that the point of a good list?

The top 10:

Wayne Gretzky to the Kings, 1988: The trade was Gretzky, Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski from Edmonton to Los Angeles for Jim Carson, Martin Gelinas, cash and first-round picks in 1989, ’91 and ’93. None of the picks made an impact. Carson and Gelinas were mildly successful. Meanwhile, all Gretzky did was rejuvenate the Kings franchise and make hockey relevant here. Without Gretzky, there are no Anaheim Ducks, and there might be no Staples Center. (That makes up for the fact the Gretzky Kings only got to the Stanley Cup Final once and, maybe, were one illegal stick away from beating Montreal.)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers, 1975: The trade: Kareem and Walt Wesley from Milwaukee for Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith and Brian Winters. Out of that group, there was one Hall of Famer. It’s part of a Laker tradition – find the best big man available and bring him home. Kareem was a big city guy (grew up in New York, went to UCLA), and SoCal was a far better fit than the upper Midwest. And, after Magic Johnson got here, Kareem won five rings in L.A.

Shaq and Kobe to the Lakers, 1996: It was a two-part transaction: Shaquille O’Neal coming to L.A. as a free agent and incumbent center Vlade Divac being traded to Charlotte for the draft pick that would become Kobe Bryant. The stress involved put GM Jerry West in the hospital for exhaustion, and the path wasn’t always smooth after the two joined forces in L.A., but they eventually won three straight titles together from 2000-02 and Kobe added two more at the end of the decade.

David Beckham to the Galaxy, 2007: The Galaxy’s signing of the international superstar changed the trajectory of Major League Soccer. The league’s “designated player” rule, allowing certain players’ salaries to not count against the salary cap, was devised first of all for Beckham’s benefit and later used to bring other international superstars to these shores. Here, too, there was turbulence, specifically involving Beckham and domestic superstar Landon Donovan, but toward the end of his six-season run, the Galaxy was the class of the league and won back-to-back titles in 2011 and ’12. (And now both Beckham and Donovan have statues in front of the Galaxy’s stadium in Carson.)

Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, 2020: After all of those occasions when Andrew Friedman kicked the tires on various deals but couldn’t close, it shocked Dodger fans when he pulled this one off in January of ’20: Betts, entering his walk year, from Boston with David Price for Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong. Then it shocked the fans even more when, on the eve of the pandemic-delayed season, the Dodgers signed Betts to a 12-year contract. Our theory always has been that with a long-term contract, if you win a championship early in that process it’s already paid off. Betts took care of that the first year, and he should remain an impact player for some time.

Nolan Ryan to the Angels, 1971: Angel fans didn’t see much upside at the time when the franchise’s most popular player, Jim Fregosi, was sent to the New York Mets at the Winter Meetings for outfielder Leroy Stanton, minor league catcher Frank Estrada and a young pitcher with control issues. The latter not only solved those issues on his way to the Hall of Fame but was baseball’s most dominant pitcher during the ’70s and made Anaheim Stadium the place to be every fourth day.

Kirk Gibson to the Dodgers, 1988: One swing of the bat made that deal relevant, of course. But Gibson’s impact on the ’88 champs, both in production and leadership, is only part of the story. It reversed a trend. The O’Malley Dodgers had plunged into the free-agent market nearly a decade before (Dave Goltz and Don Stanhouse) and been burned, and in the ensuing years passed on the open market. Gibson, awarded free agency by an arbitrator in a collusion case, was worth the risk – but General Manager Fred Claire had to, and did, convince Peter O’Malley.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis to the Lakers, 2018-19: Let’s consider these deals joined at the hip. Magic Johnson, then part of the team’s basketball decision-makers, sold LeBron on his vision for bringing the Lakers back to life. James’ buy-in led to the three-team trade the following summer that brought Davis to L.A. from New Orleans for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, De’Andre Hunter, cash and a slew of draft picks. The Lakers have gotten one title out of it, and they’re still taking big swings.

Teemu Selanne to the Ducks, ’96 and ’05: Selanne is so identified with the Ducks and so much a part of the Orange County community, we forget the Anaheim club had to reacquire him. They got him the first time in trade with the first version of the Winnipeg Jets (the franchise now in Arizona) in February of 1996, trading Chad Kilger, Oleg Tverdovsky and a third-round pick and also getting Marc Chouinard in the deal. Selanne and Paul Kariya became a dynamic duo, but in a classic what-were-they-thinking move the Ducks traded Selanne to San Jose in 2001 for a second-round pick. He returned as a free agent in 2005, was an integral part of the team’s Stanely Cup title in ’07, held the franchise’s scoring record until just a few days ago and has his No. 8 in the rafters at Honda Center.

Vladimir Guerrero to the Angels, 2004: Arte Moreno’s club has missed on a few over the last decade or so, but this was his first major acquisition after acquiring control of the team and he didn’t miss, stealthily stalking and signing free agent outfielder Guerrero, a four-time All-Star with Montreal, while the neighboring Dodgers were still sorting out their ownership situation. Guerrero led the league in runs scored and was voted the American League MVP in his first Angel season and was part of five playoff teams in six seasons in Anaheim. Since then? We won’t discuss it.


@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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The Ryan for Fregosi trade was a blockbuster trade only in hindsight. At the time, Fregosi  was over his prime. He really couldn't play ss going forward. So the Met's got him to play 3base. Ryan had only had a cup of coffee at the big league level. He was known to have potential but had a lot of trouble throwing strikes. Stanton was needed because the Angels offense was so weak. I think he led the team with 15 hr's.

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