Trade launches Hoffman’s historic run in San Diego

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Janey Murray

When the Padres completed the trade that brought Trevor Hoffman to San Diego, at first, Padres fans were not happy.

The team was 20½ games out of first place, and on June 24, 1993, in what was seen as a cost-cutting measure, San Diego dealt star third baseman and defending NL batting champion Gary Sheffield to Florida along with pitcher Rich Rodriguez in exchange for three pitching prospects: Andrés Berumen, José Martínez and Hoffman, an infielder-turned-reliever.

“We’re not happy where we are,” Padres general manager Randy Smith told the Californian. “We feel the quickest way to turn around a club is with pitching and defense, and we feel we got three quality arms.”

Criticism of the front office was rampant following the trade. A couple who were Padres season ticket holders even filed a class-action lawsuit against the team in response, claiming false advertising because a letter the team sent prior to the season listed Sheffield as one of their top players.

But little did anyone know that San Diego had just acquired a pitcher who would become a cornerstone of their franchise for the next 16 years and one of the game’s greatest closers.

Hoffman was midway through his first big league season at the time, having recorded two saves and posted a 3.28 ERA over 35.2 innings pitched with the Marlins prior to the trade.

He began his professional career with the Cincinnati Reds, who selected him in the 11th round of the 1989 draft as a shortstop before he switched to pitching while in the minor leagues. The Reds left him unprotected in the 1992 Expansion Draft, when he was picked up by the Marlins.

Then-Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski acknowledged Hoffman’s value at the time of the trade, noting that they had hoped to hang on to him.

“We tried not to include Trevor Hoffman in the deal,” Dombrowski told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “But we could not make the deal unless Trevor Hoffman was included.”

In coming to San Diego, Hoffman became teammates with Tony Gwynn, who was in the 12th year of his 20-year Hall of Fame career with the Padres. Gwynn could see the potential Hoffman brought to the table.

“[Hoffman] is going to be a good pitcher,” Gwynn told the Associated Press. “He’s a high-powered guy at 93-94 [mph]. He’s young. And he fits in the budget, and these days that’s an important factor.”

The right-hander struggled initially upon his arrival in San Diego, surrendering three runs on four hits in his first inning of work for the Friars. The pressure to perform that followed the trade was palpable to Hoffman.

“It’s in the back of my mind – I know Gary was a popular player here,” Hoffman told the Escondido Times Advocate. “I’m not trying to step in and fill his shoes. Luckily, I’m not a third baseman.”

But Hoffman began to come into his own the following season, collecting 20 saves and posting a 2.57 ERA in 1994. And over his 16 years in San Diego, he would do more than enough to prove critics of the trade wrong. He was a two-time runner up for the NL Cy Young Award, helped the Padres reach the World Series in 1998 and set a new all-time saves record in 2006.

After an 18-year career, Hoffman retired in 2010 with 601 saves – a record that would stand until Mariano Rivera surpassed him in 2011, and remains second all time.

Hoffman was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.


Janey Murray was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series