I remember this trade quite well. The Padres dipped into the foreign market, and scored the rights to Japanese star Hideki Irabu, who was supposed to be the “Japanese Nolan Ryan.” Well, as it turns out, Irabu had no interest in playing for the hometown nine, and wanted to play for the Yankees. Ultimately, the Padres granted Irabu his request, and sent him to New York. In return, the Padres received $3 million in cash, and top prospects Ruben Rivera and Rafael Medina. Both players played a significant role in Padres history.
Medina never pitched for the Padres, but was traded to Florida, along with Derrick Lee, for Kevin Brown. Brown helped the Padres win the pennant in 1998, and Rivera was supposed to be a star, as he once drew comparisons to Mickey Mantle. Rivera was maddening in his Padre career. The guy had ridiculous power–I still remember Rivera taking a 68 mph curve, and hitting a 468 foot bomb at Veterans Stadium. He hit 23 bombs in 1999, and 17 more in 1999. However, in those two seasons Rivera hit a pathetic .201. Ultimately, the Padres cut ties with Rivera, prior to the 2001 season.
In my years of following the team, Rivera was one of the most frustrating players I ever watched. The guy was strong, fast, and looking at the tools that he brought to the table, he should have been a star. He would strike out at a Mark Reynolds-like pace for weeks on end, and just when you were about to give up on him, he would hit bombs that few other Padres could match. I hoped that he would become the star that many prospect guru’s predicted.
While Rivera flamed out, he is more famous for stealing possessions of Derek Jeter, and attempting to sell them–a move that led to his exile from the Yankees clubhouse. Rivera has since bounced around in the Mexican League, and is still playing ball, at the age of 38. Obviously, his days playing in the big leagues are done, but he is still collecting a check in professional baseball.
Irabu never panned out in New York, and he tragically committed suicide last year, so neither team got a big return from this deal. I will always remember Rivera, however, as one of the most baffling players in Padres history.