Baseball can be a cruel master, especially where the timing of transactions is concerned.

Take Rafael Vasquez, for example.

Originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates in December of 1975 at the tender age of 17, the Dominican righty made it to Triple-A Columbus for a stint in 1977.

The next year, he was a standout for the Double-A Shreveport Captains, posting a 14-9 record with a solid 3.23 ERA and 150 strikeouts in 184 innings.

Those were heady times for the Bucs, of course, as they began the decade with three division titles and a World Series crown, added a couple more NLCS appearances in the middle of the decade, and wound up the decade as the “We Are Family” world champs.

As 1978 came to an end, it looked like Vaszquez, still just 20, might soon be part of the festivities.

But then …

Well, then the Pirates traded him, along with Odell Jones and the legendary Mario Mendoza, to the Seattle Mariners in December in exchange for Rick Jones, Tom McMillan, and Enrique Romo.

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The downside was that Vasquez was leaving the only organization he had known for the bottom-dwelling climes of the Kingdome. The upside was that his path to the Majors was more clear than ever, thanks to the Mariners’ ongoing expansion pain.

Indeed, Vasquez broke camp with Seattle in 1979 and made nine appearances (all in relief) between Opening Day and May 10. The youngster managed to run up a 1-0 record in that stint. Unfortunately for Vasquez and his new team, that 1.000 winning percentage was “supported” by a 5.06 ERA and 1.813 WHIP.

The amalgamation got him shipped out to Triple-A Spokane … and then to the Cleveland Indians in December.

A year later, and after another full season in the minors, Cleveland traded Vasquez back to the Pirates as part of the deal that brought Bert Blyleven and Manny Sanguillen to the The Lake (though the Tribe released Manny in Spring Training of 1981).

Vasquez put up a decent relief season for Double-A buffalo in 1981 (4-8, 3.98 ERA, 4 saves), but he was done as a pro at 23.

Those nine games with Seattle in 1979 were enough to gain Vasquez a hunk of cardboard immortality, though — that’s him on the righthand side of 1980 Topps #672, the one titled “Mariners Future Stars.”

It’s fun to snicker at cards like this when you look at Vasquez’s meager record and try to reconcile that with the idea Topps considered him a “future star.”

Considering his card mates on that one, Charlie Beamon and Rodney Craig, combined for -1.5 WAR over a total of seven Major League seasons, though, Vasquez’s 0.1 makes him look like Max Scherzer in comparison.

So, maybe in the context of those early Mariners, Vasquez really was a star.