Gammons: Good, bad and ugly of trades
In the end, Deadline deals typically don't bring the big prize
The intent in trading three pitching prospects for Cliff Lee was simple: The Texas Rangers have never won a playoff series in their history -- dating back to 1961 when they were an expansion team in Washington -- and Lee gives them a chance to do that in 2010.
Roy Oswalt, Ted Lilly, Jayson Werth, Adam Dunn and Dan Haren can get teams to the playoffs and beyond, just the way David DeJesus could have until he hurt his thumb Thursday night in Yankee Stadium.
It seems more frenetic in these times because of the expansion of media, where rumors and discussions and theories become baseball's green flies. Some are real, some not. "There was one story that we've 'discussed' four different players," says one National League club official. "Sure. Along with 760 other players we've 'discussed."
That's just the way it is. Could Werth be a tipping point between Tampa Bay and Boston for the American League Wild Card? Possibly. Then comes the question of whether two prospects and what it will cost to sign Werth away from free agency fits, especially in a place like Tampa Bay, where prospects may be plentiful but revenues are not and Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena can be free agents at the end of the season.
With time to spare before the July 31 4 p.m. ET deadline -- which will be followed by an August of waiver claims -- the substantive discussions probably won't occur until Wednesday or Thursday. For now, with the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Phillies and other contenders in on reliever Scott Downs, why shouldn't Jays GM Alex Anthopolous be asking for Jose Iglesisus or Wilmer Flores, for now; that will likely change by Thursday.
"It's like buying a house," says another GM. "For all but a handful of elite players, by Thursday or even Saturday afternoon we'll all know what the final price is. By then, the Marlins, for instance, will have a better knowledge of whether they're in or out and what they can realistically get for Cody Ross, knowing he is probably a non-tender. The Red Sox may have given up on a couple of other outfielders and take Jeff Francoeur for Ramon Ramirez. Oswalt may decide he'll trade off his leverage to play in St. Louis. Oakland may bail out on Ben Sheets' contract."
John Dewan and the brilliant folks at ACTA Sports took a piece from Doug Decvateur's "Traded: Inside the Most Lopsided Trades in Baseball History." It points out that 14 of Decateur's 50 worst trades of all-time occurred at the Trade deadline (which used to be June 15), and that of those deals, the only one in which trading prospects actually produced a pennant was in 1910. And the deal for Bris Lord cost the Philadelphia Athletics a prospect named Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Indeed, many of Decateur's worst deals were bad trades. In 1990, the Red Sox panicked when Jeff Reardon went down and traded Jeff Bagwell for middle reliever Larry Andersen, who got one save in four opportunities for Boston before Reardon returned, as Bagwell went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Astros.
In 1989, the Rangers traded Sammy Sosa for Harold Baines. In 1996, the Mets traded Jeff Kent to Cleveland for Carlos Baerga. In 1964, the Cubs traded Lou Brock to the Cardinals for Ernie Broglio; St. Louis got the prospect Hall of Fame player and won the World Series that year, as well as in 1967. In 1997, after blowing a horrific game at Fenway Park, the Mariners traded Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe to the Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb.
But some of those "bad" deals were with good intentions. In 1989, the Expos were trying to make their franchise relevant and traded with Seattle for Mark Langston at the cost of Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris. They actually got into first place for a while, but fell back, but Langston pitched brilliantly, going 12-9 with a 2.39 ERA before leaving for the Angels as a free agent. The Expos had one, brief, shining rise in 1994, only to have a strike effectually put an end to the franchise.
Decateur cites Boston's trade of Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson to Baltimore for Mike Boddicker as the worst Deadline trade of all-time, but when it was made, the Red Sox were desperate for a starter to put behind Roger Clemens and Bruce Hurst and Schilling was finding himself in the Minors. Andersen became an All-Star player in Baltimore, but Schilling moved to Houston, then to Philadelphia (for Jason Grimsley) before righting himself en route to a Hall of Fame career and, eventually, three World Series rings in an eight-year run.
There even was some logic to the 1987 Doyle Alexander-John Smoltz trade. Tigers GM Bill Lajoie realized that the 10-year run of that team was nearing an end, and Alexander got them to the playoffs as Detroit went 12-0 in his starts. Smoltz was 4-10 with a 5.36 ERA in the Eastern League at the time of the trade, but Lajoie admitted that Bobby Cox and the Braves knew exactly what they were doing. And Smoltz, like Schilling, Johnson, Bagwell and Kent, will someday be signing HOF next to his name.
Johnson is a fascinating trade figure because while he helped build Safeco Field with his warrior run in 1995, his Deadline trades never resulted in a World Series ring until he signed with Arizona as a free agent. When Houston traded Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama to Seattle at the '98 Deadline for Johnson, most everyone believed the Astros were the favorites to get to the World Series. Johnson went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA for Houston, but scheduling quirks and a heroic series by Kevin Brown allowed the Padres to beat the 'Stros, win the pennant and get the public support for the financing of Petco Park.
Of course, there was the bizarre 1993 deadline discussion involving Johnson. Toronto GM Pat Gillick was working tirelessly to win a second straight World Series for the Blue Jays. He had two deals involving pitcher Steve Karsay on the final day, one for Rickey Henderson, one for Johnson. Gillick lost touch with Mariners GM Woody Woodward, who was in Florida playing golf, and when Sandy Alderson called and accepted the offer of Karsay and outfielder Jose Herrera for Henderson, Gillick decided he'd take it rather than never get the Johnson deal done and be left with nothing.
Problem is, Henderson held up the deal, asking for money to waive his no-trade rights. While they were negotiating with Rickey, Woodward called Gillick back and was willing to do Randy for Karsay and Mike Timlin. Gillick preferred the Seattle trade, but he had given Alderson his word and Gillick would never sacrifice his integrity. Rickey became a Jay, Johnson stayed, Safeco got built.
Rickey's Deadline history is fascinating. In June 1986, he went from Oakland to the Yankees for Eric Plunk, Jose Rijo, Jay Howell, Stan Javier and Tim Birtsas. In 1989, Alderson reacquired Henderson from the Yankees for Plunk, Greg Cadaret and Luis Polonia, and won the World Series. Rickey went to the Jays and won a World Series.
General managers always look back on what might have been. When the Royals had to move Carlos Beltran in 2004 because of his impending free agency, they turned down Kevin Youkilis and Kelly Shoppach and took John Buck and Mark Teahen. In March 1999, Texas had a deal in place that would have sent Ruben Mateo and two other youngsters to Toronto for Clemens, but GM Gord Ash told Rangers GM Doug Melvin that if he could get an established starter, he had to go in that direction. The Yankees gave in on David Wells, Clemens went to New York.
Indians officials say that the July that Randy Johnson went to Houston they could have had him for Brian Giles and two pitching prospects and passed, as they'd passed on Jaret Wright for Pedro Martinez; Giles eventually went for Ricardo Rincon. In 2007, when the Indians had Cliff Lee in the Minors, the Mets thought they had a deal for Phil Humber and Joe Smith, but couldn't bring themselves to trade Smith. That's OK. The Pirates later could have had Lee, Shoppach and another prospect for Jason Bay, and held on for more.
Yet, sometimes the deals teams don't make turn out right. In 1995, the Indians almost traded with the Mets for Bret Saberhagen, and instead he went to the Rockies for Juan Acevedo and Arnold Gooch; Saberhagen was never again right physically.
One of the biggest waiver deadline deals came in August 1992 when the A's sent Jose Canseco to Texas for Ruben Sierra, Jeff Russell and Bobby Witt. The idea was to, 1) get Canseco out of town, and, 2) acquire enough pitching depth for one last run in Oakland. Injuries in the bullpen killed the A's in Game 4 of the ALCS against Toronto, and on July 31, 1997, a deal that changed the eras in Oakland and St. Louis sent Mark McGwire for P.J. Matthews, Blake Stein and Eric Ludwick. That deal not only changed the business in St. Louis, it changed the sport.
Sometimes there are deals to block, as they say on Hollywood Squares. In '98, the Padres claimed Randy Myers off the waiver wire for fear he would get to the Braves, whom they might face in the playoffs. They got stuck with Myers' contract, for which he gave them 21 appearances and a 6.28 ERA.
It's easy to say that deadline deals don't win World Series, and, granted, the Yankees didn't have to do anything in-season last year because they'd so skillfully made their moves for CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira during the offseason. But could the Phillies have gotten to the World Series without Cliff Lee? Probably not. If the Dodgers had had the money to be able to make a deal without begging for money back, Lee could have pitched them into the Series.
The Braves never could have come from behind to catch the Giants in 1993 (remember, they were both in the NL West at the time) without the deal for Fred McGriff, when the Padres were in their infamous fire sale mode. There has been a lot of baggage left on Alvarado Blvd. the last 14 months, but when the Dodgers got the Red Sox to pay Manny Ramirez's salary just to get him out of town in 2008, it altered the franchise.
But going back to 1995, few winners made huge deadline deals. The 2008 Phillies traded for Joe Blanton, and while he went 4-0, he wasn't Curt Schilling. The Rays had their team in place, and their five starters were good for 153 starts. The Red Sox and Rockies in '07, Cardinals and Tigers in 2006 and White Sox and Astros in 2005 made no major Deadline splashes.
Probably the biggest Deadline deal that impacted the pennant race and World Series was when Boston traded Nomar Garciaparra and Matt Murton to acquire Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mienkiewicz on July 31, 2004 (and bought Dave Roberts from the Dodgers at the same time). The Red Sox felt they had to make the trade to improve their defense. And it did.
In 2003, the Marlins traded for Ugueth Urbina to try to win, and did, although the trade cost them Adrian Gonzalez. That same year the Yankees traded for Aaron Boone, and the Yankees won the pennant. The most significant move in 2002 was the Angels bringing Fransisco Rodriguez from the Minors in mid-September. If you scroll all the way back to 1995, the 1999 Yankees deal for David Justice (which got the Indians Jake Westbrook) had a major impact, but the rest were minor -- Mike Bordick to the 2000 Mets, Ken Hill to the '95 Indians, Darren Daulton and Craig Counsell to the '97 Marlins, Denny Neagle to the '96 Braves.
As for prospects, the best trade in the modern era was Cleveland giving the Expos Bartolo Colon for Grady Sizemore, Lee and Brandon Phillips. Getting Carlos Santana two years ago from the Dodgers because L.A. couldn't pay the remainder of Casey Blake's contract may be viewed historically. The Indians also stole Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo from the Mariners for Eduardo Perez and Ben Broussard.
David Ortiz was a 1996 Minor Leaguer to be named later in the Twins deal with the Mariners for Dave Hollins. Bagwell, Kent, Schilling, Gonzalez and Moises Alou (for Zane Smith) were all prospects thrown into deals to win for the moments.
Look back to last year. The Phillies were in on Lee and Roy Halladay, and got Lee. Boston was in on Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Lee and Victor Martinez; Toronto ownership was reluctant to trade Halladay in the division and turned down a Clay Buchholz/Josh Reddick/Justin Masterson/Nick Hagadone/Felix Doubront deal that today would seriously have depleted Boston, which eventually got Martinez.
Much was made of the Angels getting Scott Kazmir for Sean Rodriguez and Alex Torres, and now it appears it was a brilliant deal for the Rays. The Tigers were thought to have cemented the AL Central by acquiring Jared Washburn, but his knees were never the same. The White Sox thought they'd pulled a longtime coup getting Jake Peavy for Clayton Richard and three other pitchers, but Peavy's contract and health now make people in San Diego believe they made the right move.
As we've seen, the whims of the owners and club presidents who worry about the PR impact of trades -- as well as the thousands of media voices -- make these deals increasingly difficult. When Mike Flanagan was general manager of the Orioles, he had a deal in place to trade Miguel Tejada for Oswalt, only to have it die in the owner's box.
Think that would have changed some history? It certainly would have made this week different.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.