No Big Time Acquisition at the Trade Deadline? No Problem: Part I

By: J. Scott Smith

By all accounts, the 2013 non-waiver trading deadline was one of the worst in recent memory.  No superstar player changed hands to give your team that number one starter or number three hitter in the lineup to put your team over the hump and into World Series contention.  No Mannywood in LA, the Unit in Houston, Teixeria in Atlanta, or CC in Milwaukee.  Yet, this could be a blessing in disguise for GMs of contending teams because each of those major deals that I just mentioned resulted in a total of zero World Series titles.  Furthermore, none of these teams even played in the World Series.  The reason why these teams never won a World Series is precisely because they needed to make a huge deal at the trading deadline.  If you’re looking for a number one starter or a number three hitter at the deadline, your team has major flaws. However, if you’re a team looking for a defensive outfielder, a pinch hitter, or an extra-bullpen arm, you’re probably a team looking to sure up minor problems, which is a good sign (Part II to come later).

To begin, let’s look at those four major deals that were supposed to ascend these teams to World Series champions.

Mannywood

At the 2008 non-waiver deadline, Manny Ramirez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-team deal with the Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Pirates were hoarding prospects and players, receiving 3B Andy LaRoche and RHP Bryan Morris from the Dodgers and OF Brandon Moss and RHP Craig Hansen from the Red Sox.  The Red Sox received Jason Bay from the Pirates, who played really well for the Red Sox down the stretch and in 2009.  Most importantly, the Red Sox removed Manny from their clubhouse.  On the other hand, the Dodgers received probably the best right-handed (juice-enabled) hitter of his generation.  And did Manny ever deliver down the stretch:

Year

Team

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

K

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

2008

LAD

53

187

36

74

14

0

17

53

35

38

2

.396

.489

.743

1.232

September 1, 2008 Standings:

WEST

W

L

PCT

GB

HOME

ROAD

RS

RA

DIFF

STRK

Arizona

57

52

.523

30-22

27-30

493

464

+29

Won 4

LA
Dodgers

54

55

.495

3

30-27

24-28

451

433

+18

Lost 2

Colorado

50

61

.450

8

31-22

19-39

517

571

-54

Won 1

San
Francisco

45

63

.417

11.5

20-34

25-29

422

507

-85

Won 1

San
Diego

42

68

.382

15.5

24-33

18-35

416

527

-111

Lost 3

October 1, 2008 Standings:

WEST

W

L

PCT

GB

HOME

ROAD

RS

RA

DIFF

STRK

x-LA
Dodgers

84

78

.519

48-33

36-45

700

648

+52

Lost 1

Arizona

82

80

.506

2

48-33

34-47

720

706

+14

Won 3

Colorado

74

88

.457

10

43-38

31-50

747

822

-75

Lost 3

San
Francisco

72

90

.444

12

37-44

35-46

640

759

-119

Won 1

San
Diego

63

99

.389

21

35-46

28-53

637

764

-127

Lost 1

Clearly the NL West was a really weak division, but Manny absolutely gave the Dodgers the offensive lift they needed to win the West.  And as good as he was in the regular season, Manny was even better in the playoffs:

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

Series

Opp

Rslt

G

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

2008

36

LAD

NL

NLDS

CHC

W

3

10

5

0

0

2

3

0

4

3

.500

.643

1.100

1.743

2008

36

LAD

NL

NLCS

PHI

L

5

15

8

2

0

2

7

0

7

1

.533

.682

1.067

1.748

Manny was incredible in the playoffs (1.74 OPS in both rounds!), but the 2008 Phillies were a 92-win team and had their own juggernaut offense behind Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth.  The Phillies made quick work of the Dodgers, winning the NLCS in five games and went on to win the World Series.  Manny could carry the Dodgers to the playoffs, but Phillies were clearly the superior team.

The Unit in Houston

Just minutes before the 1998 trade deadline ended, Randy Johnson was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Houston Astros for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and a player to be named later (John Halama).  Johnson was available because the Mariners did not want to invest the money necessary to re-sign their ace to an extension.  Johnson, who was having a down season for the Mariners, was unhittable down the stretch for the Astros:

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

W

L

W-L%

ERA

G

GS

GF

CG

SHO

SV

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

1998

34

TOT

MLB

19

11

.633

3.28

34

34

0

10

6

0

244.1

203

102

89

23

86

329

1998

34

SEA

AL

9

10

.474

4.33

23

23

0

6

2

0

160.0

146

90

77

19

60

213

1998

34

HOU

NL

10

1

.909

1.28

11

11

0

4

4

0

84.1

57

12

12

4

26

116

August 1, 1998 Standings:

Central

W

L

PCT

GB

L10

STRK

HOME

ROAD

Houston Astros

66

44

.600

7-3

W2

34-18

32-26

Chicago Cubs

63

48

.568

3.5

6-4

W2

39-20

24-28

Milwaukee Brewers

55

55

.500

11.0

5-5

L3

28-31

27-24

St. Louis Cardinals

51

58

.468

14.5

5-5

L1

29-23

22-35

Pittsburgh Pirates

50

60

.455

16.0

4-6

L2

30-28

20-32

Cincinnati Reds

49

62

.441

17.5

4-6

W2

21-31

28-31

September 28, 1998 Standings:

Central

W

L

PCT

GB

L10

STRK

HOME

ROAD

y-Houston Astros

102

60

.630

5-5

W1

55-26

47-34

w-Chicago Cubs

90

73

.552

12.5

4-6

W1

51-31

39-42

St. Louis Cardinals

83

79

.512

19.0

8-2

W1

48-34

35-45

Cincinnati Reds

77

85

.475

25.0

7-3

W3

39-42

38-43

Milwaukee Brewers

74

88

.457

28.0

3-7

L1

38-43

36-45

Pittsburgh Pirates

69

93

.426

33.0

1-9

L8

40-40

29-53

The Astros were swept in 1997 by the Braves in the NLDS and the Johnson deal sought to place the Astros as the elite team in the NL.  Yet, the NL was stacked in 1998, with a 106-win Atlanta Braves team and a 98-win San Diego Padres team that the Astros faced in the NLDS.  Even though Randy pitched extremely well in the NLDS, the Padres’ pitching was dominant.  Game one of the NLDS illustrates the Padres’ pitching dominance as Kevin Brown spun one of the best postseason starts in NL history.

Pitching

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

ERA

BF

Pit

Str

Kevin Brown,
W (1-0)

8

2

0

0

2

16

0

0.00

28

119

77

Pitching

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

ERA

BF

Pit

Str

Randy Johnson, L (0-1)

8

9

2

2

1

9

1

2.25

33

106

78

One could argue the Astros might not have been a “flawed” team, but they certainly were a consistently underachieving playoff team. The Astros lineup featuring Moises Alou, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Derek Bell should have score more than eight runs (five in game two) in an entire series.  Comparing Alou and the “Killer B’s” production during the 1998 NLDS vs the regular season is striking:

Playoff Series Stats

 

Regular Season Stats

G

AB

R

H

HR

RBI

SO

BA

OPS

SB

 

G

AB

R

H

HR

RBI

BA

OPS

SB

Moises Alou

4

16

0

3

0

0

2

.188

.375

0

 

159

584

104

182

38

124

.312

.981

11

Jeff Bagwell

4

14

0

2

0

4

6

.143

.393

0

 

147

540

124

164

34

111

.304

.981

19

Derek Bell

4

16

1

2

1

1

7

.125

.438

0

 

156

630

111

198

22

108

.314

.855

13

Craig Biggio

4

11

3

2

0

1

4

.182

.743

0

 

160

646

123

210

20

88

.325

.906

50

The best example of the Astros’ anemic offense is seen through game four of the NLDS. Here are the starting pitching lines:

Pitching

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Pit

Str

Randy
Johnson
, L (0-2)

6

3

2

1

1

8

1.93

78

56

Pitching

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Pit

Str

Sterling
Hitchcock
, W (1-0)

6

3

1

1

0

11

1.50

79

53

Yes, you read that right; Sterling Hitchcock outpitched Randy Johnson in game four.  On short rest, the Unit gave the Astros a chance to force a decisive game five back in Houston, but the Astros just couldn’t score.  A combination of the Padres’ pitching and the Astros’ hitters pressing led to the end of the Astros 1998 season. Their real mistake was not re-signing Randy Johnson who would only go on to win the next four Cy Young awards and a World Series MVP with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Teixeira in Atlanta

At the July 31st, 2007 non-waiver trading deadline, the Atlanta Braves acquired first baseman Mark Teixeira from the Texas Rangers for C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, SS Elvis Andrus, and three pitchers: RHP Neftali Feliz, LHP Matt Harrison and LHP Beau Jones.  The now-infamous trade has been linked to the Rangers’ resurgence as a perennial AL contender and as Major League Baseball’s version of the Hershel Walker deal in the NFL. GM’s allegedly refer to the deal when talented veterans are available at the trading deadline: “He’s available for a Teixeira-type deal.”

As a life-long Braves fan, I’m a fan of trying to win now.  But when the deal was made I said, “If they win the World Series it’s a great deal.  If they don’t win it’s a terrible deal.”  Teixeira held up his end of the trade, mashing the ball down the stretch.

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

2007

27

TOT

MLB

132

494

86

151

33

2

30

105

72

112

.306

.400

.563

.963

2007

27

TEX

AL

78

286

48

85

24

1

13

49

45

66

.297

.397

.524

.921

2007

27

ATL

NL

54

208

38

66

9

1

17

56

27

46

.317

.404

.615

1.020

 

August 1, 2007 Standings:

EAST

W

L

PCT

GB

HOME

ROAD

RS

RA

DIFF

STRK

NY Mets

60

47

.561

30-23

30-24

491

453

+38

Won 1

Atlanta

57

51

.528

3.5

29-26

28-25

530

485

+45

Won 3

Philadelphia

56

51

.523

4

29-23

27-28

582

541

+41

Lost 2

Florida

50

58

.463

10.5

24-30

26-28

524

557

-33

Won 1

Washington

47

60

.439

13

26-29

21-31

411

511

-100

Won 2

September 1, 2007 Standings:

EAST

W

L

PCT

GB

HOME

ROAD

RS

RA

DIFF

STRK

NY Mets

75

60

.556

35-30

40-30

652

592

+60

Won 2

Philadelphia

72

63

.533

3

39-29

33-34

742

693

+49

Lost 1

Atlanta

69

67

.507

6.5

34-33

35-34

679

635

+44

Lost 2

Washington

59

77

.434

16.5

32-35

27-42

539

642

-103

Won 1

Florida

59

77

.434

16.5

29-41

30-36

658

733

-75

Won 1

October 1, 2007 Standings:

EAST

W

L

PCT

GB

HOME

ROAD

RS

RA

DIFF

STRK

x-Philadelphia

89

73

.549

47-34

42-39

892

821

+71

Won 1

NY Mets

88

74

.543

1

41-40

47-34

804

750

+54

Lost 1

Atlanta

84

78

.519

5

44-37

40-41

810

733

+77

Lost 2

Washington

73

89

.451

16

40-41

33-48

673

783

-110

Lost 1

Florida

71

91

.438

18

36-45

35-46

790

891

-101

Won 1

The Braves went 13-15 in August and were essentially eliminated from playoff contention. The addition of Teixeira certainly boosted production out of the cleanup spot, but the Braves’ starting rotation was mired by three number five starters in Chuck James (4.24 ERA), Buddy Carlyle (5.21 ERA), and Kyle Davies (5.76 ERA).  The Braves needed more than a cleanup hitter, they needed at least one, if not two serviceable starting pitchers.  Moreover, Teixeira only played 154 total games for the Braves as he was subsequently traded to the Los Angeles Angels the next season for journeyman 1B Casey Kotchman and RHP Stephen Marek who consequently never made it to the major leagues.  Like the Houston Astros with Randy Johnson, the Braves erred by not signing Teixeira to an extension.  If you won’t re-sign Teixeira, don’t trade for him.

CC in Milwaukee

On July 8th, 2008, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired CC Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians for four prospects, 1B/OF Matt LaPorta, LHP Zach Johnson, RHP Rob Bryson, and a player to be named later (OF Michael Brantley).  With more than two weeks before the trading deadline, the deal prompted Brewers GM Doug Melvin to proclaim, “I’d say we’re going for it. That’s the way I look at it.”  The Brewers sought to pair CC with Ben Sheets as their 1 and 1A starters for a deep-postseason run much like Diamondbacks had made with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.  CC was ridiculous during the second-half with the Brewers, amassing a 4.6 WAR in just three months.  As J. P. Breen of Fangraphs noted:

Perhaps the trade is best defined for the Brewers by Sabathia’s performance on the last day of the 2008 regular season: September 28. On his third-consecutive start on just three day’s rest, he threw a complete game four-hitter against the Chicago Cubs. He struck out seven and only gave up a single unearned run.

Needless to say, CC was brilliant:

Year

Tm

W

L

W-L%

ERA

G

CG

SHO

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

WHIP

2008

TOT

17

10

.630

2.70

35

10

5

253.0

223

85

76

19

59

251

1.115

2008

CLE

6

8

.429

3.83

18

3

2

122.1

117

54

52

13

34

123

1.234

2008

MIL

11

2

.846

1.65

17

7

3

130.2

106

31

24

6

25

128

1.003

 

July 8, 2008 Wild Card Standings:

NATIONAL

W

L

PCT

GB

HOME

ROAD

RS

RA

DIFF

STRK

St. Louis

51

40

.560

26-21

25-19

417

399

+18

Won 1

Milwaukee

50

40

.556

.5

29-14

21-26

416

402

+14

Won 1

Florida

46

44

.511

4.5

26-20

20-24

443

471

-28

Lost 1

NY Mets

46

44

.511

4.5

23-18

23-26

436

417

+19

Won 4

LA Dodgers

44

46

.489

6.5

23-21

21-25

371

365

+6

Lost 1

August 8, 2008 Wild Card Standings:

NATIONAL

W

L

PCT

GB

HOME

ROAD

RS

RA

DIFF

STRK

Milwaukee

65

51

.560

33-23

32-28

540

512

+28

Won 3

St. Louis

64

54

.542

2

33-28

31-26

560

530

+30

Lost 2

NY Mets

61

54

.530

3.5

35-21

26-33

555

514

+41

Won 2

Florida

61

55

.526

4

33-26

28-29

546

568

-22

Lost 1

LA Dodgers

58

57

.504

6.5

32-27

26-30

484

456

+28

Won 2

October 1, 2008 Wild Card Standings:

NATIONAL

W

L

PCT

GB

HOME

ROAD

RS

RA

DIFF

STRK

y-Milwaukee

90

72

.556

49-32

41-40

750

689

+61

Won 1

NY Mets

89

73

.549

1

48-33

41-40

799

715

+84

Lost 1

St. Louis

86

76

.531

4

46-35

40-41

779

725

+54

Won 6

Florida

84

77

.522

5.5

45-36

39-41

770

767

+3

Won 1

Arizona

82

80

.506

8

48-33

34-47

720

706

+14

Won 3

The Brewers went 40-22 after the CC deal and his complete game on the last day of the season clinched the Brewers’ first playoff birth since 1982.  Unfortunately for the Brewers, Ben Sheets suffered an elbow injury at the end of the season and would miss the playoffs.  Additionally, the playoff push wore out CC as plainly demonstrated by his NLDS game two performance against the Phillies:

Pitching

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

ERA

Pit

Str

CC Sabathia,
L (0-1)

3.2

6

5

5

4

5

1

12.27

98

55

The Sheets injury was a major blow to the Brewers, robbing the Brewers of any real chance of making a deep playoff run.  One could argue this was a win for the Brewers; they made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years and the major piece in the trade, Matt LaPorta, proved to be a 4A player who could never hit major league pitching.  Still, no one trades prospects like LaPorta and hopes to just make the playoffs; it’s World Series or bust.

Beyond arguing that trading for superstar players has not led teams to World Series victories, I think superstar-laden trading deadline megadeals are a dying breed. Following the examples of Billy Beane in Oakland and Andrew Friedman in Tampa Bay, organizations are more cognizant that the most effective way to build a winning franchise is from within and that means not trading away prospects for a rented-superstar.  In some ways, it’s a shame since these trades are unbelievably exciting for fans.

Yet, I would argue trading for a proven number one starter is always a wise decision if the organization is committed to re-signing or extending his contract. Randy Johnson and CC Sabathia (not 2013 CC) aren’t replaceable players.  Perhaps the deal that best demonstrates my philosophy is when the Yankees traded for David Cone.  On July 28, 1995, the Yankees acquired Cone from the Toronto Blue Jays for three pitching prospects: RHP Marty Janzen, RHP Jason Jarvis, and RHP Mike Gordon (a combined zero major league appearances).  Cone wasn’t spectacular down the stretch, but kept the Yankees in ballgames and won 9 games for the 1995 Yankees.

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

W

L

W-L%

ERA

GS

CG

SHO

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

WHIP

1995

32

TOT

AL

18

8

.692

3.57

30

6

2

229.1

195

95

91

24

88

191

1.234

1995

32

TOR

AL

9

6

.600

3.38

17

5

2

130.1

113

53

49

12

41

102

1.182

1995

32

NYY

AL

9

2

.818

3.82

13

1

0

99.0

82

42

42

12

47

89

1.303

His 1995 playoff run was decent, winning game one of the ALDS and leaving game five in the eighth inning with the score tied 4-4. 

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

Series

Rslt

Opp

W

L

ERA

G

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

WHIP

1995

32

NYY

AL

ALDS

L

SEA

1

0

4.60

2

15.2

15

8

8

4

9

14

1.532

The Mariners went on to win game five of the ALDS 6-5 on a dramatic Edgar Martinez two-run double in the bottom of the 11th off Jack McDowell.  The Yankees’ season was over, but they made signing David Cone to an extension the first priority of the off-season.  Cone signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract with the Yankees with a two-year option that could keep him a Yankee till 2000.  Cone became a centerpiece of the last Yankee dynasty, providing the Yankees with four solid seasons, including coming back from a scary arm aneurysm in 1996 to pitch down the stretch for the Yankees.

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

W

L

W-L%

ERA

G

CG

SHO

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

WHIP

1996

33

NYY

AL

7

2

.778

2.88

11

1

0

72.0

50

25

23

3

34

71

1.167

1997

34

NYY

AL

12

6

.667

2.82

29

1

0

195.0

155

67

61

17

86

222

1.236

1998

35

NYY

AL

20

7

.741

3.55

31

3

0

207.2

186

89

82

20

59

209

1.180

1999

36

NYY

AL

12

9

.571

3.44

31

1

1

193.1

164

84

74

21

90

177

1.314

2000

37

NYY

AL

4

14

.222

6.91

30

0

0

155.0

192

124

119

25

82

120

1.768

Cone was also solid in the playoffs for the Yankees during their dynasty run, including winning game three of the 1996 World Series, which was on the road in Atlanta with the Yankees down 2-0 in the series.

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

Series

Rslt

Opp

W

L

ERA

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

WHIP

1996

33

NYY

AL

ALDS

W

TEX

0

1

9.00

6.0

8

6

6

2

2

8

1.667

1996

33

NYY

AL

ALCS

W

BAL

0

0

3.00

6.0

5

2

2

1

5

5

1.667

1996

33

NYY

AL

WS

W

ATL

1

0

1.50

6.0

4

1

1

0

4

3

1.333

1997

34

NYY

AL

ALDS

L

CLE

0

0

16.20

3.1

7

6

6

1

2

2

2.700

1998

35

NYY

AL

ALDS

W

TEX

1

0

0.00

5.2

2

0

0

0

1

6

0.529

1998

35

NYY

AL

ALCS

W

CLE

1

0

4.15

13.0

12

6

6

2

6

13

1.385

1998

35

NYY

AL

WS

W

SDP

0

0

3.00

6.0

2

3

2

0

3

4

0.833

1999

36

NYY

AL

ALCS

W

BOS

1

0

2.57

7.0

7

2

2

1

3

9

1.429

1999

36

NYY

AL

WS

W

ATL

1

0

0.00

7.0

1

0

0

0

5

4

0.857

2000

37

NYY

AL

ALCS

W

SEA

0

0

0.00

1.0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0.000

2000

37

NYY

AL

WS

W

NYM

0

0

0.00

0.1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0.000

If the Yankees allowed David Cone to sign with the Orioles or the Mets after the 1995 season, it’s possible the last Yankee dynasty doesn’t even happen.  Throughout baseball history, true number one starters have been exceedingly hard to find and if an organization has the good fortune of acquiring an established number one starter, it should be willing to commit three to five years to that starter.  Renting a player provides such a small window for success.  Both Randy Johnson (2001 Diamondbacks) and CC Sabathia (2009 Yankees) anchored their teams to World Series championships, but only one.  Winning a World Series is hard; if you’re going to trade for an ace, pay the ace.

Part II will focus on two teams: the 1995 Atlanta Braves and the 2004 Red Sox.  These two teams were already legitimate World Series contenders before the trading deadline.  Both teams completed seemingly marginal trades that added veteran depth to their bench.  Certainly these moves didn’t excite their fan bases like trading for Randy Johnson would, but these moves were integral in their World Series title runs.  While the 2013 trading deadline lacked superstars, plenty of veteran role players were acquired by playoff contenders that might score or save a run, which could be the difference between winning or losing the World Series.

*          *          *

J. Scott Smith is a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri. He is a co-editor of Repairing the Athlete’s Image: Studies in Sports Image Restoration.