Part II: Trading Deadline Difference Makers: A 1995 Braves and 2004 Red Sox Case Study

By: J. Scott Smith

As Part I detailed, teams acquiring superstars at the trading deadline have not led to World Series appearances, but plenty of solid veteran players (partly because there are so many more of them) have made significant contributions on the way to a World Series title. My general thesis is that teams trading for superstar players were inherently flawed, which is precisely why they have to trade for a superstar player to make a World Series push.  They need an impact player to make a major contribution.  In contrast, Part II represents teams that were already World Series contenders seeking to make less-substantial upgrades.  GMs from these teams look to fill holes in the lineup, add bench depth, a number 3 or 4 starter, and bullpen specialists.The prime example from last season is Hunter Pence, who solidified the 2012 San Francisco Giants’ lineup during the final two months of the season and in the playoffs.  Contending teams are looking for a player that can bat fifth, not third in the order, and/or a solid number 3 starter, not an ace.  Alex Rios might be that player coming over to the Texas Rangers, replacing suspended Nelson Cruz.  Same for Jake Peavy, who strengthens the Boston Red Sox’s rotation as Clay Buchholz recovers from injury. Also, contending teams acquire solid bench players, who become important contributors in the playoffs.  During the playoffs, every run and out is magnified, which is why these bench players are so important.  The rest of this article focuses on the 1995 Atlanta Braves and the 2004 Red Sox transactions before the trading deadlines.  Both teams acquired veteran players before the trading deadline (non-waiver and waiver), which would turn out important moves on their way to a championship.

1995 Atlanta Braves

During their unprecedented run of 14 straight division titles, only in 1995 were the Braves able to translate their regular season success into a World Series title.  On August 11th, 1995, the Braves held a commanding 14-game lead in the NL East and GM John Schuerholz sought to bolster the Braves’ bench by adding veteran outfielders Luis Polonia and Mike Devereaux.

August 11, 1995 NL East Standings

W

L

PCT

GB

L10

STRK

HOME

ROAD

Atlanta Braves

63

35

.643

8-2

W2

32-19

31-16

Philadelphia Phillies

49

49

.500

14.0

2-8

W1

23-24

26-25

Montreal Expos

47

51

.480

16.0

4-6

L1

25-24

22-27

Florida Marlins

43

52

.453

18.5

8-2

W4

20-27

23-25

New York Mets

41

57

.418

22.0

6-4

W6

21-27

20-30

On August 11th, 1995, the Braves acquired OF Luis Polonia from the New York Yankees for RHP prospect Troy Hughes.  Polonia provided the Braves with additionally speed and a defensive replacement for left-fielder Ryan Klesko late in games.  The Braves further bolstered their bench on August 25th, 1995, acquiring OF Mike Devereaux from the White Sox for OF prospect Andre King. Devereaux provided the Braves with a right-handed power bat and would start against lefties in an outfield platoon with Ryan Klesko.  More than anything, Polonia and Devereaux provided manager Bobby Cox with matchup options as illustrated by the differences between plate appearances for the outfielders in the NLCS and the World Series.

Luis Polonia:

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

Series

Opp

Rslt

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

1995

31

ATL

NL

NLDS

COL

W

3

3

0

1

0

0

0

2

1

0

1

.333

.333

.333

.667

1995

31

ATL

NL

NLCS

CIN

W

3

2

0

1

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

.500

.500

.500

1.000

1995

31

ATL

NL

WS

CLE

W

6

14

3

4

1

0

1

4

1

1

3

.286

.333

.571

.905

Mike Devereaux:

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

Series

Opp

Rslt

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

1995

32

ATL

NL

NLDS

COL

W

4

5

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

.200

.200

.200

.400

1995

32

ATL

NL

NLCS

CIN

W

4

13

2

4

1

0

1

5

0

1

2

.308

.357

.615

.973

1995

32

ATL

NL

WS

CLE

W

5

4

0

1

0

0

0

1

0

2

1

.250

.500

.250

.750

Neither Polonia’s nor Devereaux’s playoff performances resemble anything close to Manny Ramirez’s in Part I, but again, Schuerholz added them to save or score that extra run in the playoffs.  The margin for error in the playoffs is so small; every out and run become much more significant.  Under these parameters, Polonia and Devereaux made significant contributions to the Braves 1995 title run.  In game one of the 1995 NLCS, Mike Devereaux pinch-hit in the top of the 11th inning, lining a single into center scoring Fred McGriff who represented the winning run. In game four of the NLCS, Devereaux hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning, providing the Braves with three insurance runs on their way to a 6-0 victory and a series sweep of the Cincinnati Reds.  Devereaux was named NLCS MVP, helping to propel the Braves to the World Series.

Polonia made a greater contribution in the World Series when manager Bobby Cox changed his lineup in games three through five at Cleveland, inserting Polonia into the two hole behind Marquis Grissom and in front of Chipper Jones.  The DH provided Cox with more lineup flexibility, playing Polonia in LF and DHing Klesko.  In game four, Polonia broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning, lining a double into right center scoring Grissom.  Polonia would later score in the seventh on a two-out David Justice single to center. In game five, Polonia scored the Braves first run, hitting a solo homer off of Orel Hershiser in the fourth inning.  During the three games in Cleveland, Polonia performed admirably, hitting .333 with three runs and three RBIs.

Certainly neither Luis Polonia or Mike Devereaux were not the primary reason the Braves won the World Series in 1995, but their contributions in the NLCS and the World Series were important to the Braves’ success.  Devereaux’s NLCS Game one winning hit and Polonia’s World Series Game four double were two of the most important plays in the Braves title run.

The 2004 Red Sox

Red Sox GM Theo Epstein made two significant trades at the July 31st, 2004 non-waiver trade deadline.  First, the Red Sox acquired OF Dave Roberts from the Los Angeles Dodgers for OF prospect Henri Stanley.  Roberts added bench speed to the Red Sox, along with being a defensive replacement for left-fielder Manny Ramirez late in games.  The second trade was a blockbuster, as the Red Sox traded away superstar Nomar Garciaparra in a four-team deal that brought the Red Sox SS Orlando Cabrera from the Montreal Expos and 1B Doug Mientkiewicz from the Minnesota Twins.  GM Theo Epstein stated:

“I thought there was a flaw on the club that we couldn’t allow to become a fatal flaw, that the defense on this team is not championship caliber.  In my mind we were not going to win a World Series with our defense the way it was.”

Epstein’s diplomatic statement essentially meant, “We weren’t going to win a World Series with Nomar.”  Nomar had fallen out of favor with Red Sox brass due to straining contract negotiations and he never was considered an elite defender or a vocal clubhouse leader.  The trades incited the Red Sox on a torrid pace, finishing the season with a 42-18 record, a .700 winning percentage.  The AL Wild Card standings demonstrate the dramatic nature of the Red Sox’s 2004 stretch run.

July 31, 2004 AL Wild Car Standings

W

L

PCT

WCGB

L10

STRK

Texas Rangers

57

45

.559

3-7

L1

Boston
Red Sox

56

46

.549

1.0

5-5

L1

Anaheim
Angels

56

48

.538

2.0

7-3

W2

Chicago White Sox

52

49

.515

4.5

3-7

L7

Cleveland Indians

53

51

.510

5.0

7-3

L1

 

August 31, 2004 AL Wild Card Standings

W

L

PCT

WCGB

L10

STRK

Boston
Red Sox

77

53

.592

9-1

W7

Anaheim
Angels

75

56

.573

2.5

8-2

L1

Texas Rangers

73

57

.562

4.0

5-5

L2

Cleveland Indians

67

66

.504

11.5

4-6

W2

Chicago White Sox

64

66

.492

13.0

4-6

L1

 

October 2, 2004 AL Wild Card Standings

W

L

PCT

WCGB

L10

STRK

w-Boston Red Sox

98

64

.605

7-3

L1

Oakland Athletics

91

71

.562

7.0

4-6

W1

Texas Rangers

89

73

.549

9.0

4-6

W2

Chicago White Sox

83

79

.512

15.0

6-4

W1

Cleveland Indians

80

82

.494

18.0

6-4

W1

The Red Sox’s 2004 ALCS comeback reached legendary status instantaneously as the first baseball team to ever come back from a 3-0 deficit and win a playoff series.  I’ll avoid recapping that series here as so many others have, most recently by ESPN’s 30 for 30: Four Days in October, but the 2004 Red Sox’s miraculous comeback against the Yankees probably does not happen without Dave Roberts stealing second off of Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth in game four.  As demonstrated below, the playoff performances by Cabrera, Roberts, and Mientkiewicz were underwhelming, but these trades sparked the Red Sox to their incredible run.

Orlando Cabrera:

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

Serie

Opp

Rslt

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

2004

29

BOS

AL

ALDS

ANA

W

3

13

1

2

1

0

0

3

0

2

2

.154

.267

.231

.497

2004

29

BOS

AL

ALCS

NYY

W

7

29

5

11

2

0

0

5

1

3

5

.379

.424

.448

.873

2004

29

BOS

AL

WS

STL

W

4

17

3

4

1

0

0

3

0

3

1

.235

.381

.294

.675

Dave Roberts:

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

Series

Opp

Rslt

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

2004

32

BOS

AL

ALDS

ANA

W

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2004

32

BOS

AL

ALCS

NYY

W

2

0

2

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

Doug Mientkiewicz:

Year

Age

Tm

Lg

Series

Opp

Rslt

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

2004

30

BOS

AL

ALDS

ANA

W

3

4

0

2

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

.500

.500

.500

1.000

2004

30

BOS

AL

ALCS

NYY

W

4

4

0

2

1

0

0

0

0

0

1

.500

.500

.750

1.250

2004

30

BOS

AL

WS

STL

W

4

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

.000

.000

.000

.000

The Nomar trade was a crisis of leadership move, as the Red Sox wanted to improve not only the team’s defense, but also the chemistry of the team.  Dave Roberts reminisced about the 2004 team stating, “I look back at our team in 2004 and the jovial, fun, happy-go-lucky guys kind of balance out the intense expectation and media.” When asked about the current 2013 Red Sox about their dramatic change from 2012 Bobby Valentine disaster, Roberts continued:

I’ve talked to some friends of mine (with the Red Sox) and one of the things they said of the chemistry in spring training is that they’ve got the right guys. In a market like this with the pressures and the microscope you are under you’ve got to have the right guys.”

Orlando Cabrera was the right guy; Nomar had fallen out of favor in Boston and needed to be moved.  Obviously in hindsight the move is brilliant, but GM Theo Epstein still deserves credit for having the gall to trade away the face of the franchise for seemingly less in return.

The 1995 Braves and 2004 Red Sox illustrate that World Series teams add veteran depth to their rosters, which provided their teams with valuable production on their way to World Series titles.  Adding defensive replacements and bench depth are important moves for playoff teams as every out and run is magnified.  For instance, the 2010 Texas Rangers acquired OF Jeff Francoeur from the Mets for infield Joaquin Arias.  Questions swirled about why the Rangers felt the need to acquire Francoeur, which prompted ESPN Dallas’ contributor Richard Durrett to argue:

Texas is not asking or expecting Francoeur to be an everyday player and a savior. This is about adding a piece to put out there against left-handed pitching and someone who is a good defender.

The 2010 Rangers ran into the San Francisco Giants’ superior pitching in the World Series and lost in five games.  Yet, only next season the Rangers found themselves one out away from winning the World Series when St. Louis Cardinals 3B David Freeze hit a two-run triple in the right-field corner to tie the game.  Nelson Cruz severely misplayed Freeze’s hit, having to reroute on his way to the warning track and then had trouble finding the ball.  A good outfielder like Francoeur would have made that play.  Had the 2011 Texas Rangers made a similar defensive upgrade they had made the previous season, they win the World Series.  In short, these moves matter and while the 2013 deadline provided few grandiose trades, it just might be the veteran bench player that helps your team reach the promised land.

*          *          *

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.