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Trading prospects for rental players is playing Trade Deadline Roulette
by Charlie Miller
As soon as the dust settled at the All-Star Game, the chatter around the majors turned to trade talk. Who are the buyers and sellers? Fans want to know. This season, with so many close races, the buyers may outnumber the sellers, raising the prices for prized rental players.
But fans should beware, not all trades made for the stretch run work out. And fans of sellers, beware, not all “can’t miss” prospects make it.
Here’s a sampling of history that should put any deadline deals in perspective.
In 1983, the Cleveland Indians sent pitcher Len Barker to the Atlanta Braves for Rick Behenna and two players to be named later. The Braves were in first place, but battling with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. The Indians were languishing in last place, 20.5 games out and had just recently completed a 12-game homestand that included two doubleheaders in front of crowds averaging 7,080.
The trade was made on Aug. 23, and that was the last day in 1983 the Braves would be in first place. Barker wasn’t solely to blame, but the Braves lost five of his six starts that season. His first was horrendous, but his five September starts, which yielded just one win, featured a 2.86 ERA and a .208 BAA.
Atlanta owner Ted Turner made news by telling Brett Butler he was one of the players to be named later, violating MLB rules. Brook Jacoby, a promising third baseman, was the other. Jacoby played seven solid full seasons in Cleveland averaging 16 homers and 25 doubles and hitting .276. In Butler’s four full seasons before leaving for San Francisco as a free agent, the centerfielder averaged 99 runs and 41 steals and 11 triples while hitting .288 in the leadoff position. Butler and Jacoby reported to the Indians in October.
As for Barker and the Braves? The two sides agreed on a five-year, $4.5 million deal at the end of the season — huge in those days. Two years into the deal, the Braves released Barker with a 10-20 mark in 44 starts with the team.
The lasting effect for the Braves was, after a second-place finish in 1984, fifth- and sixth-place (last) finishes in the next six seasons until a man named Bobby Cox showed up.
However, on Aug. 12, 1987, the Braves managed to redeem themselves in 1987. Doyle Alexander, signed by the Braves in May as a free agent and in his 17th major league season at the time, was toiling in the Atlanta rotation and had proven to be a workhorse for the Braves. In his 16 starts, he averaged 7.1 innings per start, never leaving before completing the sixth inning.
The Tigers were locked in a three-team race in the AL East, 1.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays and a game ahead of the Yankees.
Alexander was every bit the workhorse the Tigers expected. He made 11 starts — all Detroit wins —down the stretch, going 9-0 with a 1.11 ERA. The 36-year-old righthander averaged 8.0 innings per start for the Tigers. Manager Sparky Anderson called on Alexander to pitch on three days’ rest in back-to-back starts in September. He shut out the Red Sox at Fenway Park, then four days later pitched 11 innings of a huge 3-2 win over first-place Toronto. Going into the final weekend series of the season — a three-game tilt with Toronto — the Tigers were a game behind. Alexander defeated the Jays on Friday night to knot the division. The Tigers won 3-2 in 12 innings on Saturday, then clinched the division with a 1-0 victory behind Frank Tanana on Sunday.
Detroit fans were happy about this trade. After all, what did they give up to Atlanta? Seems there was this 20-year-old starting pitcher at Double-A Glen Falls who was 4-10 with a 5.68 ERA and a 1.631 WHIP (although that was back before any fans knew what WHIP was).
And how excited could Atlanta fans be? In three starts with Richmond in August, this young righthander was 0-1 with a 6.19 ERA. In 16.0 innings, he walked 11 and struck out five, giving up 17 hits. Bad numbers.
But all’s well that ends well. John Smoltz (right) would rebound in 1988 with Richmond and be in the big leagues with Atlanta by the end of the season.
Alexander would retire following the 1989 season after going 20-29 in 67 starts with the Tigers over the next two seasons. The Tigers didn’t sniff the postseason again until 2006. And during 19 seasons of futility, Detroit finished second twice and over .500 just three times.
Meanwhile, with Smoltz anchoring a pitching staff that included Tom Glavine and at times Greg Maddux, the Braves dominated the 1990s, going to five World Series and winning one during a stretch of 14 straight division titles.
More Deadline Deal Memories
Likely to be traded in the next week, Carlos Beltran of the Mets has been through this before. In 2004, the Royals convinced the Oakland A’s to participate in a three-way that involved Beltran going to the Astros. The Royals received Mark Teahen and Mike Wood from Oakland; the A’s got Octavio Dotel from Houston, and the Astros sent John Buck to K.C. Advantage: Astros.
In 1964, the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Hall of Famer Lou Brock, Jack Spring and Paul Toth from the Cubs for Ernie Broglio, Doug Clemens and Bobby Shantz. Brock would star in three World Series in his first five seasons in St. Louis. The Cubs wouldn’t play in a World Series, well, ever.
At the deadline in 1977, the Mets traded Hall of Famer Tom Seaver to the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati), who was coming off back-to-back World Series wins, for Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, Dan Norman and Pat Zachry. The Mets would at least win a World Series four years before the Reds.
The Cardinals, a team that could really use a closer right about now, traded Chris Perez to Cleveland in 2009 for Mark DeRosa. Since Perez evidently wasn’t enough compensation for DeRosa, St. Louis also included Jess Todd a month later as a player to be named later.
The Cleveland Indians believe they have two pretty good young players in Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, both acquired for CC Sabathia in 2008 along with Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson from the Brewers. Sabathia was terrific for the Brewers (11-2, 1.65 ERA with three shutouts) down the stretch as Milwaukee edged New York for the NL wild card that season.
In an early-season deal in 1989, the Seattle Mariners swapped soon-to-be free agent Mark Langston to Montreal for Gene Harris, Brian Holman and some 6’10” guy named Randy Johnson (right). The Expos finished fourth, Langston signed a lucrative deal with the Angels after the season, and Johnson won the first of his five Cy Youngs in Seattle.
Nine years later, Johnson became the free-agent-to-be in a trade versus the prospect as he had been in 1989. Seattle dealt the unhappy ace to Houston for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama. Johnson was 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in his 11 starts for the NL Central champion Astros. Garcia won 76 games in six years in Seattle then became part of another midseason deal with the White Sox. He and Ben Davis moved to Chicago and Michael Morse, Miguel Olivo and Jeremy Reed came to Seattle.
For one of the top starting pitchers in the game, Cliff Lee sure does get traded a lot. He’s been a part of three major midseason deals. The first came in 2002 when the forward-thinking (ahem) Montreal Expos traded Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens to Cleveland for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew. (Think the Indians would have pulled the trigger had Stevens not been involved?) The Expos finished second, albeit 19 games behind the Braves, and 12.5 games out of the wild card. Colon went 10-4 down the stretch, then was dealt to the White Sox in a deal that landed Rocky Biddle, Orlando Hernandez and Jeff Liefer in Montreal. Wow. For Lee, Phillips and Sizemore, oh, and Stevens.
The second Lee Trade came in 2009 when the Indians sent him to Philadelphia to help the Phillies secure a return to the postseason. Ben Francisco was also in the deal that netted Cleveland Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and Lou Marson.
The third Lee Trade came last season when the Mariners (having traded for Lee in the winter) sent the prized lefty to Texas with Mark Lowe for Matthew Lawson, Blake Beaven, Josh Lueke and Justin Smoak. Lueke and Smoak look like potential stars. Lee pitched in the World Series for Texas.
In 1990, the Boston Red Sox thought reliever Larry Andersen was the missing piece to a championship puzzle. So much so, they traded highly regarded Jeff Bagwell (left) to Houston for the eccentric pitcher. Andersen had a 1.23 ERA in his 15 appearances for the Sox, but the team was only 7-8 in those games. The next season, Bagwell won the NL Rookie of the Year and by 2000 was well on his way to the Hall of Fame.
It was only two years prior to that the Red Sox were desperate for another arm. In 1988, the Red Sox thought getting Mike Boddicker from Baltimore was worth giving up Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson (right). Boddicker lasted just 2.2 innings in his only postseason start in 1988. He redeemed himself (sort of) with eight strong innings in a playoff loss to Oakland in 1990. Anderson did pretty well in Baltimore and Schilling eventually found his way back to Boston.