The trade deadline in Major League Baseball always garners a ton of attention, and for obvious reasons. We always wonder who might shake things up, if our favorite team will get better or position themselves better later on. Sports columnists write “deadline winners and losers” columns trying to predict the future, although it’s never apparent how these deals turn out even a few months later.
Admittedly, I now generally approach this time of the year in a ho-hum fashion. I’ll hear about the deals, but not get caught up checking constantly on whether or not a big move has happened.
Usually, trades at this time of the year involve teams out of the playoff race, or likely out, dealing away a good player whose contract is up, ideally for prospects. On occasion, the player being dealt has a little more team control, which adds to his value, but that has been more the exception than the norm. Naturally, we don’t know how the prospects will pan out.
The Red Sox have been on both ends of legendary deadline deals. In 1997, they traded Heathcliff Slocumb, at one time a good closer who was struggling, to Seattle for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe. The former was the backbone of two World Series championship teams and beloved by the fan base, while the latter played a key role in winning the 2004 World Series and is one of a handful of pitchers to have one season with 15 or more wins and one season with at least 38 saves.
The bad deal was more than half a decade earlier, when the Sox dealt Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros for Larry Andersen. Anderson helped the Sox while he was with them, but not in any way remotely comparable to what Bagwell did – he went on to be Hall of Famer, and that deal haunted them for a while.
Truthfully, it’s exceedingly rare that a deadline acquisition ends up being such a difference-maker that same season as to warrant all the coverage that comes with it. C.C. Sabathia’s stint with the Brewers in 2008 stands out as one, as he went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in a flurry of starts to push the Brewers into the playoffs. He made a several starts on three days’ rest late in the season and threw over 250 innings on the season – ironically, more with the Brewers in about two months than with the Indians in about four months. Then again, that all appeared to catch up with him when he struggled in a loss to the eventual World Series champion Phillies.
With prospects, time will tell if they become difference-makers, but it won’t happen the same season, and may not for another year after that. The entire reason for making a deal for prospects is to win later, and later can mean next year or four years down the road.
This year, while there have been some notable moves already, and will probably be a couple more to come, none are likely to be earth-shattering. At the end of the day, though, most of the moves made will be good incremental moves and not difference-making ones. They will help teams, but likely not as much as will be speculated right now.
And I’ll be among those who won’t put much stock into these deals, at least as they impact this season.