Commentary

Winners and losers at the time that were short-lived

Originally Published: July 30, 2008
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

As baseball's general managers rush to fulfill their trade deadline agendas by 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, we can count on one time-honored sports journalism tradition Friday: Analysts for newspapers and Internet sites will lump the "winners" in one category and the "losers" in the other.

But as recent history shows, knee-jerk assessments can be a risky proposition. Sometimes it takes until the end of the season or longer to determine how deals really shook out.

In this week's edition of Starting 9, we look at nine deadline trades over the past decade that are perceived differently in hindsight than in the immediate aftermath. Today's winner can be tomorrow's loser -- and vice versa. All it takes is a little time for the smoke to clear.

Bartolo Colon

Colon

Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew from Cleveland to Montreal for Lee Stevens and minor leaguers Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips -- June 27, 2002

1 The headline: "Minaya works some magic" (Montreal Gazette)

With the Expos 6½ games behind Atlanta in the National League East and a contraction guillotine reportedly hanging over the team's head, general manager Omar Minaya raids the farm system to acquire Colon, who is 10-4 with a 2.55 ERA in Cleveland.

In the pre-blogging days, when Baseball America is the only outlet monitoring every breath that prospects take, Minaya is widely praised for his coup. Montreal columnist Jack Todd refers to him as "brilliant" and says he has "utterly changed the way the Expos do business" since coming over from the Mets.

Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro resides in a different place -- at the wrong end of talk-radio hell. While Indians fans go on a universal rant, Colon's teammates are crushed by his departure. Several Cleveland veterans speculate that they might be the next to go.

"This has leveled all of us," reliever Paul Shuey tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The postscript: Even though Colon won 10 games in Montreal after the trade to give him 20 for the season, the Expos faded down the stretch and finished 19 games out in the NL East. Colon won a Cy Young Award with the Angels in 2005, but health and weight issues have put a damper on his career.

Cleveland, meanwhile, hit the jackpot with the trade. Sizemore is a two-time All-Star and a Gold Glove Award winner at 25, and Lee is 68-38 in six seasons with the Indians. The only downer is that the Indians bailed too early on Phillips and gave him away to Cincinnati in 2006.

Eric Gagne

Gagne

The Boston Red Sox acquire reliever Eric Gagne from Texas for outfielders David Murphy and Engel Beltre and pitcher Kason Gabbard -- July 31, 2007

2 The quote: "We actually love our bullpen," says Boston manager Terry Francona. "We think it just got a lot better."

Red Sox fans rejoice over the addition of Gagne, who has 16 saves and a 2.16 ERA for the Rangers, to complement Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima at the back end of the bullpen.

Boston's glee is magnified because the Yankees were also pursuing Gagne but failed to land him because GM Brian Cashman refused to part with Ian Kennedy or Melky Cabrera to clinch the deal.

The postscript: The Red Sox went on to win their second World Series in four years, so it's tough to knock GM Theo Epstein for the trade. But Gagne was so bad in Boston, the Red Sox were scared to use him in big spots down the stretch. He now serves as a cautionary tale for executives who are wary of paying extortion prices for high-profile bullpen arms.

Texas, meanwhile, loves its end of the deal. Murphy has 14 homers and 66 RBIs this season, and he has played better than expected from a guy who was considered a fourth outfielder. Beltre, a mere 18, is hitting .282 with 20 stolen bases for Clinton in the Class A Midwest League.

Mark Teixeira

Teixeira

Atlanta acquires first baseman Mark Teixeira and reliever Ron Mahay from Texas for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Elvis Andrus and minor league pitchers Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Beau Jones -- July 31, 2007

3 The headline: "Brave Heart -- By Nabbing Teixeira, Schuerholz Proves He's the Alpha GM" (New York Post)

Braves GM John Schuerholz, the proverbial lion in winter, earns widespread praise for landing the big stick on the market. The consensus is that Teixeira will combine with Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones -- who's driven by a potentially huge free-agent payday -- to make Atlanta the front-runner in the division.

It's a heck of a coup for the Braves, considering that: (a) Julio Franco had been playing first base before Teixeira's arrival; and (b) Schuerholz also acquired Octavio Dotel for the underachieving Kyle Davies to upgrade Atlanta's bullpen for the stretch run.

The postscript: Teixeira drove in 56 runs in 54 games with Atlanta. But the Braves, 4½ games out at the time of the trade, finished five behind Philadelphia in the division. And now Schuerholz's successor, Frank Wren, has responded to a lost season by trading Teixeira to the Angels before this year's deadline.

Texas' haul from Atlanta looks good even though Saltalamacchia has yet to hit as advertised. Andrus, only 19 years old, is hitting .291 for Frisco in the Double-A Texas League. And Feliz, who recently turned 20, throws a fastball that has been clocked at triple digits. He has 127 strikeouts in 102 minor league innings this season.

Along with the Gagne deal, the Teixeira trade helped GM Jon Daniels rebuild the Texas farm system and regain some of the goodwill he lost with that Adrian Gonzalez-Chris Young San Diego fiasco.

Carlos Lee

Lee

Texas acquires outfielders Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz from Milwaukee for reliever Francisco Cordero, outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix, and minor league pitcher Julian Cordero -- July 29, 2006

4 The quote: "I was so excited I couldn't sleep," said Texas owner Tom Hicks after receiving a 1:30 a.m. call telling him the team had acquired Lee.

Two days after the Rangers are swept by the Yankees, Daniels makes it clear he hasn't quit on the season. He adds a premier middle-of-the-order bat in Lee, who became available after spurning a four-year, $48 million contract offer from Milwaukee.

Daniels' bold move sends the desired jolt of energy through the Texas clubhouse. "I'm real excited this club is really going for it right now," says shortstop Michael Young.

The postscript: In hindsight, Hicks should have rolled over and gone back to sleep. Lee hit .322 with a .525 slugging percentage as a Ranger. But the pitching staff ranked 29th in the majors in ERA, Texas finished 80-82, and manager Buck Showalter paid for it by getting fired. In November 2006, Lee signed a six-year, $100 million contract with Houston.

The Brewers regarded Mench as a linchpin to the deal. But after hitting 51 homers during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, Mench arrived in Milwaukee wielding a Nerf bat. He hit nine homers in 414 at-bats to play his way out of town, and he's been little more than an afterthought in Toronto.

Cordero might have been the biggest beneficiary of the trade. He parlayed a strong finish with Milwaukee into a four-year, $46 million free-agent contract with Cincinnati.

Austin Kearns

Kearns

Cincinnati acquires relievers Gary Majewski and Bill Bray, shortstop Royce Clayton, infielder Brendan Harris and minor leaguer Daryl Thompson from Washington for outfielder Austin Kearns, shortstop Felipe Lopez and pitcher Ryan Wagner -- July 13, 2006

5 The quote: "I'm sure this will be a controversial trade," says Reds GM Wayne Krivsky. "I'm sure there will be people leaving nasty messages on my voice mail, but we're trying to put the best team together that we can."

The consensus is that Nationals GM Jim Bowden undressed Krivsky with this deal. Sure, Majewski and Bray have good arms, but how many teams trade one high-quality hitter, much less two, for a package headed by two relievers?

Kearns, on his way to a 24-homer, 86-RBI season, appears to be reaching his potential at age 26, and Lopez is just a year removed from winning a Silver Slugger Award at shortstop. While Reds utility man Ryan Freel praises the deal, outfielder Adam Dunn is so distraught over his good friend Kearns leaving town that he waves off reporters seeking comment.

A contributor to the Red Reporter blog weighs in with the following sentiment: "I've thought about it, and I can honestly say that this is the worst trade the Reds have made in my lifetime."

The postscript: Geez, could this trade have been any more inconsequential? Kearns and Lopez have all but fallen off the face of the earth in Washington, and Wagner can't stay healthy.

As for Cincinnati's haul, Majewski arrived with arm trouble, Clayton has since retired and Harris is now a utilityman in Minnesota. But Bray has become an effective set-up man for manager Dusty Baker, and Thompson, 22, is 8-2 with a 2.23 ERA in the minor leagues this season. He could ultimately prove to be the salvation of the deal.

Orlando Cabrera

Cabrera

Boston acquires shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz as part of a four-team deal with Minnesota, Montreal and the Cubs. Nomar Garciaparra goes to Chicago. In another trade, the Red Sox acquire outfielder Dave Roberts from the Dodgers -- July 31, 2004

6 The quote: "Cum laude, schmaude." -- Larry Stone of the Seattle Times.

Theo Epstein, the young GM with the Yale University pedigree, shows he has gumption by trading Garciaparra, the face of the franchise. Garciaparra's negative attitude helped pave his way out of town. The question is, couldn't the Red Sox have gotten more in return? That's a prominent sentiment in the industry.

"Trading Nomar isn't necessarily the issue," Stone writes in Seattle. "The issue is what they got back. Orlando Cabrera is a good ballplayer having a bad year. Doug Mientkiewicz is a mediocre player having a bad year."

When Epstein says the defense needed an upgrade and the Red Sox weren't going anywhere without changes, it sure sounds like a rationalization. Defense and speed? Since when has Boston cared about that?

The postscript: Roberts' stolen base against the Yankees jump-started Boston's historic comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series. Mientkiewicz saved a ton of runs with his defense at first base and caught the final out in the World Series sweep of St. Louis. And Cabrera contributed a solid all-around game and an infinitely better clubhouse presence than his predecessor.

As it turns out, the Yale guy had a pretty good idea what he was doing.

"Is it Epstein or Einstein?" wrote the Hartford Courant in its post-Series postmortem.

Brad Penny

Penny

Los Angeles Dodgers trade catcher Paul Lo Duca, outfielder Juan Encarnacion and reliever Guillermo Mota to Florida for pitchers Brad Penny and Bill Murphy and first baseman Hee-Seop Choi -- July 30, 2004

7 The headline: "Dodgers didn't need to do this" (Los Angeles Times)

Why the heck is L.A. general manager Paul DePodesta doing so much tinkering when the Dodgers sport a 3½ game lead in the National League West?

This trade is panned, in part, because DePodesta mistakenly thought he could flip Penny in a deal for Randy Johnson. But the biggest outcry is over DePodesta's decision to trade Lo Duca, the team's resident leader, glue guy and "heart and soul," and inflict irreparable damage on the Dodgers' clubhouse chemistry.

The postscript: Los Angeles went on to win the NL West for the first time in nine years, and Penny posted 16-win seasons in 2006 and 2007. The Dodgers fired DePodesta in October 2005. But in a strange twist, his image hasn't taken nearly as big a pounding as the catcher he was panned for trading.

Since leaving Los Angeles, Lo Duca has been scrutinized for everything from his gambling habits to his extramarital flings to his comments that the Latin players in New York should be available for media interviews because they speak better English than everybody thinks.

And that was before Lo Duca's name popped up in the Mitchell report. Some people suspect that's why he was scratched from catching the ceremonial first pitch from President George Bush in the Nationals' 2008 season opener.

"According to interviews with alleged steroid suppliers, Paul Lo Duca wasn't so much a clubhouse leader as a clubhouse pusher," LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote in December 2007. That really hurts.

Scott Kazmir

Kazmir

New York Mets acquire Victor Zambrano from Tampa Bay for lefty Scott Kazmir as part of a four-player deal, and pick up Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger from Pittsburgh for Ty Wigginton, Jose Bautista and Matt Peterson -- July 30, 2004

8 The headline: "Arms race won: Mets 'go for it' with Benson, Zambrano" (New York Post)

Yes, some people are wary that the Mets might have erred in trading away Kazmir, their first pick in the 2002 draft. One scout tells Newsday that the deal will come back and "bite them in the butt" eventually.

Still, Kazmir is an undersized lefty who's elicited some concerns with his off-field partying and supposedly fragile elbow. With the Zambrano and Benson deals, the Mets acquire two starters who are both under age 30 and could be around a while. There's a lot of "full steam ahead" rhetoric emanating from the New York front office.

"We're still in the hunt and we're still in the mix. Let's go for it," says Mets GM Jim Duquette. "With these guys added to the rotation, we're going to have a chance to win every night."

The postscript: The Mets, six games out at the time of the trade, faded to 25 games behind first-place Atlanta. Zambrano hurt his elbow and pitched a total of 14 innings during the 2004 season, while Kazmir arrived in Tampa that summer and pitched 33 1/3 innings for Lou Piniella's Devil Rays. Now he's an All-Star.

You knew the Mets had problems when the New York Post ran a story in late August under the headline, "What an Amazin' mistake."

No one has to live with the fallout more than former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, who reportedly said he could fix Zambrano's issues in "10 minutes" and that Kazmir was three years away from pitching in the majors. He was considerably off on both counts.

Randy Johnson

Johnson

The Seattle Mariners trade pitcher Randy Johnson to Houston for minor leaguers Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia and John Halama -- July 31, 1998

9 The headline: "How Houston won at 'Let's make a deal'" (San Antonio Express-News)

Fans in Houston are euphoric when the Astros acquire Johnson just minutes before the deadline. Best of all, Houston GM Gerry Hunsicker was able to make the deal without surrendering the team's top two prospects -- outfielder Richard Hidalgo and pitcher Scott Elarton.

According to news accounts, Hunsicker suckered Seattle GM Woody Woodward into trading the Big Unit and taking almost nothing in return. The word "bargain" appears liberally in accounts of the trade.

The postscript: Johnson, who moped his way through the first four months in Seattle, went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA with the Astros, then pitched extremely well in the Division Series, only to lose back-to-back decisions to San Diego's Kevin Brown and Sterling Hitchcock. He left Houston that winter to sign a free-agent deal with Arizona.

The Mariners, meanwhile, got some pretty good mileage out of their end. Garcia posted a 76-50 record in six seasons in Seattle. Halama went 41-31 over four years, and Guillen hung around for four years before the Mariners traded him to Detroit. Not bad for a bargain haul.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer