No big deals this year

Without any major moves and just a few minor ones, this year's trading deadline turned into a terribly anticlimactic event.

Originally Published: July 31, 2005
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

So who needs Manny Ramirez when you've got Ron Villone?

And Soriano, Schmoriano. Big whoop. Heck, Geoff Blum got traded.

We were all honoring Peter Gammons today. The whole industry
shut down.
Boston assistant GM Josh Byrnes

And then there were Matt Lawton and Kyle Farnsworth. On a July 31 that put the "dead" back in Deadline Day, we'll look back on them as having singlehandedly (OK, make that doublehandedly) saved the ESPN Trade Deadline Special. Uh, didn't they?

On the day the Czar of Deadline Day, Peter Gammons, made his eloquent walk into the Hall of Fame, there must have been 30 general managers who were busier watching his speech than calling each other -- because they forgot to trade anybody.

"We were all honoring Peter Gammons today," joked Red Sox assistant GM Josh Byrnes on Sunday. "The whole industry shut down."

Five stinking deals on Deadline Day. Five.

And one of them was a guy who'd just been designated for assignment by the Yankees (Buddy Groom) -- meaning he either had to be traded, deported or mugged on the No. 4 train.

So make that four deals. Four.

Matt Lawton. Kyle Farnsworth. Ron Villone. Geoff Blum. That's the club. We can now safely resume our regularly scheduled programming.

"Most anticlimactic thing I've ever been a part of," grumbled an executive of one contender.

"Ridiculous," moaned another contender's assistant GM.

"What a waste of a lot of people's time," muttered an official of yet another club.

Four deals. Four. Incredible. Want to know what happened? Here's what:

• Way too little supply and way too much demand.

• A crummy free-agent class on the horizon that produced almost no decent rent-a-players.

• Two dozen teams that apparently thought of themselves as still being in some kind of race.

• And a group of non-contenders that apparently thought the definition of "seller's market" was: Give us your wallet, your watch, your ATM card, your 401K and your entire Baseball America Top 10 Prospect List.

So after a Deadline Day that was comatose, we're adjusting on the fly. Rather than take our traditional approach to evaluating deadline deals -- by anointing winners and losers in the last-minute swap meet -- we're taking a different slant this year.

We're going to look not just at this day or this week but at the big picture. At all the deals, including those trades of several weeks ago which have already made an impact. And also at deals that weren't made, and what that might mean.

So here they come, the first annual Deadly Deadline Awards:

Best deal under the radar

Kyle Farnsworth
Relief Pitcher
Atlanta Braves
Profile
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
GM W L BB K ERA
46 1 1 20 55 2.32
Kyle Farnsworth to the Braves
Leave it to Atlanta to trade for a relief pitcher who throws 100 mph, negotiate that deal for days and still manage to keep it so quiet that not only did us media sleuths not find out about it -- but even other teams had no idea it was cooking.

"Boy," said an official of one NL club. "That one came out of left field, huh?"

"Typical Atlanta," said another NL exec. "Right there under the radar."

Farnsworth can be a loose cannon at times. But he's having a big year (55 whiffs, just 29 hits in 42 2/3 innings). And he's a perfect fit for a Braves bullpen that needed one more late-inning piece, a guy who can close but won't necessarily have to.

"Of all the guys traded," said one GM, "Farnsworth might have the biggest impact."

Biggest trade that never happened

Manny Ramirez to Queens
Did the Red Sox really intend to trade their man, Manny? Not everyone is convinced that anyone except the CEO, Larry Lucchino, was particularly motivated to do it in the middle of a pennant race -- with his team in first place.

Manny Ramirez
Left Field
Boston Red Sox
Profile
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
GM HR RBI R OBP AVG
97 28 93 68 .371 .275
But whatever went on there, the Red Sox, Mets and Devil Rays managed to invest so much time talking about the big Manny-palooza deal, they never wound up getting anything else done (unless you count Boston picking up Arizona exile Jose Cruz Jr.).

"I didn't think, for one moment, that the Manny thing would happen," said an official of one team that tried Sunday to get in on some of the players who weren't traded in that deal. "Too many issues. Too many complications. And just not enough time to resolve them all."

In the end, maybe the biggest impact of all the Manny talk is that it paralyzed not just the three clubs involved but a bunch of other clubs on the periphery, too.

The Rockies wound up with Larry Bigbie when they thought they were spinning him to Boston for their next catcher, Kelly Shoppach, before the Red Sox backed off so they could use Shoppach in the Manny-fest. And several other teams report they were talking about potential deals with Boston that intrigued them enough and delayed them enough that it helped prevent them from getting other trades done before the deadline.

"The Red Sox," said one GM, "were all over the board. I know there were quite a few teams that talked to them about deals they thought were going to get made, when it turned out they were way down the line for Boston, depending on how the Manny stuff turned out."

Deadline deal that could help more than you think

Ron Villone to Florida
"Take a look at Villone's numbers," said an official of one team, "and then compare them to Kyle Farnsworth's numbers. You won't believe how identical they are."

OK, we'll bite.

Farnsworth: 1-1, 6 SV, 2.32 ERA, 42 2/3 IP, 29 H, 55 K

Villone: 2-3, 1 SV, 2.45 ERA, 40 1/3 IP, 33 H, 41 K

Now obviously, there's a difference between Farnsworth cranking up his smoke late in the game and Villone crafting his way through the middle innings. But Villone -- who only cost Florida one decent prospect (Yorman Bazardo) and one fringy prospect (Mike Flannery) -- could be a bigger pick-up than he'd appear on the surface.

"Villone will help Florida because their bullpen wasn't real good," said one scout. "And he's a horse. He can come in and get a left-handed hitter out (.213 average by LHs). But he can also go two innings at a shot if you need him to."

Most important hired bat

Matt Lawton to the Cubs
Matt Lawton
Right Field
Chicago Cubs
Profile
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
GM HR RBI R OBP AVG
101 10 44 53 .380 .273
Mark McGwire was once a Deadline Day hired bat. Will Clark was once a Deadline Day hired bat. Last year, Steve Finley was a Deadline Day hired bat. Which brings us to this year.

When the only hired bat dealt on Deadline Day was Lawton -- traded to the Cubs for Jody Gerut (a guy who didn't even spend two weeks as a Cub).

But is Lawton a significant enough upgrade to get the Cubs into the playoffs? Not everyone is so sure.

"Matt Lawton is a nice offensive player," said one NL assistant GM. "If I had to pick a team that won [on Deadline Day], I'd say the Cubs. He can do some stuff. I know when we played the Pirates, he just killed us."

But an assistant GM of another NL team totally disagreed, saying: "I don't see him as an impactful guy at all. He can't play defense. And we've had pretty bad reports on him the last two weeks."

So we had a veteran scout break the tie, with this verdict: "He'll help them some. He can get on base. He's always had a history of doing that. And in that park, he doesn't have to be a very good defender. Remember that. But will he have enough of an impact to get them into the playoffs? I don't think so."

Then again, even the Cubs didn't pretend they were getting Lawton to do that. The additions they're hoping will get them into the playoffs are named Garciaparra, Wood and Williamson -- three high-profile veterans about to come off the disabled list. The season might well rest in their hands.

Teams that were in on everybody but got nobody

Twins and Mets
The Twins needed offense even before they lost Torii Hunter. They needed offense even more by the time the weekend rolled around. But they struck out on Alfonso Soriano, Bill Mueller, Shea Hillenbrand and even Chris Burke -- despite burning up the phone lines right until the deadline.

"That team has very good pitching, but it's not going to win if it doesn't get more offense," said one GM. "To me, they're suspect at three of nine offensive positions. And now, with Hunter going down, that puts almost half their lineup in that category of not real good. They have to find a way to get a bat in August."

The Mets, on the other hand, were almost held hostage by the Ramirez talks. GM Omar Minaya loves big deals in general and Manny in particular and fixated days' worth of attention on that one move -- after devoting similar energy to Soriano before that.

That left them time, in the final hours, just to chase desperately needed bullpen help. But after they backed off on Jose Mesa and Eddie Guardado and got outbid on Villone, their final run at Danys Baez got shot down by Tampa Bay. So they look no different in August than they looked in July -- and needed to. Especially in a city like the one they play in.

"The two teams in the [NL] East I thought sure would make a deal at the end were the Mets and Phillies," said one NL executive. "I'm not sure either of them is as good as Atlanta and Florida now."

Two sellers who did it right

Mariners and Rockies
It may be true that the Mariners dangled so many players on their roster, it was tough at times even for clubs dealing with them to figure out who was available for what price.

But in the end, Seattle did just fine -- unloading three replaceable pieces (Randy Winn, Villone, Miguel Olivo) for two new catchers (Yorvit Torrealba and Miguel Ojeda) and a bunch of fresh arms (Bazardo, Flannery, Jesse Foppert and Nathaniel Mateo).

"I thought they did all right," said one scout. "They got rid of some money. They cut their losses. They got kids back. And they got some arms back."

The most intriguing arm is Foppert, who was once the Giants' top pitching prospect and is inching back from Tommy John surgery. The jury is still out, but as one scout put it: "Everyone else comes back from that operation. I don't see why he wouldn't."

The Rockies, meanwhile, moved all kinds of names (Preston Wilson, Joe Kennedy, Shawn Chacon, Eric Byrnes) for mostly no-names. But they came out of it with Bigbie, plus three arms with excellent upside (Zach Day, Eduardo Sierra and Ramon Ramirez).

The Yankees dealt Sierra and Ramirez for a one-game winner (Chacon) -- and teams we surveyed like both. Sierra "has a big arm," said one scout. And Ramirez is a guy with good enough stuff that he once inspired a bidding war between the Phillies and Yankees for the right to extricate him from Japan.

"Our scouts really like Ramirez," said one GM. "In fact, we like him more than Sierra."

Will one of these guys turn into the next Yhency Brazoban, a pitching prospect thrown by the Yankees into a deal who turns into a pinstripe-haunter? Could be.

Two sellers who did it wrong

Devil Rays and Reds
You know the names by heart at this point: Danys Baez. Aubrey Huff. Julio Lugo. Adam Dunn. Austin Kearns. Junior Griffey. Sean Casey.

They're all names that have kept Rumor Central percolating for weeks now. So how come, after all that blabbing, not oneof them got traded?

Let's just say a bunch of teams were fuming at the two general managers -- Tampa Bay's always-embattled Chuck LaMar and Cincinnati's Dan O'Brien.

The complaints about LaMar -- a Deadline Day tradition -- were a little different than usual, though. This time, LaMar really had teams convinced he was going to move Baez and Huff for sure, and probably Lugo, too.

But after seeing mega-prospects like Hanley Ramirez, Lastings Milledge, Yasmiero Petit, Jon Lester and Shoppach dangled before his eyes in the Manny-palooza talks, LaMar was unwilling to lower his sights even a little bit when it came time to trade his guys separately. Then, on Sunday, he started telling teams Lugo wasn't even available "after telling everyone he'd move him," said one front-office man.

"I'm always amazed," added one frustrated GM, "by a team that needs that much help, as bad as it is, and doesn't do anything."

But at least LaMar set the ground rules early on. If he didn't get your team's best prospect, he wasn't trading with you. He said that from the start -- and stuck to it. The Reds, on the other hand, sent mixed signals in all directions -- and aggravated more teams than anyone else in baseball.

"I don't understand what they were doing," said an executive of one contender. "I thought we made real solid offers for a couple of their guys, and we'd never get a response. They'd never give you names of guys they want. They wouldn't tell you what they were trying to do. You were never sure who they wanted. You could never tell whether guys you were talking about were available. And they might not even call back."

At least the Reds did make one decent trade (Joe Randa for promising pitching prospects Justin Germano and Travis Chick). How the Devil Rays could stand pat, on the other hand, is a bigger mystery to many teams than the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Best early shoppers

A's, Phillies and Tigers
As it turned out, waiting for the deadline to make your trades proved to be a giant waste of time for most clubs. Instead, the best midseason deals were the ones made weeks ago.

The A's are 14-3 since trading for Jay Payton, Joe Kennedy and Jay Witasick.

The Phillies' bullpen has completely stabilized since they dealt for Ugueth Urbina a month and a half ago -- and Urbina still looks like the most reliable pitcher (starter or reliever) who was traded for by any team in either June or July.

And Placido Polanco (hitting .358 as a Tiger since being traded for Urbina) is a better player than any position player who got traded at the deadline.

So what's the moral of this story -- a moral teams ought to remember next year at this time? Good things don't always come to those who wait 'til Deadline Day.

Worst early shoppers

The Orioles
It seems like ancient history now. But it was actually a mere two weeks ago when we thought the Orioles were about to trade for A.J. Burnett any darned minute.

Instead, as we might have mentioned a few times on this site, they never did make what would have been a critical, stop-the-bleeding deal. And let's take a look at how that's worked out.

Burnett is 3-0, with a 1.33 ERA since Baltimore turned that trade down.

And the Orioles? They had gone 1-12 since then.

"We might have a new curse on our hands," quipped an official of one NL team. "The Curse of A.J. Burnett."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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