Deadline deals don't match the hype
Well, the calendar says it's July. And you know what that means.No, not the long-awaited arrival of Agib Talib at Buccaneers camp. No, not even the long-awaited arrival of your beach chair on a big white stretch of sand. We mean, of course, it's trade-deadline month. A month in which you'll undoubtedly read more rumors than box scores. A month in which C.C. Sabathia is going to be a bigger topic of conversation than John McCain or Barack Obama.
Jayson Stark talks to Peter Pascarelli and Eric Karabell about trade deadline possibilities, and agrees that the Rays are tops in the Power Rankings. Podcast
5. Good arms aren't always good luck charmsThere's no commodity teams chase harder at the deadline than starting pitching. And it's mind-boggling how rarely it gets them anywhere. Consider this: • The last two starting pitchers acquired at midseason to win a World Series game were Jeff Weaver (picked off the scrap heap), for the 2006 Cardinals, and Mike Torrez (a relic of another era), for the 1977 Yankees. • And the last two pitchers traded on Deadline Day (July 31) to win any kind of postseason game were Oliver Perez (a reclamation-project throw-in), for the 2006 Mets, and David Weathers (as a set-up reliever), for the 1996 Yankees.
Notable midseason acquisitions by World Series teams, 2005-07:
|2007 Red Sox -- Eric Gagne
(6.75 ERA rest of season)
|2006 Tigers -- Sean Casey
(hit .245 rest of season)
|2006 Cardinals -- Jeff Weaver
(dumped by Angels after going 3-10, 6.29, went 5-4, 5.18 rest of season)
|2005 White Sox -- Geoff Blum
(hit .200 rest of season, but hit a walkoff World Series homer)
So remember, friends, there's no assurance that trading for a C.C. Sabathia is going to give your team any better chance of winning the World Series than trading for, say, Tim Redding. And that's a fact.The reason, said O'Dowd, is simply that those starting pitchers only get to play every five days. So "just look at the number of starts a starting pitcher is going to get by the end of September," he said. "It's probably 10. So if the guy doesn't dominate in eight of those 10 starts, it's a disappointing trade." Position players are different, he said, "because they can blend into the mix." And bullpen arms, in the right role, "can make a big difference." And by the way, we can assure you O'Dowd really believes that, even though the only kinds of players he has on the block this month are (coincidentally) bats and relievers. But those monster starting-pitcher deals? They create "a tremendous amount of pressure," he said. "And not many guys are able to handle that."
4. Even the right moves can turn out wrongWe've been studying some of the biggest trades made at the deadline over the past half-dozen years -- those trades we all labeled "winners" at the time. What did they accomplish, in retrospect? Not what anybody figured. That's for sure. Remember last year's blockbusters? Mark Teixeira to the Braves? The Braves were 3½ games out of first when he arrived. They finished five games out. Eric Gagne to the Red Sox? All he delivered was a 6.75 ERA. Want some others, from previous years? Carlos Lee to Texas in 2006? The Rangers went from 1½ games back to 13 back. Bartolo Colon to the Expos in 2002? They played sub-.500 ball the rest of the season and finished 19 games behind -- and the three prospects traded for him (Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore) all turned into stars. So what's the moral of that story? If you're a flawed team when you make that "perfect" trade, one guy -- no matter how big a name -- rarely fixes all your problems. "The reason is there isn't a perfect team out there," said Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski. "So what happens is, as soon as you make one deal to address your biggest need, it creates another need." Or even when those deals work, you can still get flat-out unlucky. Ask former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker, now a senior vice president for baseball operations in Tampa Bay. He made two of the best midseason deals of the past decade -- snagging Carlos Beltran in 2004 and Randy Johnson in 1998. Neither trade got his team to the World Series, even though it definitely wasn't their fault. Beltran hit eight home runs in that postseason alone -- but Roger Clemens couldn't hold a one-run lead in Game 7 of the NLCS. And Johnson had a 1.93 postseason ERA, but his team scored two runs total in his two October starts -- "so we lose two low-scoring games in the first round," Hunsicker said, "and we go home." Hunsicker has been asked "100 times" if he would make those deals again. He would. But that doesn't mean he still isn't haunted by how they turned out.
3. It's harder than everThere was a time back in the late 1990s, when salary dumps still ruled the land, that a team could wander into the pre-deadline trade market and deal for a Randy Johnson or a Mark McGwire. But nowadays, in an age of unparalleled financial prosperity, those kinds of trades are harder to come by than ever. You have very few dollar dumps. You have many more teams that think they're in July contention, buoyed by wild-card looniness and the rash of miraculous second-half comebacks over the past few years. You have a stunning new emphasis on the value of good, young players. And, frankly, in an age when the deadline has never been more heavily covered or dissected, you have more GMs "who are afraid to make a mistake," O'Dowd said. "So generally speaking," said Hunsicker, "you're going to overpay for what you get. And the guys you get are probably not going to get you where you hope to go." That, friends, is the real-life state of the modern trading deadline. And because it is, many GMs tread into that market now with the idea that it's better to make deals for little pieces than big, overhyped blockbusters that mostly just blow up in their kissers. "When you get those little pieces," O'Dowd said, "those players come in and the expectations are not as great. And that has a lot to do with it. I really believe that expectations are the most difficult thing in our game to deal with, both collectively [in front offices feeling heat to win] and on the individuals involved. We create these big expectations, and on the whole, very few people have the ability to meet those expectations." So look at the trade imports who had the biggest effect on World Series champs of the last few years: Weaver, Geoff Blum, Dave Roberts, Ugueth Urbina. Let's just say they weren't we-interrupt-this-programming kind of acquisitions the day they all got dealt. But they paid off beyond anybody's expectation in October. "It's amazing," said Dombrowski, "how winning takes place. Sometimes it's because you make a deal. But sometimes it's just bringing in a guy from your minor league system. Sometimes it's just changing your mix. "A lot of times, teams don't want to turn to young guys because they're not names. But a lot of times, that guy you call up is better than that guy you acquire in a trade at the deadline. The difference is that guy on the trade market is a more known quantity than that guy in Triple-A. But that doesn't mean he's better." It's easy to forget that this time of year. But ask the Red Sox who made the bigger impact on their team last October -- Eric Gagne or Jacoby Ellsbury? We rest our case.
2. Don't pay the rentWe spend most of our time before the deadline focusing on players whose rendezvous with free agency is just a few weeks away. But while deals for those kinds of players are the trades most likely to happen, they're also the trades most fraught with danger. "When you're trading for a player for a short period of time," said Hunsicker, "the reality is that any player, no matter how good he is, gets hot and gets cold. So the shorter period of time, the riskier it is because that player could go cold for a month." No one remembers, for instance, that there was a three-week stretch, right after Beltran arrived in Houston, in which he hit .208, with nearly as many strikeouts as hits. It got so messy, Hunsicker laughed, that "I remember getting questions from my owner, a month after we got him, about how good this guy was."
In honor of C.C. Sabathia, good luck with this question: Just three active Cy Young award-winners have been traded away at the trading deadline at any point in their careers after they won the award. Can you name them? (Answer later.)
1. The deadline isn't even a deadlineFor years now, one of Hunsicker's most indelible quotes has been stuck in our brain, only to pop out every July: The trading deadline, he said, "is an artificial deadline." "I always felt like, if you were going to depend on making a trade at the trading deadline, you were painting yourself into a corner," Hunsicker said this week. "That's really not the way this job is supposed to work. I always felt like, just because that day on the calendar is coming up and all of a sudden a lot of pressure has built up, so you feel you have to make a deal by that deadline. If that's how you're building your team, it just seems artificial." And he couldn't be more right. A lot of truly awful trades get made before the deadline. And one of the biggest reasons is all the hype we create -- i.e., media and fans alike -- because it's a hype even GMs get sucked into, often against their will.
I think some of the best deals made at the trading deadline are the ones that aren't made.
--Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd
"The only [GMs] who can insulate themselves from those expectations," said O'Dowd, "are the ones who have been so successful, they don't feel like their jobs are threatened, or the ones who are able to put it all in its proper perspective just by virtue of their experience."But for everyone else, the pressure builds. The rumors explode. The competition is wheeling and dealing. The clubhouse is watching. And "it builds to the point where a lot of guys feel like they have to do something," O'Dowd said. "That's why I think some of the best deals made at the trading deadline are the ones that aren't made." In fact, he still hasn't wiped one of those nontrades off his mental chalkboard -- a 1995 blockbuster that would have sent Bret Saberhagen to Cleveland, where O'Dowd was assistant GM at the time. It would have been a trade that required the Indians "to give up things we should never have been giving up," he recalls. So when Saberhagen went to the Rockies instead, "I remember the sense of disappointment when we didn't get him. But I also remember the sense of relief we felt that we didn't get him when we woke up the next morning." Those '95 Indians made it to the World Series, if you'll recall, even though all of us brilliant media experts called them "losers" after the deadline. It's a vivid reminder that July's "winners" are often October's floppers -- and vice versa. It happens every darned summer, in the overhyped heat of another trading deadline. Got that? Great. So you're duly warned about what this deadline is and isn't. Right? Good. Now that we've got that straight (he-he), let's get back to our regularly scheduled pre-deadline rumor-mongering.
Ready To Rumble• Seeing Red: Here's another intriguing name to add to your deadline shopping list: Aaron Harang.
GOOFINESS OF THE WEEK
• Don't spell this at home: The San Jose Mercury News' always-inventive Andy Baggarly reports that just because Omar Vizquel has won 11 Gold Gloves, doesn't mean he's a household name in his own glove company's household. The name on his glove is spelled V-I-S-Q-U-E-L.• Scouting bureau: One scout's review of Rays third baseman Evan Longoria: "It took Carl Crawford five years to get the feel for the game this guy got in five minutes." • Quote of the week: Indians pitcher Aaron Laffey drilled Reds behemoth Adam Dunn twice in two at-bats Sunday. So, as Dayton Daily News Hall of Famer Hal McCoy reports, when Dunn headed for the plate the third time, catcher Kelly Shoppach sped to the mound and told Laffey: "Please don't hit him again. He's bigger than both of us combined."
Greg Maddux (won in 1992, '93, '94, '95, traded before the 2006 deadline), Randy Johnson (won in 1995, traded before the 1998 deadline) and Eric Gagne (won in 2003, traded before the 2007 deadline -- much to the delight of Red Sox Nation).
• Life after the Iron Pigs: Brett Myers became the first Phillies pitcher to get sent to the minors after starting on Opening Day since Floyd Youmans in 1989. But while the Phillies and Myers agree that he'll only be with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs for 20 days, what they can't agree on is his future beyond this season.Myers made it clear to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jim Salisbury this week that he loved closing last year and never embraced his return to the rotation the way an Opening Day starter should have. So obviously, what he'd like to do after this season is go back to short relief. But that only fits the Phillies' plans if they can't re-sign Brad Lidge. If they can't, he looms as their likely closer next season. If Lidge is back, Myers could find himself on the market this winter. • Dunn deal: We heard from three different teams this week that the Reds have "zero" takers on Adam Dunn. Hard to believe Dunn wouldn't be a fit for an AL team with a lineup deep enough that he wouldn't have to be a middle-of-the-order presence. • C.C. ya later? Are we absolutely positive this is the last month we'll ever see Sabathia in an Indians uniform? For one thing, we're hearing those last-ditch negotiations the Indians are holding with him at the moment aren't just token discussions. In fact, one baseball man who speaks with them regularly says he believes the Indians are making "an aggressive run" to sign their ace, and compared the talks with the effort the Indians made in 2002 to keep Jim Thome -- an effort that died because of years, not market dollars.
Headliner of the weekThis headline just in from the brilliant Chicago parody site, theheckler.com:
TV scheduling change gives me excuse to watch
'My boyfriend swears he had sex with my mother!'
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