Commentary

Biggest myths about the trade deadline

Plus the latest on Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and other potential trade chips

Originally Published: July 23, 2009
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

If it's the third week of July, you know what that means:

Your air conditioner is about to break down in the next 30 seconds, of course.

But that's not all it means. It also means another action-packed trading deadline is only days away.

So we understand totally if you feel the need to spend more time talking about Roy Halladay than about your kids in the next week. And if you find you're more interested in Rumor Central than you are in say, eating … hey, that's perfectly normal. Really.

But that doesn't mean certain aspects of America's addiction to the trading deadline haven't gotten completely out of hand. We find that many otherwise intelligent citizens are filled with massive misconceptions about what the deadline is and isn't. So to help guide you through this next week, Rumblings and Grumblings presents:

The Five Biggest Myths About The Trading Deadline

Myth No. 1: That ace you trade for in July will lead you to the parade floats in October.

Not to douse the flames surrounding the Roy Halladay Derby or anything. But there's one minor flaw in the logic that trading for Halladay -- or anybody remotely like him -- will automatically elevate the Phillies to official World Series favorites:

These deals almost never work out like that.

In fact, let's remind you of two of the most startling facts of modern trade-deadline times:

Jeff Weaver
Weaver
Joe Blanton
Blanton
• Over the past 32 years, exactly three pitchers who changed teams in midseason have won a World Series game: Joe Blanton for the 2008 Phillies, Jeff Weaver for the 2006 Cardinals and Mike Torrez for the 1977 Yankees. Combined Cy Young Awards for those three guys: Uh, that would be zero.

• And over the past 13 years, only two pitchers who got traded on deadline day (July 31) went on to win any kind of postseason game. One was Oliver Perez (who was actually only a throw-in at the time) for the 2006 Mets. The other was David Weathers, who was just a set-up bullpen arm for the 1996 Yankees.

Now that's not always the new ace's fault. It's not, as one NL executive observed, as if "those guys go out there in those games and don't get out of the first inning." But a starting pitcher might get only one postseason start. He's usually matched up with somebody else's ace. And if he leaves after seven in a 2-2 game, his opportunities to make an impact on that postseason could be over. So remember that, all right?


Myth No. 2: That star will carry your team to the postseason, just like Manny and CC did.

It's a bad year to be pointing out this particular deadline myth. Heck, you only have to roll the clock back to last July to find Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia changing zip codes and totally resuscitating their new franchises. And that Rich Harden-to-the-Cubs deal was no clunker, either.

So obviously, the big deal does work -- sometimes. But we can find a zillion more examples of trades that didn't change much of anything. Here's a little sampling from just the past five years:

• From 2008: Mark Teixeira to the Angels, Ken Griffey Jr. to the White Sox, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees, Pudge Rodriguez to the Yankees.

Eric Gagne
Gagne
Mark Teixeira
Teixeira
• From 2007: Teixeira to the Braves, Eric Gagne to the Red Sox.

• From 2006: Carlos Lee to the Rangers, Aubrey Huff to the Astros, Bob Wickman to the Indians, Austin Kearns/Felipe Lopez to the Reds.

• From 2004: Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs, Steve Finley to the Dodgers, Paul Lo Duca/Guillermo Mota to the Marlins.

"Here's what I've learned," said an official of one team that has struck out on more than one deadline blockbuster. "Sometimes it's those little guys, who you don't get any credit for, that are the difference-makers. It's those veteran role-players who have been through it before. Or it can be the veteran guy who hasn't been through it, and gets that adrenaline rush from finally being in a race."

He couldn't be more right. Check out this list of the midseason trade acquisitions who might have had the biggest impact on the last six World Series champs:

Matt Stairs (2008 Phillies), Bobby Kielty (2007 Red Sox), Jeff Weaver (2006 Cardinals), Geoff Blum (2005 White Sox), Dave Roberts (2004 Red Sox) and Ugueth Urbina (2003 Marlins).

We don't recall interrupting your regularly scheduled programming to announce any of those deals. But then again, who knew?


Myth No. 3: The one area you can always upgrade is middle relief.

Anybody who has really studied the great trading-deadline debacles of recent times can tell you, without any smidgen of doubt, that those seemingly sensible trades for set-up relievers can make almost any GM look like a knucklehead within two weeks.

But teams keep making those deals anyway, because they just can't help it. Everybody needs bullpen depth. There are always plenty of bullpen arms on the shelves at the good old deadline superstore. So those trades just keep on coming. But it's amazing how many of those deals have virtually zero impact. Such as …

• In 2008: Jon Rauch to Arizona, Damaso Marte to the Yankees.

• In 2007: Eric Gagne to the Red Sox, Scott Linebrink to the Brewers, Octavio Dotel to the Braves, Scott Proctor to the Dodgers.

• In 2006: Rheal Cormier and Gary Majewski to the Reds, Danys Baez to the Braves, Mike MacDougal to the White Sox.

• In 2005: Paul Quantrill to the Padres, Chad Bradford to the Red Sox.

Get the picture?

"You know the reason a lot of these relief pitchers don't make any difference?" an official of one club observed. "Because they're already tired. You're never trading for a fresh arm. With a starting pitcher, at least you know when he pitched. But with relief pitchers, you don't know how many times they warmed up three times and never pitched, or how many times they pitched two innings one day and then warmed up the next day.

"So you know their game usage, but you have no idea what their true stress usage was. That's why, a lot of times, you're better off bringing a reliever up from your system, because the other teams have no scouting report on them and at least you know how your guy was used."

Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? So bear that in mind when you're trying to evaluate the 47 deals for set-up men in the next week.


Myth No. 4: It's always worth throwing in that extra prospect to make a deal.

Since the home office of International Rumblings Headquarters is located in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, we've heard this logic a lot in the past week, any time the topic turns to Roy Halladay (which would be pretty much 24/7, by the way):

What's the big deal about trading away prospects? Most of them never make it, anyhow.

OK, it's true that most minor leaguers wind up coaching Phys. Ed. at their old high school or some variation of that career destination. But if you don't think teams can be haunted by the prospect they toss into a deadline deal, allow us to mention these names:

John SmoltzScott KazmirJeff BagwellJason VaritekDerek LoweCliff LeeGrady SizemoreMichael YoungBen Zobrist … and even Shin-Soo Choo.

They were all traded away around the trading deadline: some in deals that worked, some in deals that still cause migraines for the GMs who made them.

So the key, said one longtime executive, is: "You have to know your own system best." You have to do what the Braves have always done: know you can trade a Matt Harrison for a Teixeira because you have a Tommy Hanson coming, know you can trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia because Brian McCann is going to be your catcher for the next five years, know where your tradable depth lies and doesn't lie.

"How long can you be a contender if you give up the heart of your farm system?" asked another longtime baseball man. "Look at what Milwaukee gave up for CC. So far, that hasn't hurt their franchise. But if you do that year after year, too many times, pretty soon you wind up with nobody."

There's another thing to remember about prospects: When they reach the big leagues, they work cheap. So any team thinking about dealing away four of its best prospects for Halladay knows it had better get it right. Or that guy it deals away can become its Scott Kazmir or Jeff Bagwell -- for about the next 40 years.


Myth No. 5: Better make that deal by the deadline -- or else.

This might be No. 5 on this list. But it's really No. 1 on the deadline-myth hit parade. So repeat after us:

When is a deadline not really a deadline? When it's this deadline, because you don't have to make a lot of these deals by July 31.

"If you make a trade and it gets the adrenaline flowing in your clubhouse," said one exec, "it doesn't matter what the date is. Some of the best deals are made in August. And some of them are even made in June."

Just last year, we counted six major August acquisitions made by teams that made it to the postseason; Matt Stairs and Scott Eyre (Phillies), Paul Byrd and Mark Kotsay (Red Sox), Greg Maddux (Dodgers) and Chad Bradford (Rays). And everyone we've surveyed expects more deals than ever this August.

"With the economy being what it is, I don't think you'll see a lot of blocking for sake of blocking [on the waiver wire]," said one executive. "I don't think you'd see a Halladay get through. But I bet a lot of big names do get through."

Or as another exec put it, in memory of one of the most painful waiver claims of all time, "this could be a Randy Myers August. If you claim the wrong guy, I think there's a great chance that his team might say, 'Thank you. He's all yours.'"

So players like Matt Holliday, Jarrod Washburn and Jack Wilson might even be more tradable next month than they are this month. They're all likely to zip through waivers, but the teams dealing for them would have less salary to absorb.

Which means there's bad news and good news. The bad news is, you're probably way more worked up about this trading deadline than you ought to be. But the good news is, Rumor Central might be just as entertaining in August as it's been in July. And how can any of us not love that?

Happy Halladay Rumblings

It's always sunny: A Phillies source told Rumblings you can forget that talk that the Phillies might be less motivated to deal for Roy Halladay because they're running away with the NL East. If anything, he said, the Phillies are now even more motivated. "The focus is not just to get there [to the postseason]," he said. "It's to get there and keep going. Making the playoffs is not the goal. To win the whole thing is the goal."

But to win the whole thing, the Phillies know there's a good possibility they'll have to beat one of the three AL East piranhas: the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. And the Phillies just went 6-12 -- while allowing 5.5 runs per game -- versus the AL East in interleague play. If you subtract the now-injured Brett Myers, the Phillies' rotation went 3-7, with a 4.74 ERA, in that stretch.

And what's Halladay's career record against the AL East? How about 59-30? Don't think the Phillies haven't noticed that fun little stat.

J.A. Happ
Happ
Dodging a Mis-Happ: Meanwhile, as hard as the Phillies are working to pull off this deal, they also appear to be doing everything they can to make it without including either their top pitching prospect, Kyle Drabek, or J.A. Happ, who is currently 7-0 in the big leagues and has become their most dependable starter.

One rival GM we surveyed said if the Phillies have to deal one of those two, it should be Drabek, because there's almost no recent precedent for teams winning after subtracting a significant player from their big league mix to make a major trade.

"If you're a team that's good enough to be in the race, you never want to deplete what you've got," the GM said. "If you're looking for a building block, you can't move one building block out and bring another one in. The idea is to add that block to the group, not take one out of the group."

Taylor-made: Another big decision the Phillies may have to make is which of their highly touted outfield prospects -- Michael Taylor (currently in Triple-A) or Dominic Brown (on the DL in the Florida State League) -- to include in a Halladay deal. One scout who has seen a lot of the Phillies' minor league system says all the people who think Taylor is the more expendable player aren't paying attention.

"I like him better than Dominic Brown, to be honest," the scout said. "I just think you have a lot of guys who will never change their opinion because he wasn't a high pick. But this guy can hit. He can run. The ball jumps off his bat. He's got good bat speed. He's not a dead-pull hitter. He hits gap to gap. You can't throw the fastball by him. He stays on the breaking ball and drives it to right-center. He can throw. He's not a bad outfielder at all. And he plays hard. There's nothing not to like about this guy."

Feeling Blue: A baseball official who has known interim Blue Jays CEO Paul Beeston for years told Rumblings he thinks that, in some ways, the Halladay deal could be a tougher trade for the Blue Jays to make than it will be for the team that deals for him. So he expects Beeston to be heavily involved in this decision. "This is a signature moment for that franchise, when you deal somebody like this," the official said. "This is like a directional arrow for that team. It's like a weather vane, pointing toward the direction the franchise is about to take. There are very few real faces of any franchise left. But Roy Halladay is one of them.

"So this is more than just a baseball trade for that team. This is a move that could have a huge effect on that franchise. So obviously, they have to look at the entire franchise -- where they're headed, where their system is headed, the impact this will have on attendance. There are things besides players that are involved in a deal like this. There's more to it than just saying, 'Hey, if we trade him, we can get this guy and this guy.'"

Ready to Rumble

Cliff dwellers: Is Cliff Lee available or not? Well, you wouldn't find teams like the Dodgers, Angels, Rangers, Phillies, Rays and Brewers still scouting him if he were untouchable. But it would take a four-for-one, Halladay-esque package. And we're hearing there are two major differences between the Indians' approach on Lee and Toronto's stance on Halladay:

1. The Indians aren't anywhere near as motivated to trade their ace, but they'll do it if they're blown away. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, appear to be looking for ways to make the Halladay trade happen, because they know they can't re-sign him and this is as marketable as he'll ever be.

2. The Indians are looking for a slightly different type of package. Both teams are asking for future-ace-type young arms, but Cleveland isn't as dug in on the idea of getting big league-ready players back. The Indians are willing to do an all-prospect-based trade if the prospects have enough upside. Toronto appears to be looking mostly for players who can be in the big leagues within the next year.

If Lee does get traded, it doesn't figure to happen until just before the deadline, after the Halladay free-for-all has sorted itself out.

George Sherrill
Sherrill
Uh-O: There is no more attractive bullpen arm on the market than Orioles closer George Sherrill. But teams that have spoken with the Orioles say they're taking a very similar approach to the stance Cleveland has taken on Lee: that they don't have to move him, so you'd better overwhelm them.

An official of one interested team says the Orioles have established a two-tier price tag on Sherrill: one for teams willing to take on all the $1.2 million or so Sherrill is owed for the rest of the year, another higher rate for teams that want the Orioles to eat his salary.

Clubs that don't want to add the money are being asked for a "premium" prospect, plus at least two other young players, the official said. But teams willing to assume the salary are being asked for one fewer player.

The list of clubs still showing some level of interest in Sherrill is now believed to include the Tigers, Angels, Dodgers, Phillies, Rockies, Cubs, Marlins and Brewers.

Born on the Baez: But the other reliever Baltimore is dangling -- Danys Baez -- has seen his marketability plummet in the past few weeks. For one thing, his ERA was 2.11 before May 20, and it's 6.85 since. For another, clubs have red-flagged the fact that the Orioles have used him on back-to-back days exactly once all year.

"The way they're using him," said one scout, "it's almost like 'Buyer beware.'"

Javier Vazquez
Vazquez
Brave heart: The Braves are leaning heavily toward holding on to Javier Vazquez, but not merely because, as GM Frank Wren put it this week, "I don't think we'll be selling." Clubs that have spoken to them say there are two other reasons:

1. They believe Vazquez has turned a corner under Bobby Cox, a manager Vazquez has always wanted to pitch for.

2. The Braves haven't seen enough of Tim Hudson yet to be comfortable with the idea of giving up a meaningful piece of their rotation to make room for a pitcher who had Tommy John surgery 11 months ago, even if it brings back a badly needed bat. And one NL executive says that's the right call.

"If you think you're in a race, it doesn't make sense to hope something is going to happen," he said. "You have to know it's going to happen to trade a guy like that."

Dodge-ball: Clubs that have spoken with the Dodgers report they've back-burnered their hunt for another starter. Instead, they're all over the bullpen market. The Rumblings Espionage Bureau reports they've been spotted scouting the Pirates (Matt Capps and John Grabow), Blue Jays (Scott Downs and Jason Frasor), Reds (Arthur Rhodes and David Weathers) and Orioles (Sherrill). Among others.

The right stuff: While the Phillies stalk Roy Halladay, they haven't ignored their season-long hunt for a versatile right-handed bat off the bench. They were in on Scott Hairston before the Padres dealt him to Oakland, and we've heard they made another run at him after he arrived in Oakland. They haven't given up on Ryan Spilborghs, even though Colorado has shown no recent interest in trading him. And Detroit's Ryan Raburn has been on their radar screen since spring training.

Behind the red door: Officially, the Reds haven't decided if they're buyers or sellers. But unofficially, according to teams that have spoken with them, they've already moved into at least a soft-sell mode. They're looking for a taker for Weathers' salary (which, by the deadline, will be a little more than $1.5 million for the rest of the year, plus a $400,000 buyout). And if a team has an appetite for the $17 million or so left on Bronson Arroyo's deal, "they'll be very happy to listen to you," said an exec of one club.

That other deadline: Bet you didn't know that July 31 isn't just a deadline that affects Roy Halladay and Matt Holliday. It's also a deadline that impacts Stephen Strasburg -- well, sort of.

July 31 is the deadline for Japanese teams to acquire foreign players for the rest of this season. So if Scott Boras is serious about sending Strasburg across the Pacific, this would have to be the week.

But if Boras is only using the Strasburg-to-Japan gambit as a bargaining ploy, we should know that by the end of next week. Why? Because, the source said, "for 2010, there is no way that a Japanese team is going to sign a player, knowing full well he would leave in June after the [United States] draft, smack in the middle of their season."

So this isn't the Wichita Wingnuts that Boras is fooling with this time. There are international and cultural ramifications to this ploy. The word our source used to describe Japanese teams' feelings about being used for leverage here: "insulted."

Chicago Cubs

Making a run for it: Lou Piniella says there's nothing wrong with the Cubs that a little more -- OK, make that a lot more -- offense wouldn't cure.

"We only scored about 330 runs in the first half, so we've got to score 380 to 385 in the second half to win," Piniella told Rumblings. "If you look at all the teams that are ahead now, they're all on pace to score 750 runs or more. So we've got to score at that pace. I'm talking not quite a run a game, maybe another three-quarters of a run, and we'll be fine."

That means Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley have to pick it up, of course. But as we've noted before, both are hitting way below their career norms. So it isn't impossible.

Left out: Despite Piniella's lobbying for a left-handed middle-of-the-order bat, teams that have spoken with the Cubs say they're mostly shopping for left-handed bullpen help. Among the group they're known to have checked in on: Sherrill, Washington's Joe Beimel and Pittsburgh's John Grabow.

Off the fence: Meanwhile, Piniella's favorite Cubs stat of the year -- as reported earlier this week in Jerry Crasnick's excellent piece about the Cubs -- is that they've had their whole team on the field for only two days all year. One was Opening Day. The other was July 6, the day before they learned that Ryan Dempster had broken his toe leaping over the dugout fence to go celebrate a win.

So the Cubs have taken action. They've quietly banned dugout-fence jumping.

"That," Piniella said, "is over with, too.

"Unbelievable, the stuff that happens around here," he laughed.

Jayson Werth
Werth

Werth their while: Finally, we're always looking for ways to improve the Home Run Derby. So we're dutifully passing along Phillies All-Star Jayson Werth's idea to motivate the Derby boppers to unprecedented heights.

"I don't know what those guys get if they win," Werth told Rumblings. "But I think they should get a bag of cash."

Wait. A bag of cash? Like what, a shopping bag? Full of $20 bills?

"No, of hundreds," Werth said. "I'm talking about a sack full. Maybe a little leprechaun could carry it out there and throw it at your feet if you win. Then you'd hop in the back of a big Brinks truck and ride away. That would be awesome."

Well, it would do wonders for Derby participation, anyway. Bring your favorite BP pitcher -- and your favorite accountant.

The Rumblings Scouting Bureau

Once again this week, we check in with some of America's sharpest scouting minds.

• On J.A. Happ: "This guy has to be the most underrated pitcher in the National League. He's pitching his tail off. He's got the ability to hide the ball and create deception. And he pitches vertical. So even if you're looking fastball, the ball is on you fast. And you see some pretty weak hacks."

• A second take on Happ: "I've really upped him on my reports. I used to have him as a No. 4 starter, kind of a poor man's Andy Pettitte. Now I think he's a No. 3. I think he's become Andy Pettitte -- and he's actually pitching better than the Andy Pettitte who's pitching for the Yankees."

• On John Smoltz: "I just don't have a lot of confidence in him yet. His first start, his velocity was pretty good -- 93-94 [mph] at times, and he averaged 91-92, with life. And his breaking stuff was 3 or 4 miles an hour above what it is now. His stuff has declined as he's gone out there every five days. And that's not a good sign."

• On Joba Chamberlain: "They're waiting for him to become the next Josh Beckett, and it ain't gonna happen. He just doesn't have the power stuff Beckett has. He doesn't have the delivery. He's not the athlete Beckett is. And he doesn't have the breaking stuff. If they ever get smart, they'll put him back in the bullpen and let [Alfredo] Aceves be the [No.] 3-4 starter he ought to be."

Rickey Henderson
Henderson

List of the week: The All-Rickey Team

When Rickey Henderson tried to steal a base in his career, he made it 80.8 percent of the time. So in his honor, we now present an All-Star team of players who had an 80 percent SB success ratio -- or, in the cases of first base, catcher, pitcher and DH, the coolest names we could find who at least came close:

1B: Don Baylor (70.4 pct.)
2B: Davey Lopes (83.0 pct.)
SS: Barry Larkin (83.1 pct.)
3B: Alex Rodriguez (80.9 pct)
LF: Tim Raines (84.7 pct.)
CF: Carlos Beltran (88.3 pct.)
RF: Eric Davis (84.1 pct.)
C: Craig Biggio (77.0 pct.)
P: Greg Maddux (78.6 pct.)
DH: Paul Molitor (79.4 pct.)

Legend: Mickey Mantle (80.1 pct.)

Headliner of the Week

This just in from the always-hilarious parody site, theonion.com:

Report: Babe Ruth Was Actually Pointing Out Where Halley's Comet Would Appear 54 Years Later

Late-Nighter of the Week

Finally, from David Letterman:

"Paul McCartney is here tonight. … Paul's going to be in town this week doing two shows this weekend out at Citi Field, home of the Mets. The reason he's doing the two shows at Citi Field, home of the Mets, is that he hopes from those concerts to raise enough money to buy a couple of tickets to go see the Yankees."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com