Deadline Dud Deals Demonstrated

John Shiffert illustrates that after all the talk and all the gnashing of teeth, the few trade deadline deals that actually get made generally don't have much of any impact.

News Item: July 31, 2004 – The Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Montreal Expos (who?) and Minnesota Twins pull off one of the biggest, most complicated trades in major league history, thus driving innumerable experts to great lengths of prose.

There are Big Trades, and then there are big trades. A Big Trade is where stars – present and/or future -- pass each other in transit, like ships in the night, and the basic order of the baseball universe is in some fashion changed. Like the July 31, 1998 deadline deal that sent Randy Johnson away from the Seattle Mariners to the Houston Astros, a Big Trade that fueled the latter team's run to the postseason (Johnson went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA with Houston) and also gave the first signal that the Mariners of that time weren't going to be able to keep their superstars (see: Rodriguez, Alex; Griffey, Ken). Now THAT was a Big Trade.

On the other hand, six years later, the Red Sox, Cubs, Expos and Twins just made a big trade in that they shuffled a lot of warm bodies around. Yes, there was one star in the deal, Nomar Garciaparra, but the rest of the seven principals were largely space fillers.

Boston – sent Garciaparra and Matt Murton to the Cubs
Chicago – sent Brendan Harris, Alex Gonzalez and Francis Beltran to the Expos and someone named Justin Jones to the Twins
Minnesota – sent Doug Mientkiewicz to the Red Sox
Montreal – sent Orlando Cabrera to the Red Sox

It all looked very impressive, particularly since the Sox were ostensibly giving up the heart and soul of their team in Nomah, and since said Sox then went on to win the World Series for the first time since 1918, thus fueling much more discussion to the effect that the Big Trade had been a key factor in the victory. But, you know something? That's not what happened, and it wasn't a Big Trade, it was just a big trade, because Mientkiewicz and Cabrera really didn't do all that much for the Sox during their sort stays at Fenway. Don't believe it? First of all, why do you think their stays at Fenway were so short? More importantly, look at their 2004 stats for the Sox…

Mientkiewicz - .215/.286/.318

Although Mienkiewicz has the rep as a good fielding first baseman, a skill with about as much real baseball value as Fiddler Eddie Basinski's violin virtuosity, it would have taken a lot of Gold Glove work (and the only won he has is from 2001) to make up for an OPS right at the Ordonez Line. His fielding percentage for the Sox was .997, compared to a league mark of .994, and is range factor was 6.13, compared to the league's 8.01. Yawn.

Cabrera - .294/.320/.465

In other words, he hit .294 without any walks, and middling power. Except for a few more singles than usual, about what you'd expect from Orlando Cabrera. What's less, his glovework wasn't great, a .966 fielding percentage (league .972) and a 3.95 range factor (league 4.12). So, no matter what you may have read at the time, the big trade of July 31, 2004 had little or nothing to do with the Sox breaking the Curse of Harry Frazee.

And that shouldn't come as a big shock, since these Deadline Day deals are no guarantee that the wheelers and dealers will really strengthen their teams for the last two months of the season, the 1998 Big Trade notwithstanding. While there certainly have been other examples of other teams making a really key move at the deadline – the Braves' 1993 heist of Fred McGriff (he hit .310/.392/.612 for the Braves) from the Padres comes quickly to mind – there are also plenty of examples where players traded at the deadline really didn't do their new teams much good. Not wishing to write a book on the subject (although that's not a bad idea), let's just look at the results of Deadline Day from 2003, 2004 and 2005.

In those three years, on average, about half the teams that eventually made the postseason made some kind of deal within 10 days of the trading deadline, with a couple of teams going into the trading market big time. Those numbers by themselves should tell you something – Deadline Deals are not by definition a panacea. In 2003, the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs were all big dealers. Here's who they picked up…

Yankees – David Dellucci, Bret Prinz, Aaron Boone, Bubba Crosby, Scott Proctor
Red Sox – Mike Gonzalez, Scott Sauerbeck, Scott Williamson, Brandon Lyon, Jeff Suppan
Cubs – Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Doug Glanville

And here's what they contributed to their new teams…

                        Games          BA/OBP/SLG               W-L ERA
Dellucci            21         .176/.263/.255    
Prinz                 2   0-0 18.00
Boone               54         .254/.302/.418    
Crosby              DNP      
Proctor             DNP      

Conclusion: These five were obviously a big help to the Yanks getting to the postseason in 2003.

                        Games          BA/OBP/SLG W-L ERA
Gonzalez           DNP      
Sauerbeck         26   0-1       6.48
Williamson        24   0-1       6.20
Lyon                 49   4-6       4.12
Suppan             11   3-4       5.57

Note: You may recall that the Red Sox and the Pirates made two trades, on July 22 and July 31, that involved many of the same players going back and forth. Lyon was one of these, and the figures above are his totals for the entire 2003 season with the Sox. And he clearly contributed more than the other four guys combined.

                        Games          BA/OBP/SLG
Ramirez            63         .259/.314/.491
Lofton              56         .327/.381/.471
Glanville            28         .235/.259/.294

Conclusion: Lofton's typical contributions and some power from Ramirez were about all any of these 13 players added to their new teams. What about 2004, when the big dealers who made the postseason were the Red Sox and the Dodgers?

As already noted, the acquisitions of Mientkiewicz and Cabrera really didn't do Boston much good. However, the Red Sox also obtained Terry Adams and Dave Roberts within 10 days of the deadline. Adams went 2-0 with an ERA of 6.00 in 19 games in relief, and Roberts hit .256/.330/.442 (yawn again) in 45 games. As for the Bums, here's who they picked up…

  Games          BA/OBP/SLG W-L ERA
Hee Seop Choi 31         .161/.289/.242    
Brad Penny 3   1-2       3.09
Steve Finley 58         .263/.324/.491    
Brent Mayne 47         .188/.286/.188    

A mixed bag here. Choi and Mayne were less than worthless, and Penny got hurt. Steve Finley, however, continued his quest for the Joe Hardy Award (look up his stats… his longest sustained streak of good hitting started at the age of 37), meaning that the Dodgers batted .250 in their quest for the postseason.

In 2005, only the Padres among the eight postseason qualifiers did a lot of dealing, and, as you may remember, they squeaked into the NLDS (and immediately squeaked out) with an 82-80 record. They picked up the following within 10 days of July 31, 2005…

  Games          BA/OBP/SLG W-L ERA
Joe Randa      58         .256/.303/.395    
David Ross     11         .353/.389/.471    
Chan Ho Park   10                                              4-3       5.91
Miguel Olivo   37         .304/.341/.487    

Comments: The Padres bolstered their catching with Ross and Olivo. However, Randa continued to puzzle the experts in that teams keep trading for him, and Chan Ho's last name spelled backwards is indeed "Krap."

Maybe this isn't a fair sample. Other postseason teams did make other deals in 2003/2004/2005. Here are the players that landed on other postseason participants via trades made between July 21 and July 31 of those years…

Sir Sidney Ponson (Giants '03) 10   3-6    3.71
Jose Guillen (A's '03) 45 .265/.311/.459    
Tom Martin (Braves '04) 29   0-1   3.71
Esteban Loaiza (NYY '04) 10   1-2     8.50
Kyle Farnsworth (Braves '05) 26   10SV    1.98
Shawn Chacon (NYY '05) 14   7-3       2.85
Jose Cruz (Bosox '05)   4 .250/.308/.333    
Geoff Blum (Chisox '05) 31 .200/.232/.274    

Comments: Yawn, again. In 2005 the Braves got some good closing from Farnsworth (thanks in part to Leo Mazzone) and Shawn Chacon was unexpectedly brilliant for the Yankees. (He also was expectedly awful in 2006, and was subsequently palmed off on the Pirates in a deadline deal for Craig Wilson.) No one else was terribly exciting.

All this is not to say that the Reds, Dodgers, Yankees, Rangers, Braves and Brewers – the big dealers so far in 2006 -- aren't by definition going to make the postseason this year. Maybe they will. And maybe the Mets' (Roberto Hernandez, Oliver Perez), White Sox' (Sandy Alomar, Mike Mac Dougal) and Padres' (Todd Walker, Scott Williamson) acquisitions might help, too. Or maybe they won't, although all three of those teams were already in a pretty good position to make the top eight anyway.

Maybe the Reds' new bullpen will give then the edge in the NL Wild Card, although a couple of starters would help more. Maybe Greg Maddux' six inning no-hitter wasn't a fluke, and Julio Lugo will be the second coming of Pee Wee Reese. Maybe Carlos Lee and Matt Stairs' hitting will make Rangers fans forget they also had to pick up Kip Wells to shore up their pitching. Maybe the Braves' new bullpen will give them the edge in the NL Wild Card, and help their fans forget they had to give up Wilson Betemit in the process. Maybe Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix and Francisco Cordero were a good enough return for the Brewers for Lee. And maybe David Bell will start to hit more like his dad and less like his mom. Maybe. But only the Yankees, by picking up Bobby Abreu for nothing, really look like they've made a difference at this point. In all these cases, deadline deals (and that includes Javy Lopez and Andruw Jones possibly changing addresses) bring with them no guarantee of success.

A member of the Society for American Baseball Research, John Shiffert's background includes serving as a sportswriter, as sports information director for Earlham College and Drexel University, and as publisher of the Philadelphia Baseball File. He's been director of University Relations at Clayton State University since August 1995.

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