LONGSHOTS: Trading places not as simple as “I’ll take the old guy”
by Dave Long
Baseball’s trading deadline arrives on Friday and it’s always a curiosity to me. I love trades. Probably because of the risk and the challenge to get it right. Especially when established players are being traded for young guys because they’re in many cases a mystery for both the taker and the giver.
Given that the Red Sox lost six of eight after the All-Star break just as the Yankees started rolling, this should be an intriguing week for Theo Epstein. He must decide if the problems are a temporary slump or issues that could linger through the year. Complicating it further is the looming presence of Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, who many feel is the best pitcher in baseball. Because while Theo may feel the Sox have enough pitching to get it done and a bopper or a shortstop upgrade (my choice) is a bigger need, he also knows the surging Yankees are lurking with the spare cash to make any deal and a history of going for it, the future be damned. Especially when they may view it as a knockout blow to their ancient rival. Theo has his own history of pulling the trigger on major deals, having sent Nomar Garciappara and Manny Ramirez out of town at the deadline. But this time he may have to play defense while solving needs as well.
Making it a more interesting puzzle is that with Halladay signed through 2010, GM J. P. Richardi has two more opportunities (over the winter and at next year’s deadline) to deal him. So he’ll be trying to extract blood from a stone in getting his desired four top prospects or major-league-ready talent. And while Theo has the young guys to deal, he’s reluctant to give up the future as its his hedge to compete against the mega-payroll Yankees. Lower salaries to young emerging stars like Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester gives the cap space to try and sign big-time stars like Mark Teixeira or Halladay when they hit the free agent market. Plus the Yanks won the Teixeira sweepstakes last winter, when they quietly lurked in the weeds until pouncing in the final moments, and that it could happen again has to be going through Theo’s mind as D-Day nears.
As I said earlier, trading young for established can be tricky. Some, like my friend Dick Lutsk, have a hard and fast rule that says always go for the proven quantity over unproven kids. I’m more of a case-by-case guy. For instance, suppose before 1951 the ready for prime time New York Giants were offered Warren Spahn by the Braves in return for AAA outfielder Willie Mays — would you do it? Spahn had already won 20 three times, while Mays was a talented but unknown quantity. In retrospect, since Mays went on to hit 660 homers and Spahn won 20 an astonishing 10 more times and 363 overall, it would have worked out for both teams. But then again Mays won an MVP after Spahn was done, and those ’51 Giants went to the series anyway after catching the Dodgers down the stretch. The truth is it’s a crapshoot where the team giving up the young guys had better know EXACTLY what it is giving up or it could be a disaster.
Here are a few examples of how it’s gone in these types of deals over the years.
Win-Win: The Marlins got a bright young star in Hanley Ramirez and a no-hitter out of Anibal Sanchez, while Boston got a mid-20s Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in their winter 2005 deal which produced one World Series win and has them in contention for another this year.
Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson for Mike Boddicker: The Red Sox needed a starter so they sent Schilling and Anderson for Boddicker. He went 7-3 as they won the AL East, then won 15 and 17 in 1990 when they won the East again. Schilling lasted in Baltimore two years until a horrible trade for Glen Davis sent him to Houston. Anderson was a very good player for many years in Baltimore.
Worked for One but not the Other: That’s how it went for Dan Duquette when he got Pedro Martinez from the Expos in a salary dump for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. Pedro was dynamite in Boston, but unless you call giving up Mark McGwire’s 70th homer in 1998 it was forgettable for Montreal.
Sort of Worked for Both: The Tigers needed an impact starter in late summer 1987 and got one as Doyle Alexander went 9-0 after arriving from Atlanta as Detroit caught the Blue Jays in the final week to win the East. The cost? A minor-leaguer who went just 2-7 the following year before turning into the John Smoltz who won 209 games and saved 154 as Atlanta dominated the NL for 20 years. Was that worth it, Detroit?
Larry Anderson for Jeff Bagwell: A second sort-of-worked-out deal that gets bad ink, but it actually worked out as intended. Anderson had a 1.23 ERA in 15 games as the Sox won the East. In giving up Bagwell, who was the NL Rookie of the Year, 1994 MVP and hit 443 homers, Lou Gorman’s mistake was keeping AAA Scott Cooper over him because he was closer to being ready.
A Complete Bust: The hitting-challenged New York Mets needed an infield bat. With future 300- and 200-game winners Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman on the staff already and a slew of young’ns in the pipeline, they got former All-Star Jim Fregosi and gave up wild high flame-thrower Nolan Ryan. Fregosi was a bust while the 22 year-old Ryan went on to win 325 games, become the all-time strikeout leader and throw seven no-hitters — which, oh by the way, is seven more than the Mets have in their 47-year history!
Most Like the Halladay Deal: The Mets were going nowhere, Tom Seaver wanted out and the hard-hitting Reds needed an ace. The Mets got prospects Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn and righty Pat Zachary. Seaver was solid but never won 20 again, while the Cincy three were mediocre at best as the Mets were never the same.
There are a host of others — like Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb, or Bartolo Colon to the Expos for Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee, or that Hall of Famers like Randy Johnson, Lou Brock and Ryne Sandberg have been part of these deals as young “unproven” players. Or that of all his guys, Daniel Bard is Theo’s most untouchable young guy.
But it’s a pretty good cross section to show it is a crapshoot, and no one hard and fast answer applies when it comes to dealing youth for established players.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.