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For years now, I've never understood the expression "You can't have your cake and eat it, too." My mother used to say that to me all the time, and I always wondered what does that mean? If you eat your cake, you have it. If you have your cake, you eat it. It makes no sense. Looking back now, I think the expression should be: You can't have
You already know that I'm talking about what is probably the most famous today-for-tomorrow trade in baseball history. In 1987 the Detroit Tigers were in a heated pennant race with Toronto. It became clear at some point that unless the Tigers got another pitcher, and fast, there would be no way they could win the American League East.
So they traded Smoltz to Atlanta for a veteran pitcher named
Instead, he was THE factor. Alexander was great -- in the regular season at least. He started 11 times in the final month and a half as Detroit and Toronto went back and forth in the standings. And ... Detroit won all 11 times he started. It was remarkable. He threw three complete-game shutouts. He punched up a 1.53 ERA. On Sept. 27, with the Tigers 2 1/2 games behind Toronto, he threw 10 2/3 innings and gave up only one earned run to beat the Blue Jays. His next start, he beat the Jays again to push the Tigers into first place to stay.
It was one of the greatest pennant race performances in the history of the game. You never want to give too much credit to one player, but Detroit won the American League East in 1987 because of the Doyle Alexander trade. There was much joy in Detroit. Then the Tigers lost the ALCS to Minnesota in five games.
Meanwhile, Smoltz went on to win 210 games and saved 154 more for the Braves and has been one of the most successful postseason pitchers ever. He's going to the Hall of Fame someday.
And there's your question, the one that hits every baseball trade deadline, the one that today is larger than ever before: Is it worth trading away a potential superstar for a chance to win right now? Or -- as John and others say --
It's a multi-layered question. For one thing, there's the uncertain future of great prospects. Many of them -- most of them -- do not pan out. Injuries. Adjustment issues. An inability to handle the daily grind. There are a lot of reasons.
Whatever. Take a look at
Now, looking back as a general manager, you would probably be willing to trade ANY of those players to get a year and a half of
On the other hand, that same year the NEXT 10 prospects included: Roy Halladay himself,
Example 1: At the end of June in 2002, the Montreal Expos traded
Example 2: At the end of August 1990, the Red Sox (already up 6 1/2 games in the division) felt like they needed to shore up their bullpen and so traded for reliever
Example 3: Before last season, the Seattle Mariners, fresh off a fluky 88-win season, felt like they were one pitcher away from being a World Series contender. They traded for overpowering Orioles' lefty
Yes, it's a high-risk game trading away prospects. And that has never been more true than it is now. For one thing, even big-money teams are looking to control costs. The Yankees team payroll is less now than it was in 2005. The Boston Red Sox payroll is less than it was in 2004. The Los Angeles Dodgers payroll is less than it was in 2001. There's a certain amount of restraint in the air when it comes to big-league payroll and having your own player under your control for six years at a discounted price is very appealing, even for the big spenders.
Second, teams invest more heavily than ever in their prospects. Take
Decisions. St. Louis decided to go for it -- the Cardinals traded away a package of prospects, including 23-year-old third baseman
"But if you are convinced that your player is going to be a star, then you hold on to him no matter what anyone says. They'll scream for a while. But they'll thank you in the morning."