Thursday July 29th, 2010

Teams making deals in the run up to the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline typically have one of two goals. Either the team in question is a contender looking to get that one extra piece that is going to put it over the top and into the posteason, or it is a rebuilding club looking to turn a player who won't be a part of its next contending squad into young talent that will. Focusing purely on their performance down the stretch, here are the five players who did the most to accomplish the first goal for the contending clubs that acquired them in advance of the July 31 non-wavier deadline during the wild card era (1995 to present). One interesting thing to note: none of the top five, and very few of the honorable mentions below, made it all the way to the World Series, and fewer still won it. That's evidence of the fact that, while one player might be able to make the difference between first and second place in the regular season, his opportunities to impact a short postseason series are limited. So, while a division or two might be decided by a big trade over the next few days, the pennants will still be decided in October.

1. Manny Ramirez, Dodgers, 2008

The Cost: 3B Andy LaRoche, RHP Bryan Morris (minor leaguer)

The Reward: .396/.489/.743, 17 HR, 53 RBI, 48.6 VORP

The Dodgers were two games out of first place in the NL West when they acquired Ramirez from the Red Sox in a three-way deal with the Pirates at the last possible moment before the 2008 non-waiver deadline. All Manny did after replacing Juan Pierre in left field was lead the Dodgers in VORP for the season. That's right, in his two months with the Dodgers in 2008, Ramirez was worth more runs over replacement than any other player on the team was worth over the full, sixth-month season. Ramirez completely changed the character of the team. Before Ramirez arrived, Andre Ethier was hitting .274/.338/.442. With Manny hitting behind him for most of August and September, Ethier hit .361/.430/.658. Without Manny, the Dodgers were a .500 team hoping to back into the playoffs. With him, they went 30-24 to won the West and then swept the 97-win Cubs in the Division Series while Manny went 5-for-10 with four walks (two of them intentional) and a pair of home runs. Ramirez was even better in the Championship Series against the Phillies, but the Dodgers fell two games shy of reaching the World Series. Despite playing just 53 games in the NL, Ramirez finished a close fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting.

2. CC Sabathia, Brewers, 2008

The Cost: 1B/OF Matt LaPorta, OF Michael Brantley, RHP Zach Jackson, RHP Rob Bryson (mL)

The Reward: 11-2, 1.65 ERA, 5.12 K/BB, 7 CG, 3 SHO, 51.6 VORP

The Brewers were in third place in the NL Central and in trailing the division foe Cardinals by a half-game for the NL wild card when they acquired Sabathia from the Indians on July 7, 2008 to replace Seth McClung in the rotation. Like Ramirez, Sabathia was so dominant over the remainder of the season that he led the Brewers' pitchers in VORP for the year and finished sixth in the MVP vote and fifth in the Cy Young balloting despite making just 17 starts in the Senior Circuit. Though Milwaukee had no real chance of catching the Cubs in the Central, they won the wild card thanks to Sabathia pitching a complete game on three-days rest on the final day of the season and holding those 97-win Cubs to just one unearned run. It was Milwaukee's first playoff appearance in 26 years. By making his last three regular-season starts on short rest, Sabathia had nothing in the tank for the Division Series. He took the loss in Game 2 and the Brewers were eliminated in four, then lost Sabathia to the Yankees and a record-setting contract in the offseason. But no matter how good Matt LaPorta might turn out to be, there aren't many Brewers fans would take him back in exchange for that trip to the postseason.

3. Randy Johnson, Astros, 1998

The Cost: IF Carlos Guillen, RHP Freddy Garcia, RHP John Halama

The Reward: 10-1, 1.28 ERA, 4.45 K/BB, 4 CG, 4 SHO, 40.9 VORP

The Astros already had a 3 1/2 game lead in the NL Central when they acquired Randy Johnson from the Mariners at the 1998 trading deadline, but with Johnson dominating every fifth day in place of Pete Schourek, they iced the division, finishing 13 games ahead of the wild card-winning Cubs. In 11 starts for the Astros, Johnson only once failed to complete seven innings and only once allowed as many as three runs, doing both in the same game. In his other 10 starts, he allowed a total of nine runs, averaged just shy of eight innings pitched per start, struck out 11.3 men per game, and had at least eight Ks every time out. Johnson dominated in two Division Series starts as well (14 IP, 12 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 17 K), but lost both as the Astros hit .182/.277/.248 as a team on their way to a second straight first-round exit. Johnson finished seventh in the Cy Young voting for his 11 NL starts, then signed a free agent deal in the offseason with the Diamondbacks, with whom he would win the award the next four years in a row.

4. Matt Holliday, Cardinals, 2009

The Cost: 3B Brett Wallace (minor leaguer), RHP Clayton Mortenson, 1B/OF Shane Peterson (minor leaguer)

The Reward: .353/.419/.604, 13 HR, 55 RBI, 35.0 VORP

Holliday's stint with the Cardinals in 2009 will be best remembered for the fly ball he dropped against the Dodgers that would have ended Game 2 of the NLDS and tied that series at one game apiece, opening the door for a Dodgers comeback en route to their sweep. That's a shame, because Holliday was instrumental in getting the St. Louis to that series in the first place. When the Cardinals acquired him from the A's on July 24, they were clinging to a 1 1/2 game lead in the NL Central and desperate to find some protection in their lineup for eventual NL MVP Albert Pujols. Pujols had been intentionally walked 34 times to that point in the season, but with Holliday putting up Pujols-like numbers behind Prince Albert over the final two months, Pujols was intentionally passed just 10 more times, one of which came in a game Holliday did not start. In his nine plate appearances following an intentional walk to Pujols, Holliday went 3-for-6 with one double, one home run, two walks (one also intentional), a hit by pitch, and seven RBIs. Meanwhile, the Cardinals went 31-11 from the day of the Holliday trade through September 9, building up an 11 1/2 game lead in the Central that allowed them to coast into the playoffs despite a late-September swoon.

5. Will Clark, Cardinals, 2000

The Cost: 1B/3B Jose Leon

The Reward: .345/.426/.655, 12 HR, 42 RBI, 25.3 VORP

Mark McGwire had been a pretty impressive deadline addition to the 1997 Cardinals, hitting .253/.411/.684 with 24 homers in 51 games, but that St. Louis team finished with a losing record, and by 2000 his body was beginning to break down. He hit the disabled list with patellar tendinitis in early July, prompting the Cardinals to acquire fellow 36-year-old Will Clark from the Orioles at the deadline. Clark replaced Big Mac better than anyone could have expected, helping St. Louis expand their lead in the Central from four games at the deadline to 10 at season's end. With McGwire limited to pinch-hitting duty after his return, Clark hit .345/.441/.621 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but it wasn't enough to get the Cards past the Mets in the NLCS. Mike Hampton twirled a shutout to eliminate St. Louis in Game 5, which turned out to be Clark's final game. The Cardinals managed just three hits off Hampton, one of which was a single by Clark.

Mark Teixeira, Angels, 2008: Teixeira put up some eye-popping numbers after being acquired at the deadline for both the Braves in 2007 (.317/.404/.615, 17 HRs, 56 RBIs) and the Angels in 2008 (.358/.449/.632, 13 HRs, 43 RBIs) but in neither case did it translate to postseason success. The Braves failed to make the playoffs and the Angels already had an 1 1/2-game lead when they acquired Teixeira and were unable to get past the Red Sox in the Division Series despite Tex's 7-for-14 performance.

David Justice, Yankees, 2000: Acquired from the Indians on June 29, Justice hit 20 homers and drove in 60 runs for the eventual world champions, but the offensive context of that season (the average American League team scored 5.30 runs per game), the fact that the Yankees almost backed into the division title with 87 wins, and the additional boost the Yanks received from late-July addition Glenallen Hill (16 homers and a .735 slugging percentage in just 143 plate appearances) all undermine Justice's regular season importance.

Bobby Abreu, Yankees, 2006: The Yankees had been in second place for nearly a month and a half when they acquired Abreu and Cory Lidle the day before the 2006 deadline. They then won their first four games with Abreu to take over first place and never looked back, winning the AL East by 10 games. Abreu's impact -- he hit .330/.414/.507 -- was undeniable, but that team also had an MVP-worthy Derek Jeter and a lineup that led the league in runs, on-base percentage and OPS and finished second in home runs, batting average and stolen bases to take some of the burden off Abreu.

Jermaine Dye, A's , 2001: After acquiring Dye from the Rockies on July 25, the A's went 48-13 (.787), climbing from five games back in the Wild Card race to win the race by 17 games. But as great as that two-month surge was, and as important as Dye was to it (.297/.366/.547 with 13 homers and 59 RBIs), like Abreu, his raw production and his 18 VORP don't quite measure up to his competition here.

Carlos Beltran, Astros, 2004: Beltran's stint with the Astros is best remembered for the eight home runs he hit in just two postseason series, but while he did hit 23 homers and swipe 28 bases in the regular season after his late-June acquisition, and the Astros did rise from the depths of the division to win the wild card by one game, Beltran's regular-season impact tends to be overrated. The Astros had a losing record in Beltran's first month with the team, and when they turned it on in September, it was without an exceptional contribution from Beltran, who batted just .255 with two home runs and seven RBIs in the final month and then went 0-for-4 as Houston won the final game of the season to clinch the wild card.

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