Five deadly sins of deadline deals
"Bad trades are a part of baseball," observed Annie Savoy,
With the excitement surrounding deadline deals, it is easy for a general manager to get caught up in the hype and overestimate his team's chances of making the playoffs. The truth is that for one player to make an impact, the race must be very close and the player acquired must perform very well. Thus, it is important that a GM accurately evaluate his team before mortgaging the future on a deadline deal that will turn out not to be enough to make the postseason.
There are many examples every season of prospects who are sent packing in an effort to pull out a playoff berth. Take the 1989 Mets, who on July 31 trailed the Cubs by seven games in the NL East. In an effort to catch Chicago and win their third division title in four years, the Mets traded
The two key statistics to keep in mind in this category are strength of the remaining schedules of the teams in the pennant race and run differential. In the latter case, a team's won lost record will tend to fall in line with their run differential. Teams with small or negative run differentials can be expected to drop in the standings. Run differential was the key in understanding another 1989 trade that, while it didn't come at the deadline, highlighted the danger of failing to correctly evaluate one's team. In that May 25 deal, the Expos sent a package that included a wild, hard-throwing lefty with all of 11 games of major league experience named
For many years there was general distrust of a player's minor league statistics and thus an all-too common belief that a player's value could not be properly assessed until he reached the majors. Today we know that minor league statistics, if properly adjusted for leagues and park, are a reliable indicator of future performance. Still, in a quest to win a pennant, the temptation is great to ignore the minor league numbers and send a great prospect packing in exchange for even a modestly successful major leaguer.
Perhaps the greatest example occurred on Aug. 30, 1990, in a wavier-deadline deal a month after the non-waiver trading deadline. That's when the first-place Red Sox traded 22-year-old prospect
In 1990, Bagwell was playing in the Eastern League, which was known for its big ballparks and tough pitching. Moreover, Bagwell's team, New Britain, played in one of the toughest hitters' parks in the league. Despite all that, Bagwell batted .333/.422/..457 with four home runs and 61 RBIs that season. But a causal look at those numbers, without making adjustment for the league and the home park, caused most baseball people to yawn.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox front office was among those yawning and happily sent Bagwell packing for for a guy who had a 5-2 record and a 1.95 ERA, even though they already had a comfortable 6 1/2 game lead in the AL East. Yes, Andersen pitched well the remainder of the regular season -- posting a 1.23 ERA with one save but no decisions in 15 games -- and the Red Sox won the AL East, but they were swept by the A's in the ALCS. Andersen posted a 6.00 ERA in three ALCS appearances and that offseason he left Boston for the San Diego Padres.
Two months after this trade, the baseball world was surprised to find out that STATS, Inc., in their
While that may have been difficult to project at the time of the trade, it was at least clear that Bagwell was already very good, and this would have been known if his minor league statistics had been properly adjusted.
That trade brings to mind the question, what is the goal of a deadline deal? Is it to win a World Series championship or is it to win a division title? If the goal is a division title, then perhaps this trade should be viewed as one that helped both teams. However, if the goal of a deadline deal is to win a championship, then this looks very one-sided.
The truth is, if a team needs to add a player in a deadline deal to make the playoffs, then the team is probably not good enough to win a World Series. We saw this recently in 2008 when both the Brewers and the Dodgers made trades in which the players they acquired,
There are several factors out of a pitcher's control that can impact his won/lost record, such as run support, defensive support and relief support. Thus, if a GM puts too much emphasis on a pitcher's won/lost record and not enough on the rest of his statistics, he can get burned.
Here are a couple of examples, which occurred in back-to-back seasons and involved pitchers who went on to have extremely successful careers:
In two minor league seasons with the Tigers' organization, Smoltz posted a combined 11-18 record. With the eye of the Tigers on a division title in 1987, their management was more than willing to part with their 20-year-old righty. Initially, this trade appeared one-sided in favor of the Tigers as Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA the rest of the season and the Tigers came from 1 1/2 back at the time of the deal to overtake the Blue Jays and win the AL East on the season's last weekend. However, they lost to the Twins in the ALCS and didn't make it back to the postseason for 19 more years. By then, Smoltz had helped the Braves win 14 division titles, five pennants and the 1995 World Series while winning a Cy Young award and carving out a Hall of Fame career.
July 29, 1988: The Orioles traded
This trade is a similar to the Smoltz deal. Schilling (16-20) had a losing record in the minors in his two seasons prior to the deal. The Red Sox were in third place, 1 1/2 back in the AL East, but thanks in part to Boddicker going 7-3 with a 2.63 ERA, rebounded to win the division by one game. However, they were swept in the ALCS. Boddicker pitched well for Boston for two more years, but Schilling, after being traded twice more, became a borderline Hall of Famer. Of course, the Red Sox eventually reacquired Schilling in a trade after the 2003 season, then won two World Series in the next four years.
In 2005, with the trading deadline approaching, Houston Astros players requested that management refrain from making deals because the Astros players believed that the team make-up and chemistry was in place to win the pennant. Thus, Astros management ceased trade talks and the Astros did, in fact, go on to win their first National League crown. Team chemistry and make-up are important factors, and if a GM is not careful, a trade can derail a championship drive.
Aug. 28, 1983: In a bizarre wavier deal, the Indians traded
Butler was the Braves' leadoff hitter as they battled the Dodgers for the NL West title. The Braves made this deal with the agreement Butler would finish the year in Atlanta. The fact that Butler was in the trade was not to be disclosed until after the season. The secret got out, though, and the ensuing fallout may have contributed to the Braves and their lame duck leadoff man sputtering down the stretch as the Dodgers won the division crown.
July 21, 1995: The Reds traded
The trading deadline can be a great tool for rebuilding because it enables weak teams to trade their aging stars to acquire future ones. The key word in this sentence is "aging." Even a rebuilding team should hang onto its young superstars, most of whom will be leading contributors on pennant-winning teams at some point. Just take a look at a list of Hall of Fame players. Most of them played in a World Series (unless they were Cubs). Therefore, if a rebuilding team wants to win a championship sometime in the future, its young stars are key.
Let's go with the easy example here:
July 7, 2008 and July 29, 2009: The Cleveland Indians' annual trading of a Cy Young winner, first Sabathia, then