Stakes raised whenever prospects traded for stars

Maybe Brandon Finnegan will become a star someday. The former first-round draft pick is still only 23.

But when Johnny Cueto was throwing a two-hitter in Game 2 of the World Series last year, Kansas City fans couldn't have cared less about Finnegan's future.

That's the nature of the stars-for-prospects deals that take place every year around the trade deadline. It's a high-risk, high-reward endeavor for a contending team that's giving up future value to boost its World Series hopes. And for the teams dealing away the big-name players, the pressure is still on - those trades can become an embarrassment if the prospects they receive in return don't pan out.

The Royals sent Finnegan to Cincinnati last year in the deal that brought Cueto to Kansas City. Cueto didn't even pitch all that well down the stretch, but a couple terrific performances in the postseason helped the Royals win the World Series. Even if Finnegan turns into a standout, Kansas City will always have that championship.

Of course, it's easy to say a trade was a success if a team wins the World Series. Anything short of that, and hindsight becomes more complicated.

In another deadline deal last year, the New York Mets acquired slugger Yoenis Cespedes, sending pitcher Michael Fulmer to Detroit. Cespedes helped the Mets to their first postseason appearance in a decade and a National League pennant to boot. Fulmer would have to have a special career for Mets fans to think the deal wasn't worth it - but this year the right-hander is 9-2 with a 2.50 ERA with the Tigers, so at this point, both teams have reason to be happy with how things turned out.

The Tigers were on the other end of a trade like that back in 1987, when they acquired Doyle Alexander from Atlanta for John Smoltz. Alexander went 9-0 for Detroit that year and the Tigers edged Toronto in a stirring race for the AL East title. But as Smoltz began putting together his Hall of Fame career, Detroit fans had to weigh that one division title against what they missed out on afterward.

When a team trades away a star, it's usually because its season was going nowhere, so there's less urgency to see an immediate return on the deal. Still, these trades can represent missed opportunities if prospects don't pan out. When Oakland traded Rickey Henderson to Toronto in 1993, the Athletics received former first-round pick Steve Karsay, whom A's general manager Sandy Alderson called one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.

Karsay was never a difference maker for the A's, although he did bounce around the majors for a while as a reliever.

For sellers, the ideal scenario is what Cleveland pulled off in 2002. The Indians traded Bartolo Colon to Montreal when the Expos were chasing a playoff spot while facing possible contraction. The Expos gave up Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips, and although Cleveland didn't have Phillips for all that long, both Lee and Sizemore became stars for the Indians.

Here are a few developments from around baseball this past week:

MOVING UP

At this time last year, the Detroit Tigers were trading away some of their top players as their four-year run atop the AL Central ended with a thud. Now the Tigers have a six-game winning streak on deadline day and are one game back of a wild card. This run has come against good competition, too. Detroit swept three games each from Boston and Houston.

The Tigers can look forward to getting Jordan Zimmermann and J.D. Martinez back from injuries as they try to mount a challenge to first-place Cleveland.

FANTASY FOCUS

Now that Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller are elsewhere, Dellin Betances has a chance to earn plenty of saves for the New York Yankees. Fantasy owners who picked up Betances while hoping for this scenario have been rewarded.

Ditto for anyone who grabbed Pittsburgh's Tony Watson. He's now in line to close for the Pirates with Mark Melancon out of the way.

LINE OF THE WEEK

Stephen Strasburg allowed three hits in seven scoreless innings Wednesday, helping Washington beat Cleveland 4-1 in a matchup of division leaders.

---

Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.