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Bang for the Bucs

July 31, 2006
July 31, 2006

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July 31, 2006

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Bang for the Bucs

An unusual sequence of deadline deals in 2003 landed the Pirates infield prospect Freddy Sanchez, who is now the National League's leading hitter and least likely All-Star

ThePirates wanted him to fly to Nashville. But having just been dealt by theRed Sox before the 2003 trade deadline, minor league infielder Freddy Sanchezdecided he'd rather make the 1,100-mile drive from Pawtucket, R.I., to his newTriple A home. Sanchez was upset by the trade, but he insists that wasn't thereason he declined the Pirates' request. No, he hoped that a long, leisurelydrive with his wife, Alissa, would help heal the sharp pain in his right footthat had sidelined him for a couple of games. Sanchez didn't feel any betterwhen he pulled into Nashville, though he still suited up. "The pain was soexcruciating, I knew I couldn't play on it," he recalls. "But I didn'twant to go to a new team and be like, Oh, I can't play." Sanchez limpedthrough his debut on Aug. 3 before undergoing surgery to repair a bone spur,stalling his Pirates career before it had begun.

This is an article from the July 31, 2006 issue Original Layout

Now, three yearsafter the five-player swap that sent righthanded starter Jeff Suppan to Boston,Sanchez has arrived in every sense of the word. At week's end he was hitting.356 to lead the National League by 20 points, still one more example of how itcan take years to evaluate the true beneficiaries of a deadline deal. The RedSox gave up Sanchez because they believed a deeper rotation would yield theirfirst championship since 1918. Suppan, who had won five straight decisions forPittsburgh, went 3--4 with a 5.57 ERA down the stretch and didn't make apostseason appearance. (He did his part to end Boston's drought, however, bysigning with the Cardinals in the off-season and then losing a 2004 WorldSeries game to the Sox.)

The 28-year-oldSanchez, meanwhile, evolved into this season's most unlikely All-Star. Afterhitting .291 as a utility player in 2005, he cracked the lineup only afterthird baseman Joe Randa went down at the end of April with a stress fracture inhis right foot. Sanchez's potential, however, was no secret. "He had hit atevery level," says Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield, who needed twotrades in '03 to land him. He initially inquired about Sanchez before a July22, four-pitcher deal in which Boston sent Brandon Lyon and Anastacio Martinezto the Pirates for relievers Scott Sauerbeck and Mike Gonzalez. But Lyon, itturned out, had a bad right elbow. Pittsburgh filed a grievance, and the teamsrenewed negotiations. On July 31 the Pirates returned Lyon and Martinez to theRed Sox, threw in Suppan and received Sanchez, Gonzalez and cash.

"He's a guythat has to grow on you," says Blue Jays scout Mike Berger. "You haveto see him for an extended period. Pure and simple, he has a knack for findingthe ball on the big part of the bat. There's not a lot of wasted energy to hisswing."

A former Burbank(Calif.) High star who played at two NAIA schools before the Red Sox took himin the 11th round of the 2000 draft, Sanchez is popular among his teammates,who appreciate that his demeanor hasn't changed since the days when he wasgetting five at bats a week. When this year's All-Star picks were announced,Pirates outfielder Jason Bay, another deadline-deal prospect who went on toprosper in the bigs (chart, right), called his wife, Kristen. His first wordswere, "Freddy made the All-Star team!"

"What aboutyou?" Kristen asked.

"Oh,yeah," Jason replied, "I made it too."

Sanchez receivedthe most write-in All-Star votes in the majors this year, just one sign of hisrising profile among fans. Another: In a June 29 game against the White Sox,Sanchez already had three hits when he came to the plate in the bottom of theninth with the score tied 6--6. With the crowd chanting Fred-dy! Fred-dy!throughout his at bat, he responded by drilling a walk-off homer to leftfield.The chants continued until he came out for a curtain call. It's a far cry fromhis first days as a Pirate. "It was hard to take at first," saysSanchez of the trade from Boston. "That was the team I came up with, theonly team I ever knew. All the history that goes along with the Red Sox issomething that I wanted to be a part of. But things happen for a reason. [Thetrade] was the best thing that could have happened to me."

All-Diamond-in-the-Rough Team

In contenders' quests for summer fixes, theseyoungsters got away

PIRATES (VIA PADRES)
OF Jason BAY
He went from Mets' Class AA club to San Diego for reliever Steve Reed in'02.

INDIANS
OF Grady SIZEMORE
Tribe also got LHP Cliff Lee in '02 swap that sent Bartolo Colon to Expos.

RED SOX (VIA INDIANS)
OF Coco CRISP
Cleveland acquired him from the Cardinals for LHP Chuck Finley in '02.

RANGERS
SS Michael YOUNG
For RHP Esteban Loaiza, Blue Jays dealt future three-time All-Star in 2000.

PIRATES
2B Freddy SANCHEZ
The pickup from Boston has shown a nifty glove at second, third and short.

ORIOLES
3B Melvin MORA
From Baltimore, Mets received SS Mike Bordick, who hit .121 in postseason.

DEVIL RAYS
SP Scott KAZMIR
Mets' former No. 1 pick on pace to strike out 227 batters at age 22.

WHITE SOX (VIA REDS)
1B Paul KONERKO
To bolster their bullpen in '98, Dodgers sent him to Cincy for Jeff Shaw.

RED SOX
C Jason VARITEK
In '97 Mariners got closer Heathcliff Slocumb; Boston also got RHP DerekLowe.

BLUE JAYS (VIA ORIOLES)
CL B.J. RYAN
Baltimore picked him up from Reds in '99 for starter Juan Guzman.

PHOTOPAUL JASIENSKI/GETTY IMAGES SMASHHIT
Cast off by the Red Sox, the Hollywood-born Sanchez is now a leading man inPittsburgh's low-budget production.
PHOTO BRAD MANGIN/MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES PHOTO JOHN IACONOPHOTOJEFF MITCHELL/REUTERSPHOTODARREN CARROLLPHOTOBILL FRAKESPHOTO DAVID E. KLUTHO PHOTOAL TIELEMANSPHOTODAVID DUROCHIK/SPORTPICSPHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYERPHOTOTOM DIPACE