Ah, 1998. McGwire and Sosa chased Maris. The Seinfeld finale disappointed 76 million viewers. And Titanic won the Oscar for Best Film. Seriously! Titanic! Hard to believe.
As for the deals made leading up to the trade deadline, some teams plugged the holes in leaky ships. For others, the season floated away like I presume Kate Winslet, or possibly Leo DiCaprio did in that ridiculous movie. Never saw it.
Let's take a look at those sink-or-swim deals:
A key deal happened relatively early in the process. On June 20, the Boston Red Sox traded Ethan Faggett and Jim Leyritz to San Diego for Carlos Reyes, Mandy Romero and Dario Veras. Of the three players Boston received, only Reyes provided much value- and only as a middle reliever. Meanwhile, Leyritz hit .266/.384/.420 with San Diego in the regular season, then added four home runs in 35 plate appearances during the playoffs as the Padres reached the World Series.
In one of those win now or win later exchanges, Cincinnati traded closer Jeff Shaw to the Dodgers for Paul Konerko and Dennys Reyes. While Reyes went on to a continuing career as an inspirational figure for full-figured men everywhere, Shaw continued his work as an elite closer for Los Angeles, posting a 2.55 ERA and 25 saves after the deal. Konerko, however, was just a season away from beginning more than a decade of consistent power hitting. Incidentally, he didn't do it for Cincinnati, either- the Reds traded him that winter for Mike Cameron.
Adorably, the Texas Rangers thought they could address their pitching needs by trading Warren Morris and Todd Van Poppel to the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 18 for Esteban Loaiza. In 14 starts with Texas, Loaiza posted a 5.90 ERA. The Rangers, as was their destiny at the time, lost in the ALDS to the Yankees. Morris, on the other hand, had a solid 1999 for the Pirates- .288/.360/.427 at second base- but never approached those numbers again.
The San Francisco Giants made a tremendous stretch-run pickup on July 23, trading minor leaguer Darin Blood to Baltimore for Joe Carter's final two months in the Major Leagues. And what a two months they were – in his final 115 plate appearances, Carter hit .295/.322/.562, helping the Giants reach a one-game playoff against the Cubs for the NL Wild Card.
Finally, on deadline day (which back then, meant deals until midnight), there was plenty of movement. The Diamondbacks traded Willie Blair, Jorge Fabregas and cash to the New York Mets for Nelson Figueroa, Bernard Gilkey and cash. Why both teams needed to trade cash in the deal will forever remain a mystery. The Giants acquired Ellis Burks from Colorado for Darryl Hamilton and Jim Stoops; Burks was very good for the Giants in 1998 (.860 OPS after the trade), then exceptional in 1999 (.964 OPS) and 2000 (1.025 OPS). Who remembers Burks being so good?
Two trades really stand out, however. The Rangers made a five-player deal with the Cardinals, acquiring Royce Clayton and Todd Stottlemyre for Fernando Tatis, Darren Oliver and Mark Little. Stottlemyre was effective- a 4.30 ERA, and a terrific Game 1 start against the Yankees in the ALDS. Royce Clayton became a defensive mainstay for Texas at shortstop, and hit 14 home runs apiece in 1999 and 2000. But the legacy of the trade quickly became Fernando Tatis and his 1999 season: .298/.404/.553 with 34 home runs.
The biggest deal involved the Big Unit. The Astros acquired Randy Johnson for Freddy Garcia, John Halama and Carlos Guillen. It is hard to say who got the most value here. Johnson was ridiculously good for Houston after coming over, posting a 1.28 ERA in 84.1 innings, striking out 116. But the Astros lost in the NLDS to the Padres, even though Johnson pitched well in both postseason starts. Garcia, Halama and Guillen all went on to productive careers, particularly Garcia and Guillen. All three are still active, Garcia and Guillen in the Major Leagues.
With Johnson signing with Arizona after the season, this serves as a case study in the value limits of a rental. Cliff Lee fans, take note! The Diamondbacks received picks #42 and 55 as compensation, but neither Mike Rosamond nor James Perez made it to the bigs.