Remembering Past Deadlines Rumors

Five 2009 Deals That Shaped The 2010 Pennant Race

When we look back at the 2009 trade deadline, the deals that come to mind first are the ones that shaped the remainder of that season. After all, Victor MartinezMatt Holliday and Cliff Lee led their new teams to the postseason a year ago. But some of last year's deadline deals had a major impact on this year's pennant race. Here's a closer look at five of them:

  • Reds acquire Scott Rolen – Rolen has played excellent defense in Cincinnati this year, adding 20 homers and batting .288/.361/.504.
  • White Sox acquire Jake Peavy for Clayton Richard and others – Here's a question for you: where would the Padres be without nearly 200 innings of 3.71 ERA ball from Richard? I'm guessing they'd be more than 0.5 games out of a playoff berth if Kevin Towers hadn't pulled the trigger on the Peavy deal. Keep in mind that Heath Bell and Adrian Gonzalez both stayed put last summer despite considerable interest from other teams.
  • Giants acquire Freddy Sanchez – The Giants didn't make the playoffs last year, but they signed Sanchez to an extension soon after the season ended. He hit .296/.345/.403 this year when shoulder problems didn't keep him out of the lineup. GM Brian Sabean was hoping the former batting champ would lead the Giants to the postseason last year, but Sanchez has helped his team in the uncomfortably close NL West this year.
  • Blue Jays keep Roy Halladay – Does Roy Halladay end up on the 2010 Phillies if the Blue Jays trade him last summer? It's possible, but lots of other teams had interest in Halladay, too.
  • Phillies acquire Cliff Lee – Not only did Lee help the Phillies reach the World Series, last summer's trade set in motion the sequence of events that led Lee to Texas, where he helped the Rangers win the AL West.

Remembering The 1983 Trade Deadline

Ah, the sweet summer of 1983. Sally Ride became the first woman in space. Vanessa Williams was named Miss America. And a little something called the Nintendo Entertainment System went on sale in Japan.

Meanwhile, our national pastime saw the gears turn as spring turned into summer, then fall (as is the custom). A number of fascinating trades dotted the baseball landscape, and in some cases, helped turn pennant races.

The first major deal did not, however. On June 15, the Cardinals traded Keith Hernandez to the Mets for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. The trade is, in many ways, the original sin of overpaying for a closer. Allen had been solid in relief for the Mets, with Ownbey a live arm, but neither one provided much value. Allen posted an ERA well over 4.00 in the remainder of his career, while Ownbey pitched in parts of two seasons with St. Louis.

And Hernandez? After the trade he won six Gold Gloves, a World Series, hit .297/.387/.429 as a Met, and kissed Elaine Benes (no relation to Andy or Alan). In other words: trading two middling arms for the 29-year-old star first baseman? Always a good move. Neither team figured in the postseason races, however.

Though the Astros fell six games short in the NL West, one of my favorite deals came from Houston on August 10: a swap of offensively-challenged speedster Omar Moreno to the Yankees for Jerry Mumphrey, who did everything Moreno did, except much better.

At the time of the deal, both were struggling. Moreno was hitting .242, Mumphrey .262. But batting averages are where the similarities ended between the two players. Moreno had no power, hardly ever walked, and had a career OPS+ of 79 to show for it. Mumphrey had some power and plate discipline, and his career OPS+ of 108 reflected that as well.

But after the trade, while Moreno continued as the player he was, Mumphrey had two months of Ty Cobb-style production, hitting .336/.425/.455 for the Astros. What can I say? I like seeing teams rewarded for making smart moves.

On August 19, two pitchers who went on to become teammates for the elite Oakland teams of the late 80s were traded for each other without the Athletics involved. The Dodgers dealt Dave Stewart, Ricky Wright and $200K to the Rangers for Rick Honeycutt.

If you are my age (30), you think of Honeycutt as a reliever, but he had quite a bit of success as a starter. His 2.42 ERA led the American League in 1983 (though he switched leagues, only his AL starts counted toward the AL ERA title), and his 2.84 ERA ranked sixth in the National League in 1984.

Stewart, meanwhile, appeared to be making the leap to elite pitcher in 1983. He pitched to a 2.96 ERA with the Dodgers before the trade, and a 2.14 ERA with the Rangers after the trade. Entering his age-27 season in 1984, the future seemed bright. But a 4.73 ERA in 1984, followed by 5.46 ERA in 1985 led the Rangers to trade Stewart for Rich Surhoff (of the B.J. Surhoff Surhoffs) and the Phillies to then release him. Needless to say, that turned out to be a mistake when Oakland picked him up in May 1986.

Honeycutt's path to Oakland was more direct- the Dodgers traded him to Oakland in August 1987 for Tim Belcher.

But we digress- back to 1983! On August 29, the Atlanta Braves dramatically overpaid for strikeout pitcher Len Barker. He'd led the American League in strikeouts in 1980 and 1981, but by 1983 the 27-year-old Barker's ERA was rising while his strikeout rate was dropping- a bad time to deal for a pitcher. But Atlanta, chasing the Dodgers, gave up Brett Butler, Brook Jacoby, Rick Behenna and $150K to get Barker.

While Barker pitched reasonably well – a 3.82 ERA in six starts for the Braves – Butler went on to record another 2,137 hits after leaving the Braves, with an OPS+ of 113. Jacoby's success was not as long-lasting, but he had his moments, many of them occurring in 1987 during his .300/.387/.541 campaign. Amazingly, during that season, Jacoby had 32 home runs, but just 69 RBI to show for it, thanks to a .221/.362/.295 line with runners in scoring position.

And yet? It was still too much to give up for Barker, who by 1987, was in his final season.


Remembering The 1982 Trade Deadline



Remembering The 1980 Trade Deadline

1980 has a lot in common with 2010. An American car company lived on, thanks to a government bailout. The price of gold shot up. And the Philadelphia Phillies headed for October glory.

Here's how baseball teams dealt with the trade deadline during this scenario's first go-around.

The contenders got started late in 1980, with few deals that impacted the pennant races until August. The Pittsburgh Pirates struck first on August 5, acquiring Kurt Bevacqua and Mark Lee from the San Diego Padres for Luis Salazar and Rick Lancellotti. Lee and Lancellotti did little, but this is an example of a team trading an infielder who was about to become useful (Salazar) for one who would soon cease being useful (Bevacqua). While Bevacqua hit just .163/.280/.186, Salazar immediately starred for the Padres, hitting .337/.362/.472 in 1980 after the deal.

Montreal did nicely on August 11, trading for reliever John D'Acquisto and sending the first baseman Randy Bass to those same Padres. D'Acquisto posted a 2.18 ERA in 20.2 innings for Montreal, while Bass never hit in the major leagues.

Of course neither trade helped the Expos and Pirates catch the Phillies, who went on to win the World Series. Philadelphia's main acquisitions were the free agents Tim McCarver and Sparky Lyle. Neither one signed prior to September 1, so neither could play in the postseason, but both contributed. Lyle, in particular, posted a 1.93 ERA in his month with the Phillies.

Meanwhile, the Yankees also brought in an old hand to help with their stretch run, but it happened via trade. The Yankees dispatched Ken Clay and Marvin Thompson to the Rangers for Gaylord Perry, then 41 years old, but en route to another 200-plus inning season. (Fun note: he also had six 300-inning seasons!)

For Perry, fours were wild with the Yankees- a 4-4 record, 4.44 ERA. That New York team won 103 games – only five Yankee teams ever won more – but after falling in the ALCS, manager Dick Howser was unceremoniously dismissed.

One final trade worth remembering: the Expos acquired Willie Montanez (who had been traded for Perry that February) from the Padres, giving up a minor league outfielder named Tony Phillips in the process. Hard as it is to believe, Phillips seemed unlikely to realize his potential for years after. He was soon shipped to Oakland, where he managed a paltry .251/.338/.350 line in eight seasons, beginning in 1982. But from 1990 to 1999, he was a different player, hitting .273/.392/.409 beginning with his age-31 season.

In other words: it is hard to blame the Expos for not seeing that one a decade ahead.


Remembering The 1999 Trade Deadline

With Y2K and the imminent demise of the world just months away, it was incumbent upon teams to add just the right player for the stretch run. After all, when future civilizations came across the remains of our shattered lives, 1999 would loom as the final season for baseball, the single most important accomplishment in American society.

Or so it seemed at the time. Here's how the moves broke down:

The trading really hit its stride on July 8, when the Diamondbacks traded Abraham Nunez, Vladimir Nunez and Brad Penny to the Marlins for Matt Mantei. In the short term, the deal was a huge win for Arizona. Mantei pitched to a 2.76 ERA overall in 1999, with a ludicrous 15.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He went on to pitch six seasons in the desert with some success and a few injuries. Penny, meanwhile, pitched to a 4.04 ERA over five seasons with Florida, before having his best years in Los Angeles. Alas, neither Nunez amounted to much, keeping July 8 from forever being known as "El Dia de Dos Nunez".

On July 23, the day Milwaukee released Jim Abbott, fans were treated to two interesting trades. The Pirates dealt Jose Guillen and Jeff Sparks to Tampa Bay for Humberto Cota and Joe Oliver. Guillen was still years away from realizing his potential, but the Pirates' decision to trade him for a pair of catchers with sub-.700 OPS tells you something about the team's decision-making at that time.

That same day, the Mets traded minor leaguer Leo Vasquez and outfielder Terrence Long to Oakland for Kenny Rogers. This trade, by the way, looked brilliant for New York at first. Rogers started 5-0 with a 3.58 ERA with the Mets and finished 5-1 with a 4.03 ERA. However, he will forever be remembered by Mets fans for ending the New York season in Game 6 of the NLCS by walking Andruw Jones with the bases loaded.

Almost halfway between his remarkable run through the 1997 postseason and his less inspired Game 7 start in the 2002 World Series, Livan Hernandez traveled from Florida to San Francisco in exchange for fungible relievers Nate Bump and Jason Grilli. Oddly, 1999 also happened to be the one season in ten from 1998-2007 when the workhorse Hernandez didn't throw at least 200 innings. Instead, Livan settled for a mere 199.2. As usual, his ERA hovered in the 4s both before and after the trade.

A pair of under-the-radar deals on July 28 and 29 proved to be quite significant, though neither one propelled a team to the playoffs. First, Toronto sent Tom Davey and Steve Sinclair to Seattle for David Segui. The first-baseman-turned-designated-hitter ably replaced Dave Hollins, hitting .316/.365/.526 in 104 plate appearances. Nevertheless, Toronto finished third in the AL East.

A day later, Oakland sent Elvin Nina, Jeff DaVanon and Nathan Haynes to the Angels for Omar Olivares and Randy Velarde. While Olivares was solid- a 4.34 ERA in 12 post-trade starts- Velarde was sensational, hitting .333/.401/.478 while playing second base. Despite these contributions, Oakland finished second in the AL West.

Finally, on July 31, there was plenty of action to go around. The Royals turned Kevin Appier into Jeff D'Amico, Brad Rigby and Blake Stein. While none of the three really panned out, Appier managed just a 5.77 ERA in 12 post-trade starts for Oakland.

The Rockies traded Darryl Hamilton and Chuck McElroy to the Mets for Thomas Johnson, Rigo Beltran and Brian McRae. This turned out to be a pure win for New York, with Hamilton providing an unexpected .339/.410/.488 line and sterling defense.

To me, though, this deadline is best characterized by a pair of relievers who went on to big things. The Mets also traded Jason Isringhausen to the Athletics on this date, along with Greg McMichael for Billy Taylor. While Taylor had saved 99 games over the previous four seasons, the 37-year-old's best baseball was behind him and he pitched to an improbably-high 8.10 ERA for the Mets. Isringhausen, who'd been forced to the bullpen by injuries, promptly became the shutdown reliever the Mets thought they'd acquired in Taylor, pitching to a 2.13 ERA for Oakland in 1999, then saving 33 games in 2000.

The team that parted with the other young reliever of note at least obtained short-term gain in return. Cincinnati acquired Juan Guzman for Jacobo Sequea (minors) and B.J. Ryan. The Reds tasted the last bit of sweetness from Guzman's career- he was 6-3, 3.03 ERA for Cincinnati in 12 starts. But Ryan, of course, went on to dominate hitters for Baltimore, then Toronto. His 2.43 ERA in 2005, with 100 strikeouts in 70.1 innings, happened five years after Guzman threw his last major-league pitch.

In the end, the Y2K scare didn't end the world as we know it, but there was plenty of excitement to go around in the months leading up to New Year's Eve, thanks to the 1999 Trade Deadline.


Remembering The 1998 Trade Deadline

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.


Remembering The 1997 Trade Deadline

1997 was a glorious year. The Hale-Bopp comet made its closest approach to earth, which, fortunately, didn't mean that it collided with the earth. The first Harry Potter book debuted, briefly appearing in bookstores before disappearing from view. And President Clinton banned human cloning, ruining Branch Rickey's last, best idea for developing prospects.

Meanwhile, a number of teams made deals to improve their playoff chances, never realizing that with the universe expanding, it will someday break apart, leaving little need for a second lefty out of the bullpen.

One of my favorite kinds of trades took place on June 13, 1997: a six-player deal between the Padres and Cardinals, two teams going nowhere, with none of the six players having much of an impact. The Padres acquired Rich Batchelor, Danny Jackson and Mark Sweeney, and the Cardinals received Scott Livingstone, Phil Plantier and Fernando Valenzuela. The Padres hoped for the 23-8, 2.73 ERA Jackson; they settled for the 1-7, 7.53 ERA Jackson. In fact, only Mark Sweeney played in any season beyond 1997. But hey, six-player deal- what's not to like?

But the 1997 deadline was dominated like no other by the Seattle Mariners and their destructive need for mediocre arms, no matter the price in young treasure. This would be a Behind the Music episode if only Lou Piniella could carry a tune.

It started on July 18, when the Mariners traded for Felipe Lira and Omar Olivares, giving up Carlos Villalobos (minors), Dean Crow and Scott Sanders. None of the three players Seattle gave up amounted to much. Villalobos, the best of the bunch it seemed, gradually stopped hitting and never made the major leagues. Lira and Olivares pitched like, well, Lira and Olivares – the latter posted an ERA over 5 for Seattle, one of five teams for whom he turned the trick. Still, for a team that had just released Josias Manzanillo, and would shortly do the same to Mike Maddux, the search for sweet, sweet pitching would only intensify.

Meanwhile, the Marlins solidified the roster that would go on to win a championship by dealing outfield prospect Billy McMillon to the Phillies for Darren Daulton on July 21. Dutch's catching days were behind him, but he was still an effective bat, posting an OPS+ of 114 for the Marlins in his final 151 plate appearances. The Marlins weren't finished, dealing Mark Hutton to the Rockies on July 27 for Craig Counsell, who went on to hit .299/.376/.396 for Florida and touched home plate to end the 1997 World Series.

It was all a prelude to July 31, 1997, one of the busiest trade deadline days in major league history. Seven major trades covering 30 players took place. Moreover, three of them live on in infamy to this day.

The Athletics traded Mark McGwire to the Cardinals, receiving Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein for the man who went on to hit 220 home runs over his next 2,251 plate appearances.

The Chicago White Sox made the so-called "White Flag Trade" dealing Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin and Roberto Hernandez to the San Francisco Giants for Brian Manning, Lorenzo Barcelo, Mike Caruso, Keith Foulke, Bob Howry and Ken Vining. The trade was widely panned by White Sox fans, since Chicago trailed Cleveland by just 3.5 games at the time. But all three pitchers Chicago traded were past their peak. Alvarez was never a dominant starter again, Darwin was about at the end of the line, and even Roberto Hernandez had a 2.84 ERA through the end of the 1997 season, 3.88 ERA from 1998 on. Meanwhile, both Foulke and Howry threw important innings for the 2000 White Sox, a team that edged the Cleveland Indians for the AL Central title.

But most memorable of all from that fateful day was Seattle's decisions. Less remembered but just as unfortunate, the Mariners traded a 23-year-old Jose Cruz Jr, to the Blue Jays for a pair of relievers: Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric. The former was okay for the 1997 Mariners, much better in 1998. But to deal a talented young outfielder for a pair of expendable arms merely set the table for… Heathcliff Slocumb to Seattle. Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek to Boston. Slocumb posted a 4.13 ERA in 1997, a 5.32 ERA in 1998.

For their part, the Mariners did win the AL West in 1997, finishing at 90-72, before losing in the ALDS to the Baltimore Orioles. And all the changes did allow Seattle to lower a 6.12 relief ERA in the first half to 4.76 in the second half. But to give up so many trade chips for such little value strikes me as an awfully vital cautionary tale for 2010 contenders, given the reliever market.


Remembering The 1996 Trade Deadline

We remember 1996. Keep in mind, as you hear all the names of yesteryear exchanged- this was the last year the National League won the All-Star Game before last night. That's right, the previous time the NL won, the following players were active: Andre Dawson, Rick Honeycutt, Tony Pena, Rob Deer, Alan Trammell, Otis Nixon and Frank Viola.

Meanwhile, these were the hot deals during the summer of 1996…

  • It's not well-remembered, but the San Diego Padres and Detroit Tigers made a five-player deal on June 18 that helped propel the Padres to the NL West title. John Flaherty and Chris Gomez went to San Diego, while Brad Ausmus, Andujar Cedeno and Russ Spear headed to Detroit. All Flaherty did was hit .303/.327/.451 after taking over as the regular catcher. Gomez was solid at shortstop, while Ausmus and Cedeno did little with Detroit. This was a key trade.
  • An unorthodox signing took place on July 4, George Steinbrenner's birthday, incidentally. The Yankees inked a power hitter who was hitting .435 with 18 home runs for the Northern League's St. Paul Saints: Darryl Strawberry. Straw hit .262/.359/.490 to help the Yankees win their first World Series since 1978.
  • In a trade that would haunt the Mets for years, New York shipped Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino to Cleveland for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinosa on July 29. Baerga was just 27, but his best days were behind him. Meanwhile, Kent, dealt to San Francisco after the 1996 season in a deal for Matt Williams, had his best years still to come. How bad was this deal? Consider that the sum of the home runs Baerga hit before joining the Mets and the home runs Kent hit after leaving the Mets is 406. The two had a total of 85 home runs for the Mets.
  • In a deadline deal that had delayed benefits, the San Diego Padres acquired Greg Vaughn (along with Gerald Parent) from Milwaukee for Bryce Florie, Marc Newfield and Ron Villone. None of the three players San Diego gave up became stars (though Villone is still around), and Vaughn hit just .206 with 10 home runs after the trade in 1996. But after slumping through 1997, Vaughn went on to hit .272/.363/.597 with 50 home runs the following season. Vaughn credits Tony Gwynn with helping him, according to his son Cory, who played for San Diego State and is now in the New York Mets system and making me feel old. 
  • In a massive overpay, the Texas Rangers acquired John Burkett on August 8 for then-prospect Ryan Dempster and Rick Helling. The deal isn't massively upsetting to Rangers fans, since Helling was re-acquired for Ed Vosberg before Helling's 20-win season. Burkett was fine for Texas, posting a 4.06 ERA in 68.2 innings, but the Rangers lost in the playoffs anyway, as was their destiny at the time.
  • The Pirates horribly mis-timed a pair of pitchers in an August 28 deal. Pittsburgh traded Denny Neagle to the Braves for Ron Wright, Corey Pointer and Jason Schmidt. One year after the Pirates traded him, Neagle went 20-5 with a 2.97 ERA for Atlanta. Schmidt pitched to a 4.39 ERA over six seasons with the Pirates, but he posted a 3.36 ERA with the Giants after Pittsburgh traded him during the 2001 season.
  • Finally, on August 31, the Seattle Mariners acquired veteran infielder Dave Hollins from Minnesota for a player to be named later who turned out to be David Ortiz. Big Papi managed a .266/.348/.461 line over five seasons in Minnesota, playing sparingly. His line after Boston picked him up via free agency? .287/.388/.577.
  • BONUS! by popular demand, we must include the acquisition of Cecil Fielder on July 31 by the Yankees. New York sent Matt Drews and Ruben Sierra to Detroit. Fielder was a classic Yankee stretch-run addition, hitting .260/.342/.495 in 228 plate appearances. And, as befits the Yankees, Sierra eventually returned, providing a power bat off the bench in 2003-2005.

Remembering the 1994 Trade Deadline

When picturing the 1994 Trade Deadline, it is appropriate to see increasing cloudiness, feel the air become thick with storm, and hear thunder in the distance.

Deadline deals were fewer in 1994, with a strike looming that many felt- correctly, it turned out- would make acquiring players with the postseason in mind an utterly futile exercise. That uncertainty is reflected in the choices teams made.

But with a season on, and no precedent whatsoever for the cancellation of the World Series, there were some low-risk moves that were obviously made with a playoff run in mind. Let's take a look at what might have been:

  • The Dodgers released Darryl Strawberry, who failed to live up to the free agent contract he signed after the 1990 season. The Giants signed the 32-year-old on June 19, hoping he had something left. Strawberry hit .239/.363/.424 for the Giants, and in fact, his stats from the moment he signed with San Francisco to the end of his career included four more seasons of part-time work with an OPS above .800.
  • Two days later, the Cincinnati Reds signed Ron Gant, who had celebrated the signing of a multi-year deal by breaking his leg in an ATV accident. Gant didn't play in 1994, but in 1995, hit .276/.386/.554 for the Reds with 29 home runs.
  • And in the third of the trio of once-great signings, the Phillies picked up Fernando Valenzuela on June 24. He pitched 45 innings of 3.00 ERA baseball, walking just seven and striking out 19 despite the handicap of not looking at the catcher when he pitched.
  • The first significant 1994-based trade occurred on July 1, when Boston sent struggling reliever Jeff Russell to Cleveland for pitchers Chris Nabholz and Steve Farr. None of the three pitchers contributed much in 1994. Russell failed to rediscover the form that allowed him to pitch to a 2.70 ERA in 1993- his mark was 5.14 in Boston in 1994, 4.97 in Cleveland. Meanwhile, Nabholz was finished as a useful pitcher and Farr had just 13 innings of 6.23 ERA pitching left.
  • Why, you might ask, did the 1994 Seattle Mariners, who finished 49-63, make a July 21 trade to shore up their bullpen? Easy: they acquired Shawn Boskie from the Philadelphia Phillies for minor leaguer Fred McNair because 49-63 meant they were just two games off the lead in the American League West.
  • If Matt Williams and Tony Gwynn think the 1994 strike came at an inopportune time, their gripe pales next to Brian R. Hunter, who was traded from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati on July 27 for minor league slugger Micah Franklin. Hunter promptly became one of the best deadline acquisitions ever, hitting .304/.346/.870 with four home runs in 26 at-bats… only to see the strike interrupt his season. Williams and Gwynn had more moments of glory, but Hunter never again approached a 1.216 OPS.
  • Finally, on July 31, just one trade occurred. The Phillies traded outfielder Milt Thompson to the Astros for reliever Tom Edens. Both were briefly helpful for their new teams in 1994, but never again. Truly, the strike also deprived both Edens and Thompson of their last hurrahs.

Baseball fans still remember 1994 as the year America was deprived of pennant races, and the Expos were kept from their destiny: finally winning a World Series. (There's a reason Youppi still cries when the strike is brought up.) And for secondary characters throughout baseball, 1994 was a year of 'what could have been.'


Remembering the 1993 Trade Deadline

Baseball's 1993 season, with a potential strike looming, was an interesting year. And the trade deadline produced deals involving some of baseball's biggest names.

  • On June 24, the Marlins traded Andres Berumen, Jose Martinez and a young reliever named Trevor Hoffman to the Padres for Rich Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. Sheffield was just 24, and the Marlins quickly realized that he was more at home in the outfield than at third base. Sheffield managed an OPS+ of 162 over his next four seasons, before being purged by the Marlins, who traded him in the 1998 Mike Piazza deal, then turned around and traded Piazza to the Mets for prospects. And Hoffman? 16 seasons in San Diego, 552 saves and an ERA+ of 146.
  • Less than a month later, the Atlanta Braves added a signature piece to their roster, trading Vince Moore, Donnie Elliott and Melvin Nieves to the Padres for Fred McGriff. The Braves got immediate payoff from the deal. McGriff, who had posted a .275/.361/.497 line in San Diego, went on a .310/.392/.612 tear with Atlanta. He hit 130 home runs over five seasons with the Braves. This is a classic trade deadline pickup.
  • Still more activity came from the Padres, who, it must be noted, finished just 61-101 in 1993. On July 26, San Diego traded Greg Harris and Bruce Hurst to the Colorado Rockies for Brad Ausmus, Doug Bochtler and a player to be named later. Harris reached his sell-by date the day he was traded, going from a 3.67 ERA with San Diego to a 1-8, 6.50 ERA finish in Colorado. Hurst pitched 8.2 innings of 5.19 ERA ball before going down due to injury. And worst of all? The player to be named later sent to San Diego turned out to be… Andy Ashby, who pitched eight seasons of 113 ERA+ baseball for the Padres. Not a good day one mile above sea level.
  • Under the radar a bit was a three-team deal that must be mentioned. The Royals got John Habyan. The Yankees got Paul Assenmacher, saving the clubhouse manager a ton of time by not having uniform names on their players' backs. And the Cubs got outfielder Tuffy Rhodes. While Habyan and Assenmacher continued to do what they tended to do for everyone else- put up decent ERAs out of the bullpen- Rhodes was a revelation, hitting .288/.413/.538 in 63 plate appearances. Then, on Opening Day 1994, he hit three home runs against the Mets! Surely, stardom would follow. Instead, he hit .234/.318/.387, and was playing in Japan by 1996. He starred there, of course, with seven seasons of 40 or more home runs, including a high of 55.
  • The final bit of trade deadline drama came with the best leadoff hitter of all time. The Oakland Athletics sent Rickey Henderson to the Toronto Blue Jays for elite pitching prospect Steve Karsay and outfield prospect Jose Herrera. Amazingly, Henderson was a total bust for Toronto. He hit .215/.356/.319 after the trade, .327/.469/.553 before the trade. But Karsay could never stay healthy for long, and Herrera didn't do much in two big league seasons.