As the non-waiver trading deadline approached, speculation was rampant about the effect the addition of a second wild card in each league’s playoffs might have on the strategy teams might employ in the trade mart.
On the one hand, more teams figured to be in contention for playoff spots so more teams would be likely to want to make trades to enhance their chances. On the other hand, the more teams that viewed themselves as contenders the fewer teams there would be that would be willing to trade good players for minor league prospects.
So what happened? Nothing out of the ordinary.
In the months of June and July, teams executed 37 trades, four more than in the corresponding period last year but three fewer than the year before. Taking a broader measurement, using data compiled by Major League Baseball, the 37 trades represented only the seventh highest number of trades made in the two-month period in the past 16 years.
Taking a narrower measurement, using only deals done in July, this year’s 34 were the most since the 36 trades made in July 2000, but the number wasn’t significantly out of range of the number of trades made in some other recent Julys, 30 in 2009 and 31 in 2010, for example. Last July produced 28 transactions.
Some players have found that July plays a significant role in their careers: if this is July, I must be changing teams.
Hunter Pence is the most recent involuntary practitioner of that practice. He was traded by the Phillies to the Giants at the deadline last week a year after the Phillies acquired him from the Astros.
Cliff Lee is probably the most important player who has experienced two consecutive trading-deadline trades. The Indians traded him to the Phillies July 29, 2009, and after the Phillies sent the pitcher to Seattle the following Dec. 16, the Mariners traded Lee to the Rangers July 9, 2010. His personal game of musical chairs ended Dec. 14 of that year when he returned to the Phillies as a free agent.
The longest stretch between trading-deadline trades might belong to Marco Scutaro. The Indians traded the infielder to the Brewers July 28, 2000, and this year, on July 27, the Rockies sent him to the Giants.
Pitchers Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel were not traded this July, neither together nor separately. Both were traded the previous two Julys.
Jackson has been traded six times in his career, and he was part of half of those trades in less than a year. The Diamondbacks traded the starter to the White Sox July 30, 2010, and on July 27, 2011, the White Sox sent him to the Blue Jays, who on the same day moved him on to the Cardinals.
As briefly as Jackson was “in” Toronto, that’s where he crossed paths with Dotel, who also has been traded six times, five times during the season, in his moving career that has covered 13 teams.
The reliever’s first mid-season move came June 24, 2004 in a three-way deal in which he went to the Astros, who in that transaction also acquired Carlos Beltran, who led them to the National League Championship Series.
Dotel’s next two mid-season trades occurred on deadline day, July 31. In 2007 the Royals traded him to the Braves, and in 2010 the Pirates traded him to the Dodgers, who six weeks later sent him to the Rockies.
The right-hander signed as a free agent the following January with the Blue Jays, who on July 27, 2011, included him in an eight-player deal with the Cardinals. Jackson was also in that deal, and he and Dotel helped St. Louis get to the World Series, where they were the losing pitchers in Games 4 and 5, respectively, before the Cardinals won the last two games and the Series.
Dotel’s 2010 trade to the Dodgers produced one of the more intriguing and unexpected results. The Dodgers acquired Dotel to shore up their bullpen, and he helped do that, compiling a 3.39 earned run average with a save and a win in 19 games.
However, when the Dodgers made the trade, they had a 54-50 record and were tied for third, and when the season ended they had an 80-82 record and had fallen to fourth, finishing 12 out.
The Dodgers never thought that Dotel could win the pennant for them, but they never figured either that the player they gave up for Dotel would become the pitcher he has been this season, especially the first half.
James McDonald was a pitcher in his first minor league season in 2003, then an outfielder the next season before resuming his pitching career. He had three flings, two brief, with the Dodgers as a pitcher before they traded him.
Last season he had a 9-9 record in 31 starts for the Pirates, and in the first half of this season had a 7-3 record and 2.44 e.r.a. He currently has a 10-5 record and a 2.37 e.r.a.
The Red Sox have done well at the trading deadline the previous two years even though the trades did not help them get to the playoffs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, obtained from the Rangers in 2010, is the team’s starting catcher, and Mike Aviles, who joined him from the Royals a year later, is the starting shortstop.
Jerry Hairston Jr. has been a trade-deadline beneficiary twice in the past three years. Traded by the Reds to the Yankees for Chase Weems July 31, 2009, he was on the World Series champions that year.
Traded by the Nationals to the Brewers for Erik Komatsu July 30, 2011, he played in the National League division series.
Deadline trades carry no guarantees with them. Among the teams that failed to make the post-season despite trades last year were the Braves (Michael Bourn) and the Indians (Ubaldo Jimenez).
In 2010, the Rangers got to the World Series with Lee, but the Phillies didn’t get there with Roy Oswalt.
The traded players to watch for their possible impact on this season’s races are Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino (Dodgers), Ichiro Suzuki (Yankees), Marco Scutaro and Pence (Giants), Omar Infante (Tigers), relief pitchers Brett Myers (White Sox) and Jonathan Broxton (Reds), starting pitchers Zack Greinke (Angels). Ryan Dempster (Rangers), Anabal Sanchez (Tigers), Francisco Liriano (White Sox), Joe Blanton (Dodgers).
Caveat: Trades can still be made as long as the trading team first acquires waivers.
PIRATES LEAD IN SOMETHING
This is the first season in two decades that Pittsburgh is contending for a post-season spot. Yet in recent years the Pirates have been among the teams most active in trading at this time of the season.
According to Major League Baseball, in the period 2000-2012 the Pirate are tied with the Padres for the most trades made in July. Each team has concluded 38 trades in that period.
“The majority of our trades have been for free agents to be,” said Neil Huntington,” the general manager for five years. “We were simply trying to avoid losing players and getting nothing in return.”
As their losing seasons mounted, the Pirates gained an unflattering reputation for engaging in a constant cycle of trading their best young players before they had to pay them decent wages, meaning trading them sometimes even before they were eligible for salary arbitration.
Times, however, have changed under Huntington and the club president, Frank Coonelly, the former labor lawyer in the commissioner’s office. The most telling example of the change is the 6-year, $51.5 million contract extension the Pirates gave Andrew McCutchen last March.
This year also marked a change in the Pirates’ shopping practices. Instead of trading off good young players, the Pirates looked to shore up whatever weaknesses they felt they had. The result was a solid starting pitcher, Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros.
He joins a rotation that includes A.J. Burnett, the biggest pitching surprise of the season and James McDonald, who two years ago came from the Dodgers and is now a 10-game winner
“We believed he was a quality major league starting pitcher,” Huntington said, leaving unsaid the thought that perhaps the Dodgers didn’t agree, much to their regret now, and were ready to cut him loose.
“You have to be patient with young pitchers,” Huntington added. “We’ve seen him. The Dodgers were further along than we were. We were not in a win mode. The Dodgers were.”
NEW CHAPTER, SAME OLD AUTHOR
He’s at it again, providing another weekly update on his bizarre behavior as the Red Sox manager.
That would be Bobby Valentine, of course, the man who inexplicably verbally assaulted Kevin Youkilis early in the season and more recently questioned the presence of Carl Crawford on the team.
Last Wednesday, the Boston Globe reported, Valentine related a tale on radio in which he “admitted to playfully teasing” third baseman Will Middlebrooks “following a pair of misplays during an inning earlier this year.”
The incident, the Globe suggested, reverberated in the Red Sox ownership suite, and Valentine last Thursday “called his remarks to WEEI ‘the most stupid thing that I ever said on the radio program.’”
Valentine apparently did not rank the Middlebrooks comment among other dumb things he has said, but there’s a whole library of them if anyone wants to take the time to research and log them in.
The man just can’t restrain himself. He doesn’t have the built-in cutoff switch that most people have to save them from humiliating themselves.
If the Red Sox owners haven’t awakened to Valentine reality, all they have to do is look at the standings. Based on plenty of history, Valentine’s crazy comments have repercussions on the field and in the clubhouse.