Real quick, name me the last big trade deadline acquisition that played a huge part in winning a team a World Series.
I suppose you could go Jake Peavy with last year’s Red Sox, but he put up a 4.04 ERA in 10 regular season starts with Boston, and after pitching well in his Divisional Series start, he ended up giving up seven earned runs in three innings in an ALCS loss and only lasted four innings while giving up two earned in a World Series Game 3 that the Red Sox went on to lose. And while any trade should be considered a success if it results in a World Series win, Peavy is 1-8 with a 4.59 ERA for the last place Red Sox this year and will be a free agent after the season, while the Sox gave up a valuable infielder in Jose Iglesias who (if healthy) will be a long-term starter for the Detroit Tigers and won’t be a free agent until 2019.
Hunter Pence provided quality leadership to the 2012 Giants and has gone on to have success in subsequent years, but he hit .219 after arriving to San Francisco in 2012 and hit .210 in the playoffs. While there’s no doubting that he was a contributor, it’s difficult to argue that he really brought much to the team from an offensive standpoint that year.
The 2011 Cardinals did some significant deadline moving, but they were acting more as sellers than buyers at the time. When they traded Colby Rasmus, their starting center fielder, along with relievers Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, and P.J. Walters for starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski and backup outfielder Corey Patterson, the expectation certainly wasn’t that those players were going to parachute the Cardinals to a World Series victory. While Jackson and the two bullpen arms did play key roles in what may have been the most improbable journey ever to the World Series, it’s really difficult to make an argument for this deadline deal as one that shows that teams should take huge risks and tear their team apart at the deadline. Their deadline day acquisition of Rafael Furcal for Alex Castellanos was a quality move, too, but it wasn’t a real difference maker. Furcal was tenth among Cardinal batters with a WAR of 0.9, so it’s safe to say that his presence was not the difference beween the Cardinals winning or not winning the World Series.
The same can be said about the Giants’ 2010 World Series team, which was benefited by a few lower-profile trades for relievers Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez but didn’t part with any significant pieces to make a deal. It seems that an overall conclusion can be reached that the best deadline moves are lower-profile moves that shore up the bench and bullpen rather than moves that are supposed to completely change the makeup of a team.
Really, the only major deadline move of the past decade that can be considered a resounding success was the trade that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs in 2004, while the Red Sox landed Orlando Cabrera, the shortstop who went on to hit .294 with six homers and 31 RBI over the season’s final 58 games (along with a .379 average in that year’s ALCS), and Doug Mientkiewicz, an important role player who provided spectacular defense at first base and went on to record the final out that ended the Sox’s 86-year World Series drought.
On the other side, though, you have plenty of deals which turned out badly. Probably the worst of the recent past was the Texas Rangers’ decision to trade first baseman Chris Davis and pitcher Tommy Hunter to the Baltimore Orioles for reliever Koji Uehara in 2011. While Hunter has gone on to become a valuable bullpen piece and Davis has been very good for Baltimore, especially when he had a league-leading 53 homers and 138 RBI in 2013, Uehara went on to have an ERA of 4.00 over the remainder of the season and didn’t even make the Rangers’ postseason roster.
The 2011 Giants traded top starting pitching prospect Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran, who ended up struggling with injuries as the Giants’ playoff chances slipped away, then left the team after the year, not even netting them a compensatory pick in return due to a contract clause that prevented them from tendering him. While Wheeler hasn’t exactly been dominant thus far, he’d be a nice asset for a team that was forced to spend a lot of free agent money on Tim Lincecum and Tim Hudson and doesn’t have a whole lot of young depth beyond their current rotation.
Another bad deadline deal involved the 2007 Red Sox trading for reliever Eric Gagne, who went on to record a 6.75 ERA and 1.875 WHIP down the stretch and only pitched late in blowouts during their World Series run. Though this is another situation where the World Series victory was a nice tradeoff, the Sox gave up outfielder David Murphy, who went on to be a .300 hitter and a significant contributor on several Texas Rangers teams that advanced to the Fall Classic.
All this evidence provides support to the old adage that Rome was not built in a day—especially deadline day. A World Series-quality team generally is going to ride it out with the major contributors that they’ve been using for the entire season, and a championship group is much more likely to be assembled over the offseason than at the end of July. So next time you’re fantasizing about a trade that will bring David Price or Giancarlo Stanton to St. Louis and cost the Cardinals players like Oscar Taveras and Carlos Martinez, make sure to consider history and think about how much impact that kind of move could really have.