The MLB Trading Deadline is July 31. Historically speaking, this is the time of year when teams who have fallen out of contention try to “sell off” their big contract veterans by trading them to contenders. An especially interesting wrinkle is the caveat that most shrewd baseball General Managers try to exchange well-paid veterans on expiring contracts for minimum salary blue chip prospects. Sometimes these deals benefit both teams as the contender acquires the extra hitter or pitcher for the stretch run while the “selling” team winds up with a handful of prospects that could become future stars.
Some examples of recent deadline deals would include Lance Berkman (Houston to NY Yankees), Jake Peavy (SD Padres to Chicago White Sox), Cliff Lee (Cleveland Indians to Phillies), Roy Oswalt (Houston to Philadelphia), Manny Ramirez (Dodgers to White Sox or was it Red Sox to Dodgers – wait, when did he land in Tampa?) and… well… Cliff Lee (Seattle to Texas). Berkman didn’t get the Yankees back to the Series but has been reborn with the St. Louis Cardinals. Lee wound up the ace of the Texas Rangers losing to the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 World Series – just one year after performing the same task with the Phillies who lost the 2009 World Series to the Yankees.
Ruben Amaro, Pat Gillick, Ken Williams, Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein, Kevin Towers, JP Riccardi, Omar Minaya… it seems that the same basic group of GMs simply can’t help themselves. Like compulsive gamblers, they have to be active at the trading deadline, trying to see if they can land Matt Holliday or Manny Ramirez to give their team the unquestioned edge for the playoff push. On the flip side, there is a collection of teams who by circumstance always seem to be on the lookout to unload big ticket players for a plethora of prospects. Many examples come down on either side of the issue.
Money sure can’t buy you love. One might mention the 1997 trade that sent Mark McGwire from Oakland to St. Louis (for T.J. Mathews, Eric Ludwick and Blake Stein) or the 1987 deal between Detroit and Atlanta swapping John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander. Atlanta struck gold again in 1993 when they dealt OF Melvin Nieves & RPs Donnie Elliott and Vince Moore in exchange for Fred McGriff. In 1990, Boston swung a deal with the Houston Astros for veteran reliever Larry Andersen. Minor league prospect Jeff Bagwell was an unspectacular (AA) third baseman dealt to Houston. The Red Sox finished first in AL East in 1990, losing to Oakland in the ALCS. Andersen (37 years old) went on to pitch 22 innings for Boston. Bagwell became the hottest young hitter in the league by 1991, was the 1994 MVP and completed a Hall of Fame career by 2007. In 1997 the Seattle Mariners sent Derek Lowe & Jason Varitek to Boston on purpose garnering reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. The 2002 Montreal Expos traded Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Lee Stevens and Brandon Phillips to Cleveland in exchange for Bartolo Colon & Tim Drew. At the time of the trade, many writers pointed to the Expos’ rotation depth; Colon joined Javier Vazquez, Tomo Ohka and Tony Armas Jr. to form one of the deepest rotations. Colon pitched 117 innings of 3.31 ERA ball, allowing less than a hit per frame and striking out two men for each one he walked. The Expos won 83 games – more than they’d won since 1996 – but it wasn’t enough to topple the Braves, who won 101 games. The Expos organization went south after that – quite literally. Montreal avoided being contracted but were taken over by Major League Baseball, barnstormed through Puerto Rico as a nomadic tribe before being relocated and re-established as the Washington Nationals by the 2005 season. Had Cleveland held onto Lee and Phillips they would have formed a solid core with C.C. Sabathia, Sizemore and Jim Thome. Neither team would sniff the postseason.
Naturally all of these deals look very different with benefit of hindsight but it is the nature of being a baseball GM. Sometimes you roll the dice and win while other times you choose to wait for another day. Truly amazing are the diamonds in the rough deals which also occur around the trading deadline. These less publicized deals usually involve veteran players of marginal value swapping teams to bolster a contender without making the headlines.
In recent years, the Phillies have become most adept at mining the minors and the benches and the brush for those proverbial marginal miracles. Examples include the likes of Chad Durbin, Kyle Lohse, Pedro Feliz, Greg Dobbs, Scott Eyre, JC Romero, Mike Sweeney, Matt Stairs, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth. Since 2007, the Phillies have unearthed these reclamation projects and retread veteran minor leaguers or aging veterans seeking a second, third or thirteenth chance and some of those players have paid off. This is what is required now. Not a marquee name per se, rather a solid baseball player who has stayed away from the spotlight and simply will be solid contributor. In 1993 the names were Incaviglia, Hollins and Kruk – salvaged from other organizations or rescued from oblivion. Someone like a Greg Gross, Bake McBride or Del Unser from the Phillies first championship squad would fill the bill – or more akin to Matt Stairs, hero of the 2008 NLCS.
Who might be out there…? Well reports that the Phillies have spoken to several teams about a few players are true – and to varying degrees, those talks have garnered very little result. The corollary question would be with regard to who the Phillies might have ready to trade in order to acquire any of these players. Kyle Kendrick? Danys Baez? John Mayberry? Brandon Moss? Scott Podsednik? Would you trade for any of these players if you were a GM wanting to keep their job?
Jim Thome, Minnesota Twins is a name bandied about frequently as a possible DH/1B. Minnesota had been out of the race and looking to dump the 40-year-old’s salary – despite the fact that a 600 career home runs milestone remains in reach (593). As a former Phillie (signed as a marquee free agent in 2003 then traded to Chicago in 2005 for Aaron Rowand when it became clear that Ryan Howard was ready for a full-time role) Thome would likely welcome the chance to return to Philadelphia and make a World Series run with Charlie Manuel again (Manuel and Thome were with the 1997 Cleveland Indians). While Thome’s thunder stick would be welcome off the bench, he would be essentially a pinch hitter (a la Ross Gload) until the World Series. Interleague play plus a World Series DH may not be worth the $3M contract Thome carries but the fans would love to see him return to the house he helped build!
Josh Willingham, Oakland A’s… is a name that makes sense… right-handed hitter, on a one-year $6M contract which expires at end of 2011…predominantly National League player until this season… Willingham is hitting .232 in 229 AB over 64 games, displaying 10 HR power, 42 RBI but just 11 XBH. Mind you, Oakland-Alameda Coliseum is no band box but over 8 MLB seasons, Willingham’s average numbers look a lot better (.262, 25 HR, 84 RBI, .469 SLG, .830 OPS). Twice the price of Thome but they need a right-handed bat off the bench with more thump than John Mayberry, Jr and Dane Sardhina.
Michael Cuddyer, Minnesota Twins would be an interesting fit. Cuddyer bats right, can play first, third and both corner outfield spots – not to mention the fact that his 4-year, $33M contract expires end of 2011. Most of the $8M for 2011 would be prorated and the Phillies could even swing a deal to see if the Twins might split that with them. .280, 10 HR, 28 RBI in 246 AB. Not exceptionally powerful, not exceptionally fast and not an exceptionally good fielder, but a huge upgrade over the likes of Michael Martinez or Ben Francisco. Best case, this would be a $4-$6M rental of a solid fourth OF and versatile defensive player who can swing a bat and has been both a starter and role player… at worst, it is John Mayberry at ten times the price. I’d take the over-under on the former not the latter.
Jeff Francoeur, Kansas City Royals… this is the least likely of the bunch because Ruben Amaro & Co passed on an opportunity to sign Francoeur as a free agent prior to the 2012 season. Hitting .263, 9 HR, 43 RBI, Francoeur is a right-handed bat with pop who would find the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park very inviting – but what is different now than it was in January? Francoeur has the potential to be a 30 HR/100 RBI man with the right team – but wouldn’t he have fit nicely into the Phillies lefty-laded lineup as of Opening Day to replace Jayson Werth (moreso than say Ben Francisco)? Francoeur signed with Kansas City for 1 year $2.5M and is a competent defensive right fielder. Something didn’t appeal to the Phillies brain trust in January and we have to assume that hasn’t changed… unless it is another Cliff Lee situation… We don’t want him for $9M per season, trade him away for dreck and then ink him for nearly three times that amount. Amaro only seems to want the toys he cannot have.
Ryan Ludwick, San Diego Padres… makes the most sense to me but my opinion matters about as much as Larry Andersen’s. Empirically, Ludwick is a right-handed hitter with some pop (.259, 9 HR, 45 RBI) but most importantly, he is a player that the Phillies would not consider a rental. Ludwick is 32 years old and his $6.78 M contract expires after 2011. His best season was 2008 when he banged out 37 HR and 113 RBI while with St. Louis – which was the only season Ludwick topped 600 AB. Clearly full-time play and having a place to call home for a while would appeal to the veteran (has never spent more than 3 seasons with any of his 5 major league teams. The Phillies could very reasonably work out an extension for 3 more seasons, ensuring that Ludwick would assume the left field position to replace Raul Ibanez in 2012. $24M over 3 years is $11M less than the Phillies offered Ibanez in 2009 and Ludwick is already more productive than Ibanez has been in 2 of those 3 seasons. Ibanez is also 7 years older than Ludwick.
Brad Hawpe, San Diego Padres… Just because veteran Hawpe has been displaced in San Diego by All-World prospect Anthony Rizzo doesn’t mean he should be a full-time major league ballplayer. Hawpe’s best seasons are behind him (2006-2009) and he is only 31 years old. On average this is a .276 hitter with 25 HR and 90 RBI but Hawpe has not played a full season (516 AB/152 games are his most in any given year) since 2009 and he began 2011 as the starting first basemen for the San Diego Padres. Rizzo He has hit just .148 (4-for-27) since joining San Diego earlier this month while Hawpe is struggling at .231, 4 HR, 19 RBI and 67 TB for this moribund offense. Not a ringing endorsement but perhaps a deal could be worked out for both Ludwick ($6.78M) and Hawpe ($3M for 2011) together and I’d bet money I don’t have that the Phillies would be back in the World Series.
Garrett Jones, Pittsburgh Pirates… everyone expects the Pirates to dump all of their talent and contracts every year – largely because that has been happening every in Pittsburgh since Barry Bonds left in 1993. Jason Bay, Bobby Bonilla, Aramis Ramirez, etc. Recently the Pirates have refocused themselves, investing in their prospects and young core players. Andrew McCutcheon and Garrett Jones are the foundation of the next generation of Pirates but Jones may not want to start planning his status at PNC Park just yet. Jones has shown flashes of pure, unadulterated, brute talent (21 HR each in 2008 & 2009) but has also proven that his average can vary up to 50 points from season to season – and he is not a consistent clutch performer. This year he has mustered a .254 AVG, 7 HR and 24 RBI in 199 AB and on another team he would not be in the starting lineup. At $456,000 for 2011, Garrett Jones would make a very useful part-time player but the Phillies already have a semi-potent left-handed hitting first baseman on their bench – at least when Ross Gload is healthy.
Other names that could be tossed around include Hunter Pence (HOU), Derrek Lee (BAL), J.J. Hardy (MIL), Miguel Tejada (SFG), Eric Chavez (NYY), Conor Jackson (ARZ), Grady Sizemore (CLE), Jason Kubel (MIN) and Hideki Matsui (OAK). We will find out together in five weeks.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org