Do World Series Champions Typically Make Big Moves at the Trade Deadline?
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Given the way everyone obsesses over the idea, you'd think that making a big move at the trade deadline was a prerequisite for winning the World Series or something.
You know what past World Series winners have to say about that?
"Nah, not really."
That's the answer one gets from looking back at recent history, anyway. Because I never tire of pondering baseball history, I took a look back at the last 20 World Series champions and only found a couple that made what qualify as "big moves" at the trade deadline—either on deadline day itself or in the days leading up to it. What's more, not all of these deals worked out.
Let's step into the TARDIS and go back in time for a nice, quick six-stop journey.
1993 Blue Jays Deal for Rickey Henderson, Nothing Happens
The '93 Blue Jays had All-Star slugger Joe Carter playing left field for much of the first half of the season. But by the time the trade deadline came, he was playing in right field and the Jays were on the lookout for another body for their outfield.
Jays general manager Pat Gillick decided that a former MVP would do nicely.
Gillick made a huge splash on deadline day when he traded righty reliever Steve Karsay to the Oakland A's for Rickey Henderson, the all-world leadoff man who was only a couple years removed from an MVP season in 1990.
To boot, Henderson was in the middle of a huge year when the Jays acquired him. In 90 games with the A's, he had a 1.023 OPS with 17 homers and 31 stolen bases. In him, the Jays appeared to be making a ginormous addition to their roster.
As it turned out, not so much.
Thanks largely to a hand injury suffered early on in his tenure with the club, Henderson only managed a .675 OPS in 44 games with the Jays. He wasn't much better in October, posting a .571 OPS in the postseason.
The Blue Jays won the World Series anyway, of course, but Gillick's boldness at the deadline went for naught.
1996 Yankees Acquire Cecil Fielder, Good Things Happen
The '96 Yankees had Ruben Sierra locked into their DH spot early in the season, but he went into a slump sometime around early June. Darryl Strawberry was picked up in early July, but he didn't do much to stabilize things.
So on deadline day, there were the Yankees dealing Sierra and minor league right-hander Matt Drews to the Detroit Tigers for Cecil Fielder, who had mashed 95 home runs in 1990 and 1991.
With the Yankees, Fielder kept doing his thing. He'd had an .833 OPS and 26 home runs in 107 games with the Tigers. In New York, he posted an .837 OPS and hit 13 home runs in 53 games. He was productive in the postseason as well, compiling a .909 OPS and hitting three home runs.
So unlike the '93 Blue Jays and Rickey Henderson, the '96 Yankees and Fielder proved to be a lovely match for one another. A point for making big deals at the deadline!
2004 Red Sox Ditch Nomar Garciaparra, Good Things Happen
The '04 Red Sox were looking like underachievers by the time the deadline came. They were only 10 games over .500 and were well behind the Yankees in the race for the AL East.
Sox GM Theo Epstein responded by sending one of the team's biggest stars packing. Former All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was sent to the Chicago Cubs as part of a three-team deal that netted the Red Sox two defensive standouts: first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz from the Minnesota Twins and shortstop Orlando Cabrera from the Montreal Expos.
The deal had the desired effect. Mientkiewicz barely managed a .600 OPS at the plate, but he gave the Red Sox a 0.2 Defensive WAR at first base, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Cabrera also posted a solid dWAR, and he gave the Red Sox production with his bat as well. After posting a .634 OPS in Montreal, he posted a .785 OPS in Boston.
The deal was a bold and risky venture by Epstein, and he was rewarded.
For his next big deadline move? Not so much.
2007 Red Sox Pay Big Price for Eric Gagne, Nothing Happens
The '07 Red Sox were set at closer with Jonathan Papelbon throwing heat in the ninth inning, but they found themselves in need of a good right-handed setup man to complement the lefty-throwing Hideki Okajima.
Enter 2003 National League Cy Young winner Eric Gagne, whom the Red Sox acquired on deadline day from the Texas Rangers in exchange for young outfielder David Murphy and left-handers Kason Gabbard and Engel Beltre.
Gagne had been a terrific closer for the Rangers, posting a 2.16 ERA in 34 appearances with 16 saves. But for the Red Sox, he was a disaster. He had an ERA close to 7.00 in 20 appearances and was eventually restricted to mop-up duty in the postseason.
Gagne was basically Boston's Rickey Henderson. Except worse.
2011 Cardinals Trade for Everyone, Good Things Happen
The 2011 Cardinals were kinda mediocre. Especially at shortstop, where they spent much of the first half relying on the services of the perennially just-OK Ryan Theriot.
Deadline day saw Cards GM John Mozeliak change that by acquiring former All-Star shortstop Rafael Furcal from the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfield prospect Alex Castellanos.
That wasn't the only deadline deal Mozeliak made in 2011. He had pulled off a blockbuster with the Blue Jays a couple days earlier, sending Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet and P.J. Walters to Toronto for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Corey Patterson and Marc Rzepczynski.
Both trades proved to be winners for the Cardinals.
From Furcal, the Cardinals got a .735 OPS in 50 games to go along with some solid defense at shortstop.
From Jackson, they got a 3.58 ERA in 13 appearances, 12 of them starts.
From Dotel, they got a 3.28 ERA in 29 appearances in the regular season and a 2.61 ERA over 12 postseason appearances.
And from Rzepczynski, the Cardinals got a 3.97 ERA in 28 regular-season appearances and 11 outstanding appearances in the postseason following a rough October debut in Game 1 of the NLDS.
I also assume Mozeliak sent a portion of his soul to the baseball gods in exchange for a favor. Because, really, there's no other way to explain Game 6 of the World Series.
2012 Giants Bring Aboard Hunter Pence, Nothing Happens
In the months leading up to the trade deadline, the '12 Giants had the following players patrolling right field: Nate Schierholtz, Gregor Blanco and Justin Christian.
That's not an awful collection of names, but some stability and, indeed, some more offense, was needed. Giants GM Brian Sabean knew just the fella.
On deadline day, Sabean sent Schierholtz and minor leaguers Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin to the Philadelphia Phillies for Hunter Pence, who at the time had an .842 OPS in 155 games as a Phillie.
Production like that was more or less what the Giants were expecting. What they got instead was a .671 OPS in 59 regular-season games and a .521 OPS in the postseason. That's the statistical way of saying "a whole lot of nothing."
Unless you want to count Pence's emotional pregame speeches, of course.
There's your history of big moves at the trade deadline among the last 20 World Series champions. Six teams and seven trades, and three of those deals were busts. That's a good-but-not-great rate of success.
That meshes well with what we know about the trade deadline. It's a time to roll the dice, but the odds of landing a winner in a big deal are about the same as they are at any other point in the season. Such deals are always going to be risky.
But then again, who says big moves at the trade deadline are the only way to go for would-be World Series winners? In the recent past, small deadline deals have proven to be just as worthwhile.
At the deadline in 1997, the Florida Marlins acquired Craig Counsell from the Colorado Rockies. Then an inexperienced second baseman, Counsell posted a .773 OPS in 51 regular-season games for the Marlins and ended up scoring the series-clinching run in Game 7 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians.
In 2004, the Red Sox made a deal for professional speedster Dave Roberts in the shadow of the big three-team trade that sent Nomar packing. Roberts ended up posting a .772 OPS in 45 games with the Red Sox. And in Game 4 of the ALCS, he stole the base.
In 2005, the White Sox acquired utility man Geoff Blum from the San Diego Padres. He did little for the White Sox in the regular season but made up for it by hitting the home run that won Game 3 of the World Series.
In 2006, the Cardinals made a deal with the Indians for second baseman Ronnie Belliard. He stabilized the club's situation at second base and went on to hit .462 in the NLDS against the Padres.
In 2010, the Giants acquired lefty reliever Javier Lopez and righty reliever Ramon Ramirez on deadline day. Lopez had a 1.42 ERA as a Giant, and Ramirez did even better with a 0.67 ERA, making what was already a solid bullpen into one of the team's biggest strengths.
Then in 2012, a couple days before the Pence trade, the Giants quietly acquired Marco Scutaro from the Rockies. All he did was hit .362 in 61 games for the Giants, and he captured the NLCS MVP by hitting a ridiculous .500 in seven games against the Cardinals.
And now for another "but then again": Who said that would-be World Series winners must conduct their business near the trade deadline only?
The 2000 Yankees acquired David Justice in June and Glenallen Hill about 10 days before the deadline. The two sluggers combined for 36 home runs down the stretch.
The 2003 Marlins acquired Ugueth Urbina about three weeks before the deadline. He eventually took over as their closer, playing a role in getting them to the postseason and eventually in their winning the World Series.
The 2008 Phillies acquired Joe Blanton about two weeks before the deadline. He posted a 4.20 ERA in 13 starts and allowed only six earned runs in three postseason starts. He also hit a home run in the World Series.
So as far as the last 20 World Series winners go, the track record of smaller deadline trades and trades made well before the deadline is at least as impressive as the track record of big deals made up against the deadline.
I would say that there's some sort of lesson there, but, well, there's really not.
Teams shouldn't need to be told that big deals in the shadow of the deadline aren't the only way to go, for such deals certainly aren't the only way to get better. That's exactly what every team is looking to do at all times of the season, be it for the immediate future or the more distant future.
Some teams make moves and watch their seasons go "pluh." Other teams make moves and win the World Series. It all depends on who the baseball gods are favoring.
Note: Stats and transaction specifics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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