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Do Midseason Trades for 'Hired Guns' Thrive or Blow Up in Teams' Faces?

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Do Midseason Trades for 'Hired Guns' Thrive or Blow Up in Teams' Faces?
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Did the July 2012 trade of Zack Greinke scare off teams from going after hired guns who could walk away at season's end?

It's supposed to be the ultimate short-term pick-me-up in baseball: the late-season trade for a hired gun.

This is a deal in which a team in (or on the fringes of) contention decides to throw a little caution to the wind and quote-unquote "go for it" by making a move to acquire a productive big-name player who is mere months from walking away as a free agent.

Given the player's looming free agency and the return going the other direction, there's usually a fair amount of risk involved. This is especially true since the latest collective bargaining agreement made it so that a team cannot present a player with a qualifying offer and obtain draft-pick compensation unless he has been with that club all season.

These deals pretty much come with built-in clichés: No guts, no glory. Go big or go home. Playoffs or bust. In other words, the hired gun—and nowadays, only the hired gun—is either worth it or he ain't. In the end, whether this type of trade is a success or a failure comes down to results—by both the individual player and the team as a whole—after the move is made.

With the depressed trade value of players under expiring contracts today, though, it's fair to wonder whether this kind of bold call is becoming a dying breed.

To wit, most of the key names who changed teams this season, from Jake Peavy to Alex Rios to Alfonso Soriano to Bud Norris, remain under contract or team control beyond this season.

The closest any player came to qualifying by our standards this year—big-name player traded in July or August with at least 2.0 WAR at the time of the deal—is right-hander Matt Garza, who compiled 0.9 WAR with the Chicago Cubs (albeit while missing the first six weeks with injury) prior to being shipped to the Texas Rangers for a package of young big leaguers and prospects.

With Garza a few months away from hitting the open market—unless the Rangers ink him to an extension first—the move was a calculated risk that may or may not pay off for Texas.

What follows is a review of similar swaps, in reverse chronological order dating back to 2008, to see if they were worth it—and whether teams should consider being bold and attacking the second half of the season with hired guns ablazin'.

 

All WAR statistics come from FanGraphs, and all trade data comes from Baseball Reference.

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