For baseball fans, this time of the summer can mean one of two things: if your team is in contention, or playing great baseball and attempting to claw their way back into the pennant race, as a fan, you’re excited to see what piece your team adds in an attempt to make that strong October run. If your team is struggling (for example the Colorado Rockies), it’s waving the white flag time, and your team is looking to unload big contracts, freeing up payroll for a run this winter in free agency, or simply to restock the farm system with prospects who one day may turn the team’s fortunes around.
For some teams, the risk of going for it all now can have lasting effects, and as getting that so-called final piece of the puzzle could negatively affect the future of the team, especially if that final piece is simply a rental, and the team acquiring that piece is unable to re-sign that player at the end of the season. That team, not only loses vital pieces of their future, but they gambled on the present, hoping to bring home a World Series title, failed, and lost the player they traded for to free agency. It’s a lose-lose situation all around.
Rarely has a team made multiple moves, sometimes unloading popular players in the process, and have it lead to World Series glory. It has happened however, and we will examine five deal you very well may have forgotten about, because as each July 31st deadline rolls around, the focus is on the here and now.
For those of you that are younger fans, yes, the Big Unit once pitched for the Houston Astros. The Astros at the time had some pretty solid young players, and to get Johnson, who was a free agent at season’s end, they had to give up some talent to try and get over the hump. All Johnson did, was pitch to a record of 10-1, while posting a microscopic ERA of 1.28 in 11 starts, not to mention also posting four complete games–all of which were shutouts. The Mariners in the meantime, received a handful of building blocks that would lead them to early 2000s success, and an American League-record 116 wins, and a trip to the ALCS, where they ran into the buzz-saw known as the New York Yankees.
In parts of six seasons, new staff ace, Garcia, recorded 76 wins before moving on to Chicago. Guillen, played an integral part of the “team-first” mentality of the early 2000s Mariners, hitting .257 in six seasons before going to the Tigers, and making three AL All-Star teams. The player to be named later? John Halama, would go on to record 41 victories in parts of four seasons for the Mariners, and serving as a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm for Lou Piniella. Johnson and the Astros would go on to lose to the San Diego Padres in the NLDS three game-to-one, and he would sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks the following winter. The rest is history, but it appears the Mariners made out a little better with the quality of players they received in terms of longer team service. The Astros while losing Johnson to free agency, would win a pair of division titles after his departure in 1999 and 2000, finally reaching their lone World Series in 2005.
The Brew Crew were in “win now” mode during the summer of 2008, and they needed an ace to get them over the top. Cleveland, who knew they had little to no chance of re-signing the pending free agent Sabathia, felt it was time to part with their reigning Cy Young winner and look to the future. Sabathia, in 17 starts lived up to expectations, pitching to an 11-2 record in 17 starts, with a 1.65 ERA and finishing fifth in Cy Young balloting. The Brewers reached the postseason for the first time since Harvey’s Wallbangers were running Milwaukee, and were promptly disposed of by the eventual World Series champions, the Philadelphia Phillies. Sabathia failed to fulfill his role as ace in his one start against Philly, lasting only 3 2/3 innings, giving up 5 earned runs and taking the loss.
While most people easily recognize the name Michael Brantley, he wasn’t even the key piece leaving Milwaukee and heading to Cleveland in that deal. That distinction belonged to Matt LaPorta, LaPorta had been the seventh overall pick of the first round in 2007 for the Brewers, and was viewed as a future middle-of-the-order slugger. In 2008, he slugged 20 home runs and driving in 66 for Double-A Huntsville. Things didn’t quite work out for LaPorta once he reached the big leagues. Showing some flashes of the power that once made him a big time prospect, he struck out far too often, and couldn’t hit above the .247 mark in full time duty in 2001. By the age of 27, LaPorta was out of the bigs, and is considered a bust.
In two seasons of big league action for Cleveland, Jackson failed to live up to his former first round draft pick (32nd overall) status as well, finishing with a 4-5 record and an ERA of 6.11. His final appearance in the bigs was in 2009. Bryson, drafted in the 31st round of the 2006 draft, has bounced around the minor leagues, with a career record of 22-13 with a 3.57 ERA. Cleveland chose not to re-sign Bryson after last season, and he is currently pitching in Independent League baseball.
The most notable piece that has stuck with Cleveland, was the player to be named later, Michael Brantley. The son of former big leauger Mickey Brantley, Michael has remained a fixture in the re-tooled Tribe outfield since 2001. A career .290 hitter, Brantley has made an All-Star team in 2013, while also finishing third in AL MVP voting and taking home hist first Silver Slugger award. During that season, Brantley posted a 20 home run/20 stolen base season, and at age 28, is entering the prime of what appears to be a solid major league career.
July 31st, 2004: The Boston Red Sox received Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera, the Chicago Cubs got Nomar Garciaparra and Matt Murton, the Montreal Expos received Francis Beltran, Alex Gonzalez, and Brendan Harris, and the Minnesota Twins received Justin Jones.
During the time of this trade, the Red Sox clubhouse was becoming something of a toxic situation. The team was still reeling from their Game Seven collapse in the previous year’s ALCS to the hated Yankees, and GM Theo Epstein felt the need to shake things up. So Boston parted ways with five-time All-Star shortstop, former Rookie of the Year, and AL batting champ Nomar Garciaparra, in an effort to improve the chemistry and solidify the infield defense. Enter Gold Glove winners Orlando Carbera and Doug Mienkiewicz. The Red Sox rallied to earn the AL Wild Card, and dispose of the Yankees to end the “Curse of the Bambino” to help usher in a new era of winning Red Sox baseball. Garciaparra was never able to regain his elite status as a middle infielder, and went from Chicago to Los Angeles with the Dodgers, before finishing his career in Oakland. He was out of baseball by the age of 36.
Murton spent five seasons in the bigs with Chicago, Oakland and Colorado, before leaving the game at 28 years old. Beltran enjoyed parts of four seasons in the show, pitching for the Cubs, Expos, missing a couple of years, and then finishing up with the Tigers. His 3-2 career record state he enjoyed a brief major league career before being derailed by injuries. Gonzalez–no, not THAT Alex Gonzalez, spent 13 years serving primarily as a utility infielder for the Jays, Cubs, Expos, Rays, Padres, and Phillies. A career .243 hitter, he played in close to 1400 games as a major leaguer before hanging up the spikes for good at the end of the 2006 season. Brendan Harris last appeared in the major leagues in 2013 with the Angels, and like Gonzalez, has served in the role of utility infielder for most of the teams he’s played for. Chicago, Montreal, Washington, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Los Angeles have been his homes, and in eight seasons, he’s posted a career .256 batting average and a .973 fielding percentage. Pitcher Justin Jones spent almost a decade in minor league baseball, playing his last couple of seasons in Independent ball. He never reached the big leagues, but posted a career 45-54 record with an ERA of 4.04 pitching in the Cubs, Twins, and Nationals organizations, leaving the game in 2010.
While these examined trades aren’t the sexiest of all-time, each served a purpose of importance at the time they were made. Boston for example, was in utter shock when their beloved Nomar was sent packing for a couple of mid-tier guys. Nobody was crying about it that October though, when 86 years of misery finally ended. The Brewers rolled the dice with Sabathia, got to October baseball for the first time in more than two decades, and lost Sabathia and their prospects, albeit it Brantley being the only piece of consequence, and both the Astros and Mariners weren’t worse for the wear when they exchanged the future for the present. Each of those clubs remained successful for years to come, and Johnson found both individual and team success while pitching towards Cooperstown out in Arizona with co-ace Curt Schilling. What are some of your favorite memories of the July 31st non-waiver trading deadline? Leave your comments below and share with your fellow baseball fans!