By Larry Dierker
When it comes to baseball player trading… “The problem with trades is that everyone wants to give you a biscuit for a bag of flour.” — Ellis Clary, scout.
After the July 31st deadline has elapsed, things usually settle down for a bit. Some people think trading is forbidden now, but it’s not. What teams can’t do now is trade a baseball player without exposing him to the waiver process.
When a baseball player is on waivers, other teams can submit a claim. If more than one team claims a player, those in the same league as that player’s team get first priority, starting with the club with the worst record on the day of the claim. Then, the priority moves to the other league, starting with the worst record.
If a baseball player goes unclaimed for two days, he “passes through” waivers. His team then can trade him to any other team for the rest of the season. But, if a post-waiver deal is made in August, it must be completed by midnight on the thirty-first of the month for the player or players to be eligible for post-season games. Last year, the Astros got Justin Verlander on the last minute before the deadline.
Most teams put all of their baseball players on revocable waivers. There is no risk to doing this because if a team claims the player, his team can pull him back. They cannot, however, put him on waivers again without losing him.
After the deadline, baseball writers across the land began writing stories about the “winners” and “losers” in this year’s trades. If you were to go back a few years, you would find that the pundits are often wrong. Hindsight is 20/20. Foresight is not.
In 1998, the Astros traded three prospects for Randy Johnson in an eleventh-hour deal. Randy was having a bad year in Seattle and he was going to become a free agent at the end of the year. The Mariners were rebuilding and were not likely to re-sign him.
Everyone knew he was available, but because he was 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA as the deadline approached, many teams were leery. When midnight approached, Seattle took the Astros offer. They got Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen along with John Halama after the season was over. Most fans had never heard of any of them, but Garcia and Guillen developed into American League All-Stars. Halama bounced around as a situational lefthander. Meanwhile, Johnson went 10-1 with the Astros with a microscopic 1.28 ERA.
The Astros won their division easily but Padres right-hander, Kevin Brown was overpowering game one in the Astrodome. He beat Johnson and the Padres won the series. Subsequently, Johnson signed as a free agent with the D-Backs.
If you were writing about that deal on August 1, you might say the Mariners got the best of it because they weren’t going to sign Johnson at the end of the year anyway. There was some talk about him being over the hill.
If You Were Writing After the Season, You Might Say the Astros Got the Best of It
Then if you were writing after Randy signed with Arizona, you would finally be right by saying the Mariners got the best deal. The Astros lost three baseball players and ended up losing to the Padres then losing a bidding war to the D-Backs.
If you looked even further into the future, you would be critical of the Astros for not offering more money. And you would say the D-Backs got the best of the deal. Randy averaged 20 wins a year for the next five years and picked up four Cy Young Awards in the process.
It is impossible to forecast the winners and losers in a year: It all depends on what you can make from a bag of flour. As it stands, the rich get richer in today’s dollars but may look foolish in the end if they are unable to re-sign the baseball players who become free agents after the season. Chances are they can because they’re rich. But you never know.
At this juncture, it appears the Dodgers got the most immediate help. Shortstop Corey Seager is out for the year after Tommy John surgery. Manny Machado is a more-than-an-adequate replacement. Neither Logan Forsythe nor Chase Utley has been able to provide much offense at second base. Brian Dozier, obtained from the twins, should solve that problem.
Post-Season May Tell a Different Story
If the Dodgers get knocked off in the first round like the ’98 Astros did, and the baseball players they sent to Washington and Minnesota develop into stars, it will look like a bad deal: Machado and Dozier will be free agents at the end of the year.
The Dodgers can let Machado go if Corey Seager recovers from Tommy John surgery. Next year they could move Machado or Seager to second and let Dozier go — or keep all three of them. Their payroll isn’t much different now than in 2017 because they are no longer paying Adrian Gonzalez. It wouldn’t surprise me if they keep both Dozier and Machado. They can afford it.
The Cubs got major pitching help in Cole Hamels. Now they have enough to take them to the World Series if they hit in the post-season.
Meanwhile, the Yankees loaded up on pitching; they didn’t need much help on offense. The Astros did the same thing for the same reason. The Red Sox picked up veteran baseball player Ian Kinsler to replace Dustin Pedroia. They don’t need anything else except for timely performances in post-season.
The Indians started slowly but are formidable now. They didn’t do much in the trade market but if they can get Andrew Miller ready sometime soon, they could beat anyone.
That’s what it all comes down to. If you make it to the World Series, you can justify giving up future stars. If you don’t, you generally have to swallow some big salaries and watch it on TV.
Once the playoffs start, every team is an underdog. At this point, the Astros are slightly favored because of their pitching staff. But you would be much more likely to win a bet that they – and every other team – won’t make the Fall Classic.
That’s Why the Deadline Deals Are So Risky
In a short series, anyone can win. Look at the 2017 Indians. They won more games than any team in baseball, yet they lost a best-of-five opening series to the Yankees after taking a 2-0 lead. If you have a good farm system of baseball players and enough money, you can roll the dice free and easy. If you don’t and are in a once in a decade position, your delivery may not be so smooth.