It’s deal or deal time for MLB GMs
By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
It’s the best of times, and the worst of times to be a baseball fan. For big market teams the end of July might as well be Dec. 25. Fans and GMs alike make out a wish list of all the most talented players on sub-par teams and hope Santa can deliver that power pitcher they have always wanted, or that big bat they have set their eyes on since April.
Contrarily, the small market fans pray to the baseball gods that just once, their team’s owner or general manager will hold on to that stud third baseman, or not deal the ace that’s in his prime — but also in a contract year.
Please oh please just resign this one guy, this one time, they beg. But the results are always the same.
But do the big deals bring back big results?
Promising players from (name your small market team here) gets dealt to (name your large market team here) for a crop of up-and-comers every July, only to have the same scenario play out again in two to three years.
Such is life in the MLB, and until there is a salary cap to keep the big market teams in check, and a salary basement to ensure the small market teams spend a couple of bucks, that’s just the way the baseball bounces.
Heading into the final days before the trade deadline the league-wide poker match has already begun, and right now 30 GMs are sitting around a large velvet covered table appraising their chips and deciding if they should go all in, check or fold. But does it really make a difference?
Take a look at last year’s big deadline acquisitions. At this time last season, the Mets, with a 59-46 record, held a two-game advantage over the Phillies before dealing a pair of prospects to the Twins for aging all-star second baseman Louis Castillo.
The speedy, slick-fielding Castillo was brought in to be the ideal No. 2 hitter behind Jose Reyes, and lift New York into the World Series. Instead, the Mets went on an all-time collapse at the end of the year and failed to make the playoffs.
Of course the collapse wasn’t all Castillo’s fault. However, adding the big-name player failed to bring in the desired results.
Another blockbuster trade that failed to provide a playoff appearance took place in Atlanta. While the Braves aren’t necessarily a big market team, they are not exactly the Royals either.
Last year at this time Atlanta was 56-51, and only 3.5 games back behind the NL East leading Mets when it decided to push its chips into the middle of the table and gambled on Rangers’ switch-hitting all-star first baseman Mark Teixeira.
The Braves traded five prospects for the slugging switch-hitter, most notably catcher Jarrod Saltamacchia, and didn’t even make it to the postseason. To make mattes worse, Teixeira, who is in the last year of his contract, will more than likely sign elsewhere at the end of the year, or be traded again.
Even with the benefit of retrospect, the trade wasn’t too bad of a deal considering Atlanta could afford to lose a top catching prospect due to the play of Brian McCann, but the point is a lot of these blockbuster deadline deals don’t ever pan out.
Just ask the Red Sox, who thought dealing for reliever Eric Gagne and paring him up with Jonathan Papelbon would set them up to have a Mariano Rivera, John Wetland style bullpen. Instead all they got from Gagne was a leaky pen, as Gagne blew save after save for the Sox and was ultimately a non-factor.
The truth is the game has changed, the real high-stakes wheeling and dealing doesn’t take place in July anymore. Yes, I know the Brewers just picked up C.C. Sabathia, but the super-star trades that really make a difference now take place during the winter meetings. Consider the July trading deadline deals to be the Atlantic City, to the winter meetings’ Las Vegas.
The stakes have gotten too high now. There is too much money on the line for GMs to make impulse trades at midnight in the middle of the season. They would rather wait until the winter, this way they can feel the star players’ impact for a whole season, instead of a few months.
The Tigers-Marlins’ deal that involved the Detroit landing Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera this off-season is more typical of what fans can expect to see in the future, and not during July.
So while fans salivate with anticipation to see which big names go where, keep in mind what happens after the deal.
Did that superstar lead his team to the World Series, or a prolonged playoff push, or did the team even make the postseason? Can you look back one year from now and say you would do the deal again?
The stakes are high, and there is a lot on the line for everyone involved. For general mangers, these mid-season moves either earn you a contract extension, or get you fired. At the same time, standing pat sends the signal that you are content with your team, or not being aggressive enough. Welcome to the life of a Major League Baseball GM: now check, raise or fold.