Every year, around this time, front offices start to make concrete judgements about their team. They’ll take a look at the standings and a look at their roster and decide if they’re good enough to chase a playoff spot, or if the focus should shift to next year. Every Major League team will make several roster changes over the next two months; most of them minor, but some of them can affect the franchise at its core.
On every team, there are a few players that were acquired in trades before they were much of anything. Most of the time, we don’t think much about these players. Generally speaking, a lot more words are spent on the veteran player going to the contender and not so much on the pieces coming back.
Sometimes these trades end up looking foolish. The Bartolo Colon trade between Montreal and Cleveland back in 2002 comes to mind. In that deal, the Clevelands acquired Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Lee Stevens for Tim Drew and Colon who pitched only until the end of the year with the Expos before getting traded again, this time to the White Sox in a deal that involved Orlando Hernandez.
But what about the trades you rarely hear about after they’ve been executed? What teams owe the largest part of their foundation to savvy trades? Jump with me and we’ll explore these questions.
Jair Jurrjens is having a breakout year with the Atlanta Braves. He’s quickly becoming one of the best pitchers in the NL using a devastating changeup and a good slider to compliment his fastball and keep hitters off balance. Jurrjens was once a very highly touted prospect in the Tigers’ system, but they dealt him to the Braves along with outfielder Gorkys Hernandez (now with the Pirates) for Edgar Renteria back in December of 2007.
This wasn’t the first time that the Braves fleeced the Tigers for an aging veteran; back in August of 1987, the Tigers, desperate to hold off the Brewers and the surging Blue Jays in the AL East acquired Doyle Alexander from the Braves. The pitcher going the other way was a young John Smoltz.
Heading into the 2004 season, those same Braves were desperate for some offensive help and got it in a trade with St. Louis. The Cardinals, meanwhile, built their rotation on the returns of the deal when they sent rightfielder J.D. Drew and catcher Eli Marrero to the Braves for three pitchers: Adam Wainwright, Jason Marquis, and veteran lefty Ray King. Two seasons later, the Cardinals would go on to win a World Series title on the back of a rotation that included Marquis and a bullpen lead by Wainwright who would be moved to the rotation the following year. Wainwright has since finished in the top three in NL Cy Young voting in each of the last two seasons posting a 2.97 career ERA.
Bronson Arroyo has become a very solid if not spectacular mid-rotation starter for the Reds. He was acquired during spring training in 2006 from the Red Sox for Drew Fairservice’s favourite fringe Major-Leaguer Wily Mo Pena. Arroyo was never going to be an ace, but he’s made a nice career for himself in Cincinnati, while Pena has been up and down from AAA with several different teams ever since.
The Red Sox may not have been the victor in the Arroyo trade, but they certainly were in this one.
In 1997, the Mariners were contending in the AL West despite the having Majors’ worst bullpen. My most vivid memories of that team were of Lou Piniella plodding angrily out of Seattle’s dugout while the commentators waxed poetically about the failings of the worst relief corps in baseball.
The Mariners literally sold the farm in July of that season to try and acquire any kind of help. On July 1st they sent Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe to the BoSox for Heathcliff Slocumb. Varitek went on to captain the Red Sox to two World Series titles and Lowe was the starter in both game seven of the historic 2004 ALCS against the Yankees and the clinching game of that year’s World Series against the Cardinals. Slocumb, meanwhile, posted a 4.97 ERA in a season-and-a-half with the Mariners.
It could’ve stopped there, but later that month, the Mariners traded young outfielder Jose Cruz Jr. to the Blue Jays for relievers Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric. Dustin’s post on the Diamondbacks wanting bullpen help seems apt to mention right about here.
Maicer Izturis has become as steady an everyday middle infielder as they come. He’s versatile and hits enough to make him extremely valuable and integral to the success of the Angels over the last few years. Izturis was signed as an amateur free agent back in 1998 by Cleveland and then was dealt to the Montreal Expos along with outfielder Ryan Church in early 2004.
Less than a year later, with the Expos moving to Washington, the newly anointed Nationals sent Izturis along with current Blue Jay Juan Rivera to the Angels for slugging outfielder Jose Guillen. Both Rivera and Izturis helped the Angels win four division titles in five years while Guillen had one decent season and one terrible season with the Nats before moving on.
Since being acquired by the Cubs along with centerfielder Kenny Lofton during the 2003 season from Pittsburgh, only five third basemen have a higher WAR than Aramis Ramirez. The three players the Pirates got in the deal played a combined total of 243 games with them and Matt Bruback, considered the centrepiece, never made it to the Majors.
Of every team in Major League Baseball, one stands above the rest as a franchise built upon trade acquisitions. The Clevelands were not only able to pull off the deal I mentioned in the opening, but have also made several other deals that have given them a solid foundation of young talent. Back-to-back Cy Young Award winners C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee were dealt in consecutive seasons in 2008 and 2009 and both netted solid returns that included everyday players such as Matt LaPorta, and Michael Brantley and other pieces such as Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, and Lou Marson. The real spoils for the franchise, however, came in much smaller, off-the-radar trades.
In December of 2002, the Clevelands sent catcher Einar Diaz and right-handed pitcher Ryan Drese to the Texas Rangers for right-hander Aaron Myette and a portly third baseman by the name of Travis Hafner. Hafner quickly became one of the most feared sluggers in baseball and although he didn’t deserve his current contract, there’s no doubt the trade was a huge win for the franchise.
In the span of five days leading up to the trade deadline in 2006, Cleveland fleeced the Mariners twice. On July 26th, Seattle sent Korean outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to Cleveland along with left-hander Shawn ‘The Sheriff Of’ Nottingham for first baseman Ben Broussard. Choo has gone on to become one of the top players in the game while Broussard had a .311 on-base percentage over a season-and-a-half with Seattle.
On July 30th, the Clevelands did it again sending another first baseman, Eduardo Perez (recently hired as the Marlins new hitting coach), to Seattle for shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera is currently enjoying a massive breakout year and has probably been the best player on a surprising Cleveland team; some consider him to be the best shortstop in the American League. Perez, meanwhile, hit .195 in 102 plate appearances with Seattle before retiring.
Casey Blake came out of relative obscurity to become a solid Major League third baseman; he remains so today even if age is starting to catch up with him. At the deadline in 2008, however, the Dodgers were desperate for some depth and power in their lineup and pulled the trigger on a deal that continually looks worse with each passing day. The Dodgers acquired Blake and cash from Cleveland for young phenom catcher Carlos Santana and pitcher Jon Meloan. Santana has all the makings of a multiple-time All-Star while Blake is on his way to retirement. If Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti could have that deal back, I’m sure he’d take it. Or maybe not, I mean, it is Ned Colletti.
Let’s hear it Blankards, what are some of your favourite ‘low-fan-fare’ trades? Several of them have been made by Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos since he took over the club late in 2009; or how about the very interesting Carlos Gonzalez trade-tree between Arizona, Oakland, and Colorado?
As the next two months come and go, keep your eye on the young players involved in trades; they could end up being the pieces a rebuilding team needs to once again vie or a championship.
Travis Reitsma is the fantasy baseball guru here at Getting Blanked, but you’ll find he sometimes writes on other subjects as well. You can find more of his work over at Baseball Canadiana, including bi-weekly power rankings which are fun to do even if they mean pretty much nothing. You can also follow him on the Twitter.