10 deals that put a charge into the MLB trade deadline
JUL 29, 2014 1:00p ET
Every year, the MLB trade deadline makes for an exciting respite from the dog days of summer, as players of varying talent levels from around the league are shopped around — some because they want new homes, others because their current teams can’t afford to keep them and a select few who just can’t seem to get things right in their current surroundings.
Last year’s deadline was comparatively uneventful, with Jake Peavy, Ian Kennedy and Bud Norris among the biggest names to change zip codes. The 2012 deadline, though, was a more star-studded affair, with Zack Greinke, Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster and Hunter Pence on the move, among others.
Some of the biggest names expected to be discussed — if not dealt — this summer include Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price and utility man Ben Zobrist, Philadelphia Phillies ace Cliff Lee (who seems to always be on the move this time of year) and Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki. Others, like Joakim Soria, Huston Street, Kendrys Morales and Chase Headley, have already been moved in recent days.
Only time will tell how these exchanges work out for the teams involved, as those sending off stars wait to see how their new crop of prospects develops and those acquiring top talent hope their new centerpieces are worth the investment. In the meantime, here’s a look back at 10 prior trade deadline deals that shook up Major League Baseball history:
Indians trade Rick Sutcliffe to Cubs (June 13, 1984)
Before the 1984 trade deadline — until 1986, the deadline was June 15, not July 31 — the Chicago Cubs swung a deal for struggling Indians right-hander Rick Sutcliffe, a former rookie of the year who was off to a subpar start in his third year in Cleveland after starting his career with the LA Dodgers. Sutcliffe had gone just 4-5 in his first 15 starts, with a 5.15 ERA and a 1.26 strikeout-to-walk ratio that suggested that his successful 1982 campaign was just a mirage.
But apparently a change of scenery was all Sutcliffe needed, as he went 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio nearing 4-to-1 in 20 starts in Chicago, picking up the NL Cy Young award as the Cubs and MVP Ryne Sandberg came within a game of the World Series.
The trade did cost Chicago a young Joe Carter, who would go on to hit 151 of his 396 career homers with the Indians, so the Cubs didn’t exactly fleece Cleveland. But Sutcliffe would go on to play the best years of his career with Chicago, including an 18-win season in 1987, and the trade is still considered by many to be the best the Cubs have made.
Cubs trade Lou Brock to Cardinals (June 15, 1964)
Alas, not every trade deadline deal the Cubs have made panned out quite like the Sutcliffe acquisition, and none has been more recognized for its lopsidedness than the trade that sent Lou Brock, Jack Spring and Paul Toth to St. Louis in exchange for Ernie Broglio, Bobby Shantz, and Doug Clemens.
At the time of the trade, the deal wasn’t perceived to be particularly one-sided, as Brock, then 25, had been mostly a middling player in two full big league seasons in Chicago and Broglio had gone 70-55 with a 3.43 ERA over five-plus years with the Cardinals. It didn’t take long, though, for it to become clear just who got the better end of the swap.
With the benefit of hindsight we can now see just how unbalanced the trade turned out to be. In his first half-season with his new club, Brock hit .348 and stole 33 bases as the Cardinals — thanks in large part to the legendary Phillies collapse of ‘64 — went on to win the first of two World Series during Brock’s time in St. Louis.
Brock would go on to play 16 seasons in St. Louis and collected 2,713 of his 3,023 career hits and 888 of his 938 career steals in Cardinal red. Broglio, meanwhile, went 7-19 with a 5.40 ERA over the course of 59 appearances (33 starts) for Chicago and was out of baseball by 1966 — his name forever considered a punchline for a regrettable trade.
Expos trade Donn Clendenon to Mets (June 15, 1969)
Donn Clendenon isn’t the most high-profile name to change unis at the deadline, and his time with the New York Mets was ultimately brief, as he was released by the team in 1971 and out of baseball by August 1972. But what he accomplished in his first year in the Big Apple will forever be considered an crucial part of Mets history.
On a “Miracle Mets” team led at the plate by Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee, it was Clendenon — a player who never saw the field in a three-game NLCS sweep — who shone brightest in the World Series, going 5-for-14 with three home runs.
Clendenon’s homers in Game 2 and Game 4 gave New York a 1-0 lead in each of those wins, and in the sixth inning of the clinching Game 5, Clendenon’s two-run home run cut the Orioles’ lead to 3-2. The performance earned him World Series MVP honors as the Mets knocked off Frank Robinson’s Baltimore Orioles in five games, and ensured that he would forever be a beloved figure in Mets lore.
The San Diego Padres parted ways with several once-and-future All Stars as part of their fire sale during the summer of 1993, but perhaps none of those concessions hurt more than that of Fred McGriff, who continued to build on what still might be ruled a Hall of Fame career in Atlanta.
McGriff had already established himself as one of the game’s premier power hitters before the trade, hitting 209 home runs in the equivalent of six full seasons between Toronto and San Diego, and when he was sent to Atlanta in exchange for Vince Moore, Donnie Elliott and Melvin Nieves, the Padres thought they were receiving compensation that might one day ease the sting of losing the “Crime Dog” in the middle of their lineup.
Unfortunately for San Diego, none of the three prospects they acquired panned out as a big leaguer — Nieves came the closest, appearing in 127 games in parts of three unspectacular seasons with the team — while McGriff hit 130 of his 493 career homers in five seasons with Atlanta, leading the team to two World Series appearances, and one championship, in 1995.
By the time David Cone was dealt to the Yankees just before the ‘95 trade deadline, the reliable righty already had a Cy Young Award under his belt, as well as a World Series ring — won in the wake of a post-deadline trade to Toronto in the summer of 1992 — and few expected the then-32-year-old to be quite as productive for New York as he’d been to that point of his career.
Little did they know, Cone would actually emerge over the next five-plus seasons as a critical member of the Yankees rotation, and helped guide New York to four World Series titles in a five-year span between 1996 and 2000.
At his best, Cone was dominant, as evidenced by his 20-win season in 1998 and his 1999 perfect game against the Expos. And even though he had declined by the end of his career, going 4-14 with 6.91 ERA in his final season in pinstripes, he’d done more than enough to justify parting ways with the prospects the Jays got in return — two of whom never reached the majors, and a third, Marty Janzen, who posted a career big league ERA of 6.39 in 27 appearances (11 starts) in Toronto.
A’s send Mark McGwire to Cardinals (July 31, 1997)
Mark McGwire’s legacy is so closely associated with the St. Louis Cardinals that sometimes it’s almost easy to forget that the slugger spent the majority of his career with the Oakland A’s. Before he was breaking records (legally or not) with the Cards, McGwire was a perennial All-Star when healthy in Oakland, and was only sent to St. Louis at the ‘97 deadline because the A’s knew their frustrated star would be gone that fall, anyway.
It didn’t take long for McGwire to find his swing after being reunited with Tony LaRussa in St. Louis, belting 24 home runs in 51 games in red during the latter part of the 1997 season, but it was in 1998 that McGwire, amid his home run race with Sammy Sosa, became arguably the league’s brightest star, dazzling fans with a then-record 70 homers despite losing 162 at-bats to walks.
In 1999, McGwire would follow up his 70-dinger season with 65 more home runs, and though McGwire’s reputation may have later been tarnished by revelations of PED use, one has to figure it was still well worth the unimpressive three-player haul it took to acquire McGwire in the first place.
Indians trade Cliff Lee to Phillies (July 29, 2009)
Recently off the disabled list, Cliff Lee has become a mainstay in the Philadelphia Phillies’ rotation over the last few seasons, but it was actually the trade that brought Lee to Philly the first time around that proved to be one of the most shrewd deadline moves in baseball history.
In 2008, Lee put together one of the most dominant pitching seasons in recent history, earning AL Cy Young award honors after going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA. By the following summer, Cleveland was ready to move on from Lee before the lefty could move on from them during the 2010 offseason. So they sent the 31-year-old to the Phillies in exchange for four younger prospects, only one of whom, reliever Carlos Carrasco, is still in the league.
Lee — who was also part of one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history when the Expos traded him, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore for Bartolo Colon in 2002 — was adequate in his initial half-season with Philadelphia, going 7-4 in 12 regular season starts, but it was in the 2009 playoffs that Lee really broke out, going 4-0 in five starts, with a 1.58 ERA and a 33-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Lee’s efforts didn’t earn Philly a title, as it lost to the Yankees in six games in the World Series, and it didn’t earn him a second go-around in 2010, as Philly dealt Lee to Seattle a few months later. But Philly did make an impression on Lee, apparently, as the lefty returned to the club as a free agent in the winter of 2010.
Phillies trade Curt Schilling to Diamondbacks (July 26, 2000)
Long before Lee was on Philadelphia’s radar, the Phillies had a stud right-hander in Curt Schilling, a true workhorse and one of the game’s best pitchers in the late ‘90s. Problem was, the Phillies were no good in that era, and after seven sub-.500 seasons following a World Series bid in 1993, the three-time All-Star Schilling made it known he wanted out.
So before the 2000 deadline, the Phils gave him his wish and sent him to Arizona in exchange for Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, Travis Lee and Vicente Padilla. Sure, the deal cost the Diamondbacks some major-league talent, but there’s little argument that the D-Backs got the better end of the deal, given how things panned out over the next two seasons.
In Schilling’s first season in the desert, he went 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA in a league-high 256⅔ innings pitched. The following year, Schilling went 23-7 with a 3.23 ERA and a microscopic 0.968 WHIP over 259⅓ innings.
The only thing that kept Schilling from winning two Cy Youngs for those efforts was a pair of equally first-rate showings from teammate Randy Johnson. And with Johnson and Schilling as undoubtedly the best 1-2 punch in baseball, Arizona won the 2001 World Series — with Schilling earning the Series MVP award after allowing just 12 hits and four runs and striking out 26 batters over the course of 21⅓ innings against the Yankees.
I’ll say this about Heathcliff Slocumb: He was a fine major league reliever in his day, and when the Seattle Mariners, in need of bullpen help, acquired him at the deadline in 1997, there was little sense from those around the baseball community that they were making a big mistake in doing so.
Unfortunately for the M’s, the two kids they traded to get Slocumb from the Red Sox — 24-year-old Derek Lowe and 25-year-old Jason Varitek — turned out to be cornerstones for Boston, eventually helping the club break an 86-year-old curse with a World Series win in 2004, while Slocumb never did live up to expectations in his short time in the Pacific Northwest.
Perhaps it was an omen that Varitek got a hit in his first big-league at-bat — his only AB with the Red Sox in that 1997 season — and over the next 14 years, all with Boston, Varitek would collect more than 1,300 more, earning three All-Star nods in the process.
Lowe, too, would develop into an All-Star with the Sox, and finished third in Cy Young voting in 2002 after winning 21 games. But it was his efforts during the 2004 World Series run — a 3-0 record, 1.86 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in four postseason starts, including seven shutout innings in the clinching game over St. Louis — that served as the greatest validation for his acquisition in the first place.
The Chicago Cubs’ World Series drought has reached historic proportions in the 106 years since their last championship, but in 2003, baseball’s lovable losers came closer to snapping the streak than they had since the 1940s, and a mid-season trade for a power-hitting third baseman may have been the addition that put them closer than ever to that elusive World Series ring.
In the swap, Chicago sent right-hander Matt Bruback (who never reached the majors), Jose Hernandez (a utility man closing in on the end of a 15-year career) and Bobby Hill (he of 58 career big league RBI) to Pittsburgh in exchange for Aramis Ramirez and former All-Star and base-stealer extraordinaire Kenny Lofton.
Ramirez would take to his new surroundings quickly, and hit 15 homers in 63 games down the stretch for Chicago. In the 2003 postseason, he’d add four more home runs — three coming in the NLCS against Florida — and 10 RBI as the Cubs came within a game of their first World Series in nearly 60 years. He would then become a mainstay in the Cubs’ lineup for the next eight seasons and hit 239 homers during his time with the North Siders.
Lofton, too, was an effective veteran on the team, and hit .327, drove in 20 runs and stole 12 bases for Chicago in 56 regular season games, his only campaign with the Cubs. He also hit .308 that postseason. Looking back, the only thing that could have made the trade better for Chicago is if the team could have somehow included Steve Bartman in the package, as well.