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Deadline deals rarely equal title

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Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

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The Colorado Rockies headed into August of 2007 in fourth place in the NL West, sixth in the NL wild-card race, and about to have a third member of the starting rotation go on the disabled list.

Trying to fill holes, and unable to make a stretch-drive trade, the Rockies brought up two pitchers from their minor league system — Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales — and signed Mark Redman, who had been released by Toronto, and Elmer Dessens, who had been released by Milwaukee.

Who would have thought those would have been the moves that led to one of the most startling season-ending surges in history, as the Rockies would win 20 of the final 21 regular-season games, including a 9-8, 13-inning victory over San Diego in a wild-card tiebreaker? They went on to sweep Philadelphia in the Division Series and Arizona in the NLCS before being swept by Boston in the World Series.

And in the process they created hope for others who are stuck in late July mediocrity.

It is false hope, more often than not.

The bottom line is the winners in baseball are decided on the field, not in the evaluations of who got the best deal in trades leading up to the July 31 deadline for deals without waivers.

Crunch on these numbers from the last 10 postseasons:

• Fifty-eight of the 80 teams that qualified for the postseason were in first place or leading the wild-card race when they woke up on the morning of Aug. 1 (72.5 percent).

• Thirty-two of the 40 teams that advanced to the League Championship Series were in first-place or leading the wild-card race Aug. 1 (80 percent).

• Fifteen of the 20 teams that advanced to the World Series were in first-place or leading the wild-card on Aug. 1 (75 percent).

• And eight of the last 10 world champions were in first place or leading the wild-card on Aug. 1 (80 percent).

The two world champions who had to rally in the final two months were Florida in 2003, and Boston in 2004. Florida fired manager Jeff Torborg in May and replaced him with Jack McKeon. Boston, one game out of the wild-card on Aug. 1, did enjoy the benefits of being part of a four-team trade in which the Red Sox gave up Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs, and in return received first baseman Doug Mientkiwwicz from Minnesota, and shortstop Orlando Cabrera from Montreal.

The most dramatic rallies were the 2007 Rockies, and the 2004 Houston Astros, who were in fifth place in the wild-card standings on Aug. 1. The Astros also found life from a managerial change, firing Jimy Williams at the All-Star Break when the team was 44-44, and hiring Phil Garner, who helped the Astros finish up 48-26.

Obviously Cliff Lee had an impact for Philadelphia after being acquired from Cleveland a year ago, but the Phillies were 59-42 with a six-game lead in the NL East on the morning of Aug. 1, and went 34-27 the rest of the way, finishing six games up in the NL East. They did lose the World Series to the Yankees.

And isn't winning a World Series what the season is about?

Trades, like most decisions in life, are better when they're thought out, as opposed to being made on a whim.

Remember, roses do wilt.

Think back to July 31, 1998, when the Houston Astros were considered to have fleeced Seattle, acquiring Randy Johnson from the Mariners for three prospects — right-hander Freddy Garcia, left-hander John Halama, and shortstop Carlos Guillen.

Johnson did his job. He was 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA the final two months of the regular season, but the Astros were knocked off by San Diego in four games in the NL Division Series. Johnson suffered two of the losses despite allowing only three runs, two earned, in 14 innings.

In 2004, the New York Mets were looking for a miracle, and the evaluators thought they found one. The media declared the Mets "won the arms race," when on July 30 they acquired right-hander Victor Zambrano from Tampa Bay for lefty Scott Kazmir, and right-hander Kris Benson from Pittsburgh for Ty Wigginton, Jose Bautista and Matt Peterson.

The Mets were 49-53 and seven games out of first in the NL East at the time of the deals. They went 22-38 the rest of the way, and finished 25 games back. Benson left after the 2005 season. Zambrano was sidelined after only three starts in 2004 and went a combined 8-14 the next two years.

It is one thing for a team in first place to make a move to strengthen itself, like Texas making the move for Cliff Lee this year. A division-leading team controls its own destiny. If it wins games, it wins a title. Any other team has to win games, but also had to hope the teams in front lose, too.

When Omar Minaya was running the Montreal Expos for Major League Baseball in 2002, he tried to make a pre-emptive move, and instead of waiting for the end of July to juggle his roster, he acquired right-hander Bartolo Colon and reliever Tim Drew from Cleveland for first baseman Lee Stevens, and minor-leaguers Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips. The Expos finished 83-79, 19 games out of first.

Too often teams feel pressured to make a deal, any deal, to show the fans an effort.

Tagged: Orioles, Rangers, Mets, Rockies

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