Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Major League Baseball Trade Deadline

(Sabbath Blog #28)

[Note: On Sundays I write about subjects that I enjoy and thus have fun writing about; thus the label “Sabbath Blog.”]

The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline passed at 4:00 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, July 31. The deadline always generates a lot of excitement. Teams that are in contention for a championship try to plug holes or improve their lineup. Teams that are out of contention try to trade their veteran commodities for a package of prospects that might help them get into contention somewhere down the road.

The biggest deal of this trade deadline season was made by my favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, and the Texas Rangers. It was also a good example of how such trades work. The Rangers traded their veteran but still young power-hitting first baseman, Mark Teixeira, and veteran left-handed reliever Ron Mahay to the Braves for the Atlanta team’s top prospect, catcher/first baseman Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and four other top prospects. The Braves are the team in contention and they needed to shore up weaknesses at first base and in the bullpen. They got one of the best first basemen in the game. But, they gave up some potential superstars; I think that Salty, as he is called, is going to be a real good one and I hated to see him go. The Braves have a chance to win now, though, and so the deal is a good one for them; Teixeira hit a home run in each of his first three games with the team.

Fans hate to see their team trade away one of their superstars. I’m sure that Texas fans hated to see Teixeira go. But, if sometime in the future some of those youngsters that the Rangers got in return for him pan out, they’ll look back on it as a good trade.

My favorite example of how that can work out happened on August 12, 1987. The Detroit Tigers were trying to win the American League Eastern Division championship. They needed a veteran pitcher. The Atlanta Braves were, on the other hand, 50-63 and headed nowhere; they would eventually finish 20.5 games out of first place. So, the Tigers sent a young Class A pitcher named John Smoltz to the Braves for Doyle Alexander. The trade paid off immediately for the Detroit team as Alexander would go 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA over the remainder of the season and the Tigers would win the division.

Since reaching the major leagues in 1989, Smoltz, of whom almost no one had ever heard when the trade was made, has become one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history; he will probably be a Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible. He has compiled 203 wins against 143 losses and has compiled a 3.26 career ERA. During the three years that he served as the Braves’ closer, he amassed 154 saves. He has also been one of the most successful postseason pitchers in history with 15 wins, 4 losses, 4 saves, and an ERA of 2.65.

So, you just never know. The truth is, of course that for every star like Smoltz that emerged from one of those trades there have been a dozen who never quite made it. Still, hope springs eternal when your team is down on its luck. I know; I’ve been following the Braves since they moved to Atlanta in 1966 and believe me, some of those years were lean ones.

I hope, of course, that Teixeira helps the Braves win a World Series this year. If Salty helps the Rangers win one five years from now, so be it. Of course, being a baseball fan, I reserve the right to whine about it, anyhow.

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