Each year around this time, contending teams line up around the teams that are playing out the string, set their sights, and seek to pull and pluck whatever piece seems like it would fit best for their own drive towards the playoffs. Think car thieves in a chop shop.
However, just like chop shop patrons, picking up a part or two you want can come with a heavy price. While no general manager or team executive is likely to be prosecuted making a poor decision at the deadline, the pulic shame and scorn could be on the same level.
Because even more likely than a team picking up an extra middle infielder that makes a game-saving play, at least one team will pay dearly for it's decisions at the deadline.
Some will pay right away, such as the GM that decides his starting rotation is fine with Oliver Perez as the number two, who will then miserably watch game after game when his team is behind 3-0 in the first.
Much worse, however, is the GM that overpays for a player that may help his team for two months, and five years later we figure out that said GM gave away a star. Need examples? I've got 'em...
-August 12, 1987- The Tigers, in a three-way race for first in the AL East, acquire 36 year old pitcher Doyle Alexander from the Atlanta Braves for a 20-year old AA pitcher named John Smoltz. Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA for the Tigers down the stretch, helping them win the AL East before losing to Minnesota in the LCS, making the deal look like a steal for Detroit. Alexander then posted back-to-back 4.30 and higher ERA seasons before retiring after the '89 season, while Smoltz became an anchor for the Atlanta squad that won its division every year from 1991-2005.
Short term edge: Tigers. Alexander was great and Detroit made the playoffs.
Long term edge: Atlanta. Smoltz is headed to Cooperstown with 210 wins and 154 saves in a Braves uniform. And 1996 NL Cy Young winner. And 1992 NLCS MVP. And eight-time All-Star.
One more jab at the losers: While Smoltz was pitching his way to Cooperstown and the Braves to five World Series in the '90s, who was Detroit's best pitcher? Did they even have one decent starting pitcher there for more than a year or two? Mike Henneman? Walt Terrell? David Wells had a few nice years there, but he still wasn't David Wells. And even italicized David Wells isn't a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher.
-August 30th, 1990- Boston acquires relief pitcher Larry Andersen from Houston for minor league third baseman Jeff Bagwell. Oops. Uh oh. Yikes. However you want to articulate this one, it works. Easily the worst of the deals on this list. LA is a nice man, a fine broadcaster, and everything else. But Jeff Bagwell is the best player in Astros history, and LA was a nice 7th inning type reliever, but nothing more. LA actually did fine for the Red Sox in '90, posting a 1.23 ERA in 15 games after the trade. Then he signed with the Padres in the off-season, but the Astros got to keep Bagwell. Bagwell was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1991, then went on to hit .297 with 449 HR and over 1500 RBI in his 15-year career, all of it with Houston. LA, again a nice man, went to the World Series in 1993 as a member of the Phillies, retired after the 1994 season, spent a little time as a pitching coach in the Phils system, and moved into the Phils broadcast booth in 1998, where he remains. Really, LA is a nice man.
Short term edge: Boston. "We're in the playoffs... who's that Bagwell kid anyway?"
Long term edge: Houston. LA is a nice man. Just let it go at that.
One more jab at the losers: Another example of why an 86-year World Series title drought has more to do with bad management than with Curses from the Bambino.
-July 31st, 1998- Houston acquires Randy Johnson from the Mariners for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama. The Big Unit pitches lights out for the Astros, going 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and four complete games in 11 starts. However, the Astros were bounced from the playoffs in the first round for the third consecutive season, followed by Johnson leaving in the off-season for Arizona via free agency, where he helped win a World Series in 2001. The trio of Garcia, Guillen and Halama was integral in helping the Mariners win an ML record 116 games in 2001.
Short term edge: Houston. Johnson was lights-out as the Astros coasted to the NL Central crown by 12.5 games. Even Seattle player griped that they got hosed in the Johnson deal
Long term edge: Seattle. In successive years, the Mariners got rid of Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, and won more games each time. What? While they never even got to the World Series, their consistent run to the playoffs and ability to re-stock after unloading some of the games best was impressive.
One more jab at the losers: Houston probably wins the division easily without Johnson. And when you win your division by 12.5 games, you're supposed to do better than lose the first round of the playoffs 3-1. Johnson walking away in free agency after the playoff debacle is insult enough.
-June 27th, 2002- Montreal acquires RHP Bartolo Colon from the Indians with Tim Drew in exchange for Lee Stevens, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee. In a sign that the fresh off the contraction table Expos were going for it, Montreal sent Lee Stevens and three unknowns to Cleveland for ace Colon. Colon pitched admirably, going 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA in 17 starts for the Expos... who finished NINETEEN games out of the money. NINETEEN. Lee Stevens was a guy, but Sizemore, Phillips and Lee have turned into stars, with Lee bringing home AL Cy Young honors in 2008.
Short term edge: Indians. They unloaded $5 million in salary, re-stocked their farm system and only finished 1.5 games further out than Montreal.
Long term edge: Indians. Seven years later Lee and Sizemore are still the Tribe's best pitcher and position player, respectively. Colon was dealt to the White Sox for a bundle of slop before the '03 season.
One more jab at the losers: Anybody remember who the GM was that made that deal? That would be one Omar Minaya, currently the GM of the Mets. Ha.
So have fun out there, GMs. But be careful...