Looking Back – The 2006 MLB Trade Deadline (Part 3)

[NOTE: In case you missed them, here’s Part 1 and Part 2]

Working the trade deadline (and the weeks before that) is similar to the dilemma that comic fans have when shopping at a comic convention. When you first arrive, you’re excited to get what you want, and there are plenty of sellers. But what they’re offering may not be the best they have to offer, and they are likely to be priced higher than the seller really thinks they’re worth. If you luck out, you may find one seller that hasn’t gauged the market and has a bargain out there, but those are far and few between.

The buyer who waits until the last day of the show – those are the ones who get the deals. Knowing that they don’t want to lug all this stuff back to where they originally came from, sellers are more likely to mark down or negotiate a better price just to make sure that they get something for what they were selling, instead of going home without a sale. The seller might also be selling something that he wasn’t selling earlier in the show – something he wasn’t going to sell earlier but changed his mind. However, the buyer who waits until the last day looking for bargains may miss out on the things he really wanted – which were sold earlier – and risks either coming home himself empty-handed, or even worse buying something he didn’t really need just to say he bought something there, and dealing with the buyer’s regret in the months that follow.

So let’s see who got screwed on the 2006 trade deadline’s Sunday afternoon:

July 28th:

The Brewers weren’t necessarily “selling” here more than they were reacting to the cards that were dealt to them. Lee was a Scott Boras client who informed the Brewers that he was not interested in re-signing with the team. The Brewers, knowing that getting compensation draft choices are boring (and also playing for next season and not four seasons down the road), dealt Lee to Texas, who was part of the AL West race that every team (even Seattle, despite their best efforts) was a part of. In return, the Brewers picked up “Carlos Lee Light” in Mench, a new closer in Cordero (Francisco, not Julian), and a potential CF replacement in Nix.

So how’d that work out?

Lee did what was expected of him, if not a little bit better. He hit .322/.369/.525 in 59 games for the Rangers, but Texas couldn’t capitalize and failed to make the playoffs. Lee would leave after the season (just as he said he would), signing as a free agent with Houston in a deal that made all of baseball groan.

As for the Brewers, the results were mixed. Mench failed to have anywhere near the same impact in Milwaukee that he did in Texas (make of that what you will, I’m not saying anything), while Nix failed to impress the Brewers enough to give him a shot at center field, with the team electing to go with first Bill Hall, then Mike Cameron in center. He’d get a chance with Cincinnati, and since has moved on to Washington, but nothing to the level that his minor league numbers would have implied. Cordero would reestablish himself as a closer with Milwaukee, shutting down games for the rest of the season and all of 2007 until he left via free agency.

A WINNAR IS: Texas, but not for the reason they thought. It would be Nelson Cruz who was the prize in the deal, not Lee as it turns out. Cruz, who bounced back and forth between AAA and Texas for a few seasons after the deal, soon found himself with the club full time when Texas used up all of his options. Cruz responded by hitting 33 home runs and making the all-star team in his first full season with the club. He has since become one of the Rangers most productive bats, moreso than Lee (who is now 35 and making $18.5 million this season) or Mench (who would play in only 179 major league games for three different clubs – not including a stint in Japan – and is currently out of baseball.)

July 30th:

The blockbuster, and of course it came from the Yankees. The day of the trade, the Yankees 6-7-8-9 lineup consisted of Aaron Guiel in right, Andy Phillips at first, a 21-year-old Melky Cabrera in left, and Miguel Cairo at second, which is cringe-worthy for a 62-win Kansas City team, let alone a team trying to win the AL East. Injuries to Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, and Robinson Cano caused the New York Post to declare the season dead (I have no proof, but I’m sure this happened) and for Joe Torre to look around in complete confusion as his original lineup was unavailable, causing the Torrebot to malfunction and start bumping into walls. Philadelphia, 14 games back and concerned they had too much money invested into a victim of the Home Run Derby curse, looked to clear up some payroll, and the Yankees are usually the best team to talk to about that. Throw together some low-to-mid-level prospects, and problems are solved.

So how’d that work out?

Not bad for either team. Philly saved like $5 million that season and $31 million of future commitment to Abreu and Lidle. The Phillies didn’t miss Abreu for long, as Shane Victorino would take over for Abreu in right, eventually moving over to center to allow for Jayson Werth to break out during the Phillies 2008 World Series run. The prospects the Phils acquired amounted to little – Henry, a former first-round pick and the most notable of the prospects, would continue to struggle in the minors and would eventually quit baseball and return to college for basketball.

Abreu would hit .330/.419/.507 for the Yankees for the remainder of the 2006 season, which saw the Yankees win the AL East, falling to the eventual AL Champion Tigers in the ALDS. Lidle didn’t pitch great but gave Torre the stability of a veteran arm that he so greatly desired. Tragically, Lidle wouold be killed shortly after the ALDS in a plane crash.

A WINNAR IS: Push. The Phillies got what they wanted, and the Yankees got what they wanted.

July 31st

At the trade deadline, the Mets were 63-41. They had the best record in the National League – a full five games ahead of the Cardinals – and were 14 games ahead of the second-place Phillies, who were selling at the deadline anyway. However, that didn’t stop the Mets from making a move. Dealing with a serious injury to reliever Duaner Sanchez, the Mets reached out to Pittsburgh to pick up Hernandez – who had pitched well for the Mets the previous season, and picked up problem child Perez in the deal as well. Perez, who showed flashes of brilliance (check that 2004 season), was going nowhere with the Pirates and was set to be non-tendered in the offseason. Suddenly, he became a “Rick Peterson project”, who with a low arbitration number, was a risk worth taking for the Mets. Nady, who was batting .264/.326/.487 at the time of the deal, was a useful bat but not much else, but would fill a need as the Pirates had traded Sean Casey and Craig Wilson, their first basemen for the first part of the season.

So how’d that work out?

Hernandez was as advertised. 22 games, 3.48 ERA – nothing special, but not exactly pouring gasolinie on the flames when he came in either. He’d also pitch well in mopup duty in the playoffs, but if it’s mopup duty and you’re not the team that’s ahead, then what good is it really?

Perez, in contrast, would be a little more involved. Perez would end up in the Mets rotation late in August after injuries and general oldness hit the team. Perez did not pitch that well, but made the postseason roster, and started Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, horrifying Mets fans everywhere. Perez pitched well, giving up one run in six innings, but the Mets would see their bullpen fail and miss the World Series. It was after the 2006 season that would see Perez return to the more promising form he saw early in his Pirate career, posting two solid seasons of league average or better pitching.

A WINNAR IS: Well, that’s tough to say. At first, the Mets were. Perez posted a 2.9 WAR over the 2007 and 2008 seasons, where Nady put up a negative WAR in 2007 before making up for in 2008, before being traded (more on this in a bit).

Then free agency came.

Perez became a free agent, and despite not drawing that much interest from other teams, found a suitor in the Mets. The Mets, looking for someone to fill the hole left by the departure of Oliver Perez, ended up signing Oliver Perez to fill the hole. Leaving the hole would have helped the team more. The Mets gave Perez $36 million over three years, and in exchange, Perez put together a -1.4 WAR in 2009 and a -1.5 WAR in 2010, actually negating the positive 2.9 WAR he gave them the previous two seasons. That’s the real-life equivalent of hiring someone to build a shed, liking his work, hiring him to build a house, and coming back to see the shed burned to the ground.

The Pirates – as mentioned earlier – dealt Nady to the Yankees at his peak (he had a .330/.383/.535 line at the time) along with Damaso Marte for four young players: Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Ross Ohlendorf and Jose Tabata. Both Ohlendorf (2009) and Karstens (this season) have put together seasons that were better than any that Perez put up for the Mets, and McCutchen and Tabata have been productive for the Pirates as well.

So even though the Mets won that trade directly (Perez was better than Nady), the Pirates ended up winning in the long run.

At the trade deadline, the Dodgers were in last place in the NL West, although that wasn’t that big of a deal since it meant they were still only five games out of first. Alarmed that they had actually willingly gone out and (a) given Aaron Sele a spot in the starting rotation and (b) gone out and traded for Mark Hendrickson to also be part of said rotation, they went out searching for a veteran starter they could acquire cheaply and who was worth a damn. They found one in Maddux, who even at 50% had to be better than Sele or Hendrickson. For Maddux, the Dodgers needed only to give up Izturis, who was a good fielder but who couldn’t seem to hit enough to stay in any lineup. The Cubs also sent money to the Dodgers in the Maddux deal, so to get the future Hall-of-Famer, they needed only to give up having Izturis in the future, which really wasn’t that hard for the Dodgers to deal with.

Shortly after, the Dodgers grabbed one of the better players available at the deadline in Julio Lugo from the Devil Rays for two prospects. Lugo had put together three very good seasons for the Devil Rays despite playing for the Devil Rays and was putting together a fourth one (.308/.373/.498), but when Tampa’s attempts to sign him to a contract extension were met with the expected hysterical laughter, Tampa shopped him around. They found a buyer in LA, who needed a second baseman with Jeff Kent on the shelf, and picked up two prospects, one of which (Guzman) was a top 30 prospect the last two seasons.

So how’d that work out?

Well, Jeff Kent came back. After he did, the Dodgers weren’t sure what to do with Lugo. Lugo had played short, but Rafael Furcal was already there being better than him. The feeling was that Lugo could play third, which he might of had he not had all of a whopping two games of experience there in his career, and none since 1997. So Lugo became what Izturis had been for them previously, except Izturis could play third base, and Lugo could hit. Well, in theory, Lugo could hit. He didn’t for the Dodgers. In part-time play, Lugo hit .219/.278/.267 and left as a free agent that offseason.

Maddux, in contrast, helped the Dodgers greatly. Going 6-3 with a 3.30 ERA, Maddux helped to lead the Dodgers to a 38-19 record after the trade deadline – best in the National League and good for a playoff spot. The Dodgers wouldn’t offer Maddux arbitration, allowing him to leave as a free agent, but they liked the short-term rental idea so much they’d end up doing it again in 2008.

A WINNAR IS: The Dodgers, surprisingly. Izturis would never post an OPS higher than .628, and though he provided very good defense, would never be more than a league-average player at best. The trade allowed the Dodgers not only to get Izturis off the roster, but got them off the hook for Cezar’s $4.15 million salary the following season. Lugo bombed, but the two prospects that the Devil Rays acquired for him never developed and neither saw any real major league time. In contrast, the compensation draft picks the Dodgers received from Boston when the Red Sox signed Lugo netted them their current #4 prospect in Chris Withrow, so there’s still the possibility of the Dodgers getting a good player out of the deal.

So that ends our look at the 2006 MLB trade deadline. I know there were more trades, but these were the ones that made the most impact. Some time later, I may take a look at post deadline deals and some of the players who didn’t get dealt (such as Alfonso Soriano, who was thought to be as good as gone from Washington), but for now let’s leave it at this.

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