The July 31 trade deadline is always an exciting part of the baseball season. Rumors and predictions fill the airwaves and the internet, with everybody trying to find the perfect fits for contending teams, while at the same time evaluating the prospects that will become trade bait for the franchises trying to rebuild lost seasons. And yet, even in this big circus of things, the deadline tends to find ways to disappoint, or at least not be as action-packed as we would like it to be.
The recent addition of the second wild card in each league has added a new wrinkle to the deadline, as now most teams can talk themselves into believing they have a chance, in turn making the deadline more of a sellers’ market. In 2015, the action started a bit late, with the Astros acquiring Scott Kazmir from the A’s to bolster their rotation, followed by Johnny Cueto joining the Royals, and now we are all expecting to see other big names move, especially Aroldis Chapman, Cole Hamels, and Ben Zobrist.
So while we await a frantic week that will probably alter the fate of the playoff races, today we step back to remember the mid-season trades that helped the last 10 World Series champions. As you will see, while it may be nice to grab a superstar, it is often just as good to acquire smaller pieces that can solidify a glaring weakness. Only time will tell if any of this year’s transactions has the impact to sway a title, but history suggests that at least one will do.
2005 Chicago White Sox
Years go by and the 2005 White Sox remain a fascinating story. In breaking their own decades-long curse, the Pale Hose may be one of the biggest flukes in recent memory, masked around the look of a juggernaut. They won 99 games, albeit with a run differential that suggested a much weaker squad. Then, they completed an almost perfect postseason, in which they went 11-1 and swept the World Series.
It is also important to note that they didn’t benefit from any impactful mid-season trade, as their biggest contributors had all been acquired prior to the start of the year. Even as many of them arrived via trade, like Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia, and Juan Uribe, the team was mostly set and didn’t need many boosts, as evidenced by their 57-29 record by the middle of the season. Their only big mid-season upgrades came with the call-ups of prospects Brandon McCarthy and Bobby Jenks, with Jenks becoming the closer in the playoffs and recording 2 saves in the World Series.
2006 St. Louis Cardinals
As evidenced by their 83-78 record, the Cardinals were probably not that good a team. However, they did have a nice collection of talent in Albert Pujols, a young Yadier Molina, Scott Rolen, and a very good pitching foundation. Still, it made sense for them to go after a few mid-season upgrades.
The two biggest trades involved acquiring infielder Ronnie Belliard and starting pitcher Jeff Weaver, for whom the Cardinals surrendered only spare parts. While these two players combined for a 0.1 WAR to end the regular season, they saved their best for the postseason. Belliard was an important part of the NLDS win over the Padres, while Weaver became a cult hero in the full postseason, starting 5 games and capping it all with an 8-inning masterpiece in the clinching game 5 of the World Series.
2007 Boston Red Sox
This version of the Red Sox was a true force that dominated from day 1 in the 2007 season. The team was built mostly out of free agency and prior big-ticket trades, which led Boston to the likes of David Ortiz, Josh Beckett, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Lowell. With a superb 53-34 record at the All-Star break, the Red Sox didn’t go for any more obvious improvements, which made sense at the time.
While minor pieces like Eric Gagne and Wily Mo Pena arrived, they weren’t even considered for the playoff roster. Instead, the Red Sox were greatly aided by the mid-season call-up of Jacoby Ellsbury and the emergence of Jon Lester as a full-time contributor, as they had strong regular seasons and then became fixtures in the postseason.
2008 Philadelphia Phillies
It’s amazing to think that the pinnacle of the late-00’s Phillies was probably their weakest team. The 2008 Phils gave a combined 93 starts to Kyle Kendrick, Brett Myers, and a 45-year-old Jamie Moyer, and yet it all worked out in the end. Their offensive foundation of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins & Co. was so good that it made the questionable pitching an afterthought.
And yet, the 2008 title probably wouldn’t have happened without a couple of small trades during the season. Joe Blanton arrived in mid-July to bolster the rotation, while legend Matt Stairs was part of a late-August transaction to become an all-world pinch hitter. Blanton went 4-0 in 13 starts, while Stairs only received 19 plate appearances, but they both shone in the postseason. Stairs hit an iconic homerun against the Dodgers in the NLCS that completely altered the series, while Blanton joined the playoff rotation and went 2-0 in 3 starts, including a memorable Game 4 of the Fall Classic.
2009 New York Yankees
The 2009 Yankees were guided by their largesse and the suddenly-clutch Alex Rodriguez to their first World Series title since their dynasty years. With the biggest payroll in the game by a significant margin, the Bombers went 103-59 and then steamrolled their way into an 11-4 postseason. While the team actually had a 4-man rotation mostly set and could have used pitching reinforcements, they chose to stay in-house, handing 32 starts to 5 different starters.
The only notable trade came while acquiring Chad Gaudin from the Padres, and though he was pretty good with a 1.2 WAR in 11 games for the regular season, he was a non-factor in the playoffs. Similar minor trades yielded the likes of Eric Hinske, but the Yankees didn’t really receive much from their mid-season transactions, as their title was built on the strength of the Opening Day roster.
2010 San Francisco Giants
Out of all the most recent World Series champs, the 2010 Giants may be the prime example of how taking a flier on little-regarded talent can make a difference in the end. While the team that started the dynasty was good by itself, especially with an enviable starting rotation, they were pushed over the top by the minor deals pulled by GM Brian Sabean during the season.
First, Pat Burrell was signed after being released by Tampa Bay in late May, then Cody Ross arrived in mid-August after being put on waivers by the Marlins, while there was also a pure deadline trade on July 31st to bring in lefty specialist Javier Lopez to the bullpen. While Burrell and Ross left little impact during the regular season, they were especially valuable in the playoffs, with Ross earning NLCS MVP honors and hitting 5 homers as a whole in the postseason. Lopez became a fixture for the 2010 Giants and beyond, with him being an underrated part of San Francisco’s 3 championship squads (1 run allowed in 12.1 innings). It also didn’t hurt that the 2010 Giants saw the full-time promotion of Madison Bumgarner in late June.
2011 St. Louis Cardinals
Coming off a wild card berth, the 2011 Cardinals were again probably not the league’s best team, but one that still had peak Albert Pujols, a few nice complementary bats, and an above-average starting rotation. So while the team was pretty much set, it did have a glaring weakness in the bullpen, and so it made sense for Tony LaRussa & Co. to seek for reinforcements.
The Cardinals didn’t tinker much with their roster mid-season, but they did make a couple of minor trades for bullpen relief in the form of lefty killer Mark Rzepczynski and righty journeyman Octavio Dotel. While the two hurlers combined for only 0.2 WAR during the season, they became an essential cog in LaRussa’s bullpen mix. The pair combined for 18.2 innings in the playoffs, going 3-1 with a 3.37 ERA. Fixing a bullpen may be the easiest task to accomplish with mid-season trades, and the Cardinals did just that.
2012 San Francisco Giants
The 2012 Giants featured one of the most consistent, if not dominant, starting rotations in modern history. 160 of the team’s 162 starts were handled by 5 pitchers, leading the team to the NL West crown with a dominant second half. So while the rotation and bullpen didn’t need much help, the offense was left weakened by Melky Cabrera’s suspension and the lack of talent at second base.
Those needs were addressed by the front office by bringing in Hunter Pence from the Phillies and Marco Scutaro from Colorado. The trades cost the Giants nothing more than a few B-level prospects, and ended up being key to their second title in 3 seasons. Pence took his time to settle in, but still started all 16 playoff games for the Giants, while Scutaro went out of his mind after putting of the SF uniform – he hit .362 to close out the season, and followed it by hitting .328 in the postseason, with a monster NLCS that saw him earn MVP honors. This photo still resonates by the Bay.
2013 Boston Red Sox
Again taking full advantage of their never-ending revenue streams, the Red Sox had built a top-heavy team that didn’t need much help. It had all started with 2012’s mega trade with the Dodgers, which cleared many bloated contracts to spread the wealth around many areas of need, which were the perfect complement for the team’s core of Big Papi, Pedroia, and Jon Lester.
Still, a bit of rotation instability prompted the team to double down and bring in former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, all as a part of a 3-team trade that cost the Red Sox prized prospect Jose Iglesias. While it was a hefty price to pay, it worked out perfectly in the end. Peavy went 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA in 10 starts for Boston to finish the season, and then received 3 playoff starts. While Peavy was not particularly effective, he added a good veteran presence for a team that needed little help to win it all.
2014 San Francisco Giants
The third installment of the Giants dynasty was the lightest in terms of mid-season transactions, but they still benefited from a couple of moves that solidified the team. While the rotation was again pretty much stable, Matt Cain came down with a season-ending injury that could not be filled in-house, while second base was again so bad that the franchise took a small chance on a broken-down Dan Uggla.
This prompted Brian Sabean to pull his magic yet again, first promoting little-regarded Joe Panik to man second base, and then pulling a deadline deal for the same Jake Peavy that the Red Sox had now deemed expendable. Peavy’s deal cost San Francisco only spare parts, but Peavy was again great in his return to the NL, going 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 12 starts, providing 2.1 WAR in only 78.1 innings. Meanwhile, Panik hit .305 in the regular season, solving the team’s need in the infield. While both were not as impressive in the playoffs, Peavy did win a big game in the NLDS against the Nationals on the road, while Panik provided the ultimate defensive highlight in Game 7 of the World Series.