Less than a week remains until the Major League Baseball Trade deadline.
Which means that baseball executives in both leagues are busy assessing their rosters and minor league systems for the big swap meet on July 31.
In the American League there are so many teams still in the hunt, it will be difficult for general managers of bubble teams to decide whether they are buyers, or sellers. Only Houston is pretty much assured of a playoff spot, as they are 17 games ahead of Seattle for the AL West crown.
The National League picture is less cloudy, with Washington and Los Angeles holding significant leads and Colorado and Arizona odds-on favorites for the wild card.
The buyers, then, in the senior circuit will be limited to a select few clubs.
In the history of the deadline, there have been some great big and small deals that have had an impact on regular and post-season success. Here are 15, in no particular order.
15. Aroldis Chapman Traded To Cubs – 2016
We might as well start with the biggest deal the Cubs made at the 2016 deadline, one that had a big hand in Chicago finally breaking the “Curse of the Billy Goat.” Chapman, a southpaw, was having an outstanding season for a New York Yankees team going absolutely nowhere last year, logging a 3-0 record, 2.01 ERA, 20 saves and 44 strikeouts in 31.1 innings pitched. Six days prior to the deadline, GM Brian Cashman shipped him to the Cubs for Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, Adam Warren and Rashad Crawford. The big Cuban took over the closer role in the Windy City and put up even more stellar numbers. He was 1-1 with a 1.01 ERA, 16 saves and 46 Ks in just 26.2 innings. In the post-season he was fairly brilliant, posting a 2-0 mark, with four saves and 21 strikeouts in 15.2 innings for the champion Cubs.
14. Nationals Acquire Tanner Roark – 2010
This is the kind of deal that requires 20/20 hindsight to assess. On July 30, 2010, the Washington Nationals picked up AA hurler Roark from the Texas Rangers for two-time all-star middle infielder Cristian Guzman. At the time, the Nats were one of the worst teams in baseball, a far cry from the perennial contenders they are today. While Guzman would play out the string in Texas and never really be heard from again, Roark worked his way up the Nationals’ minor league ladder, eventually getting his first big stint in 2013. He went 7-1 in 14 games (five starts) with a 1.51 ERA and 0.913 WHIP. The following season he was 15-10, 2.85, 1.092 and a full-fledged member of the rotation. He had a stellar 2016 campaign, garnering enough votes to place 10th in Cy Young voting. This season, he is the fourth best pitcher in a killer roto that includes Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg.
13. Joe Blanton Goes To Phillies – 2008
These days, Joe Blanton is still kicking around with the Washington Nationals as a set-up man. Early in his career the powerfully built righty was a workhorse starter in Oakland who averaged over 200 innings pitched and won 42 games (against 34 losses) between 2005 and 2007. In 2008, he had scuffled to a 5-12 record and 4.96 ERA with the A’s when the Phillies came swooping in to nab him for the back end of their rotation in exchange for spare part minor leaguers. Blanton responded well to joining the first place Phillies, going 4-0 in 13 starts. He had three post-season starts for the Phils that year, too. He posted a 2-0 record (the Phillies would win all three games), along with a 3.18 ERA and 18 strikeouts over 17 innings. In his lone World Series start, he limited the Tampa Bay Rays to four hits and two earned runs over six innings, along with seven strikeouts as eventual champion Philadelphia won game 4 by a count of 10-2.
12. Texas Builds For Future By Dealing Mark Teixeira – 2007
The Texas Rangers were three years away from being a contender in 2007 when they decided to pull the trigger on a trade that would send slugging first baseman to the Atlanta Braves, who had a shot at the post-season. Ultimately, Teixeira would hit very well for the Braves, smacking 17 homers and driving in 56 runs in 54 games, but the Braves failed to make it to the playoffs. In return for Teixeira’s formidable bat, the Rangers received catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Elvis Andrus and pitchers Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Beau Jones. Andrus would be the plum prospect, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2009 and becoming a key cog in the Rangers line-up, both in the regular season and playoffs. He owns a career .275 batting average (1,376 hits), with 317 extra base hits, 489 RBI and 261 stolen bases.
11. Mark McGwire Shipped To St. Louis – 1997
McGwire was still at the height of his powers in 1997 with Oakland when the A’s agreed to a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals that would see him depart for the Gateway City in return for pitchers T.J. Mathews, Eric Ludwick and Blake Stein. None of these hurlers had much of an impact in Oakland, but McGwire, who already had 34 homers at the time of the July 31 trade, positively exploded. In a precursor of things to come, McGwire smoked 24 homers in just 51 games for the Cards over the remainder of the season, giving him 58 total, a career high. Then, in 1998, he and Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa stage a home run race for the ages. McGwire would win it, rapping out an astounding 70 dingers and driving in 147 runs (Sosa hit 66 taters). He followed it up with another monster season in 1999, cracking 65 big flies and driving in another 147.
10. Florida Marlins Trade For Craig Counsell – 1997
Around about the time the St. Louis Cardinals were landing a big fish in Mark McGwire, the Florida Marlins made a tiny deal that no one paid any attention to. The Marlins were in the thick of the playoff hunt in ’97 when they traded pitcher Mark Hutton to Colorado for second baseman Counsell, who to that point had all of two major league plate appearances. Over the remainder of the season, Counsell would become the Marlins starting second sacker in place of the struggling Luis Castillo, recording a .299 batting average with 12 extra base hits and 16 RBI and playing solid defence. He was money in the playoffs, too, going 12 for 41 with five RBI. He also supplied the dramatics in the deciding game 7 of the World Series against Cleveland. He drove in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning on a sacrifice fly and then in the 11th scored the winning run on a walk off single by Edgar Renteria.
9. St. Louis Cardinals Get Rafael Furcal – 2011
The baseball team pretty much everyone loves to hate — especially in Kansas City and Chicago — were scuffling to make the post-season in 2011, a year after narrowly missing out. Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal, the 2000 Rookie of the Year and two-time all-star, had played in just 37 games due to injury and was deemed expendable. The Dodgers then shipped him to the Cardinals at the deadline for minor league outfielder Alex Castellanos. Furcal started 50 games for the Cards and batted .255 with seven homers and 16 RBI, a departure from the dismal .197 he recorded with L.A. He was a solid replacement over incumbent Ryan Theriot, helping the Cardinals mount a furious charge to grab the wild card spot in the NL. Later that year, he won his first and only World Series title with St. Louis.
8. Carlos Beltran’s Clutch Bat Dealt To Houston – 2004
Carlos Beltran, like a baseball chameleon, is seemingly able to change his stripes and adapt to any team he is traded to. Despite being a nine-time All-Star, he has played for seven different teams in both the AL and NL. In 2004, the veteran outfielder was enjoying an all-star campaign with Kansas City when the Royals got ahead of the trade deadline and sent him to Houston in a three-team deal. At the time of the trade, Beltran was already selected as a member of the AL squad for the All-Star Game, hitting .278 with 15 homers and 51 RBI in 69 games. He was just as good over in the NL with Houston, swatting 23 dingers and driving in 53 in 90 contests for the playoff bound Astros. A clutch post-season hitter, Beltran went 20-for-46 in two playoff rounds (.435), with an incredible eight homers (tying Barry Bonds post-season record) and 14 RBI.
7. Atlanta Braves Pick Up Fred McGriff – 1993
The rich usually get richer at the trade deadline and in 1993, perennial contenders the Atlanta Braves picked the pockets of the mediocre San Diego Padres to get slugging first baseman Fred McGriff. He was the lone bright spot on a struggling Padres squad at the time of the July 18 trade, batting .275 with 18 HR and 46 RBI in 83 games. He caught fire over the latter half of the season with Atlanta, crushing 19 homers and driving in another 55 runs in just 68 games, helping the Braves go 51-19 to overtake the San Francisco Giants for the NL West pennant. The Braves would lose in the NLCS to Philadelphia in ’93, but McGriff contributed greatly, going 10-for-27 with a homer and four RBI. He would finally win his only World Series ring in 1995, hitting .333 in the entire post-season, along with four home runs and nine RBI.
6. Blue Jays Add Troy Tulowitzki And David Price – 2015
It had been 22 years since the Toronto Blue Jays had last been in the playoffs, with Joe Carter ripping a series-winning walk-off homer for the ages in the 1993 Fall Classic. After a 18-9 June in 2015, Jays brass could see something in a team that had Josh Donaldson in the line-up. They were scuffling through July, however, but still pulled the trigger on a pair of deals that would pay dividends later. On July 28, they completed a blockbuster with Colorado, trading Jose Reyes and three others to the Rockies for Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins. And on July 30, they sent top prospect Daniel Norris and two others to Detroit for starter David Price. Tulowitzki would provide the stellar defence at shortstop they lacked in the enigmatic Reyes, while Price went 9-1 down the stretch as the Jays amassed a superb 39-15 record to claim the AL East crown. Tulo, who had just two hits in the ALDS against Texas, had a big one in pivotal game 3 (Texas was up 2-0), driving a three-run homer to help the team win 5-1. He added another big one in Toronto’s six-game loss to Kansas City in the ALCS. Price, for his measure, went 1-2 in the post-season, striking out 23 in 23.1 innings.
5. Cleveland Loads Up With Andrew Miller – 2016
Now that the Chicago Cubs have ended their long title drought, all eyes are on the Cleveland Indians to shake a near 70-year monkey off their backs. Having last won it all in 1948, the Tribe went for it last year and may make a run at it again this year. A key piece to their 2016 title run was lights out lefty Andrew Miller, acquired from the Yankees on deadline day for four minor leaguers. Used as a set-up man/reliever, Miller saved nine games for the Yanks and struck out an astounding 77 batters in 45.1 innings. He continued that mastery for Cleveland, going 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA, three saves and 46 more Ks in 29 innings. Miller then made 10 appearances in the playoffs last year, not surrendering a run until the final game of the World Series against the Cubs and fanning 30 in 19.1 innings. He is on track in 2017 for another monster year.
4. Giants Add Marco Scutaro And Hunter Pence For Title Run – 2012
San Francisco was coming off a down year in 2012, missing the playoffs in 2011 after winning it all in 2010. Needing some outfield speed and an explosive bat in the middle of their order, the Giants dealt three minor leaguers to the Philadelphia Phillies for Hunter Pence on July 31, 2012. He paid dividends, swatting 20 extra base hits and driving in 45 runs in 59 regular season games. He wasn’t huge that post-season as the Giants were champs again, but had a whale of a playoffs when they won it all in 2014. A less heralded trade the summer of 2012 brought second baseman Marco Scutaro to San Fran. He had so-so numbers playing at Coors Field for the Rockies that year, but positively exploded when he donned a Giants uniform. In 61 games, he hit a lofty .362, with 20 extra base hits and 44 RBI. Scutaro lit it up in the NLCS, going 14-for-28 with four RBI to cop MVP honors. Collectively, he hit .328 with four doubles and eight RBI.
3. Diamondbacks Deal For Workhorse Curt Schilling – 2000
Before he was became notorious for the “bloody sock” Curt Schilling was known for being the best pitcher on a lot of mediocre teams in Philadelphia. In 1998, he led all pitchers with an incredible 268.2 innings pitched over 35 starts, or an amazing 7.2 innings each outing. By 2000 and with the Phillies mired in the bottom of the standings, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who already had 1999 Cy Young winner Randy Johnson in their rotation, swung a deal with the Phils to acquire Schilling. They didn’t make the playoffs in 2000, even with Johnson winning another Cy Young, but reaped the rewards in 2001. Schilling went 22-6 that year and again led all pitchers in innings pitched (256.2), was an All-Star for the fourth time and finished second to Randy Johnson for the Cy Young. In the post-season, Schilling was a beast, sporting a 4-0 record (including three complete games in a row during the NLDS and NLCS), a 1.12 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 48.1 innings. His virtuoso performance earned him World Series MVP, too.
2. Johnny Cueto And Ben Zobrist Augment Strong Royals Line-Up – 2015
There was no consoling the Royals after they lost a heartbreaking seven-game series to the Giants in the 2014 Fall Classic. So, with the memory of that still stuck in their craw, they blazed their way to the top of the AL Central standings again in 2015. On July 26 of that year, Kansas City was on cruise control with a 59-38 record when they sent young lefty Brandon Finnegan and two minor leaguers to Cincinnati for Johnny Cueto. The Dominican fireballer was coming off a Cy Young worthy season in 2014 (20-9, league high 242 strikeouts in 243.3 innings) and having a good year to that point. Two days later, the Royals acquired All-Star utilityman Ben Zobrist from Oakland for two promising pitchers (Sean Manaea and Aaron Brooks). Cueto pitched well in the ALDS, got rocked in the ALCS versus Toronto then saved his best for last in the World Series, pitching a complete game two-hitter against the Mets in his only start (a 7-1 win). Zobrist was money in the post-season too, starting every game at second and hitting .303 (20-for-66) with eight doubles, two homers and six RBI.
1. Houston Gets Randy “Big Unit” Johnson At Last Minute – 1998
With just minutes to spare at the 1998 trade deadline, the Houston Astros went big — real big — trading promising young pitchers Freddy Garcia and John Halama and future all-star infielder Carlos Guillen to Seattle for Randy Johnson. A four-time strikeout leader and 1995 Cy Young winner, Johnson was in the midst of a so-so season (by his standards), going 9-10 in 23 starts with a 4.33 ERA for the Mariners. In Houston, he was near unbeatable in 11 starts. He went 10-1, logged a 1.28 ERA, had four complete game shutouts and struck out 116 batters in 84.1 innings. He finished seventh in NL Cy Young voting, despite pitching in just 11 games. Johnson’s contribution helped the Astros to their franchise best 102-60 record and a berth in the playoffs. Yet, they couldn’t get past the San Diego Padres in the NLDS, losing 3-1. Johnson started, and lost, both his starts in that series, but not because he was mediocre. In game 1, he gave up nine hits and two earned runs while striking out nine in eight innings, but got no run support (the Astros scored after he was pulled) in a 2-1 loss. In game 4, the Big Unit was great again, limiting San Diego to three hits and two runs (one earned) and struck out eight in six innings of work. He left with the score 2-1, only to see the bullpen surrender four more in a 6-1 loss.