Every summer, we start hearing about how (insert superstar here) is going to get traded and boost his new team into favorites to win the World Series. I started thinking about that, and wondered how often it's actually happened that way. We've been through so many of these midseason blockbusters, and off the top of my head, I can't think of that many heavily hyped deals that have tipped the balance of power so much.
I went through the last few years of trades in June, July, and August, and looked at how the teams that made the blockbusters ended up finishing the season. As a bonus, I decided to also look at what the World Champions did in that season.
Angels acquire Zack Greinke from Brewers. Four games out at time of trade, five games out at end of season.
Greinke was supposedly the missing piece of the puzzle for the Angels. Of course, he wasn't, and the Angels actually lost ground in the AL West after the A's leapfrogged the Rangers on the final day of the season to win the division.
In 2012, the World Champion Giants acquired Marco Scutaro from the Rockies (on the same day as the Greinke trade, ironically), and acquired Hunter Pence from the Phillies. Pence was the best position player traded, though Scutaro had a much greater impact on the Giants in their World Series run. The AL champion Tigers made a pretty big splash by acquiring Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante from the Marlins, though that trade paled in comparison to the shockwaves that Hanley Ramirez's shipment to the Dodgers created.
I'll also throw in a note about the Dodgers trades in 2012, which did nothing for them during that season, but are working out very well thusfar in 2013.
Indians acquire Ubaldo Jimenez from Rockies. Jimenez was (and still is) a disaster for the Tribe, and they finished under .500 for the season. Other blockbusters included Hunter Pence to the Phillies (for a stout package of prospects), leading to a NLDS exit for the Phillies, Michael Bourn to the Braves and a September collapse for Atlanta, and Carlos Beltran to the Giants for no playoff berth at all.
The Cardinals won the World Series and made a pair of deals that helped them, acquiring a package of pitchers headlined by Edwin Jackson from the Blue Jays and acquiring shortstop Rafael Furcal from the Dodgers. The Jackson/relievers trade saw Colby Rasmus get shipped to Toronto in the deal, but honestly, if the Braves won just one more game in September, the Cardinals probably aren't even in the playoffs and the deals would have been all for naught. The AL champion Rangers acquired a pair of relievers in Koji Uehara and Mike Adams, and they were one strike away from both deals paying off in spades.
Rangers acquire Cliff Lee from Mariners. Hey, it got them a pennant. Lee wasn't great in the World Series against the Giants though, and was tagged with two of the Rangers' four losses. Other big trades included Roy Oswalt to the Phillies and Dan Haren to the Angels. The Phillies lost in the NLCS to the Giants, while the Angels finished under .500.
The World Champion Giants didn't go crazy, picking up a pair of relievers in Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez. However, both were great for the team and were instrumental in the franchise's first championship in San Francisco. A waiver claim on Cody Ross was what really turned the tide though, as Ross was the NLCS MVP against the Phillies.
Phillies acquire Cliff Lee from Indians. The Phillies won the NL pennant, but dropped the World Series to the Yankees in six. Lee won both games for Philadelphia. Ruben Amaro's offseason trade of Lee to Seattle may have cost the Phillies a third straight pennant. Other notable trades include Matt Holliday to the Cardinals, Jake Peavy to the White Sox, and Victor Martinez to the Red Sox. Those three teams didn't win one playoff game.
The Yankees won the World Series, and in a very non-Yankee move, didn't tweak things much in season. They acquired Eric Hinske from the Pirates and Jerry Hairston from the Reds, and neither player had a huge role in the World Series win over the Phillies.
Brewers acquire CC Sabathia from Indians. Sabathia was incredible for the Brewers, pushing them into the postseason by one game. Milwaukee lost the NLDS in four games to the Phillies. Other big trades included Mark Teixeira to the Angels and Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers. Both teams won their division, but the Angels lost in the ALDS to the Red Sox while the Dodgers fell in the NLCS to the Phillies.
The World Champion Phillies only made two moves: one for a bench bat, and one for an innings eating starter. Joe Blanton was adequate in 13 regular season starts, but the Phillies won all three of his playoff starts, including Game 4 of the World Series where Blanton homered off of Edwin Jackson. The bench bat, Matt Stairs, hit a go-ahead homer in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers.
Braves acquire Mark Texeira from Rangers. Atlanta finished third in the NL East before dealing Teixeira at the deadline a year later. The only other blockbuster was Eric Gagne to the Red Sox, which was a disaster.
Yeah, Gagne was a terror for Boston, but they still won the World Series. They did nothing else of consequence at the deadline, and still curbstomped the Rockies to win another championship.
Yankees acquire Bobby Abreu from Phillies. Abreu was great, but the Yankees lost in four to the Tigers in the NLCS. The only other blockbuster was Carlos Lee to the Rangers (along with Nelson Cruz, for that matter), but the Rangers ended up in third place and under .500.
The Cardinals won the World Series despite being just five games over .500 for the season, and they made some middling moves at the deadline, picking up Ronnie Belliard, Jorge Sosa, and Jeff Weaver in three separate deals. Weaver was awful in the regular season but great in the playoffs, and Belliard and Sosa both largely stunk.
Looking at all of the trades since 2006, the only World Champions to do a belly flop into the pool and make a big splash were the Giants last season and the Cardinals in 2011, though neither completely blew everything up and brought in the biggest and best name on the market. At the same time, a lot of things could have gone differently for the teams that did bring in the marquee trade piece on the market. What if the 2009 Phillies had gotten a start in the World Series worth a damn from anyone but Lee? What if the 2010 Rangers were able to do some damage against any Giants starter aside from Jonathan Sanchez?
It's not about acquiring the biggest name, it's about acquiring the best fit. If your team is hovering around .500 in a division with a powerhouse that has yet to tap into its full potential (looking at you, Royals and Phillies), it wouldn't make any sense to try to trade for a player that will get fans buzzing, but likely not change anything in the long run. The Indians probably wish they had Drew Pomeranz instead of Jimenez right now. The Angels would love to have Jean Segura at shortstop instead of Erick Aybar. And then there's the Phillies, who nearly singlehandedly helped the Astros reload their farm system by sending over Jonathan Singleton, Jonathan Villar, Jarred Cosart, and Domingo Santana in just two trades that resulted in exactly zero more pennants.
The moral of the story is this: one player generally won't push a team from the middle of the pack to the leaders going down the home stretch. What trades will do though, is push a team in a dogfight at the front of the pack into a much better position to win.