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September 26, 2001
The Daily Prospectus
Looking BackAbout two months ago, there was a ton of focus on transactions. Which players would be going where to help what teams, and what would they bring in return? The trade deadline is always rife with speculation, and frankly, it's a fun pastime. But the thing I try to remember is that of all the players changing hands in late July, only one or two will have an effect on the races.
For example, in 2000, only Will Clark and Charles Johnson made a significant impact on their new teams in making the playoffs. David Justice, acquired in June by the Yankees, was also a big part of that team's success (and was sorely missed by his old team, the Indians). Most of the deals, though, amounted to little more than additional work for Chris Kahrl.
This year, the record of the deadline deals is even worse. Of all the players to change teams around the July 31 deadline, only a select few have played well for their new teams, and of those, only one or two appear to be on their way to the postseason. If anything, the trade deadline acquisitions this year are marked by injuries to the highest-profile pickups.
Atop the list of good acquisitions, as expected, is a right-handed starter for an NL Central contender, picked up from an NL West also-ran. Given the the hype that surrounded Pedro Astacio eight weeks ago, you'd have expected this. The problem is, it's not Astacio who we're talking about, but Woody Williams, who was traded just after the deadline.
Williams, acquired by the Cardinals in a waiver deal for Ray Lankford, has been great for the Redbirds as they've taken over the NL wild-card race: a 2.51 ERA in nine starts. Williams's work has enabled the Cards to bury Andy Benes in mop-up relief, limiting the damage he can cause.
As for Astacio, he made four good starts for the Astros, going at least seven innings and allowing no more than three runs in every outing. That's where the fun ended, though, as Astacio's shoulder forced him to the DL; he's done for the year with a torn labrum. The only positive is that the injury may limit the caliber of the player to be named that the Astros still owe the Rockies.
The Astros did get a Williams, though. Mike, who came over from the Pirates, added depth to a bullpen that was beginning to show some wear. He's tossed 18 1/3 innings for the Astros, with a 2.45 ERA and good work with inherited runners.
The other trade-deadline success story is Jermaine Dye, whose .301/.375/.554 performance with the A's has been a big part of their ridiculous second half.
After those guys--none of whom are a Will Clark or Randy Johnson circa 1998--it's harder to find players who have played well for teams that are going to play past October 7. The Giants were the busiest team, picking up Andres Galarraga, John Vander Wal, Jason Schmidt, and Jason Christiansen. Galarraga has gotten much of the credit for the Giants' surge, but while he's been an upgrade over J.T. Snow, his .286/.336/.519 performance isn't special for a first baseman. Schmidt has given them nine good starts (3.27 ERA), and has probably been their best starter since he arrived.
The list of guy who either haven't played well, or been injured, or simply were irrelevant to the race, is long. Fred McGriff, Rick Reed, James Baldwin, Ugueth Urbina, Albie Lopez, Turk Wendell, Dennis Cook, and Sterling Hitchcock are just some of the guys who were on everyone's lips August 2, but who proved to be disappointments.
The important thing to remember is that this year is not the exception. Yes, some trade-deadline pickups have an enormous impact, but those are few and far between. The type of player available at the deadline is usually a good-but-not-great player, worth maybe three wins over the course of a season, or one in two months. Sure, you'll occasionally catch lightning in a bottle with Clark or Doyle Alexander or Fred McGriff v19.93, but more often you catch a Reed, an Astacio, or a McGriff v20.01.
Rarely if ever is a true superstar like Randy Johnson out there, which means that while trade-deadline action is interesting and fun, it just doesn't matter that much in the end.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.