Best waiver trades of wild card era
Teams can still make valuable additions before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline
Woody Williams and Larry Walker helped the Cardinals reach the playoffs
Jon Rauch joined the Twins late in 2009 and helped them win the AL Central
Major League Baseball's July 31 trading deadline is often referred to as simply that, when in reality it is actually the non-waiver trade deadline, the last date that players can be traded without being passed through waivers first. Waivers are a process whereby each team, in reverse order of the overall standings the previous year, is given the opportunity to claim a player. If a claim is placed, the original team can either allow the claim (letting the player go without compensation), take the player off waivers (at which point he's effectively untradeable), or try to work out a trade with the claiming team. Each August, the majority of major league players are placed on waivers, and most are taken off once a claim is made. Sometimes, as in the case of Alex Rios last year, the claim is allowed. Sometimes, a trade is worked out with the claiming team, and sometimes the player makes it all the way through and can be put back on the trade market for any and all takers.
The waivers process makes trades, particularly those of high-quality players, more difficult, but big trades still happen after July 31. The wild card-era waiver trade that turned out to have the most star power was likely the August 26, 2003 trade that sent Pirates All-Star outfielder Brian Giles to the Padres in exchange for outfielder Jason Bay, who would win the NL Rookie of the Year award the next season, left-hander Oliver Perez and minor leaguer Corey Stewart. With both those teams under .500 and out of serious contention at the time, that deal had no impact on the pennant races. The most impactful waiver trades are those that help a team reach the postseason. Sometimes, though, they bring a contender a player who doesn't do much in the few weeks remaining in the regular season, but who comes up big in the postseason, such as Graeme Lloyd did as a shut-down lefty reliever for the world champion 1996 Yankees, or Matt Stairs did with his big home run off Jonathan Broxton for the eventual world champion Phillies in the 2008 National League Championship Series.
The post-trade performances of players dealt after the non-waiver deadline are small samples by definition, and the period in which those players have to contribute is typically too brief for them to amass any sort of eye-catching counting stats. Still, here are five of the best post-waiver-trade performances from the wild card era:
1. Woody Williams, Cardinals, 2001
The Cost: OF Ray Lankford
The Reward: 7-1, 2.28 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 2.74 K/BB, 11 GS
The Cardinals were in fifth place in the NL wild card race, five games behind the Diamondbacks, and just two games over .500 when they acquired Williams from the Padres on August 2, 2001. With Williams leading the way, they then went 39-17 (.696) the rest of the way to win the wild card by three games. In his final six starts, Williams went 5-0 with a 0.94 ERA, completing half of those six starts, one of them a two-hit shutout, and lasting seven innings in each of the other three. In his one no-decision in that stretch, Williams twirled seven shutout innings in an eventual 2-1 loss. Williams was again dominant in his Game 2 start in the Division Series against the NL West-champion Diamondbacks, but the Cardinals lost that series in five games before Williams could take another turn. He did, however, remain in St. Louis for three more seasons, going 38-21 (.644) with a 3.71 ERA for the Cardinals after 2001.
2. Larry Walker, Cardinals, 2004
The Cost: LHP Chris Narveson, LHP Luis Martinez, RHP Jason Burch (minors)
The Reward: .280/.393/.560, 11 HR, 27 RBI, 4 SB, 178 PA
The Cardinals already had a big 10 1/2-game lead in the NL Central when they acquired 37-year-old Rockies star Walker on August 6. Not only did Walker prove that he could rake at sea level over the remaining two months of the regular season, he was a key bat in the lineup as the Cardinals claimed their first pennant since 1987. Walker hit .293/.379/.707 in the postseason with six home runs and 11 RBIs and was the Cardinals' leading hitter in the World Series, though St. Louis lost in four games to the Red Sox. Walker then stuck around and hit .289/.384/.502 in 2005, but his season was interrupted by injury and, after failing to repeat his postseason heroics, he retired.
3. Mark Whiten, Mariners, 1996
The Cost: RHP Roger Blanco
The Reward: .300/.399/.607, 12 HR, 33 RBI, 163 PA
The Mariners missed the playoffs by three games in 1996, but it was no fault of their waiver-trade additions. Dave Hollins was acquired from the Twins for a young David Ortiz, who was then in A-ball, but Hollins hit .351/.438/.479 in 113 plate appearances. That was no match for the performance of Whiten, who coincidentally had been traded for Hollins at the 1995 non-waiver deadline.
4. Marlon Anderson, Dodgers, 2006
The Cost: RHP Jhonny Nuņez
The Reward: .375/.431/.813, 7 HR, 15 RBI, 73 PA
The Dodgers went 17-12 after acquiring Anderson from the Nationals on August 31, but the Padres, buoyed by waiver-trade addition Russell Branyan (.292/.416/.556), went 20-9 to pull into a tie atop the NL West that dropped the Dodgers into the wild card. Before that could happen, however, the Dodgers beat the Padres 11-10 in 10 innings on September 19 in one of the most improbable endings to a ball game in major league history. Trailing 9-5, the Dodgers opened the bottom of the ninth with back-to-back-to-back-to-back solo home runs by Jeff Kent, J.D. Drew, Russell Martin and Anderson to tie the game. The Padres scored a run in the top of the tenth, but Nomar Garciaparra won the game for L.A. with a two-run homer in the bottom half. Anderson's homer was just one of seven he hit for the Dodgers in September 2006, but it was by far the most memorable. Anderson hit .308 as the Dodgers were swept by the Mets in the Division Series, but struggled the following year and was released in June. The Dodgers were waiver-trade winners again in 2009 when they got a similar performance from infielder Ronnie Belliard and five quality starts in six turns from righty Jon Garland.
5. Jon Rauch, Twins, 2009
The Cost: RHP Kevin Mulvey
The Reward: 5-1, 1.72 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.33 K/BH, 15 2/3 IP
The Twins were a .500 team, 4 1/2 games out in the AL Central when they acquired Rauch from the Diamondbacks on August 28 of last year. They then went 22-12 over the remainder of the season to force a one-game playoff with the Tigers, a 12-inning epic that the Twins ultimately won 6-5 (Rauch got two outs in the seventh to keep a leadoff walk by starter Scott Baker from advancing). During that stretch run, Rauch appeared in 17 games and was charged with a run in just one of them. He did allow an inherited runner to score in two other games, blowing a save in one of them, but in a divisional race that had perhaps as little margin for error as any in the game's history, Rauch's strong performance down the stretch could very easily have been the difference. Indeed, WXRL, Baseball Prospectus' win-expectancy-based statistic for relief pitchers, rated Rauch as the fourth most valuable Twins reliever for the entire 2009 season, crediting him with more than half a win. The following spring, Twins closer Joe Nathan went under the knife for Tommy John surgery and Rauch stepped capably into Nathan's vacated role only to be inexplicably pushed out of the job at the non-waiver deadline when the Twins wasted top trade chip catcher Wilson Ramos on Nationals closer Matt Capps.
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