Ah, the chaos of baseball at trading time. Since 1986, when the non-waiver trade deadline moved from June 15 to July 31, the major leagues have had 260 July deals involving 755 players. One ironclad rule has emerged from all that movement: There are no ironclad rules. Fred McGriff, who finally okayed a trade from Tampa Bay to the Cubs last week, may look like the answer to every Chicago fan's prayers. But is he? For every question a CM. must ask himself when contemplating a blockbuster deal, history gives conflicting responses.
Should I trade a package of lesser players for one superstar? In '97 the A's, facing the impending loss of Mark McGwire to free agency, sent him to St. Louis for Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein. Someday those three can scrape together the admission price to view McGwire's plaque in Cooperstown. On the flip side, occasionally the lesser lights can come to shine brightly on their own. Last year the Phillies were pilloried for shipping All-Star Curt Schilling to Arizona for Omar Daal (then 2-10 with a 7.22 ERA), Nelson Figueroa, Travis Lee and Vicente Padilla. This season, though, Daal has become an ace (10 wins at week's end), Lee is producing at the plate (.272 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs) and Figueroa (2-2, 2.68 ERA in seven starts) has emerged as an above-average arm. Schilling and Daal could very well lace each oilier in the NLCS.
Should I swap sluggers with the Yankees? Everything comes easy in the Bronx, where a DH revolving door has seen Ruben Sierra (obtained in '95 for Danny Tartabull), Cecil Fielder (acquired in '96 for Sierra and Matt Drews) and David Justice (landed in '00 for Ricky Ledee) arrive at Yankee Stadium in midsummer and flourish. Once dealt elsewhere, Tartabull, Sierra and Ledee became hitless wonders. However, the Bombers can bomb on a trade: As Seinfeld's Frank Costanza will remind you, on July 21, 1988, the Yankees traded Jay Buhner to Seattle for Ken Phelps.
Should I mortgage the future? Execs confronted with this question doubtless think of former Boston general manager Lou Gorman. With dreams of postseason glory in 1990, he sent a young Jeff Bagwell to Houston for Larry Andersen, who was 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA in the ALCS, which the Red Sox lost to the A's in four straight games. On the other hand, didn't Detroit's Bill Lajoie make the right move in '87 when he pulled the trigger on a Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz swap? Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA down the stretch, and the Tigers won the American League East by two games. Forget for a moment that Smoltz, 20 at the time of the trade, would be a fixture in the Braves' star-studded rotation through the next decade. The peculiar logic of the deadline deal says Lajoie was right. Sometimes the price for winning now is the thought of what might have been.