Baseball’s July 31 trade deadline is approaching. If history is any indication, there should be a flurry of trades leading up to the end of July. Of course, with any trade there comes with it plenty of risk—especially when top prospects are involved. Yet the reward of making the postseason is too great and most teams won’t hesitate to mortgage their future to play in the postseason. Of course, sometimes those prospects turn out to be fool’s gold. There’s risk on both sides.
For one reason or another, here are some of the most memorable deadline deals—whether they happened in June, July, or August (with the players clearing waivers) over the last 30 years.
1. Detroit trades minor league SP John Smoltz to Atlanta for SP Doyle Alexander on August 12, 1987—The 35-year-old Alexander was excellent for Detroit, going 9–0 in 11 starts while posting a 1.53 ERA, but the Braves clearly won the deal with the young Smoltz turning into a Hall-of-Fame pitcher. Meanwhile, Alexander would retire two years later, after leading the league in losses in 1989—his final season.
2. Boston trades minor league 1B Jeff Bagwell to Houston for RP Larry Andersen on August 30, 1990—While Alexander was a big factor in getting Detroit to the ’87 playoffs, Andersen pitched just 22 innings for the Red Sox out of the bullpen in 1990 and three more in the postseason as Boston was swept by Oakland in the ALCS. Meanwhile Bagwell, won Rookie of the Year in 1991, won MVP three years later, and retired with 449 home runs and a .297 batting average.
3. San Diego trades 1B Fred McGriff to Atlanta for minor league players: OF Melvin Nieves, OF Vince Moore, and RP Donnie Elliott on July 18, 1993—McGriff turned out to be one of the best ever deadline acquisitions, hitting .310/.392/.612 (average/on-base/slugging) with 19 home runs and 55 RBIs in just 68 games. His incredible hitting helped Atlanta overcome San Francisco in one of the most hotly contested playoff races ever. Meanwhile, the Padres got very little help from the three prospects they received in the deal.
4. Seattle trades minor league C Jason Varitek and rookie SP Derek Lowe to Boston for RP Heathcliff Slocumb on July 31, 1997—Another lopsided deal, for a reliever as Slocumb’s 4.13 ERA in 28 and a third innings had little positive effect on Seattle’s making the playoffs. Meanwhile, Boston acquired two major key players for their run during the next decade.
5. Seattle trades SP Randy Johnson to Houston for rookie SP John Halama, and minor league players: SP Freddy García and OF Carlos Guillén on July 31, 1998—While García and Guillén both turned into All-Star players and Halama became a serviceable player, Johnson was absolutely lights-out in his 11 starts for the Astros. With Houston, the future Hall-of-Famer went 10–1 with a 1.28 ERA while tossing four shutouts and actually placing seventh in the NL Cy Young award voting, despite pitching for just two months in the National League.
6. Cleveland trades Bartolo Colón and Tim Drew to Montreal for 1B Lee Stevens and minor league players: SP Cliff Lee, 2B Brandon Phillips, and OF Grady Sizemore on June 27, 2002—This deal was not exactly a win-win trade. Montreal got a good pitcher for a half-season, though they fell short of making the postseason, winning just 83 games. Meanwhile the Indians got a future Cy Young award pitcher in Lee, a three-time All-Star in Sizemore, and a three-time All-Star in Phillips, who the Indians dumped for a player to be named later in 2006.
7. Boston trades SS Nomar Garciaparra and minor league OF Matt Murton to Chicago (NL), Montreal sends SS Orlando Cabrera to Boston, Minnesota sends 1B Doug Mientkiewicz to Boston, and Chicago (NL) sends SS Alex González, rookie RP Francis Beltran, rookie INF Brendan Harris to Montreal, and then minor league SP Justin Jones to Minnesota on July 31, 2004—It was a big trade with Garciaparra’s shocking exit being the headliner in the deal. But the defensive players Boston received—Cabrera and Mientkiewicz—helped them win the World Series that same October.
8. Boston trades OF Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles (NL), Pittsburgh sends OF Jason Bay to Boston, Los Angeles sends rookie 3B Andy LaRoche and minor league RP Bryan Morris to Pittsburgh, and Boston sends RP Craig Hansen and rookie OF Brandon Moss to Pittsburgh on July 31, 2008—Manny was the main piece of this trade and revived his career with the Dodgers. The mercurial outfielder hit a sizzling .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs in as many games in Los Angeles and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting for his two-month stint.
9. Tampa Bay trades SP David Price to Detroit, Detroit sends OF Austin Jackson to Seattle, Seattle sends SS Nick Franklin to Tampa Bay, and Detroit sends SP Drew Smyly and minor league SS Willy Adames to Tampa Bay on July 31, 2014—Not only did this deal give the Tigers three former Cy Young winners in their starting rotation, but also it became a sign of the times as only one prospect (Adames) was involved in such a high-profile deal. A rarity in baseball.