When the Kansas City Royals added ace Johnny Cueto to their below-average starting rotation, it seemed to be the final piece missing on a team with the AL’s best record. Does it mean they’ll win the World Series?
Conventional wisdom in baseball is that the contender that adds the biggest talent to the roster at the trade deadline puts itself in the best position to win the World Series. It’s logical reasoning.
The only issue is that it’s just not backed up by history. Few teams that add an ace pitcher or an All-Star impact hitter actually win the World Series.
In 2013, the Red Sox brought home the Commissioner’s Trophy and, interestingly enough, their only major deadline acquisition was also the same Jake Peavy. (Peavy has a career postseason ERA of 7.98, so he really wasn’t a key contributor to either team winning the World Series.)
The Giants, title winners in 2012 and 2010 as well, received only a semi-impact bat in Hunter Pence at the deadline three years ago and bullpen help two years prior. Pence, who has never won a Silver Slugger or finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting, hit fifth in the lineup behind incumbents Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey.
You’d have to go all the way to 2004 to find a team that made a major mid-season shakeup that resulted in a World Series title—but that year’s Red Sox squad did the opposite in trading away franchise shortstop Nomar Garciaparra for a pair of defensive-minded players in shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz.
Not since 2000, when the Yankees added former All-Stars in starting pitcher Denny Neagle and outfielder David Justice on the way to winning their fourth title in five years, did the future World Series winners add so much talent to their core.
But even then, the 34-year-old Justice, who hit third in the lineup, was more of a complementary player—who had a great half-season in the Bronx. Still, the Yankees already had a strong core of players like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, and Paul O’Neill. Justice was really a complementary piece.
Probably the last strong case you could make before that was in 1993 when the Toronto Blue Jays added future Hall of Famer—and possibly the game’s best ever leadoff hitter—Rickey Henderson to the lineup. Henderson, who was just three years removed from his MVP season of 1990, didn’t exactly tear it up north of the border, hitting just .215 in 44 games for them, though he drew 35 walks and stole 22 bases in his limited time there as the Jays won the series.