Jim Thome's return to Cleveland may or may not help launch the Indians into the postseason -- we'll find out soon enough. Waiver-wire deals are almost always focused on the well-known veteran moving to the contending team, and the short-term results can be measured relatively quickly. The players sent back are usually unknown minor leaguers that are quickly forgotten. Or are they? Let's look back at a selection of waiver-wire deals going back almost 25 years, so we can see some of the long-term effects. You can decide who won these deals.
August 12, 1987: Tigers acquire Doyle Alexander from Braves for John Smoltz
People love to talk about this as one of the worst trades in Tigers history, but when you look at it from the perspective of the time of the deal, it wasn't all that bad. Smoltz at the time was a former 22nd-round pick toiling in Double-A with a 4-10 record, 5.73 ERA and 1.64 WHIP; the year before, in A-ball, he struck out only 5.6 batters per 9. Do those numbers scream "prospect?" On the flip side, Detroit acquired the wily veteran Alexander, who went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch, significantly helping the Tigers win the AL East by two games over the Blue Jays. Sure, Smoltz went on to have a spectacular career, but if the Tigers didn't make that move, they may not have made the postseason.
August 31, 1988: Tigers acquire Fred Lynn from Orioles for Chris Hoiles and two PTBNLs (Cesar Mejia, Robinson Garces)
Fred Lynn hit seven homers and drove in 19 in 27 games for the Tigers, but batted only .222 as Detroit finished one game short of the AL East title. Lynn played one more so-so season in Detroit before moving on to San Diego and retirement. Meanwhile, Hoiles hit 151 homers in 10 seasons with the Orioles, including 112 from 1992-1996.
August 8, 1990: Pirates acquire Zane Smith from Expos for Scott Ruskin, Willie Greene and a PTBNL (Moises Alou)
It's been almost 20 years since the Pirates last enjoyed a winning season -- and Zane Smith was a member of that 1992 club. Smith went 6-2 with a 1.30 ERA down the stretch in '90 to help the Pirates finish first in the NL East, then went 16-10 in '91 to help them win another division title, and was the victim of poor run support in an 8-8 season for that final winning club in '92. On the other hand, Moises Alou went on to deliver a career .885 OPS over the next 17 seasons.
August 30, 1990: Red Sox acquire Larry Andersen from Astros for Jeff Bagwell
Like the aforementioned Alexander/Smoltz deal, this one goes down as a doozy, but again, it made some sense at the time. Unlike Smoltz, Bagwell had strong numbers in the minors -- a .310 average and .810 OPS in A-ball in 1989 and then a .303 average / .880 OPS in Double-A at the time of the deal. However, there were two issues in play. First was that Bagwell hadn't yet shown any of the home-run power required of a corner man; he'd hit only six homers in his first 831 plate appearances as a pro. Second, as primarily a third baseman at that point in his career, Bagwell was stuck behind Wade Boggs at the big-league level and the highly-touted (at the time) Scott Cooper in Triple-A. A move to first base was blocked by a behemoth named Mo Vaughn in Triple-A Pawtucket, who was already on the fast track to the majors. Meanwhile, the Sox were in a tight race with the Blue Jays and needed a reliable arm in the 'pen. Andersen provided that, posting a 1.23 ERA and 0.95 WHIP through 15 games in September, helping Boston win the AL East by two games. Remember, the Red Sox were still haunted by The Curse of the Bambino, and desperate times call for desperate measures.
Cone -- the "hired gun" -- won four games down the stretch for the World Champion Blue Jays in '92, then left Toronto for Kansas City as a free agent that winter. Thompson was a five-tool player who never lived up to the hype and Jeff Kent went on to become, well, Jeff Kent -- though not until after he was jettisoned from New York in a 1996 deadline deal.
This was a good deal over the short term, as Burkett went 5-2 in '96 to help Texas win the AL West by 4.5 games -- but won only nine games per year for the next three before re-discovering the magic under Leo Mazzone's guidance in Atlanta. Ironically, Helling returned to the Rangers the following year in another waiver-wire deal, and won 20 games for them in '98. Over the long term, though, there is the matter of Dempster, who went on to become an All-Star in Florida and remains a solid MLB starter today.
Neagle won only two games down the stretch for the Braves in '96, but won 20 in '97 and another 16 in '98 before being dealt to Cincinnati. Nothing became of Pointer or Wright, but Schmidt was a durable starter for Pittsburgh before becoming a dominant ace in San Francisco.
Hollins hit .351 with a .916 OPS in 28 games for the M’s, who finished 4.5 games behind the aforementioned Rangers. Hollins left for Philadelphia as a free agent in the winter and you know what happened to David Ortiz -- but did you know that the Twins weren't the first team to give up on him?
August 6, 1998: Padres acquire Randy Myers from Blue Jays for Brian Lloyd
This deal is unique in that it not only looks bad in hindsight, it looked bad at the time. Lloyd never made it to MLB, which in retrospect softens the blow, but the deal put a strain on the low-budget Padres, who were responsible for $13.5 million through 2000 – back when that was a lot of money. The irony is that the Padres didn't really want or need Myers -- they were 13 games ahead of the second-place Giants and had a rock-solid bullpen led by Trevor Hoffman. However, Atlanta was likewise running away with the NL East -- and would therefore be the Padres' playoff opponent -- and they were desperate for a closer. Presumably, the Braves were working on a deal with the Jays for Myers, assuming he passed through waivers. So the Padres put a claim on Myers to block the deal -- and were caught off-guard when Toronto, looking to dump salary, were happy to let the Padres take Myers off their hands. Myers was awful for San Diego, posting a 6.28 ERA over 14 innings. He had rotator cuff surgery after the season and never pitched in MLB again.
California native Giles had been pining for a deal to a team closer to home, and was obliged by being sent to the last-place Padres. He had some solid seasons in San Diego, but Petco Park and age robbed him of his home-run power. Interestingly, Bay was part of a deadline deal the previous year (the Mets traded him and two others for bullpen help), and would be sent away from Pittsburgh in another deadline deal. In between, he was an All-Star for the Pirates, and Oliver Perez (who also was eventually traded away in a deadline deal) had one brilliant season for the Bucs in 2004 before becoming an eternal enigma.
August 19, 2006: Phillies acquire Jamie Moyer from Mariners for Andy Baldwin and Andrew Barb
What intrigues me about this deal is the longevity the Phils received from Moyer, whose five wins down the stretch of a non-race in '06 were insignificant. Who would have thought that the ageless lefty would win 51 more games over the next four years?
Joe Janish is the founder of Mets Today, a SweetSpot network affiliate, and has thrown BP to Don Mattingly, caught Jim Bouton's knuckleball, and eaten a meal prepared by Rusty Staub. You can follow him on Twitter here.