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Beware those prospects

  • Schwarz's top August deals: Nos. 11-20

    Throughout this past week, as talk swirled about baseball's July 31 trading deadline, you couldn't read any report about prospective deals without being informed that, contrary to popular belief, July 31 isn't really the trading deadline -- that from Aug. 1 through 31 it's very possible that more significant trades will come, after teams jumped through the hoop of getting their players through waivers.

    You know what?

    They're right.

    While an average of 15 trades have gone down in July since 1980, August has still averaged 10. And some of them, like last year's Brian Giles deal and a few others that changed the course of franchises -- did those Smoltz and Bagwell guys ever amount to anything? -- were some of the most notable of the year.

    August trades generally gain their importance in three ways: By a contender gaining a veteran who impacts the pennant race, by that veteran helping over the next few years, or by the other team getting a minor league prospect who winds up blossoming into a star. This happens more often in August -- after the so-called trading deadline -- than most people realize.

    With the all-time trade register courtesy of the otherworldly retrosheet.org, we'll count down the 20 most notable August trades since 1980. Below features the top 10.

    No. 10. Aug. 28, 1983: The Braves trade $150,000 and three players to be named later (Brook Jacoby, Rick Behenna and Brett Butler) to the Indians for Len Barker. With an 8-13, 5.11 record at the time of this trade, Barker was not the pitcher who had pitched a perfect game two years before when the Braves acquired him to bolster their run at their second straight NL West title. The move bombed: Barker went 1-3 for the Braves, who lost out to the Dodgers in the race, while Jacoby and Butler became valuable players in Cleveland.

    No. 9. Aug. 30, 1982: The Brewers trade cash and three players to be named later (Kevin Bass, Frank DiPino and Mike Madden) to the Astros for Don Sutton. At age 37, Sutton was still an effective pitcher, and proved it for the Brewers down the stretch. He went 4-1 in seven starts -- the last of which lives on in Milwaukee memory. He beat Jim Palmer and his Orioles in a do-or-die game on the final day of the season to win the American League East.

    No. 8. Aug. 30, 1990: The Pirates traded Wes Chamberlain, Julio Peguero and a player to be named later (Tony Longmire) to the Phillies for Carmelo Martinez. Ah, Larry Doughty's infamous waiver snafu. During his complicated roster machinations, Doughty put Chamberlain, a well-regarded prospect, on waivers only to discover that they were -- uh-oh -- irrevocable. Faced with losing Chamberlain for nothing, he packaged two more minor leaguers with him to acquire an extra bat in Martinez, who wound up batting .211 the rest of the way and was out of the majors after the following season.

    No. 7. Aug. 28, 1991: The Braves trade Tony Castillo and a player to be named later (Joe Roa) to the Mets for Alejandro Pena. Before the Braves were a 12-time defending juggernaut, way back in 1991 and in their first pennant race in a decade, Atlanta needed a closer after an injury to Juan Berenguer. They chose Pena, who in his first attempt at being a full-timer relief ace went 11-for-11 in save opportunities with a 1.40 ERA. The honeymoon continued in the NLCS as Pena saved three of Atlanta's four wins over Pittsburgh. It ended with a thud, however, in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, when Pena allowed the series-losing run in the Braves' 1-0 loss to Jack Morris. (Incidentally, the next season, the Braves also acquired their playoff closer in August: Jeff Reardon, who gave up game-winning hits in both of his 1992 World Series appearances.)

    No. 6. Aug. 8, 1990: The Pirates trade Scott Ruskin, Willie Greene and a player to be named later (Moises Alou) to the Expos for Zane Smith. The Pirates were 2½ games ahead of the Mets in the NL East race when they bolstered their rotation with Smith, then a nondescript left-hander. But Smith went 6-2, 1.30 down the stretch to help Pittsburgh to the title, then went 16-10, 3.20 as the Pirates repeated the following year. The cost at the time appeared to be Greene, then considered a fine prospect, but it wound up being Alou, who blossomed in Montreal.

    No. 5. Aug. 29, 1985:The Cardinals trade Mark Jackson to the Reds for Cesar Cedeno.
    An aging veteran, Cedeno immediately caught fire for St. Louis, batting .434-6-19 in 28 games. His 10th-inning homer gave John Tudor a 1-0 win (over Dwight Gooden) on Sept. 11, and his 3-for-3 effort on Oct. 5 helped the Cardinals clinch the NL East.

    No. 4. Aug. 19, 1986: The Red Sox trade Rey Quinones, cash and three players to be named later (Mike Brown, Mike Trujillo and John Christensen) to the Mariners for Spike Owen and Dave Henderson. Henderson batted just .196 for the Red Sox down the stretch, but boy, did he make up for it in the playoffs. On Oct. 12, with Boston down 5-4 in Game 5 and facing elimination to California with two out in the ninth, Henderson's two-run homer off Donnie Moore gave the Sox a 6-5 lead. The Angels scored a run in the bottom half to knot the score 6-6, but Henderson's sacrifice fly in the 11th won the game, 7-6. (Boston went on to win the series in seven games.) Later, in the World Series, Henderson also was the one who hit the 10th-inning home run in Game 6 to give the Sox the temporary lead later squandered by Bill Buckner and friends.

    No. 3. Aug. 2, 2001: The Cardinals trade Ray Lankford and cash to the Padres for Woody Williams. The prototype .500 pitcher for San Diego over his two-plus seasons there, Williams immediately took to St. Louis, going 7-1, 2.28 down the stretch and helping the Cardinals into the playoffs, where he beat the eventual-champion Diamondbacks in his only start. Williams also went 27-13 the next two years, and while he has slowed down a bit this season, proved to be perhaps the most shrewd August pickup of this decade.

    No. 2. Aug. 30, 1990: The Astros trade Larry Andersen to the Red Sox for Jeff Bagwell. Perhaps you've heard of this one? Yes, Bagwell turned out to be a star and possible Hall of Famer. Yes, Andersen compiled a 1.23 ERA down the stretch to help the Red Sox win the division. (Both teams got what they wanted.) But did you know that the Mets were close to acquiring Bagwell before the Astros swooped in? Andersen told the Boston Globe one week after the deal: "The Astros were packaging Billy Doran and I to the Mets for Ron Darling, Wally Whitehurst and Todd Hundley, but (Houston GM) Bill Wood called Doran at this black-tie charity function we were attending to ask him if he'd make a decision because the Mets had to work out a contract with him in order for the deal to go through. But Billy couldn't make up his mind that quickly, so the Mets were going to trade Darling to the Red Sox for Bagwell. So I thought Darling was heading to Boston. When the Astros told me about it, I was shocked about coming here."

    No. 1. Aug. 12, 1987: The Braves trade Doyle Alexander to the Tigers for John Smoltz.
    Once again, each side accomplished their objectives in this not-particularly-notable deal at the time, but our No. 1 August trade since 1980. The Tigers were 1½ games behind the Blue Jays when they traded a good pitching prospect for a fading veteran -- a fading veteran who wound up almost singlearmedly winning them the AL East. Alexander went 9-0, 1.53 the rest of the way as the Tigers won all 11 of his starts, including one on the final Friday of the season against Toronto that moved the teams into a first-place tie. Detroit won the next two and went to the playoffs. (In which Alexander, by the way, pitched poorly.) The Tigers sure did pay the price in the future, however, as Smoltz emerged as a long-time star in Atlanta.

    Alan Schwarz is the senior writer of Baseball America and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His new book, "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics," is published by St. Martin's Press and can be ordered on Alan's Web site.