Stewart, Urbina impact players

Funny how those deadline deals -- the subject of endless speculation for much of the summer -- sometimes do (or don't) work out.

In the immediate aftermath of the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, general acclimation had the Boston Red Sox as the big winners. In the span of 10 days, general manager Theo Epstein managed to obtain arguably the best available lefty specialist (Scott Sauerbeck), the best available late-inning reliever (Scott Williamson) and the best available starter (Jeff Suppan).

Moreover, he beat the Yankees to two of them (Sauerbeck and Williamson), making the acquisitions all the more significant.

So what happened? Suppan is 3-3 with a 5.37 ERA and won't get a start in the postseason. Williamson, plagued by occasional shoulder tendinitis, has been ineffective with an 0-1 mark, two blown saves and a 7.00 ERA. As inconsistent as Suppan and Williamson have been, Sauerbeck has been worse, averaging nearly three (!) baserunners per inning (34 runners in 13 2/3 innings).

Other big names have, surprisingly, had next to no impact on their new teams: Aaron Boone (Yankees), Jose Guillen (A's), Jeromy Burnitz (Dodgers) and Sidney Ponson (Giants) were, to varying degrees, non-factors in their respective races.

The moral of the story? Be careful what you wish for at the deadline.

On the other hand, a couple of other deals have paid the expected dividends and more for two teams in playoff contention. The Florida Marlins' acquisition of closer Ugueth Urbina solidified their bullpen and has helped make them the favorite to capture the wild-card spot in the National League scramble.

Likewise, Shannon Stewart's arrival in Minnesota kick-started the Twins' lackluster offense and sent them to their second consecutive division title in the AL Central.

Ironically, Florida was barely mentioned as a potential destination for Urbina, who was, at various times, thought to be heading to the Yankees, San Francisco or even back to Boston.

But the Marlins put together an attractive package which included former No. 1 pick Adrian Gonzalez and landed Urbina at a time when their playoff hopes looked like little more than wishful thinking.

At the very least, the trade for Urbina was a statement by Marlins' ownership that they were committed to fielding a competitive team on the field, a mandate that had been missing since former owner Wayne Huizenga ordered the dismantling of the 1997 championship team.

As it turned out, the deal came to mean much more -- on the field. Urbina is 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA in 32 games, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning (36 in 37 1/3 innings), serving first as Braden Looper's principal setup man and now the Marlins' closer.

Until Urbina arrived, the Marlins had tried both Vladimir Nunez and Tim Spooneybarger to bridge the gap between their starters and Looper. But Nunez proved unready for the role and Spooneybarger went down in mid-July with elbow trouble.

Enter Urbina, an experienced late-inning hand who twice has had 40-save seasons and was leading the AL in saves at the time of the deal.

Exit bullpen woes.

"We were juggling, juggling until Urbina came in,'' said Marlins manager Jack McKeon, "to solidify the eighth and ninth innings.''

Stewart's imprint has been even more dramatic. With Torii Hunter struggling in the first half, David Ortizs' bat missed and production down, the Twins needed an injection to their batting order.

For a week leading up to the All-Star break, Twins general manager Terry Ryan resisted parting with prospects and made it clear that he couldn't assume the remainder of Stewart's salary ($6.2 million), having already splurged on Kenny Rogers as a spring replacement for the injured Eric Milton.

Eventually, Ryan decided to give up outfielder Bobby Kielty and got Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi to pay the remainder of Stewart's salary while the Twins were deemed responsible for Kielty's far more modest paycheck.

Almost immediately, the move paid dividends. Installed at the top of the lineup, Stewart began spraying line drives all over and generating offense for the moribund Twins attack.

In 63 games, Stewart is hitting .325 with six homers and 38 RBI and an on-base percentage of .387. Stewart's 42 runs scored would pro-rate to about 116 over the course of a full season.

In turn, the rest of the Minnesota batting order fell into place and the Twins, having chased both Kansas City and then Chicago, pulled away this month and wrapped up the division title Tuesday night.

"I know it seems strange to say this about a guy who didn't get there until almost mid-July,'' said one veteran AL scout, "but I really think Stewart is their MVP. He really got them going.''

In turn, Stewart seems to have been invigorated by the move.

"I've never been in a situation like this before, this late in the season,'' said Stewart. "It's a challenge and I like challenges.''

The one problem with Stewart's arrival has been defense. Never an accomplished defender, Stewart's arrival forced Jacque Jones to shift to right field where Jones has struggled.

That's a minor sacrifice for the Twins to make. As with the Marlins and Urbina, Minnesota and Florida are examples -- and there aren't many this season -- that a shrewd move in July can pay off with a trip to October.

Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.