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Archive for Sunday, July 29, 2001

Trade deadline has gained life force

A few new wrinkles have emerged in recent years to turn up the urgency even more

July 29, 2001

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In the next frenzied 48 hours, contending teams will be looking for their David Justice, Fred McGriff, or Andy Benes, stretch-drive acquisitions that will help put their team over the top as Justice did for the 2000 Yankees, McGriff for the '93 Braves and Benes for the '95 Mariners.

The Cubs, in fact, hope their Fred McGriff is ... Fred McGriff. Having finally relented on his long-awaited trade to Chicago, McGriff could join the pantheon of professional rent-a-players that includes David Cone (Blue Jays, Yankees), Rickey Henderson (A's, Blue Jays, Angels) and the all-time king, Harold Baines, who has been traded in July or August no fewer than five times, once for a young Texas prospect named Sammy Sosa.

Which brings us back to the other half of the trade-deadline equation, the down-and-out team that hopes to parlay its high-priced veteran into a minor-league hopeful who turns into the next Jeff Bagwell, John Smoltz or Freddy Garcia.

In recent years, the trade deadline has gained a sort of life force, its importance seemingly growing with each season. Perhaps it is the advent of so many more media sources to monitor (and start) rumors, or simply the ever-escalating salary structures that make it imperative for contenders to take full advantage of their title hopes in the good years, while making it equally imperative for poorer teams to dump salary in their bad years.

A few new wrinkles have emerged in recent years that turned up the heat at the trade deadline even more. In the old days like the early 1990s teams knew that July 31 wasn't really a deadline at all. Trades are allowed prior to the Sept. 1 playoff-eligibility deadline, the catch being that after July 31, players involved in deals must clear waivers.

A system of gentlemen's agreements used to exist whereby two teams who wanted to make a deal in August were allowed to obtain waivers on the players in question.

At some point, however, the gentlemen turned nasty, and contenders started placing claims on players to block trades by their competitors. Now such aggressive blocking is commonplace.

The other wild card is just that - the wild card. Since 1994, the expansion of the playoffs has increased the number of teams who perceive themselves to be in contention. That adds more buyers to the market, making the competition more intense for the players being dangled.

Teams like the White Sox and Blue Jays, on the bubble of contention, must make hard decisions on their realistic chances of competing. Four years ago, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf decided the White Sox had no chance of catching the Indians, despite being just 212 games out of first place, and made the infamous "White Flag" trade with the Giants.

Vilified at the time, the deal has been largely vindicated for the White Sox, who received, among others, relievers Keith Foulke, Bobby Howry and Lorenzo Barcelo for Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez, both of whom were free agents after the season.

If this year's White Sox team decides to wave the white flag, they could deal such players as Magglio Ordonez, Paul Konerko or Carlos Lee. The Blue Jays are holding Jose Cruz Jr., Shannon Stewart and Kelvim Escobar as they mull over their role as buyers or sellers.

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