Updated: Aug. 1, 2006, 5:21 PM ET
Walker-to-Cards had impact, but little elseBy Gary Gillette
The wailing and gnashing of teeth from Red Sox Nation could be heard around the planet at 4 p.m. ET Monday as Boston failed to make any trades before the 2006 deadline. ESPN.com's SportsNation trade-deadline chat lasted five hours and garnered more than 45,000 questions, yet it seemed as though every third post was from desperate BoSox fans wanting to know whether their team had made any trades -- then, after the deadline had passed, why their beloved Sox hadn't done anything to keep up with the hated Yankees.
After going to St. Louis in an August deal, Larry Walker helped the Cardinals advance to the World Series in 2004.August, however, brings another opportunity for MLB's wheelers and dealers to make a move to improve their teams via the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of waiver deals. Aside from the possibility of a team's making a mistake because someone in the front office doesn't know the arcane waiver rules thoroughly, teams conspire to "trade" players via parallel waiver claims. The liquidity in this waiver-trade system depends partly on a long-standing gentleman's agreement between the various general managers -- an uneasy balance that can be upset if a bold GM decides to claim players on the waiver wire just to block competing teams from potentially making a deal.
Although waiver deals have been pretty common in recent years, their impact has been minimal in most cases. Why? To start with, a majority of the most obvious deals already have been made by August; July's trading deadline sparks a frenzy that isn't replicated the month after. Also, the most complicated, multiteam deals -- like the Cubs-Twins-Expos-Red Sox deal that rearranged the starting shortstops for three teams and deported unhappy superstar Nomar Garciaparra out of Red Sox Nation -- can't be arranged via waivers. Finally, by late August, many of the mediocre teams that fancied themselves contenders at midseason -- and thus became buyers in the late July bazaar -- have fallen out of the race and are no longer in the market.
An analysis of the waiver deals consummated in August in the past five seasons shows that a few very significant trades did occur. So, as Red Sox Nation exults in David Ortiz's latest walk-off home run even as fans bite their nails in anticipation of what the Yankees' deadline deals mean for the AL East race, its citizens can find some comfort as they wait hopefully for an August waiver deal that well help their heroes.
A very sleepy year in waiver world. None had any lasting significance; most involved veteran spare parts such as Matt Lawton, Deivi Cruz, Todd Hollandsworth, Michael Tucker, Mike Remlinger and Jason Christiansen.
It was a busy year for waiver deals, with 14 in August. Most were very minor, although the Dodgers acquired Elmer Dessens from Arizona for minor leaguer Jereme Milons, Houston picked up reliever Dan Wheeler from the Mets for minor leaguer Adam Seuss, and Philadelphia got Cory Lidle for pitching prospect Elizardo Ramirez and two other minor leaguers. Despite Lidle's going 5-2 with a 3.90 ERA in 10 starts, the underachieving Phillies finished six games behind the Astros in the wild-card race. Dessens pitched well in 12 games as L.A. slid by San Francisco by two games in the NL West.
Wheeler pitched well in 14 regular-season relief appearances in 2004, then pitched eight scoreless innings in five games in October as Houston rallied to beat the Braves in five games in the NL Division Series before losing to the Cardinals in seven games in the exciting NLCS. The right-hander also played a very important set-up role for the 2005 NL pennant-winning Astros.
By far the biggest waiver deal went down early, on Aug. 6: The Rockies dumped the salary of oft-injured veteran star Larry Walker on the Cardinals for three minor leaguers. Walker was absolutely everything St. Louis hoped for that year; he slammed 11 homers, scoring 29 runs and driving in 27 while posting a .953 OPS in 44 games in the Gateway City. He was truly en fuego in October, posting a 1.244 OPS while hitting two homers and scoring six runs as the Cards waxed the Dodgers in four games in the division series. In the NLCS, Walker continued his tear, posting an .865 OPS with two more homers, six more runs and five RBI. The veteran right fielder continued to thump the ball even as Boston swept St. Louis in the Fall Classic. He hit two more home runs while posting a 1.367 OPS.
A whopping 17 waiver deals were consummated that August, with by far the biggest being one between two non-contenders. The long-anticipated, salary-motivated trade of Brian Giles from the Pirates to the Padres for Oliver Perez and Jason Bay was a key element of both teams' rebuilding efforts. Bay replaced Giles' big bat in the Pirates' lineup, copping the NL Rookie of the Year award the next season, and Perez wowed NL hitters in 2004, fanning 239 before self-destructing a year later. Giles helped San Diego return to contention in 2004 as the club opened its new ballpark.
There were two important waiver deals that year in terms of the pennant races. The first was the Cubs' acquisition of first baseman Randall Simon in midmonth from the Pirates for minor league outfielder Ray Sadler. Simon hit .282 with six homers and 21 RBI in 103 at-bats in Chicago as the Cubs squeaked by the Astros and Cardinals to win the weak NL Central with an 88-74 record. Chicago went on to beat the Braves in five in the division series, losing to the Marlins and Steve Bartman in seven games in an NLCS many found thrilling but Cubs fans considered tragic. Simon hit .333 in 24 at-bats with one home run, four runs and six RBI in the postseason before returning to Pittsburgh via free agency at the end of the season.
The second waiver move with real postseason impact was the Marlins' acquisition of veteran outfielder Jeff Conine for right-handed pitchers Denny Bautista and Don Levinski on Aug. 31. Conine hit five homers and drove in 15 runs in September as the Marlins captured the wild card. After an undistinguished division series, Conine hit .458 with four runs and three RBI in the NLCS and .333 with four runs (no RBI) against the Yankees as the Marlins won the World Series.
Other name players traveling the waiver route in 2003 included veteran relievers such as Armando Benitez, Jeff Nelson, Kent Mercker and Scott Sullivan; starters Sterling Hitchcock and Brian Anderson; and outfielder Rondell White.
Eight waiver deals were made that August. St. Louis, which won the NL Central by 13 games, picked up pitchers Jeff Fassero (on Aug. 25 for two minor leaguers) and Jamey Wright (on Aug. 29 for Mike Matthews) via waiver trades from the Cubs and Brewers, respectively. Wright went 2-0 in three late-season starts for the Redbirds, and Fassero posted a lucky 3-0 record in relief, partly thanks to his two blown saves.
Fassero pitched effectively in relief in four games in the postseason as the Cards swept the Diamondbacks in the division series but then fell in five games in the NLCS to the Giants. Wright did not appear in October action.
Aside from St. Louis, the biggest names moved on the waiver wire that year were veterans Tom Gordon and Mark Loretta, both acquired by Houston, and Ismael Valdez, picked up by Seattle.
Eight waiver deals were made that August. By far the most important move was the Padres-Cardinals trade Aug. 2 that brought right-handed starter Woody Williams to St. Louis for disgruntled outfielder Ray Lankford.
Williams went 7-1 in 11 starts for the Cards, posting a 2.28 ERA, almost two runs below his career average. Without Williams, St. Louis wouldn't have been able to tie Houston for the NL Central lead. The Cardinals had to accept the wild-card berth as the Astros won the division title via tiebreakers. Williams started and won Game 2 of the division series, allowing only one earned run in seven innings as St. Louis fell to eventual world champion Arizona in five games.