A wise baseball man once suggested that sometimes the best trades are the ones never made.
If you are in the front office of the Detroit Tigers or Oakland A’s, off the record you might reluctantly agree.
In a relatively quiet year for mid-season trading, these two American League clubs were perceived to be the big winners. However, the standings beg to differ.
On August 3, the Tigers landed former Cy Young Award winner David Price from Tampa Bay. Many analysts felt the cost was far too cheap for one and a half seasons of one of baseball’s most elite hurlers.
As I write this on the 27th, Price set a new record, but it was not a good one. Against the New York Yankees, he allowed nine consecutive hits, a new low-water mark for any Cy Young winner in the history of the game. Price was pulled after yielding eight runs in two innings.
Price had been very good in his four initial starts wearing the Detroit uniform. Despite a 1-1 record, his ERA was 2.35. Yet his new team seemed to be crumbling around him from almost the moment he arrived.
In all fairness, correlation does not equal causation. Still, since the trade, the Tigers are 10-13, having lost 7½ games in the standings and yielding first place to the Kansas City Royals. How is that for a difference-maker?
On the West Coast, resident genius Billy Beane acquired three starting pitchers for his Oakland A’s. He gave up plenty in return, including arguably his best hitter in Yoenis Cespedes and his best prospect in Addison Russell.
Russell helped fetch Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs on July 5 while the primary return for Cespedes on the July 31 non-waiver deadline was three-time AL All-Star Jon Lester, a former 19-game winner and owner of a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox.
The Oakland story is similar to Detroit. Two of the three new pitchers have been fine, but their team has tanked.
Lester is 3-1, 2.50 in five starts with the A’s. Samardzija is pitching around his career average at 4-3, 3.86 in ten appearances in his new club’s rotation.
Hammel’s apparent deal with the devil may not have been transferable from Chicago. With the Cubs, the right-hander was 8-5, 2.98 and on his way to a career-best season at age 31. On the other hand, his Oakland experience has been a disaster. Hammel is 1-5 with a 5.77 ERA in eight starts and was temporarily removed from the rotation.
Worse has been their team results. On July 5, Oakland was in first place by 3 ½ games and sat 19 games over .500. On the 31st, they were 25 games over .500 with a 2 ½ game divisional edge.
This month, with their shiny newly-reconfigured staff, the A’s are just 11-13. More importantly, they have lost their lead in the American League West standings to the resurgent Los Angeles Angels.
There is still a month for these pitchers to more fully adjust to their new surroundings and perhaps, for their new teammates to adjust to their altered roster.
Then again, no matter what happens, I cannot help but wonder how the AL landscape would have looked had both Detroit and Oakland simply stood pat.
Sure, it is generally far more laudable to do something rather than create the appearance of doing nothing, but the standings don’t lie.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.