by Ryan Solonche
|In Search of More Cream Pies|
The MLB trade deadline is unlike any of the other major sports. There are various reasons one could point to, but chief among them is the absence of a salary cap. Baseball is the only major sport where GM’s have no restrictions on salary or even structure. The inclusion of a salary cap makes it almost impossible for teams in the other major sports to shop high-impact stars, and can even make it difficult to go after mid-tier role players if they’re already at their salary limit. With that being said you see a huge emphasis on trading players at the deadline to a degree which is unique to MLB.
One interesting thing that is a product of this formula: is the idea of a rental player in the final year of his current contract. This player is traded usually because his current team is out of contention or has no plan to re-sign the player. It offers a rare opportunity for teams that lack the means to sign a “Top Of Rotation” SP to acquire one at a short term cost: both in salary still owed and length of contract. Every year these rental candidates crop up and every year GM’s battle to accurately evaluate and reasonably acquire these players for their own club’s stretch run.
Now let’s take a look at an extremely successful recent example of a mid-market team leveraging 4 prospects for that 1 star pitcher in the final year of his contract.
You guessed it; C.C. Sabathia moving from Cleveland to Milwaukee a few weeks before the 2008 deadline for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson, and Rob Bryson.
During Sabathia’s 17 starts for the Brewers he posted astounding numbers after the deadline: see table here . During just three months Sabathia managed to compile +4.5 WAR and lead the Brewers organization to their first post-season since 1982. No one can argue that the rental approach worked; but, at what cost?
LaPorta, interestingly enough, was recently released from a minor league contract with the Orioles in March. For his career he is -0.9 WAR. Michael Brantley made it to the majors the year following the trade and really took off in 2012, currently boasting a career +9.2 WAR and in the midst of his best season in 2014. Zach Jackson had a -0.9 WAR in 3 seasons and has been out of the league since 2009. Rob Bryson has never pitched in a major league game. So, Milwaukee obtained +4.5 WAR in a 3 month span while Cleveland obtained a cumulative +7.4 WAR over the last 6 years. Oddly enough, the one saving grace of the deal for Cleveland: Brantley, was a player-to-be-named-later.
This is an extreme example because no one could have expected Sabathia to throw 7 CG’s in 17 starts or pitch to a sub-2.00 ERA. However, Milwaukee fully intended to trade 4 prospects ( including their most recent first rounder that year: LaPorta ) for a star TOR rental starter that would lead them to the playoffs.