King Kaufman's Sports Daily

On the aesthetics of deadline trades. Plus: Why Mariano Rivera's career milestone doesn't mean a thing.

Published July 17, 2006 4:00PM (EDT)

For all the talk about Bobby Abreu going to the Yankees or Alfonso Soriano going to the Yankees/Mariners/Tigers/Mammoths/Knights/Bad News Bears, the most interesting trade rumor I've heard this week is Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells to the White Sox for starting pitching.

It won't happen. These rumored blockbuster deals at the trading deadline mostly don't happen. The biggest deals usually involve a passel of prospects going one way and a big-name major leaguer going the other.

Those are kind of fun, but let's face it, most of us, even those of us in the "expert" biz, have never seen most of the prospects involved in such trades.

We may have heard of them, read about them, followed their progress. It didn't take a seamhead to know the Mets had made a colossal error in 2004 when they sent Scott Kazmir to Tampa Bay for Victor Zambrano, even though Kazmir had never darkened a big-league clubhouse door. But even in those cases, most fans and most commentators wouldn't be able to pick the prospects in such trades out of a police lineup.

It's just more fun when it's major leaguer for major leaguer. You can see the effect right away, for one thing, and most of us can comment and criticize and act like we know what we're talking about based on what we've seen with our own lying eyes.

The ratio of even those prospect-heavy trades to rumors is pretty low, though maybe it'll be a little higher than usual with Peter Gammons on the sidelines this year following surgery for a brain aneurysm, cutting down on the floated rumors by about 4 million. But the trades in which big-time players, All-Star types, go in both directions are really rare.

Two years ago there was a flurry of borderline blockbusters. The Dodgers and Marlins pulled off a big one, with Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota and Juan Encarnacion going east for Brad Penny, plus bust Hee-Seop Choi and minor-leaguer Bill Murphy. We talked a lot about that one around here.

The Yankees and White Sox swapped Jose Contreras and Esteban Loiaza, which was pretty interesting, but at the time of the deal, both were big maybes, a couple of aging, wildly inconsistent starters. That trade looks bigger now because they both had good years in 2005.

And there was the four-team square dance that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz to the Red Sox, among many other players and clubs involved.

But I don't like those multiteam trades. Too messy. Aesthetically unpleasing. It's like a big math problem: If Matt Murton gets on a train in Boston bound for Chicago, and at the same time Alex Gonzalez gets on a train in Chicago bound for Montreal ...

Before that you have to go back to 2002 to find the kind of trade I like, big leaguer for big leaguer, with some star power. The Phillies sent Scott Rolen to the Cardinals for Placido Polanco and Mike Timlin, two established pros, plus Bud Smith, who wasn't much but had thrown a no-hitter in the majors.

But mostly this century July has been a whole lot of D'Angelo Jimenez changing teams again. That's what the majority of the trades are. Jody Gerut for Matt Lawton, that sort of thing. For a while there it was fun to watch the Royals' annual fleecing -- Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez, straight up, for example -- but even that show's over.

Why, in my day we had some trades at the deadline, which was June 15. Tom Seaver to the Reds for Pat Zachry, who had won 14 games as a rookie the year before, and three kids. Bill Singer and change -- including a young Roy Smalley -- from Texas to the Twins for Bert Blyleven.

OK, even in the old days, the star-for-star deadline trade was exceedingly rare. You're just not going to get Frankie Frisch for Rogers Hornsby on July 31.

But I'll settle for Vernon Wells for, let's say, Contreras again. The rumor I heard was one line in an Associated Press story that didn't even speculate on the return package. That's OK. We art lovers can wait.

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Save me, Mariano Rivera [PERMALINK]

Mariano Rivera got congratulations and hosannas for picking up his 400th career save Sunday.

Of all the things Rivera should be congratulated for, that's really not one of them. You have to be a pretty good relief pitcher to be near the top of the all-time saves list, because somebody has to keep giving you the ball in the ninth inning for a lot of years. But you don't have to be a great one. The top of the list is littered with pitchers in the Hall of Yeah He Was All Right.

Last year Rivera passed Randy Myers and Jeff Reardon to move into fifth place on the all-time list. This year he's already passed Dennis Eckersley, a reliever for only about half his career and a deserving member of that other Hall, for fourth.

Myers compiled his 347 saves over a 12-year stretch with the Mets, Reds, Padres, Cubs, Orioles and Blue Jays, never spending more than three years with one team in that stretch.

The Mets traded him for John Franco, who's third on the saves list. The Reds traded Myers for Bip Roberts and a player to be named later, though to be fair he'd lost his closer job to Rob Dibble. But he was the same pitcher. Everybody else let him go as a free agent.

Reardon compiled almost all of his saves for the Expos, Twins and Red Sox. The Expos sent him and Tom Nieto to the Twins for Neal Heaton, Yorkis Perez, Jeff Reed and Al Cardwood. This was after he'd saved 35 games for them -- with a 3.94 ERA, at a time when the league ERA was 3.72.

Just trying to give you an idea of these guys' value during their primes. And I mean their value to general managers who overvalued saves.

Myers and Reardon were good relief pitchers. Franco, who's next for Rivera on the list with 424, was very good. Trevor Hoffman is second on the career list with 460, 18 behind career leader Lee Smith, whom Hoffman will pass later this year if he stays healthy. Hoffman's very good too.

But the idea that Mariano Rivera really achieved something by passing guys like Myers and Reardon, or even guys like Franco and Hoffman, on a list is silly. Myers and Reardon -- not to mention Smith -- weren't in his league. Hoffman and Franco are and were, but then again the Royals are in the same league as the White Sox, if you follow me.

Smith was traded straight up, during his prime, for Tom Brunansky and Rich Batchelor. Separately. That was two different trades. Brunansky was an All-Star, but he was hitting .158 at the time of that deal.

Rivera is 78 behind Smith on the career saves list, and a million miles ahead of him in any other way you want to compare them. That's what the career saves list is worth.

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Save me, J.J. Putz? [PERMALINK]

I hear you out there. So what's the big deal? It's a nice milestone for Rivera. Why worry about how much people value saves, a stupid, meaningless stat? Calm down.

Because consciousness of the save stat drives managerial decision making. Drives it right into the ditch, in most cases.

Case in point: The blog U.S.S. Mariner points out that in the last two days, Seattle lost a 14-inning game and an 11-inning game in Toronto. During those tight ballgames, the Mariners bullpen threw 11 innings. And their best reliever, J.J. Putz, threw exactly zero pitches.

Why? No save situations!

But Mariners fans can take comfort in the fact that Julio Mateo and Emiliano Fruto each pitched two and two-thirds innings, leading the team. It wouldn't be a stretch to say Mateo and Fruto are the Mariners' two worst relievers. Rafael Soriano, their second-best reliever, pitched one inning Saturday, though he did throw a lot of pitches.

I didn't watch either game, but I'm willing to bet that Seattle manager Mike Hargrove didn't make a single pitching change that wasn't right in line with standard operating procedure. He did get Putz up three times Saturday -- but he never pulled the trigger and put him in the game. No problem pulling the trigger on Julio Mateo.

And then the Mariners claimed that Putz wasn't available Sunday because he was burned out from warming up three times Saturday. Good grief!

Bullpen strategy starts with your closer, your best relief pitcher, pretty much only pitching when a save is on the line. Everything else follows that, and that's why bullpens often end up upside-down, with the worst pitchers pitching more in close games than the best ones.

Great stat, the save.

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