Get Dryhumped Now or Screwed Later?

In my previous career, as a baseball beat writer, I hated the trade deadline. It was all about generating rumors based on hearsay to get people to follow you and truly test how good your sources were. When the deadline came and went and there was no substantial news – no trades, or nothing of relevance – you felt like a guy at a strip club at the end of the night: you just wasted a bunch of time and effort and you might have been dryhumped a little, but it turned out to be nothing.

That is life for most Major League Baseball beat writers at the trade deadline.

So, rather than trying to recap the day’s events or relate a current trade to one of recent years – as we did here and here – let’s revisit a trade that turned out to be a cautionary tale for major league GM’s through the 1990s and early 2000s.

John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander.

Alexander was the perfect gun-for-hire in the second half of 1987 as he went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA and led the Tigers to the playoffs. That’s exactly what Alexander was, too, a gun-for-hire. Hell, he made his MLB debut in 1971! While he was dominant in getting Detroit to the playoffs, he went 0-2 with a 10.00 ERA in the ALCS and the Tigers lost to the Twins.

We all know what Smoltz did, carving out a Cooperstown career. (It must be noted, for the sake of clarity, that Smoltz was a crappy minor league pitcher. At the time of the trade he was 4-10 with a 5.68 ERA with Detroit’s Class AA team. If the Braves weren’t horrendous at the time of the deal – losing 90 or more games in four straight years – who knows if Smoltz ever makes it to the majors, gets guru Leo Mazzone as his pitching coach and becomes … well, John Smoltz.)

This is one of my favorite baseball trades of all-time because it serves the exact purpose of a trade: what if?

What if Smoltz continued along his trajectory as a middling minor league pitcher, getting a small taste of the bigs and ultimately becoming a welder at Chrysler since he was born in Detroit?

What if the Tigers never made that trade and Smoltz was stuck in Detroit on some really bad teams during the 1990s? No chance he becomes a Cy Young winner, a perennial All-Star, a dominant postseason pitcher.

We could waste tons of cyberspace playing the “what if?” game.

Instead, Smoltz became the pitcher he became and served as the poster child as the ultimate warning for GM’s which probably still resonates to this day. We discussed it earlier this week when we examined the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, but giving up prospects is always risky. They could turn out to be Todd Van Poppel – all hype and little results – or John Smoltz.

The Alexander-for-Smoltz deal is the reason a lot of GM’s are gunshy about making a splashy trade. They don’t want to be the subject of scorn and hatred in a few years when said prospect is dominating for another team.

It’s been 24 years since that trade went down and with the advent of Baseball America and deals similar to this one, prospects have become a far more valued commodity for teams.

If you ask any general manager, they will tell you they’d rather be dryhumped and not make a deal during the trade deadline than just flat-out screwed by a deal.

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