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Will Cincy’s deadline trades pay off with a wild card?

I read an interesting blog post from the New York Times on Sunday entitled “Wild Card Is a Tease”, regarding the wild card and deadline trading intended to help clubs capture it. The author, Jim Luttrell, points out that only five of the 28 wild card entrants since 1995 were more than five games out at the non-waiver trade deadline.

The conclusion is that many teams further out in the standings that were making trades were wasting their efforts and perhaps hurting themselves for the future.

As the reader comments that follow point out, eight of the 28 reached the World Series and four of them won, a sample that is too large for my tastes. I am not going to go off on how badly the 162-game season has been devalued by a first-round best-of-five series. I won’t, but I would really like to. Well, maybe I will just a little bit.

A baseball purist at heart, I can begrudgingly acknowledge the value of the wild card for fan interest purposes. Still, the first round of the playoffs needs to be extended to seven games even if it means shortening the regular season. Further, the wild card must be put at a greater disadvantage (only one or two home games at most). (The first point caused an awful flashback to Ford Frick and his fricking 1961 asterisk.)

At any rate, Luttrell’s post left me wanting. The most important question was left mostly unanswered.

Which teams were not within five games of the wild card at the non-waiver deadline but still made trades that are most likely to do them no good?

I am not sure why the writer stopped short of the logical conclusion, so I will satisfy my own curiosity, focusing on the National League.

First and foremost, the St. Louis Cardinals were in first place by a half-game on July 31. The other NL Division leaders were Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The co-wild card leaders were San Francisco and Colorado. Other teams within five games of the two were Chicago, Florida, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Houston.

In other words, only six of the 16 NL teams were not either leading their division or sitting within five games of the wild card.

Somewhere Bud Selig is uttering “excellent” while tenting fingers together, even if he isn’t counting his money at the time. (Heading further astream, is it just me or can anyone else see the resemblance of a rug-free Bud with Mr. Burns from The Simpsons?)

Two of the “out of it clubs” are from each division. They are New York and Washington from the East, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh from the Central along with Arizona and San Diego from the West.

Pittsburgh dumped half their team. San Diego shipped off ace Jake Peavy. Washington jettisoned first baseman Nick Johnson. The Mets and Diamondbacks basically did nothing of substance.

That leaves the one schizophrenic seller-buyer-seller, the Cardinals current opponent, Cincinnati. Walt Jocketty’s Reds made three deals, the biggest in adding former Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen from Toronto.

This trade probably won’t turn out to be quite as bad as the ill-fated deadline deal made by the Bucs two years ago when they inexplicably picked up Matt Morris, but is as equally puzzling. The Reds were 12 games under .500 at the July 31 deadline and have gone 3-5 since.

In a weird and unfortunate parallel with the Cards’ earlier acquisition of Mark DeRosa, the newest Red has been able to play in just four games for his new club. Rather than a wrist injury, Rolen’s problems have resulted from a beaning suffered a week ago Sunday at the hands of his ex-St. Louis teammate, Rockies pitcher Jason Marquis.

As Cincinnati falls further back in the standings, they made a waiver trade on Sunday sending reliever David Weathers to the Milwaukee Brewers. They had earlier sent infielder/outfielder Jerry Hairston to the Yankees. In other words, if the Reds were a buyer for one day last week, they were a seller immediately before and after.

So there you have it. Other than the odd trade of Edwin Encarnacion and two prospects for an aging, injury-prone and expensive Rolen, none of the NL teams considered too far back in the standings made any such questionable deals.

Maybe that is why the author didn’t bring his original post to its logical conclusion. At least in the NL, there doesn’t appear to be much of anything to say.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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