The summer before that, the Houston Astros sent three prospects to Detroit for ace Justin Verlander, whose subsequent 4-1 record and 2.21 ERA in six postseason appearances were instrumental in bringing the Astros the first World Series title in franchise history.
And we could keep going. In 2016, the Chicago Cubs picked up Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery, who got the win and the save, respectively, in Game 7 of the World Series. In 2015, the Kansas City Royals acquired Johnny Cueto, who threw a two-hit complete game in his only World Series start, and Ben Zobrist, who hit .303 with 10 extra-base hits that postseason.
The 2019 trade deadline, however, is certain to have a different shape and trajectory than past seasons'. The Astros/Verlander move of Aug. 31, for example, would not be possible this summer, following a rule change eliminating August waiver trades and consolidating the dealmaking into a single trade deadline of July 31.
“On July 31,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said this month, “it’s pencils down, and there’s no other [means] to reinforce.”
The new rules, announced in March, were part of a union push to incentivize would-be contenders to spend on veteran free agents in the offseason — since there would be a smaller window in which to make in-season additions — but the more immediate impact will come this summer, injecting a sense of urgency into what could be a fruitful and busy trade season.
The other force that could add fuel to this trade season is the extreme, unprecedented stratification of the standings. Entering this weekend, three teams (Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins) were on pace for 100-plus wins, with a fourth (Astros) on pace for 99. Since the start of the wild-card era (1995), baseball has never witnessed a season with four 100-win teams.
At the other end of the standings, five teams (Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Royals, Toronto Blue Jays, and Miami Marlins) entered the weekend on pace for 100-plus losses. In the wild-card era, there have never been more than four 100-loss teams in a season. As recently as 2014, there were zero teams with either 100 wins or 100 losses.
With the calendar about to flip to July, only one division race, the National League Central, is closer than 4½ games. And with more 100-win superteams than ever given the luxury of looking ahead to October roster-building plus an unprecedented number of 100-loss bottom-feeders, the pieces are in place to make this a wild month of dealmaking. (And the dealing is well underway, with the Seattle Mariners already having sent Jay Bruce to the Philadelphia Phillies and Edwin Encarnacion to the Yankees.)
There are few certainties, but here are some story lines that come close:
*Relievers rule. The past few seasons have seen all-star relievers such as Jonathan Papelbon, Mark Melancon, Chapman, Andrew Miller, Sean Doolittle, Roberto Osuna and Zack Britton dealt at the deadline as teams looked to fortify their bullpens ahead of October’s crucible. In 2018, relievers accounted for 40.1 percent of all regular season innings, but that jumped to 49.7 percent in the postseason.
Nearly every contending team could stand to add at least one more lockdown bullpen arm, but those with the most acute needs include the Dodgers, Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals. And the stock of available arms is impressive and deep, including names such as Ken Giles (Blue Jays), Shane Greene (Tigers), Will Smith (San Francisco Giants), Kirby Yates (San Diego Padres), Mychal Givens (Orioles) and Felipe Vazquez (Pittsburgh Pirates).
*Aces in the hole. There will be few legitimate, Verlander-type No. 1 starters, if any, available this summer, but the list of available rotation options includes San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner, Toronto’s Marcus Stroman and Detroit’s Matthew Boyd. Bumgarner, of course, isn’t the same pitcher he was a few years ago, but interested teams will remember his postseason heroics for the Giants, capped by his World Series MVP award in 2014.
The Yankees, still making do without injured starters Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery — and using reliever Chad Green as an “opener” every fifth day — are at the head of the list of contenders needing rotation help. But they will have competition from the Milwaukee Brewers, Astros, Rays and Colorado Rockies.
*Caution to the wind. In this era of cautious front offices, when most teams are scared of giving up top prospects and true blockbusters are rarer than ever, there are still GMs out there willing to go big. (Boston’s Dave Dombrowski, for example, has traded for Gary Sheffield, Mike Piazza, Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, David Price and Chris Sale.)
And chances are somebody — presumably somebody on the fringes of contention, with a championship window that is closing — will go all-in on 2019. Perhaps that somebody might be Mike Rizzo of the Nationals.
A month ago, everyone was talking about the Nationals as potential trade-deadline sellers, with would-be buyers examining stars such as third baseman Anthony Rendon and ace Scherzer as possible blockbuster acquisitions. But a 21-9 spurt (entering the weekend) since May 23 has altered the narrative, and — depending on whether the next few weeks bring more of the same or a regression — may have shifted the Nationals into the buyers category.
With little visible progress on a contract extension for Rendon, a pending free agent, the Nationals may also fit the profile of a contender whose window is closing. It wouldn’t be unlike Rizzo to get aggressive to maximize the team’s chances in 2019 if he sees an opportunity.
There is still time to decide, of course, but not as much time as there used to be. After July 31, across the majors, it’s pencils down.