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Greatest Deadline Trade in History?

So, we're all set in the National League. The Brewers are in, the Mets are out. It's Brewers at Phillies, and Dodgers at Cubs in the first round.

The American League may be set after the White Sox play their makeup game today against the Tigers, or (if the White Sox win), it could get extended to a Tuesday one-game playoff against the Twins. Either way, you've got the Red Sox at the Angels, and the AL Central champ at the Rays in the first round.

Now, about the question posed in the title to this entry... A handful of teams each summer make a huge gamble, sacrificing a sizeable chunk of their future for a short-term infusion of excellence, in the form of one supremely talented player the team believes will put them over the top.

It rarely works that way, and sometimes (the Expos' 2002 trade of prospects Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon comes immediately to mind) it is so disastrous, it sets back a franchise for years and years.

But the Brewers' acquisition of CC Sabathia will be remembered forever as one of the greatest trade deadline deals of all time, after what Sabathia has done over the past two weeks. Three times, he took the ball on three days' rest, and all three times he alowed one or zero earned runs -- culminating in yesterday's brilliant four-hit complete game on the season's final day. (He actually lost in the first of those three starts, thanks in part to three unearned runs.)

Sabathia's numbers since the trade from the Indians: 11-2, 1.65 ERA, seven complete games and three shutouts in 17 starts.

It goes without saying that the Brewers absolutely do not make the playoffs without Sabathia, particularly given Ben Sheets' injury-induced crash-and-burn. Yes, the Brewers gave up a lot to get Sabathia from the Indians -- prospect Matt LaPorta, the centerpiece of the package that went to Cleveland, was the top-rated position player in their farm system (LaPorta's minor league numbers in parts of two seasons: 477 ABs, 34 HRs, 105 RBI, .285 BA, .959 OPS) -- and yes, in all likelihood Sabathia, a pending free agent, will walk away after the season.

But for the Brewers, a team that hadn't made the playoffs in 26 years, it was a deal that had to be made.

Is it the best deadline trade in history?

You can be the judge. Here, as I see it, are the other contenders:

*1984: Cubs acquire Rick Sutcliffe from the Indians. Sutcliffe went 16-1 for the Cubs down the stretch, lifting them to the playoffs and becoming the only pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in a season in which he was traded between leagues in midseason (Sabathia has an outside chance of becoming the second). Among the players the Cubs gave up: Joe Carter, who went on to hit 396 homers (plus a monumental one in the 1993 World Series).

*1993: Braves acquire Fred McGriff from the Padres. The Braves went 51-17 after the trade, catching the Giants (who missed the playoffs despite winning 103 games) on the final weekend of the season. McGriff's contribution in those 68 games: 17 homers, 55 RBI. None of the three players the Braves gave up made impacts in the majors.

(Side note: I covered McGriff's first game for the Braves that year for The Post. The game was memorable for one other reason -- the press box caught on fire before the game. I remember standing down on the field during batting practice and looking up at the press box burning and wondering what I was going to tell my boss if my laptop perished in the blaze. Thankfully, it survived.)

*1998: Astros acquire Randy Johnson from the Mariners. Johnson merely went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA after the trade, but this one loses points in that the Astros were already in first place at the time, and Johnson went 0-2 in the playoffs (despite pitching well). Also, the package the Astros gave up included three players who made impacts in the majors (Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, John Halama).

In truth, it's too early to evaluate the Sabathia trade in relation to the others, since we don't know how LaPorta is going to pan out, and we don't know how Sabathia will pitch in the playoffs (remember how he bombed for the Indians last October?). We also don't know whether the Brewers can re-sign him -- I'd say it's highly doubtful.

But given those caveats, where do you think this trade ranks among the other three I mentioned? Or do you have another trade in mind that trumps all of them?

By Dave Sheinin  |  September 29, 2008; 8:49 AM ET
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Next: Silver Lining?


Do you think the Dodgers would have made the playoffs this year without Manny Ramirez? Just yesterday you declared him the NL MVP, and today you've forgotten about him?

Posted by: how 'bout we wait til the playoffs play out before we decide this one? | September 29, 2008 10:01 AM | Report abuse

A laptop in 1993? Was it the size of a toolbox?

And thanks for bringing up Joe Carter's '93 home run. Sheesh . . .

Posted by: Philly Phan in Phairfax | September 29, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Anderson Hernandez for Luis Ayala.

Posted by: Subtraction by Addition | September 29, 2008 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Doyle Alexander to the Tigers for (a young unknown and unproven) John Smoltz?

Posted by: TG | September 29, 2008 10:53 AM | Report abuse

The White Sox-Tigers game is delayed by rain? Somebody really must have angered the baseball weather gods...

Posted by: natsfan1a | September 29, 2008 3:36 PM | Report abuse

And the winner is: Ernie Broglio to the Cubs for Lou Brock.

Posted by: ce | September 29, 2008 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Jeff Bagwell for Larry Anderson comes to mind!

Posted by: stro fan | September 29, 2008 10:46 PM | Report abuse

For historical impact, how about Nomar and Murton for Mienkewicz (sp?) and Orlando Cabrera? A trade that helped to end the curse of the Bambino isn't too shabby.

Posted by: Geezer | September 30, 2008 5:29 PM | Report abuse

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