The Brewers traded for Gerardo Parra on Thursday to help try and get them into the postseason. It wasn’t a particularly splashy move, as Parra is a somewhat limited player in his overall ability, but he possesses a few attributes that the Brewers think can help them get by the other contenders in the NL Central for the crown. He gives them a badly needed left-handed bat to help balance their lineup against tough right-handed pitching and also brings good defense and versatility to the table.
It was a smart move. It was the kind of move that the St. Louis Cardinals have made a habit of making over the years, including this one, for a couple of important reasons.
When it comes to making trades at the deadline, the Cardinals haven’t succumbed to fan and media pressure to go out and land a “difference-making” star since trading for Matt Holiday at the deadline in 2009. While other teams, even some very smart and well run ones, often bend to the pressure of giving up top prospects to acquire a big name, the Cardinals have instead contented themselves with making smaller and more targeted moves. All they have to show for it is three trips to the postseason, six series victories and a World Series title.
Here is a sampling of their biggest July moves:
July 31st 2010: Sent Ryan Ludwick to the Padres and acquired Jake Westbrook from the Indians as part of a three team deal.
July 27th 2011: Traded Colby Rasmus and three others to Toronto for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Corey Patterson, and Marc Rzepczynski.
July 31st 2012: Traded Zack Cox to Miami for Edward Mujica.
July 30th 2013: Traded a PTBNL (Michael Blazek) to Milwaukee for John Axford.
July 30th 2014: Traded James Ramsey to Cleveland in exchange for Justin Masterson.
July 31st 2014: Traded Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to Boston for John Lackey.
It’s kind of a remarkable list, considering all the players that they could have been temped to trade in those years to get that “big name.” Guys like Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Lance Lynn, Oscar Tavares, Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams and numerous current prospects all could have found themselves on their way out of town for the stud du jour. Best as I can tell, though, they haven’t given up one of the top three prospects in their system in a trade since making that trade for Holiday in 2009.
What they have done on a more regular basis is trade players with some major league experience who they’ve already gotten some use out of but aren’t yet past their prime. Players like Ludwick, Rasmus, Craig, Kelly along with others like Skip Schumaker and David Freese. They’ve also made a habit of going after guys who maybe are under performing at the moment but possess more ability that they can try to tap into.
As a result of these decisions and some other savvy moves over the years, they’ve managed to contend on an annual basis and have avoided the kinds of ups and downs that so many other teams have gone through. They appear set up to contend now and well into the foreseeable future.
Which brings us back to the Brewers. The last two times the Brewers found themselves in the position of clear cut contenders, it was due in large part to trades that involved some of their very best prospects. In 2008, they traded their top prospect and a couple of others in exchange for three months of CC Sabathia. In 2011, it wasn’t a mid-year trade of top prospects, but rather a pair of off season trades that landed them Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke that set them up to contend the following summer.
In both cases, the deals “worked” in that the team made the playoffs that particular year. They did little to address the long-term issue that has long faced the club, though: that being the need for young, cost controlled pitching. All in all, the Brewers gave up 53 years of team control in those trades, much of it from very highly regarded and valuable prospects, in exchange for what amounted to 4.5 years of control of three pitchers.
This is a very tough way to win in a small market that has to depend on having a good number of cheap, cost controlled players to fill out it’s roster and hardly seems sustainable over the long run. Some will point out that not all of the Brewers prospects traded away have panned out, and this is certainly true. What the Oakland A’s have shown in recent years is that if you don’t like your own prospects and young players, if you scout and trade well you can build a winner around trading them away for other team’s youngsters and win that way. So the choice wasn’t get Sabathia, Marcum, and Greinke or nothing and surely miss the playoffs. They could have made other moves, moves we’ll never know about, and quite possibly had great success that way.
Seeing the Brewers elect to hold onto their young players this deadline may have been disappointing to some, but it’s probably in the best long-term interest of the franchise. They made a smart, targeted move on Thursday to fill a hole on their roster that most definitely needed filling. If the Brewers ever want to become a team that can compete on a year in, year out basis like the Cardinals do, at some point they’re going to have to start saying no to the quick fix and pay more attention to the long haul. Maybe it won’t last, maybe they’ll decide to start giving up top prospects in exchange for rentals this off season. Still, Thursday felt like at least a small step in the right direction, not because of what they did, but instead because of what they didn’t do.