By Marc Normandin
The July 31 trade deadline gets all the love, but it's not the final moment for any and all trades to occur within baseball. That's just the non-waiver trade deadline, which in its simplest form just means players who have not been placed on and cleared waivers can be traded. From Aug. 1 through the end of the season, players need to clear waivers before they can be dealt, or they can only be dealt to the team who claimed them to keep them from clearing in the first place. Aug. 31 is something of a second deadline, because players acquired after that date are not eligible for playoff rosters.
Thanks to the extra layer of complication and the fact that once August gets going there are even fewer games on the schedule -- i.e., fewer reasons to make a move -- there are fewer waiver-related trades than there are non-waiver ones in the previous month. There have still been plenty of significant August moves, though, so we've picked four of the most significant, franchise-shaping swaps in the month's surprisingly storied history.
Aug. 30, 1990: Astros and Red Sox
Jeff Bagwell played his entire major-league career with the Astros. He didn't play his entire professional career in their organization, however, as he was a Red Sox farmhand at one time. That is, until the Sox sent him to Houston the day before the August deadline so they could get relief help in the form of veteran hurler Larry Andersen. Andersen was a decent arm and all, and helped the Red Sox over the season's final month-plus as they pushed for first place in what was then a two-division format, but Bagwell was something special even at the time. The Red Sox didn't recognize it, but the signs were there.
Bagwell was 22 years old and batted .333/.422/.457 in Double-A. That looks good, but it's also deceiving: as Bill James chronicled in his 1991 Major League Handbook, the Eastern League where Bagwell played was a pitcher's league, and his home park in New Britain was a pitcher's park. Bagwell hit .333 in pitcher paradise as a 22-year-old, in a league where the average batter was close to 24 and had only managed to bat .250/.318/.344. Bagwell's .457 slugging is stunningly great when you consider that context. The Sox didn't notice or didn't care (or maybe both!), though, so then-general manager Lou Gorman sent Bagwell to Houston for a reliever rental.
If the Astros were also unaware of how good Bagwell was, this was soon fixed. He would win the Rookie of the Year award in 1991 for putting up a 139 OPS+ and a .294/.387/.437 line despite another severe pitcher's park, the Astrodome. He would then earn MVP votes in each of the next six seasons, while winning the actual award in 1994 after batting .368/.451/.750 with 39 homers and 73 extra-base hits. Reminder: Bagwell only played 110 games in 1994 thanks to that whole season-ending strike, but he still managed to do all that.
Bagwell would stick with Houston for 15 years before injuries caused him to hang it up at 37, but he hit 449 homers with a career 149 OPS+ before that happened. That was good for fifth among all players in that time period who managed at least 7,500 plate appearances -- Bagwell had over 9,400 -- behind only Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield, and Edgar Martinez. And the Astros got it all thanks to one seemingly tiny waiver deal for a rental reliever.
August 27, 1992: Blue Jays and Mets
David Cone is possibly best known for his work in New York with both the Yankees and Mets, with at least a hint of Royals in there to boot. He was ever-so-briefly in Canada on the Toronto Blue Jays, though, and it all happened because of a late-August move meant to bolster the Jays' contention. On Aug. 27, 1992, the Jays were 2.5 games up in the American League East, but were in the midst of a sub-par month, the only one in which they ended up finishing under .500. The Mets were going nowhere, so they dealt Cone for a rookie infielder named Jeff Kent as well as a player to be named later who ended up being future journeyman Ryan Thompson.
Cone was a free agent at season's end, so it made sense for the Mets to get something from him during a rough year. The Jays were in first place late in the year with a legitimate shot at bringing home a World Series title to Canada for the first time ever -- remember, back in 1993, there were only two rounds of playoffs, so just making the playoffs meant more for a team's chances from that perspective.
The 29-year-old right-hander was lights out for the Jays the rest of the way, posting a 161 ERA+ and .2.55 ERA in his eight starts, with another four starts and 22 innings in October. The Jays would go on to win that World Series -- and another sans Cone in 1993 -- while Cone would go back to the Royals before becoming a playoff mainstay in the latter portion of the 90s with the Yankees.
As for Jeff Kent, he, like Cone, has an at least arguable case for Cooperstown. It didn't happen with the Mets, as he was good, but not great until he bloomed later in his career with the Giants, but this was still a trade that featured two eventual stars of their time.
Aug. 12, 1987: Braves and Tigers
The Red Sox weren't the first team to give up a Hall of Famer in August, you know. The Tigers ended up in a similar situation thanks to a mid-August deal that saw them acquire a stretch-run starter in exchange for a man who is on the ballot for Cooperstown next year in John Smoltz. Doyle Alexander, the return for Smoltz, was no rental at least, but he helped the Tigers get just about as far as the 1990 Sox.
It should be pointed out that Alexander was awesome for the Tigers after they dealt for him. He made 11 starts and threw 87 innings over the season's last month-and-a-half, and posted a 1.53 ERA -- a 279 ERA+ -- in that stretch. He did blow it in his two ALCS starts against the Twins, giving up 10 runs in nine innings, but he's also part of the reason they even made it to begin with, as the Tigers were actually 1.5 games back of the division leading Blue Jays on the day they dealt for Alexander. They would end up finishing the season up by a pair, with 98 wins. It was a tight race with two great clubs, but the Tigers made it to the top thanks in large part to Alexander's contributions.
He'd stick around for another two years, but both were below-average campaigns and he ended up leading the AL in losses in 1989 before calling it a career. Smoltz's own career was just getting going then, as 1989 was the 22-year-old's first full season as a starter, and it ended with a 123 ERA+. Smoltz would finish up in 2009 after spending 20 years with the Braves then spending half-a-season each in Boston and then St. Louis, and did so with nearly 3,500 innings of Cooperstown-caliber pitching behind him.
Aug. 25, 2012: Red Sox and Dodgers
This might be the largest trade ever, never mind that August-only stuff. The Red Sox sent a quarter-of-a-billion dollars in contracts to the Dodgers in the form of Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and, of course, Nick Punto -- whom this trade is named after -- in exchange for a few pitching prospects, a few spare pieces lying around Los Angeles, and the freedom to build the roster that new general manager Ben Cherington wanted. The Dodgers got their statement move by flexing the financial muscle that their new ownership was almost too prepared to show off, while the Red Sox got the fresh start that was needed after the departed Theo Epstein had left his successor with little flexibility.
The 2012 Red Sox were an expensive joke, but this deal brought all kinds of new possibilites. The Red Sox had gone from an inflexible future to one full of possibility by shipping over $250 million in contracts out west, and they even managed to add a couple of young arms in Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa in the process. Acquiring Jerry Sands and Ivan DeJesus gave them pieces they would move in the winter to the Pirates in exchange for closer Joel Hanrahan and now super utility man Brock Holt, while Webster and De La Rosa are currently part of the future in Boston, be it in the rotation or in relief.
There was also that whole winning the World Series thing in 2013 that occurred because the Red Sox were able to reshuffle their rotation, outfield, and first base situation thanks to both the newly open spots and the money that was available to pay the likes of Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli.
The Dodgers might regret taking on Crawford's contract given his contributions and their currently crowded outfield, but they got Gonzalez and Beckett, who have been major contributors to the now perpetually contending Dodgers. It's a deal that has seemingly worked out for both sides, and the fact it was able to occur in August is something of a miracle, as all of these players had to clear waivers to make it work. With the way Crawford and Beckett were playing at the time and the money still owed them, it was obvious they would clear, but all it would have taken to keep this from happening was for one team with money to take a shot on claiming Adrian Gonzalez before the Dodgers did. No one pulled the trigger, though, so the Dodgers got the man they had been chasing for months, and Ben Cherington got his freedom.
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Marc Normandin writes and edits for Over the Monster, a Boston Red Sox blog, as well as SB Nation's baseball hub. He's one of many behind the e-book "The Hall of Nearly Great," and has written forBaseballProspectus, ESPN, and others. You can follow him on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin.