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Deadline lessons for rebuilding clubs

July 11, 2018

Now about the other side of those Trade Deadline deals. Or to put it another way, "Where would the Atlanta Braves be without them?" Other 2018 contenders have benefited, too, including the Cubs, Athletics, D-backs, Indians, Phillies and Yankees.Yankees? Wait, what? Since when?The Yankees aren't sellers very often. Like almost

Now about the other side of those Trade Deadline deals. Or to put it another way, "Where would the Atlanta Braves be without them?" Other 2018 contenders have benefited, too, including the Cubs, Athletics, D-backs, Indians, Phillies and Yankees.
Yankees? Wait, what? Since when?
The Yankees aren't sellers very often. Like almost never. But when they've done it, they've done it better than almost anyone.
In fact, a pair of 2016 Trade Deadline deals stand as among the best in showing how both clubs can benefit. So if the Orioles are your team and you're getting tired of reading about how Manny Machado and Zach Britton are headed out of town, take heart.
This summer's standings are filled with stories of teams that committed to rebuilds and came out on the other side in great shape. That's important to remember at a time when a handful of teams -- using the Royals, Cubs and Astros as models -- have committed to full-scale tear-down-and-rebuild plans.
Here are some players acquired -- not all of them at the Trade Deadline -- in recent seasons who are having a major impact on this year's races. In parentheses is the name of the headliner who went the other way.
Braves: left-hander Sean Newcomb (Andrelton Simmons), center fielder Ender Inciarte (Shelby Miller) and right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (Evan Gattis)
Athletics: left-hander Sean Manaea (Benjamin Zobrist) and right-hander Frankie Montas (Rich Hill)
D-backs: left-hander Patrick Corbin (Dan Haren)
Phillies: catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams (both Cole Hamels)
Indians: outfielder Michael Brantley (Carsten Sabathia)
We rightfully focus on the stars on the move: Machado to the Brewers or Dodgers, Britton to the Astros or Red Sox. Etc. But the Yankees have shown what can happen when a really smart front office recognizes its situation -- sometimes the hardest thing to do -- and uses its assets wisely.
Two 2016 examples:
• The Yankees shipped closer Albertin Chapman to the Cubs for a package of prospects, among them infielder Gleyber Torres, who is the front-runner for the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year Award. The Cubs got what they wanted out of the deal because they won the World Series with Chapman anchoring their bullpen. Torres could make the Hall of Fame and the larger narrative will still be about the Cubs.
(Did we mention that the Yankees re-signed Chapman before the 2017 season?)
• Six days later, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made another smart deal when he sent lefty reliever Andrew Miller to the Indians for more prospects. Cleveland manager Terry Francona made Miller a multi-inning weapon that got the Tribe all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
In return, the Yankees got back, among others, lefty Justus Sheffield and outfielder Clint Frazier, who helped build baseball's strongest farm system and could be used in the coming weeks to put, say, Machado in pinstripes.
Trade Deadline moves do not always work out as planned, which isn't even the point. If you're a "seller," the goal is to maximize your current assets so that you'll be a "buyer" sooner rather than later.
Speaking of "buyers," there's always risk in surrendering prospects. As Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski once said, "I stay awake at night thinking about some of these prospects I just traded."
Dombrowski spoke those words in 2012 as GM of the Tigers after sending three young players (catcher Rob Brantly, right-hander Jacob Turner and lefty Brian Flynn) to the Marlins for veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante. Dombrowski got the best of that deal, but he didn't get the World Series trophy he had in mind.
The important thing to remember is that Deadline deals are not a zero-sum game. There is perhaps no better example than the legendary Tigers-Braves swap in the summer of 1987. At the time, Detroit was battling Toronto for the AL East crown, and in an effort to boost their rotation, the Tigers sent a pitching prospect to the Braves for veteran right-hander Doyle Alexander. He went 9-0 down the stretch and the Tigers won all 11 of his regular-season starts. But Detroit was eliminated by Kirby Puckett and the Twins in the AL Championship Series, and that was that.
That kid pitcher, John Smoltz, spent 21 years in the Major Leagues, winning 213 games and saving 154. He pitched in 40 postseason games for the Braves and was inducted into the Hall of Fame three years ago.
In the end, both sides got what they'd hoped for. The Tigers got to the postseason, but ran into a Twins team on a magical ride. Meanwhile, the Braves received a foundational piece for one of the great runs of dominance -- a record 14 straight first-place finishes -- in history.
As Dombrowski said, giving up prospects is a risk. But not taking advantage of an opportunity is inexcusable.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.