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Magnificent 7: Memorable August trades in MLB history

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Plenty of waiver deals have made an impact one way or another.

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The non-waiver trade deadline has passed, but deals will still be made in baseball for the next month or so. Trades can be made in August but they require placing players on waivers first.

That adds an extra layer of bureaucracy to the process, but it by no means prevents player movement. Plenty of players will be traded this August, and as long as they are with their new team before Sept. 1 they are eligible for the postseason. In 2017 there were 30 trades in August, including eight on the final day of the month.

Sometimes there is so much movement it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Russell Branyan back in 2007 was traded twice in August, for instance. He didn’t make much of a name for himself on either the Phillies or Cardinals, but there were plenty of other memorable August trades.

The lone star

The most recent example of an impactful August trade might be the best one, with the Tigers winning the World Series with a dominant Justin Verlander in 2017.

The longtime Tigers ace wasn’t dealt before the non-waiver deadline of July 31 thanks in part to his mediocre start (a 4.29 ERA at the time) and his exorbitant contract (two years at $28 million per remaining after 2017 for his age-35 and -36 seasons). That same contract made it easy for Verlander to clear waivers, allowing him to be moved in August.

Verlander had veto power, with over 10 years of big league service time, including at least the last five years with one team, which gave him a say in any potential trade. His market increased thanks to a resurgent August. In his last seven starts for Detroit, Verlander had a 2.06 ERA with 56 strikeouts against only 10 walks. The Astros swooped in and traded for the right-hander on Aug. 31, with Verlander approving the deal just minutes before the deadline, telling the Houston Chronicle it was “the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in baseball.”

The results were a fairy tale for the Astros, who saw Verlander pitch in 11 games for Houston in the regular season and postseason combined, with the Astros winning 10. Verlander allowed 13 total runs for a paltry 1.66 ERA, and the Astros won the World Series in seven games.

The Punto trade

The most expensive trade in baseball history was an August deal, with two franchises looking to clean up messes. The Red Sox were having a disastrous season under manager Bobby Valentine, headed for 93 losses and a last-place finish in the AL East. The Dodgers were in the first few months with a new ownership group looking to rebuild the brand after previous owner Frank McCourt dragged the team through bankruptcy.

Looking to make a splash, the Dodgers coveted first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and the cost for taking him on was absorbing the onerous contracts of injured outfielder Carl Crawford and pitcher Josh Beckett. The deal was affectionately referred to by some Dodgers fans as The Punto Trade in honor of utility man Nick Punto, one of nine players in the deal. In all, over $250 million in contracts changed hands in the transaction.

The Red Sox got a fresh start out of the deal, plus loads of salary relief, which was used to sign starters Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino plus pitchers Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara, all of whom contributed to a 97-win team in 2013, culminating in a World Series win.

The Dodgers in 2012 were trying to recover from Mickey Mouse ownership.
Photo: MLB

The Dodgers didn’t get a World Series win out of the deal, but it established a new luxurious pattern for the franchise, paying an MLB-high $150 million in competitive balance tax from 2013-17. Los Angeles did win five consecutive NL West titles in those years, with Gonzalez a big part of the first four of those teams.

The win-win

Everyone remembers the Tigers’ acquisition of Doyle Alexander in August 1987 as the trade that brought John Smoltz to the Braves. With good reason, as Smoltz is in the Hall of Fame. But at the time he was a 20-year-old with a 5.68 ERA in Double-A, and for where the two franchises were at the moment both teams got exactly what they wanted out of the deal.

Detroit was in a dog fight in the American League East with the Blue Jays, trailing Toronto by 1½ games when they made the deal for a nearly 37-year-old Alexander on August 12. The veteran right-hander was essentially a league average pitcher in Atlanta, maybe slightly above, but with the Tigers he had the best stretch of his career.

Alexander made 11 starts for Detroit and the Tigers won all 11 games. He was 9-0 with a ridiculous 1.53 ERA and averaged a tick over eight innings per start. They needed every bit of it, beating Toronto by two games to win the division, including a sweep of the Blue Jays in the final weekend of the season, with Alexander winning the opener.

By 1987, Alexander was in his 17th major league season playing for his eighth team, after getting traded for the seventh time. “I have no loyalty. I win for the team I play for,” Alexander said, per the Sporting News.

The Tigers’ run did not have a fairy tale ending though, as the Twins dispatched them in five games in the ALCS, with Alexander posting a 10.00 ERA in his two starts.

Well, it’s in the bag

Just three seasons later, another 37-year-old pitcher switched teams in August for a substantial return. This time it was reliever Larry Andersen, dealt from the Astros to the Red Sox in 1990.

Boston had a 6-game lead in the AL East when they plucked Andersen for relief help, and he was very effective down the stretch. Andersen had a paltry 1.23 ERA in 22 innings for the Red Sox, with 25 strikeouts and three walks, and Boston won the division.

But the cost was steep, with 22-year-old Double-A third baseman Jeff Bagwell traded to Houston. Bagwell moved across the diamond to first base and started in the majors the next year, and ended up with 449 home runs, all with the Astros. Bagwell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017, two years after Smoltz.

Hail Cesar!

Cesar Cedeño helped the Cardinals get to the 1985 World Series.
The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

The Cardinals were nursing a 2½-game lead over the Mets in the National League East, and needed an extra bat when first baseman Jack Clark was sidelined with a rib cage injury. On August 29 they plucked 34-year-old Cesar Cedeño from the Reds for a minor league pitcher named Mark Jackson who would never reach the majors. The expectations were low for Cedeño.

“He’s not going to be playing a great deal unless we have injuries, but it’s nice to have someone on your bench to make managers do something they might not want to do,” Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill told the Sporting News.

Cedeño was hitting just .241/.307/.336 with Cincinnati, a far cry from the dynamic star he was a decade earlier with the Astros, averaging 49 stolen bases from 1972-80 while posting a 136 OPS+. Cedeño in his prime would have been a perfect fit for Whitey Herzog’s 1980s Cardinals, especially in 1985 when they stole a whopping 314 bases and led the league in runs scored while ranking 11th in a 12-team National League in home runs.

The veteran Cedeño was a great addition anyway. He homered on the first pitch he saw with St. Louis, and despite playing only 28 games with the Cardinals tied for six on the team with six home runs. Cedeño hit an absurd .434/.463/.750 to help St. Louis to their second divisional crown in four seasons. He was just 4-for-27 (.148) in the postseason though as the Cardinals lost the World Series in seven games to Kansas City.

Magic Marlon

Sometimes the most notable deals come out of nowhere. The Dodgers couldn’t have expected much out of versatile infielder Marlon Anderson when they traded minor league pitcher Jhonny Nuñez for him on Aug. 31, trying to bolster a playoff push. But what they got was incredible.

Anderson hit seven home runs in the final month for the Dodgers, two more than he hit in the first five months of the season with the Nationals. Anderson played his way into a regular role in left field with the Dodgers down the stretch, thanks to hitting .375/.431/.813 in 25 games. The highlight came on September 18, when Anderson capped a 5-for-5 game by hitting his second home run of the night, a game-tying blast that was the last of four consecutive home runs by the Dodgers in the ninth inning.

Arch madness

Larry Walker was nearing the end of a criminally-underrated career in 2004, and missed the first 68 games of the season with the Rockies with a groin strain. The 37-year-old was traded to the Cardinals on August 6, less than a week after rejecting potential trades to Rangers and Marlins before the non-waiver deadline.

St. Louis was a powerhouse in 2004, already with a 9½-game lead at the time of the trade, and on their way to 105 wins. They were looking for an offensive boost with Walker, and he provided that and then some, joining an already impressive heart of the order that included Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds.

“You look at this lineup and you wonder, ‘How can it get any better?’ And it did,” outfielder Reggie Sanders said of the deal.

Walker was plenty productive down the stretch for the Cardinals, hitting .280/.393/.560 with 11 home runs in 44 games. But he made his bones in the postseason for St. Louis, hitting six home runs in October, hitting .293/.379/.707 in helping St. Louis get to the World Series in just the second postseason trip of Walker’s career.