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Game of risk

The Baltimore Sun

And in the case of the aging O'Neal, it's a huge gamble because the Suns got an inside presence in the short run but forfeited a young, rising star by sending Shawn Marion to the Miami Heat.

Mid- or late-season trades can cut both ways. Sometimes they're that extra shot of talent a team needs to propel it to the finish line. Sometimes the deals leave teams looking like the rube in a bad horse trade.

One that worked well was the Astros' deal with the Seattle Mariners that brought Randy Johnson to Houston for the stretch drive of the 1998 season. Johnson was 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA for the Mariners through late July. After swapping jerseys, he went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and finished seventh in the National League Cy Young Award voting. Houston won its division but lost in the playoffs. The next season, Johnson signed as a free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Another deal that worked out for the contending team occurred in 1987, when the Detroit Tigers acquired well-traveled pitcher Doyle Alexander from the Atlanta Braves. Alexander, nearing his 37th birthday, went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA and helped his new team to a division title. Alexander's luck ran out in the playoffs, though, and Detroit might have regretted letting go of the prospect it shipped to the Braves - John Smoltz, who has gone on to win 207 games and save 154.

At midseason in 1995, the Orioles were a game over .500 and in the divisional hunt, 4 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox, when they traded for the New York Mets' Bobby Bonilla. Bonilla played well for the Orioles, batting .333 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs, but the team went into a tailspin and finished 15 games behind Boston. The good news for the Orioles was that Bonilla helped them make the playoffs as a wild card in 1996.

The sports landscape is littered with similar midseason deals. In late August 1990, the Red Sox needed relief help, so they traded a prospect to the Astros for veteran right-handed reliever Larry Andersen, who pitched only 22 innings for them. Boston won the division but lost the pennant. But the Red Sox also gave up Jeff Bagwell, a career .297 hitter.

On the other side of a similar deal, in late July 1997, the Red Sox traded reliever Heathcliff Slocumb to Seattle, which made the playoffs. But Boston wound up getting Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe in return.

Returning to basketball, midseason trades are just as unpredictable. During the 2003-04 season, Rasheed Wallace changed jerseys twice, going from the Portland Trail Blazers to Atlanta Hawks to Detroit Pistons. Playing 22 regular-season games and the playoffs for the Pistons, he helped lead them to a stunning win over the Lakers for the NBA title.

Meanwhile, last season's NBA superstar trade that sent Allen Iverson from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Denver Nuggets brought together two of the league's most prolific scorers, Iverson and Baltimore's Carmelo Anthony. The Nuggets were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last season and are scrambling to stay in the playoff hunt this season - and watching to see how the recent deals work out for their rivals.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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