New York has soared since acquiring red-hot slugger in July
By Terence Moore
Any day now, you expect Yoenis Cespedes to walk across the Hudson River, not barefoot but in his baseball cleats. He needs them to keep his footing for all of those clutch hits. The bottom line: If the Mets hadn't acquired this savior of a slugger before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, they would be struggling to make the playoffs instead of having surged to the top the National League East.
Call it the Fred McGriff factor.
Yes, I know. In addition to McGriff, there were others who preceded Cespedes as the primary catalyst for their new team after a midseason trade, but McGriff is the epitome of it all.
Despite future Hall of Fame pitchers Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, the pre-McGriff Braves sputtered midway through the 1993 season. They were a mess at the plate and in the standings. Then came the Braves' trade with the Padres that July for McGriff, and during his first game with a tomahawk across his chest, he slammed a home run that sparked Atlanta toward a 51-19 finish. The NL West back then featured the 103-win Giants, but those Braves rode McGriff's career-high 37 homers and clutch bat to win 104 for a playoff berth.
Cespedes is McGriff. Maybe.
I said maybe, because maybe David Price will be McGriff. Prior to acquiring Price from the Tigers and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from the Rockies, the Blue Jays' playoff situation was shaky. More specifically, the Yankees had a six-game lead in the American League East at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. But those deals for Price and Tulowitzki shot Toronto to the top of the division. The Jays now lead the Yanks by 3 1/2 games, and nobody else is close.
Things are cozier in the AL West, where the Rangers have their own candidate for the next McGriff in pitcher Cole Hamels. One moment, Hamels was throwing a no-hitter for the Phillies, and the next, he was headed to a struggling team operating as an afterthought in the AL West behind the Astros and the Angels. Now, Texas is at the forefront of everybody's mind, because this suddenly Hamels-inspired bunch is only 1 1/2 games from first-place Houston in the division.
Just so many potential McGriffs this season.
Or how about potential Rick Sutcliffes? After all, Sutcliffe was McGriff before McGriff when the right-handed pitcher joined the Cubs in a June 1984 trade from the Indians. If you think the Cubs are jinxed now, well, consider that they've reached the postseason six times during the past 31 years, including three times during a stretch from 2003-08.
Sound modest? Probably, but that is marvelous when you consider the Cubs owned zero playoff appearances during the 37 years before Sutcliffe came to Chicago's North Side with his brilliant arm. He went 16-1 after he arrived, and the Cubs captured their division. Not only that, but Sutcliffe earned the NL Cy Young Award, and he finished fourth in the NL Most Valuable Player Award voting.
Three years later, Doyle Alexander became Sutcliffe, which means it wasn't all bad for the Tigers after they traded an obscure Minor Leaguer named John Smoltz to the Braves in 1987 for Alexander, an established pitcher. Detroit was in the midst of a wild divisional race, and it needed Alexander more than Smoltz during the club's attempt to hold off Toronto.
Alexander complied. He went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA for the Tigers, and they reached the AL Championship Series against the Twins before losing.
David Justice did better than that for the Yankees. He joined them in the middle of the 2000 season from the Indians, and he ripped 20 homers with 60 RBIs in 78 games before the playoffs. Once there, Justice became the MVP of the ALCS along the way to a World Series title for the Yanks.
Four years after that, Carlos Beltran pushed the Astros to within a victory of reaching the World Series. He hit a combined .435 (20-for-46) with eight homers, 14 RBIs and six steals in 12 games against the Braves and later the Cardinals in the playoffs. That was after Beltran spent 90 games with Houston, hitting 23 homers, following his trade from Kansas City that summer.
In 2008, CC Sabathia pitched like crazy after a midseason deal involving the Indians and Brewers. If he didn't throw every day down the stretch for Milwaukee, it seemed that way. Sabathia finished the Brewers' portion of his season with an 11-2 record and a 1.65 ERA. Those Brewers made the playoffs, and so did the '08 Dodgers when "Mannywood" surfaced after they acquired Manny Ramirez from the Red Sox. He ended his 53 regular-season games in Los Angeles with a .396 batting average, 17 homers and 53 RBIs.
That's impressive. It's just that McGriff had something in 1993 that neither Ramirez nor any of those others had ... a fire.
Soon after McGriff joined the Braves that July evening, flames engulfed the press box at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It was a signal from the baseball gods of things to come for McGriff, who somehow transferred the heat from the press box to the chilly bats of his new teammates.
Cespedes hasn't yet done that fire thing with the Mets. But he could.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.