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Matthew Leach

Look to past to see Trade Deadline future

Leach: Look to past to see Trade Deadline future

Look to past to see Trade Deadline future
When the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, we spend a lot of time looking forward. The questions tend to be about how this player might help this team down the stretch or what this prospect could be in the future.

Instead, let's take a look at the past for insight. A study of the pennant winners in each league from the past 10 seasons revealed a few trends and patterns in the July moves that can lead to October glory. It's far from scientific, more like a playbook with a variety of options. Take a look at some of the paths this year's contenders might follow:

THE PLAN: The big move

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The example: The 2010 Rangers did a variety of things in the middle part of the season, but none bigger than their trade for Cliff Lee. The most prominent prize on the trade market, the 2008 American League Cy Young winner commanded a four-player package for the Mariners to send him to Texas. Curiously, Lee didn't have a great regular-season run as a Ranger, but the playoffs were another matter.

Lee allowed two runs in 24 innings, helping propel Texas to its first pennant, before a rough outing in Game 1 of the World Series. Still, the Rangers got as far as they did in large part because of Lee, and there's little doubt they'd do the deal again if given the chance.

The 2012 edition: Two Lee-caliber pitchers are potentially on the market: the Brewers' Zack Greinke and the Phillies' Cole Hamels. There's no guarantee either will be dealt, and history suggests there's similarly no assurance that such an acquisition would punch a World Series ticket -- ask the 1998 Astros (Randy Johnson) or 2008 Brewers (CC Sabathia). But someone's going to want to take the chance, so how about the Angels? They have money, they're all-in to win this year and they have some young talent to trade.

THE PLAN: Bolster the bullpen

The example: There's nothing easier to fix in-season than a leaky bullpen. Last year's Rangers come to mind, but the 2010 Giants may have done better. A team that rode run prevention to a World Series title upgraded its relief corps with two canny Deadline-day acquisitions, Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez. They helped bridge the gap from their superb starters to closer Brian Wilson, and neither cost the Giants anything they've missed.

The 2012 edition: There's a long list of teams that could use relief help, but one contender that comes to mind is the Mets. They're getting quality starting pitching and have an underrated offense, but the bullpen has struggled mightily. A couple of clever, low-cost adds could help turn a feel-good story into a playoff team.

THE PLAN: Addition by subtraction

The examples: Sometimes a team decides it must remove players from its roster in order to get where it needs to go. The most recent example is the reigning World Series-champion Cardinals, who moved outfielder Colby Rasmus in order to upgrade their starting rotation and bullpen, but they're far from the only ones to have done such a thing. Those same 2010 Giants dealt catcher Bengie Molina in order to play Buster Posey regularly, and then there's the most famous example: the 2004 Red Sox.

Before riding a wave to the Series title, the Sox made a massive and difficult move in July, trading five-time All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs in a four-team deal that brought in Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. It was an enormous gamble that paid off spectacularly, as the Sox fortified their defense en route to the franchise's first World Series championship in 86 years.

The 2012 edition: Well, how about the 2012 Red Sox? More in the mold of those Giants than their 2004 forebears, the Sox shipped Kevin Youkilis to Chicago last month. They did so in order to make room for top prospect Will Middlebrooks, and also perhaps in hopes of a more harmonious clubhouse dynamic. It hasn't really taken so far, as Boston has played .500 ball since the deal, but if Middlebrooks drives the Sox to a postseason berth, you can bet you'll hear a lot about the trade ex post facto.

THE PLAN: Wait until August

The example: The 2004 Cardinals did not add a single Major League player in July, in large part because they didn't need to. They had a seven-game lead at the All-Star break that had ballooned to 10 games by July 22. Nobody was catching this team. So they sat out on July 31 and then on Aug. 6 made a big add in the form of a waiver-wire trade with Colorado for Larry Walker.

The veteran slugger deepened an already potent lineup, bolstered an already solid clubhouse and reaffirmed the Redbirds as the team to beat in the National League. It was a move based on opportunity, rather than worry or desperation.

The 2012 edition: The Yankees might well fit this description, for a couple of reasons. They're rarely very aggressive about midseason dealing in any year, and they hold a hefty nine-game lead in the American League East. New York might add around the edges, and it might add a bat. But the Yanks' primary asset, cash, is more valuable in August, when players must pass through waivers to be dealt, than in July, when prospects are the prime currency.

Matthew Leach is a national reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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