Looking Back on ‘The Trade’

On July 31st, 2004, the face of the Red Sox departed for another team struggling for many years to win a World Series. Both were in playoff contention. Both had come within five outs of a World Series berth the previous year. Would this trade help both sides and get them to the World Series, where they had a 50/50 shot of becoming World Champions?

On that day, Nomar Garciaparra was traded to the Chicago Cubs along with Matt Murton and obtained Orlando Cabrera from the Montreal Expos and Doug Mientkiewicz from the Minnesota Twins. What an odd trade, losing the face of Red Sox Nation who had peppered the entire of Fenway for years with his hits and being defended over and over as the best shortstop not named Rodriguez to Yankee fans who claimed (wrongly) that it was Jeter! And not only that, but losing an outfield prospect. To get what? Someone who was hitting .246/.298/.336 and someone who was losing his starting job with the Twins and ended the season hitting .238/.326/.350. And yet those horrible hitters got the Red Sox a World Series.

Don’t be fooled by those people who say the Red Sox would have won it with Nomar still around. This trade got the Red Sox what they needed. It got rid of what they needed to get rid of. It brought in a spark in Orlando Cabrera that completely jolted the Red Sox dugout. It brought energy, a breath of fresh air. It brought in a defensive first-baseman who gobbled up every ball and undoubtedly made Kevin Millar push himself more to contribute. It got someone who was on the field for the last out of the 2004 ALCS and World Series, the man who was involved in the play, nonetheless. A pitch by Alan Embree to Ruben Sierra who grounds out to Pokey Reese who fires to Doug Mientkiewicz. A pitch by Keith Foulke to Edgar Renteria who grounds out to Keith Foulke who tosses it to Doug Mientkiewicz.

These two people (and we’re not even mentioning Dave Roberts here!) got the Red Sox a World Series. Never mind no Doug Roberts. No Orlando Cabrera, no Doug Mientkiewicz … no World Series. No hot August streak carrying into September. None of that, but more pain and suffering.

An article by Bruce Miles yesterday produces an “anatomy of a trade” from Cubs GM Jim Hendry’s perspective. While not as anatomical as I’m used to seeing in these trade breakdowns, it’s still interesting enough to read. Some nice little tidbits:

Rumors had floated weeks before that the Cubs and the Red Sox were talking about a deal that would send Garciaparra to Chicago for pitcher Matt Clement. But with Cubs pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood fresh off injuries, Hendry let Boston GM Theo Epstein know he wasn’t moving Clement.

“Going to work that day, I got out of my car at 8 or 8:30,” Hendry said, recalling July 31. “I figured we would probably end up with Cabrera right before the deadline or we would not make a deal.

“I really didn’t feel until after lunch that Nomar was a realistic possibility for a lot of reasons. Theo was in a tremendously tough spot trading a guy of Nomar’s stature.

“I had no way of knowing when I went to work that day that, one, we’d have Nomar, or two, there would be four teams involved. I really felt that if there was a deal to made at the 11th hour, it would be the Cubs and Montreal.”

As 3 p.m. drew menacingly near (Major League Baseball is unforgiving with its deadlines), Hendry talked to Minaya one last time. If the Cubs liked Murton enough to take him, then the Expos could get their man in Harris.

Hendry breathed deeply, waited 10 seconds, and relented.

With a minute to go until 3, Hendry reeled off the names to MLB. Because of contractual stipulations, MLB took 40 minutes to finally OK the deal.

Hendry joked at the Cubs convention in January that he did such a good job on the trade that Boston won the World Series.

Indeed, Cabrera turned out to be one of the sparks the BoSox needed to stage their miracle run in October.

“I would have done the thing in a heartbeat again,” he said. “I had only been involved until that day in two-club trades. I really felt that night and the next day that all four clubs felt good. Obviously, it worked out great for Boston.”

While I read notes in spring training about how Nomar is back to himself, greeting everyone with a smile and peppering those hits all over spring training (soon to be all over Wrigley Field) I reflect on the fact that Nomar Garciaparra used to be a Red Sox and used to be the face of the Red Sox and used to be the man that would lead us to what we had been aching for for years. And I know that even though Nomar seems primed for another .350 year … I’m glad he’s gone, because look what he brought us when he left. Nomar did bring us a World Series. He just didn’t bring it in the way many of us thought he would.