Sellers: Don’t get nothing for something

Ty Wigginton will never get more ink.

It’s the season for trade rumors, for evaluating the value of rent-a-players to teams that fancy themselves contenders, for sorting out the buyers from the can’t-decides from the sellers. Often, it’s the time of year when fans of teams in the last category watch their teams peddle their few competent players for the proverbial bag of balls.

And so it is that Wigginton, the heretofore journeyman utility man who this year is the Orioles’ homer and RBI leader, is on experts’ lips and fingertips as they speculate on the air, in print and on the Web on who’s going where this month. Presumably, he soon will be off to a big-market team as an injury replacement. The Orioles will be willing to trade him because….

Because why?

To my mind, which is unburdened with hands-on experience in the workings of baseball teams, there is only one reason for a hopelessly losing team to make a midseason deal: to help shape the franchise’s next contender. Maybe you do that by freeing payroll for a free-agent acquisition or trade that will help your team then. Maybe you get prospects with the potential to be contributors then. Maybe you clear out a position to give a young player the big league experience that will pay off then.

Too often, though, useful players go to good teams at this time of the year with the contributing team accomplishing no more than rearranging the bat bags. (It was ever thus—the Yankees of midcentury dynasty would come up with a late-summer Johnny Mize for pocket change as regularly as Casey Stengel uttered a malaprop.)

My immediate rooting interest in this subject is (sigh) my Cubs. I have been guiltily pleased by their recent fall from the ranks of the marginally mediocre to downright hopeless. I hope this will imbue the decision-makers with the backbone to admit that their focus must be on the future—2012 at the earliest. It will take at least that long to disassemble the aging, crumbling foundation of the 2007-2008 playoff Cubs—Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano. They and all but a half dozen or so of the current roster will be gone by the next time to Cubs are serious contenders. (Though how they’ll dump Soriano before his interminable contract is up is a mystery.)

So, back up the truck, Cubs. Hold a fire sale. Clean house. Come up with a new cliche. Keep anyone who can help a contending Chicago team two or three years from now, say thanks and goodbye to the others.

But, in the name of Lou Brock, get something back that will be important then. Not an aging middle reliever who’s marginally better for the second half than the Triple-A-quality sixth-inning guys you have now. Who’ll care in 2012-13? Not some roster-filler non-prospect for the 2011 Peoria nine. What does that accomplish?

This season’s over. Next season, too. You don’t have to say so in a press release, but you know it, and your fans do too. Look for acquisitions about who you can ask not “what have you done for me lately?” but “what can you do for me later?”

You, too, Orioles.

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Joe Distelheim is a retired newspaper editor whose career included stints as sports editor of The Charlotte Observer and Detroit Free Press. He co-authored Cubs: From Tinker to Banks to Sandberg to Today.
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The reason why the something appears like nothing is $.  Fans don’t count salary relief.  Saving $3 to $4 million in salary is a tremendous benefit if you are running a business.  Its why Seattle will trade Cliff Lee no matter what.  They save $5 million, which is worth more than compensation picks.