Pirates lead potential 'all-in' buyers

Updated: July 3, 2012, 10:27 AM ET
By Buster Olney

At the time the Milwaukee Brewers made the trade for CC Sabathia in summer 2008, they were 26 years removed from their last playoff appearance. Sabathia was headed for free agency, and with the New York Yankees and other big-market teams poised to take a run at the left-hander, there was almost no chance the Brewers would be able to retain him.

But they made the trade anyway, because the time was right, because their window of opportunity for success was open right in front of them, and because a playoff berth had the potential to steer their future onto a different course. "So much depends on where your organization is" in its journey, a general manager mused Monday.

On paper, a trade investment of major prospects for a rental like Cole Hamels or a Zack Greinke doesn't make sense. For example: With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it seems crazy that the San Francisco Giants would give up a top pitching prospect like Zack Wheeler for two months of Carlos Beltran last summer.

But Brian Sabean is the general manager of a team that hadn't won a World Series in 56 years before it won in 2010, and if the Giants won in 2011, well, then Matt Cain and Pablo Sandoval and manager Bruce Bochy and Sabean all could have started posing for statues. At the very least, the Giants demonstrated to their fans that they would do everything they could to try to win, and it's probably not a coincidence that San Francisco's fans keep filling the ballpark.

The Brewers' run into the postseason in 2008 was very brief -- because Sabathia and others were exhausted from the effort required to get into the playoffs -- and they had no shot. But it's impossible to argue that the Sabathia trade wasn't a good thing for the Milwaukee franchise. The Brewers' attendance climbed to more than three million for the first time that summer, and the fan support has consistently drawn in that range ever since.

When assessing the trade market, then, it's worth considering what a playoff run would mean to each franchise. In other words: Who has the most to gain by making the postseason, and by being aggressive in the trade market, as the Brewers were in 2008?