Pat Gillick has been making deadline-deal trades for more than 25 years. He has acquired David Cone and Rickey Henderson. He has dealt away Jeff Kent and Jose Mesa. He has tried to unload Bobby Bonilla and David Wells, only to be overruled by his cantankerous owner. In short, this guy's been around.
In his fourth season as the Mariners' general manager, Gillick once again has his team in first place, but also hears the clamor for a deal or two to bolster his club for the stretch drive. Always loathe to discuss specific players, particularly with so many deals being considered this time of year, Gillick still sat down with me in Seattle to discuss this year's market, the Mariners' current outlook, and the chasing of Rickey Henderson -- literally.
Question: We all know that trades for at least the last five years have become as much, if not more, determined by economics as the talent of the players. But I'm getting the impression that this year there's a shift in the market: Teams who are shopping high-salaried players to contenders can't get prospects in return unless they eat the outgoing player's salary. Is that true?
Pat Gillick: I think you're on target there. My understanding, and I don't have any inside information, is that in the Minnesota-Toronto deal, that basically Toronto is paying Shannon Stewart's salary because they got Bobby Kielty in the deal. This year, if you get rid of the contract, then you get lesser prospects in return.
Question: How might that affect how many deals get made? More trades with bigger names? Or fewer?
Pat Gillick: I would say there will be the same number of trades. But again, you get back to the factor that it isn't talent-for-talent trade. There will be just as many trades but made for different reasons.
Question: Is this economy-based -- teams will do anything to get rid of contract commitments -- or intelligence-based, in the sense that GMs have come to appreciate the value of young, and therefore cheap, players?
Pat Gillick: I think it's more the fact that people, possibly, have been operating beyond their economic means. They want to get their house in order. So they want to make those moves to go forward in the future. I think it's more of an economic shift.
Question: Does this affect at all what you can accomplish, as a contender with more economic means than others?
Pat Gillick: In our situation, we're not willing at this point to absorb contracts. Basically, if we acquire a player, it probably has to be a neutral situation. We have to move as much salary as we take. We feel that teams who have negotiated and signed contracts, they have to live with those contracts. They have to absorb them. Consequently, that kind of limits what we can do.
Question: That sounds as if, to make a deal, you'll have to part with some prospects, which historically you've been reluctant to do.
Pat Gillick: There might be some young players that we evaluate differently. There might be some players that we don't covet as much as others and we're willing to give those players up.
Question: You've told me in the past that you make stretch-drive trades not necessarily for the fans but for the players, to show that the front office is working as hard as they are to win. Some of your players today have told me that they want a big bat, preferably left-handed, someone who can be a threat in between Bret Boone and Edgar Martinez. Is it realistic for them to say, "Well, just go out and get us a big bat?"
Pat Gillick: I don't think it is. The fans and the players are not really in tune with the type of players that we might have to give up to get one. It's the job of management to evaluate that talent. It might not matter to the fan or the player at the moment that you have to give up a certain player, but a year from now, there's always the comeback, "Why'd you give up that guy?" The players and fans don't always have the same information we have. They can't evaluate the trade the way we can.
Question: Here in Seattle, people won't let the club forget about trading Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek and Jose Cruz in deadline deals about five years ago. Even though you didn't make those trades, does that history influence the kind of risks you're willing to take in trading young players?
Pat Gillick: It certainly doesn't affect me or our management team. I think if we feel that we're gonna get value out of the player we're receiving in return, we're not going to be reluctant to move players. Again, it depends on which particular players they're interested in. There are some players we value higher than others.
Question: Speaking of big bats, three years ago, Juan Gonzalez was on the Tigers and on the trading block. You could have acquired him then, and it seemed like everyone here in Seattle was clamoring for you to, but you resisted -- bringing up your old nickname, "Stand Pat." Did you ever have a deal with Detroit that you decided not to make?
Pat Gillick: I don't want to get into it, but the ball was more in Detroit's court than it was in ours. I think we were satisfied with the players we would have had to give up. It really was for Detroit to make that call. They decided to keep the player. We thought we had somewhat close to a meeting of the minds. As for me resisting, which is what's been reported, I don't think that's true.
Question: You have Kazuhiro Sasaki coming back after a long time on the DL, Carlos Guillen just came back and Edgar Martinez might get healthy. Do those quote-unquote "additions" allow you to be more conservative this week?
Pat Gillick: Let me put it this way -- they're going to be welcome back, but I think if we could add something to the mix, I think it would be quite important. Even though we like our team, it would help if we added some offense to our club.
Question: Is there any difference between how you talk trades with the young GMs who are more statistically oriented, as more are becoming these days, and the older ones like yourself who take a more traditional scouting approach?
Pat Gillick: That's a great question. Yes. Probably. You're almost talking two different languages. One is a scouting lingo and the other is more of a statistical basis. What's quite interesting right now is there might be players who your scouting personnel might not think have the tools to make it, whereas the people on other clubs' statistical side might like. So you all of a sudden might have more prospects than you had before. You have more bullets to use.
Question: In your 26 years as a GM, what is the craziest deadline-trade story you've been involved with, with some deal going down right to the wire?
Pat Gillick: In 1993 with Toronto, we had a deal with Oakland for Rickey Henderson. We dealt Steve Karsay over there right at the deadline. But one of the things in Henderson's contract was a no-trade. Rickey had left the park, and with the time change -- they were in Oakland and we were in Toronto -- they had to find Rickey fast to get him to agree to the trade. Finally they located him in Oakland, and the document they had to have Rickey sign, they did it on the hood of a car. That one went right down to the end.
Alan Schwarz is the senior writer of Baseball America magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.