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Can You Trade a Baseball Player for a Box of Cigars?

With baseball’s trading deadline just passed, an old-time executive named Frank Lane comes to mind.
Lane loved to make deals with other teams, and his frequent player swaps gave him the nickname “Trader Lane.”
Legend says that he once traded a player for a box of cigars.
“But,” he is supposed to have said, “They were very good cigars.”
Those words, true or not, carry more wisdom than you might think. When you trade for cigars, at least you know what you’re going to get.
Cigars can’t stay out late, or create clubhouse conflict, or get distracted by personal problems. Baseball players can.
Plus, most of the deals at the trading deadline involve “prospects.”
That just means someone — a team executive, a newspaper, a talent scout — has looked at the player and put a high value on his future. But it’s just an opinion.
Sometimes the opinion is right. Too often it isn’t. There is always that hidden gem, the superstar hiding in plain sight.
In 1987, the Detroit Tigers were aiming to strengthen their pitching staff in hopes of making the playoffs. They liked Doyle Alexander, an experienced, proven pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. On Aug. 12, they made a trade to land their man. Sure enough, Alexander helped Detroit finish in first place. And he even made the All-Star team the year after. But within two years he was out of baseball.
Detroit, meanwhile, paid a fearsome price for Alexander’s modest success. To get him, the Tigers had given up John Smoltz, a pitcher in the mid-minor leagues.
Smoltz wound up in the baseball Hall of Fame. Braves scout John Hagemann was the person most responsible for seeing what was in plain sight. Hagemann looked past Smoltz’s poor minor-league stats and saw a golden arm, “the best arm I ever saw on a right-handed pitcher.”
Hagemann’s opinion was not swayed by stats or by the fact that few people — if any — agreed with him on Smoltz’s value.
In 2018, the blockbuster trade involved the Tampa Bay Rays, who sent right-handed pitcher Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates for, wait for it, prospects.
In return the Rays received outfielder Austin Meadows and pitcher Tyler Glasnow.
But back to “Trader Lane” for a second. He himself was a hidden gem that no one saw early in his life. Bullied as a child, he worked out to improve his fitness. Through hard work and a knack for making connections, he found his way into baseball and became legend. You can be sure that if Lane were around at the recent deadline, he would have made a splash. We’ll never know, just as we won’t know for a while which of the trading deadline deals will produce hidden gems or players worth just a box of cigars.


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