Late deals have paid off for Braves

August 21, 2012 

The Atlanta Braves signed Lyle Overbay on Monday. He’ll join the team when the rosters expand Sept. 1 and be an extra bat off the bench.

It might seem like an irrelevant signing. Overbay has bounced around the past couple of seasons after being a regular for Arizona and Toronto. But history tells us that August moves can be just as important as the deals made before the July 31 trade deadline.

The first move that comes to mind is Mike Devereaux, acquired by the Braves on Aug. 25, 1995, from the Chicago White Sox for a minor league outfielder (Andre King) who had actually played in Macon the year before.

Devereaux, like Overbay, had been a regular. He had a decent career as a starting outfielder for Baltimore before he signed with the White Sox prior to the 1995 season. Chicago struggled that season, so the White Sox allowed Devereaux to go on waivers to get back a younger player for the future.

The Braves needed another bat on the bench. Mike Kelly, a former top pick, was horrible. Atlanta had already acquired a left-handed bat for the bench earlier in the month when the Braves got Luis Polonia from the New York Yankees. But they needed a right-handed hitter to be a pinch-hitter and an alternative to the lefty-hitting Ryan Klesko.

Devereaux got his chance in the NLCS against Cincinnati. In Game 1, Devereaux came off the bench and got a game-winning single to score Fred McGriff. After starting in left field in Game 2 and Game 3 as the Reds had a lefty pitcher on the mound, Devereaux started in right field for the ailing David Justice in Game 4. Devereaux hit a three-run home run to finish the Reds off as the Braves swept the series.

Devereaux was named the MVP of that series, and he proved to be one of the better late-season acquisitions of former general manager John Schuerholz. It wasn’t talked about much. It certainly didn’t get the publicity of the McGriff trade two years earlier, but it helped Atlanta win the World Series.

Polonia was pretty good, too. A year after the Braves traded for him in an August deal, they signed him as a free agent in 1996 after he had been released by Baltimore. Polonia actually got 15 plate appearances in the 1995 World Series and had a home run.

How about Alejandro Pena? He was acquired twice by the Braves in late August trades. Atlanta desperately needed another reliever in 1991, and Pena was outstanding, saving 11 games. You hardly remember he was on the mound when the Braves lost the World Series in Minnesota in Game 7, but there’s no way they would have been there if Pena had not done well after he was acquired.

In 1995, the Braves got Pena back in a deal with the Florida Marlins. Mark Wohlers had already taken over as the closer, but Pena was still a valuable arm in the bullpen.

The Braves have acquired a few other valuable players in August. Lefty starter Denny Neagle was a great acquisition in 1996. Greg Colbrunn, an extra bat off the bench, was pretty good in 1997. And Kent Mercker came back to Atlanta in a 2003 August deal for Matt Belisle.

Notice that I purposely omitted reliever Jeff Reardon, whom the Braves got from Boston in August 1993. We don’t need to be reminded about that.

As for Overbay, he could really be important for this year’s Braves team. Eric Hinske has been horrible this season as a lefty pinch-hitter. Overbay hit .305 against right-handed pitchers before he was released by the Diamondbacks. He’ll join Reed Johnson, acquired in the Paul Maholm deal from Chicago before the trade deadline, to be a big improvement from Hinske and Matt Diaz.

Maybe Overbay will simply be another name on the roster, but Devereaux proved the year the Braves won it all that players added late in August can also make a huge difference.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter@yahoo.com.

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