The Greatest Blockbuster Trade in Every MLB Team's History
MLB teams participate in blockbuster trades because dismissing and acquiring high-profile players has historically culminated in on-field success. As the saying goes, fortune favors the bold.
This list reflects on lopsided swaps that involved top prospects and/or superstars.
Pre-trade hype was a prerequisite. For that reason, several infamous transactions—John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander, Jose Bautista for Robinzon Diaz, etc.—aren't included.
Through the decades, the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres have repeatedly been taken advantage of. However, even their fans can reminisce about calculated risks that paid great dividends.
In hindsight, it's hard to believe these unbalanced moves actually occurred.
July 26, 2000
Full trade: The Philadelphia Phillies traded Curt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, Travis Lee and Vicente Padilla.
Schilling pitched parts of four seasons with the D-Backs and finished runner-up in NL Cy Young balloting in 2001 and 2002, his only two full campaigns.
As well as the right-hander performed during the summer, he peaked in the playoffs. Schilling was undefeated and practically untouchable in 2001 while leading the franchise to a championship (4-0, 1.12 ERA, 56 SO in 6 GS).
The Phillies received four legitimate major league players, though their accomplishments paled in comparison to Schilling's.
July 18, 1993
Full trade: The Atlanta Braves traded Vince Moore, Donnie Elliott and Melvin Nieves to the San Diego Padres for Fred McGriff.
Already a reputable slugger, McGriff did not disappoint as the Braves everyday first baseman. The lineup as a whole always finished among the National League leaders in long balls.
He also thrived in October (.992 OPS with 10 HR and 34 RBI).
Frankly, none of the young players sent back to San Diego made a significant impact.
December 9, 1965
Full trade: The Cincinnati Reds traded Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for Jack Baldschun, Milt Pappas and Dick Simpson.
To justify this deal, Reds owner Bill DeWitt referred to the outfielder as "an old 30" whose best days were behind him.
His evaluation couldn't have been more wrong.
Robinson won the 1966 AL Triple Crown and continued to produce into the next decade.The 1970 World Series was surely a satisfying experience, as the outfielder burned his former team with 2 HR and 4 RBI.
Boston Red Sox
November 18, 1997
Full trade: The Boston Red Sox traded a player to be named later and Carl Pavano to the Montreal Expos for Pedro Martinez. Boston sent Tony Armas on Dec. 18 to complete the trade.
Boston sought an established starting pitcher following the 1997 season. Tom Gordon had transitioned to the bullpen, leaving a vacancy in the rotation.
Conveniently, the Montreal Expos were shopping reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, who would be reaching free agency the next offseason.
The team didn't want to lose him without proper compensation, so Red Sox GM Dan Duquette proposed a package of Tony Armas and Carl Pavano, two fine pitching prospects.
The risky exchange paid off. Martinez accepted a six-year, $75 million contract upon arrival and went on to earn every penny of it. He annually dominated AL Cy Young balloting. The future Hall of Famer helped the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2004, lifting the franchise's infamous curse.
Armas (48-60, 4.45 ERA, 1.42 WHIP in 151 GS) and Pavano (24-35, 4.87 ERA, 1.44 WHIP in 78 GS) had forgettable stints with the Expos/Washington Nationals.
January 27, 1982
Full trade: The Chicago Cubs traded Ivan de Jesus to the Philadelphia Phillies for Larry Bowa and Ryne Sandberg.
Bowa made contract negotiations very difficult for the Phillies and gave them no choice but to sell low on him. That's why de Jesus, a run-of-the-mill starting shortstop, was all they could obtain.
Of course, Sandberg became a superstar.
His standout defensive skills were annually acknowledged with NL Gold Gloves beginning in his second full MLB season. He made adjustments at the plate in 1984 to become an all-around exceptional player. Sandberg was as durable as any MLB middle infielder, not to mention remarkable in two career trips to the NLCS (.385/.457/.641 in 47 PA).
Chicago White Sox
December 8, 1914
Full trade: The Chicago White Sox purchased Eddie Collins from the Philadelphia Athletics.
Collins established himself as a marquee player with the A's. He led them to three World Series titles between 1910 and 1914.
But his on-base skills, smooth defense and aggressive baserunning commanded a huge salary that they could no longer afford to pay.
Manager Connie Mack completed the sale for $50,000. At the time, that represented the largest amount to ever change hands in a single-player trade.
Collins excelled just the same in the American League (.331/.426/.424 in 12 seasons). He remained productive into his late thirties and avoided major injuries.
He was one of few White Sox stars who did not get involved in the 1919 Black Sox conspiracy.
November 29, 1971
Full trade: The Cincinnati Reds traded Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart to the Houston Astros for Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke and Joe Morgan.
The Reds, one of baseball's youngest clubs, stumbled to a losing record in 1971. That wasn't acceptable considering their 102 victories and National League pennant the previous year.
Cincy sacrificed power for speed and defense as they parted with strikeout-prone Lee May and two others.
The right-hander Billingham fortified the starting rotation for much of the 1970s. He shined brightest in the World Series (2-0, 0.38 ERA, 0.91 WHIP in 7 G).
Geronimo developed into a reputable center fielder. He won four consecutive Gold Gloves at the position.
The future Hall of Famer was the centerpiece of this blockbuster. Morgan stole 406 bases in eight seasons with the Reds. He slugged nearly 20 home runs per campaign and drew 881 walks versus 410 strikeouts. Amazing plate discipline!
Though May did well for the Astros in 1972 (.284/.343/.490 with 29 HR and 98 RBI), his career quickly spiraled downward.
April 12, 1916
Full trade: The Cleveland Indians traded Sad Sam Jones, Fred Thomas and $55,000 to the Boston Red Sox for Tris Speaker.
Speaker had a conflict with Red Sox president Joe Lanni , who wanted him to slash his salary from $15,000 to $9,000 despite another productive campaign.
The Tribe arranged a trade just in time for Opening Day 1916.
Moving away from the northeast media hub hurt him in MVP voting, but the fair pay kept him motivated. The center fielder amassed nearly 2,000 hits in his 11 otherworldly seasons.
November 10, 2008
Full trade: The Colorado Rockies traded Matt Holliday to the Oakland Athletics for Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith and Huston Street.
In this deal, the 74-win Rockies shed Matt Holliday and his $13.5 million salary. Their trade partner only kept him until the 2009 non-waiver trade deadline.
Street single-handedly provided as much value. During three seasons at high altitude, he amassed 84 SV and 170 SO in 167.1 IP.
CarGo blossomed into an everyday player that September as the Rockies came painfully close to a postseason berth, finishing at 92-70. He then contended for NL MVP in his first full MLB campaign (.336/.376/.598 with 34 HR and 26 SB).
GM Dan O'Dowd understandably signed him to a seven-year contract, which will keep him in Colorado for another half-decade.
December 8, 2009
Full trade: The Detroit Tigers sent Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees. The Tigers sent Edwin Jackson to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Yankees sent Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Tigers. The Yankees sent Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks, who sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Detroit Tigers.
This three-team trade keeps on giving for the Detroit Tigers.
It saved the franchise millions of dollars from the onset, as Granderson and Jackson were set for big pay raises.
Fast forward to 2012. This past season, Jackson and Scherzer each provided more value than their predecessors. Jackson posted a .300/.377/.479 triple-slash line to compliment his terrific center-field defense, while Scherzer led the American League in strikeout rate during both the regular season and playoffs.
Lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth is sometimes forgotten in this acquisition, but he possesses electric stuff when healthy.
August 30, 1990
Full trade: The Houston Astros traded Larry Andersen to the Boston Red Sox for Jeff Bagwell.
Bagwell, a third baseman early in his professional career, was extraneous in Boston. With Wade Boggs occupying the hot corner and Scott Cooper waiting in Triple-A, it made total sense for the Red Sox to use him as trade bait.
The Astros decided to move him across the infield to meet their need at first. He won NL Rookie of the Year at the position and never looked back.
Anderson pitched 15 games in Boston; Bagwell spent 15 years in Houston.
Kansas City Royals
May 16, 1976
Full trade: The New York Yankees traded Larry Gura to the Kansas City Royals for Fran Healy.
Gura and Yankees manager Billy Martin didn't see eye to eye on everything. The skipper was so dead set on relocating him that he didn't seek fair value in return.
Healy logged 205 homer-less plate appearances before retiring from baseball.
However, Gura reached his potential in the midwest, winning 111 contests in parts of 10 seasons. His 1980 performance—18-10, 2.95 ERA, 16 CG—still ranks as one of the best in Royals history.
Los Angeles Angels
December 10, 1971
Full trade: The California Angels traded Jim Fregosi to the New York Mets for Frank Estrada, Don Rose, Nolan Ryan and Leroy Stanton.
The Mets didn't use due diligence in their evaluation of Fregosi, California's All-Star shortstop. He missed time in 1971 to have a tumor removed from his foot and never returned to his old form.
Ryan learned to embrace his wildness in the American League. He tossed four no-hitters and pitched to a 3.07 ERA during his eight seasons with the Halos. His 2,416 strikeouts from that tenure alone would tie him for 37th on the all-time list.
Even Stanton spent several summers as an above-average outfielder.
Los Angeles Dodgers
December 13, 2005
Full trade: The Los Angeles Dodgers traded Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez to the Oakland Athletics for Andre Ethier.
Though the Dodgers liked Bradley's offensive production, they couldn't put up with his behavior. After he suffered an ACL tear, the front office got whatever it could for the embattled outfielder.
Ethier's minor league success immediately translated to the big leagues. He has the same power and on-base skills that Bradley did without any of the anger management problems.
L.A. extended his contract through 2017.
July 11, 2002
Full trade: The Florida Marlins traded Cliff Floyd, Wilton Guerrero, Claudio Vargas and cash to the Montreal Expos for a player to be named later, Graeme Lloyd, Mike Mordecai, Carl Pavano and Justin Wayne. The Expos sent Donald Levinski on August 5 to complete the trade.
Floyd was an impending free agent who wouldn't have stuck around for Florida's World Series run in 2003, anyway.
Meanwhile, Mordecai delivered a go-ahead three-run double in the eighth inning of NLCS Game 6. Pavano overwhelmed the opposition, both as a reliever and a spot starter (2-0, 1.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP in 8 G).
The right-hander emerged as an All-Star the following summer.
December 12, 1980
Full trade: The Milwaukee Brewers traded David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano and Lary Sorensen to the St. Louis Cardinals for Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich.
Fingers was already a three-time World champion bound for Cooperstown, yet he found the motivation to keep getting better. His career-best 1.04 ERA and 4.69 strikeout-to-walk ratio led the Brew Crew to the postseason in 1981.
The next year, Vuckovich also won the AL Cy Young Award with an 18-6 record and nine complete games.
Unfortunately, neither sustained their excellence. Age caught up with the veteran closer, while Vuckovich couldn't make his way back from a torn rotator cuff.
Their contributions were extraordinary, but oh, what could have been.
November 14, 2003
Full trade: The Minnesota Twins traded A.J. Pierzynski and cash to the San Francisco Giants for Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan.
Nathan made a habit out of saving 35-plus games and earning All-Star selections. Baseball-Reference.com valued him at 2.0 WAR or better every season from 2004 to 2009.
We'll never forget Liriano's first lengthy MLB stint where he went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA as a 22-year-old. He hasn't been competent since undergoing Tommy John surgery, thought the southpaw did punch out 201 batters in 2010.
Pierzynski never grew fond of the Bay Area. His career-low .272 average led to outright release the next winter.
New York Mets
May 22, 1998
Full trade: The Florida Marlins traded Mike Piazza to the New York Mets for Geoff Goetz, Preston Wilson and Ed Yarnall.
This was essentially a Piazza-for-Wilson swap that the Mets won convincingly.
The All-Star catcher totaled twice as many home runs with his new team as Wilson would in five seasons with the Fish.
Piazza led New York to an NL pennant in 2000. He maintained a .296/.373/.542 triple-slash line in the Big Apple before leaving via free agency.
New York Yankees
January 3, 1920
Full trade: The New York Yankees purchased Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for $100,000.
Owner Harry Frazee sold his Red Sox stars to fund a Broadway play.
Not surprisingly, the team slumped from a perennial championship favorite to a staple in the second division. Boston wouldn't see the .500 mark again until 1934, the league pennant until 1946 or a World Series title until the next century!
The Yankees moved Ruth off the mound and kept him in the middle of the batting order for 15 glorious seasons.
December 18, 2004
Full trade: The St. Louis Cardinals traded Daric Barton, Kiko Calero and Dan Haren to the Oakland Athletics for Mark Mulder.
Rotator cuff issues derailed Mulder's career after barely one season in St. Louis.
Haren learned to be efficient with his pitches and averaged nearly seven innings per start. He served three healthy, effective seasons in Oakland's rotation.
Barton still remains in the A's organization, but hasn't developed enough power to lock down the first-base job. Still, his career .360 OBP is rather impressive.
February 25, 1972
Full trade: The Philadelphia Phillies traded Rick Wise to the St. Louis Cardinals for Steve Carlton.
Wise gave the Cardinals two strong seasons, while Carlton pitched 15 for the Phils at a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer level.
April 1, 1987
Full trade: The St. Louis Cardinals traded Mike Dunne, Mike LaValliere and Andy Van Slyke to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Tony Pena.
Pena was irrefutably established as one of the game's top defensive catchers. Unfortunately for the Cards, his offensive skills didn't were left behind in the transaction (.248/.303/.342 with STL).
Every component of the package helped Pittsburgh improve, especially Van Slyke. He made All-Star rosters, built a collection of Gold Gloves and led the franchise back to the postseason.
Perhaps another great blockbuster could get the Pirates there again after two decades of misery.
San Diego Padres
December 28, 1994
Full trade: The San Diego Padres traded Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, Ricky Gutierrez, Pedro Martinez, Phil Plantier and Craig Shipley to the Houston Astros for a player to be named later, Ken Caminiti, Andujar Cedeno, Steve Finley, Roberto Petagine and Brian Williams. Astros sent Sean Fesh on May 1, 1995 to complete the trade.
A lot of names got caught up in this exchange, but focus on Caminiti and Finley. Both players excelled in Padres uniforms.
Caminiti was an NL All-Star and NL MVP in 1996 (40 HR, 130 RBI, 1.028 OPs). He also won three Gold Gloves at third base. Finley provided plenty of extra-base hits from the top third of the batting order while earning defensive accolades, too.
Against all logic, their efforts propelled San Diego to the 1998 World Series.
Houston needed legendary Dominican starter Pedro Martinez to balance out the deal. Instead, they received not-so-legendary Dominican reliever Pedro Martinez, who sported a 7.40 ERA in his lone season with the club.
San Francisco Giants:
July 30, 2001
Full trade: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal to the San Francisco Giants for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong.
This early version of Vogelsong didn't resemble today's veteran postseason hero. He pitched below replacement level for the Bucs before fleeing to Japan.
Schmidt was not thought of as a notable arm, either, but the friendly confines of AT&T Park changed everything. He fared better than any NL starter in 2003 (17-5, 2.34 ERA in 29 GS) and performed at a similarly high level during his other five seasons in San Francisco.
July 21, 1988
Full trade: The New York Yankees traded a player to be named later, Rich Balabon and Jay Buhner to the Seattle Mariners for Ken Phelps. New York sent Troy Evers on October 12 to complete the trade.
Phelps abruptly declined in 1989, his first full season following the trade.
Buhner, however, wasn't yet 24 at the time of this deadline deal. The Mariners eventually found him regular at-bats and reaped the benefits of his 307 home runs.
St. Louis Cardinals
December 10, 1981
Full trade: The San Diego Padres traded a player to be named later, Steve Mura and Ozzie Smith to the St. Louis Cardinals for a player to be named later, Sixto Lezcano and Garry Templeton. The teams swapped Al Olmsted and Luis DeLeon on February 19, 1982 to complete the trade.
The Padres can only blame themselves for underestimating Smith's perfectionist mindset. They loved his defense, base-stealing and contact ability, but didn't believe he could improve in all areas.
The superstar shortstop had played only 110 games the previous season, a total he would annually exceed for the next dozen years.
Per Baseball-Reference.com, San Diego didn't benefit much from Templeton's bat.
Tampa Bay Rays
July 12, 2006
Full trade: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays traded Aubrey Huff and cash to the Houston Astros for Mitch Talbot and Ben Zobrist.
Perhaps the casual fan doesn't realize how valuable Zobrist has been in Tampa Bay.
Baseball-Reference.com considers him as a 26.5 WAR player since becoming a regular in 2009. Attribute that to this list of factors: durability, defensive versatility and instincts, plate discipline, extra-base hit totals and heads-up baserunning.
FanGraphs also holds him in high regard at 25.1 WAR over that span, which is third-best in Major League Baseball!
The small-market franchise locked him up inexpensively at the first sign of awesomeness.
July 31, 2007
Full trade: The Texas Rangers traded Ron Mahay and Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves for Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
With this boatload of prospects, the Rangers addressed a handful of needs. Andrus, Feliz and Harrison have developed into franchise cornerstones.
Teixeira lasted less than a year in Atlanta before being dealt back west to the Los Angeles Angels.
Toronto Blue Jays
December 5, 1990
Full trade: The San Diego Padres traded Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter to the Toronto Blue Jays for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff.
There was such an enormous disparity between Alomar and Fernandez.
At a very young age, the former became an accomplished base-stealer, Gold Glove winner, batting title contender and AL All-Star. He stayed in that top tier throughout his Blue Jays career.
Though Carter wasn't the same intimidator as "Mad Dog" McGriff, he had a knack for slugging game-winning home runs (e.g. the 1993 World Series).
January 22, 1969
Full trade: The Montreal Expos traded Jesus Alou and Donn Clendenon to the Houston Astros for Rusty Staub. Donn Clendenon refused to report to his new team on April 8, 1969. The Expos sent Jack Billingham, Skip Guinn and $100,000 to complete the trade.
Houston doubted Staub had a high ceiling. Pedestrian power numbers and ankle issues were expected to slow him down eventually.
Staub enjoyed his best seasons north of the border, endearing him to a fanbase that nicknamed him "Le Grand Orange." Through 1971, he was one of few bright spots on an otherwise mediocre team.
Billingham bolstered the Astros pitching staff, but wouldn't emerge as an ace until landing with the Cincinnati Reds.