7 MLB Players Franchises Were Fortunate to Trade Away When They Did
Any time an MLB franchise deals a star player, there is potential for the move to go down as a stroke of genius or an asinine bust. Only time can tell, and fans must wait to see what the long term outcome will be of any given trade.
While there have been plenty of busts in recent years, there have also been several highly-criticized transactions that, looking back, worked out exceptionally well for the franchise that sent its star packing.
Here is a look at seven major trades in recent years that, while they may not have been immediately apparent, teams were fortunate to have made when they did.
Ken Griffey Jr.
It’s tough to put Griffey on this list, as he was one of the most talented players of all time but was prevented from reaching his full potential by persistent injuries. Still, by trading him to the Cincinnati Reds prior to the start of his decline, the Seattle Mariners were fortunate to part ways with him when they did.
After one good year in Cincinnati in 2000, Griffey’s decline came on quickly. He missed about half the season or more in each year from 2002 to 2004, and never again eclipsed the 40 home run mark—a feat he accomplished six times in his last eight years in Seattle.
Considering Griffey was asking to play for his hometown Reds even before the trade, Seattle let him go at the perfect time. They received an All-Star in Mike Cameron as part of the deal, and were spared the frustration of watching a superstar fail to reach his potential.
When the Boston Red Sox traded Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs at the 2004 trade deadline, it was truly the end of an era at Fenway. Nomar had been the face of the franchise at shortstop ever since winning Rookie of the Year in 1997.
While the trade was a shocker at the time, it worked out fabulously for the Red Sox. Not only did they go on to win the World Series that year, but Garciaparra’s career was about to fall off a cliff. After suffering through a groin injury with the Cubs in 2005, he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Garciaparra’s solid 2006 season in L.A. was his last effective year. Injuries increasingly plagued his final two years with the Dodgers and a single year with the Oakland Athletics. In March of 2010, Garciaparra returned to the Red Sox on a one-day contract to retire with the team that let him go at the perfect time.
True to Billy Beane’s economical front office philosophy, the Athletics broke up their dominant pitching trio of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mulder following the 2004 season. Oakland traded Hudson and Mulder to the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively, within days of each other.
While Hudson has remained a top starter to this day, Mulder had just one effective year left in the tank. His first season in St. Louis was a good one, but was followed by an injury-plagued 2006 campaign in which he posted a 6-7 record with a 7.14 ERA.
Never able to recover from the shoulder trouble that started his decline in 2006, Mulder pitched just three games in both the 2007 and 2008 seasons before officially retiring in 2010.
Oakland received Dan Haren in the deal, parting ways with Mulder just before his career went up in flames.
Urbina was something of a hot potato during his ten-year MLB career. The Venezuelan reliever pitched for six different teams from 1995 to 2005 and was involved in three trades.
The last team to deal him, however—the Detroit Tigers—were certainly fortunate to trade him when they did. Detroit sent Urbina to the Philadelphia Phillies in June of 2005. Philadelphia didn’t benefit much from that transaction, as Urbina went 4-6 with a 4.13 ERA and recorded just one save.
His less-than-stellar numbers soon became the least of Urbina’s worries, however. He pitched his final game less than four months after joining the Phillies, and a month later was arrested in Venezuela on attempted murder charges that involved gasoline and a machete. In 2007 he was sentenced to more than 14 years in prison.
The icing on the cake: Detroit’s compensation in the trade was Plácido Polanco, who excelled at second base for the Tigers for the next four years.
Bedard produced a solid year for the Mariners that season, but suffered a shoulder injury partway through his 2009 campaign that kept him off the mound not only for the rest of that year, but for all of 2010 as well.
In stints with the Mariners, Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates since returning from that injury, Bedard has never returned to the form he once showed. In 48 starts over the last two years, his record is just 12-23.
From Baltimore’s perspective, the importance of the deal was not just in getting rid of a pitcher whose career was soon to derail, but in the players received as compensation—most notably the one named Adam Jones.
When a team ships out highly paid stars as often as the Miami Marlins do, it’s bound to get rid of some at the right time. Such was the case with Willis, whom the Marlins traded to the Tigers along with Miguel Cabrera prior to the 2008 season.
Willis went 14-6 and was named the N.L. Rookie of the Year in 2003, then went 22-10 and finished second in Cy Young voting in 2005. His transition to the A.L. was catastrophic, however, as his injury troubles began in just his second start. He was never able to pitch more than nine games in a season for the Tigers, and his cumulative ERA in Detroit was 7.28.
After similarly miserable stints with several other clubs, mostly stuck in the minor leagues, Willis retired in July at the age of 30.
Ramirez was among the best hitters in baseball for nearly eight seasons with the Boston Red Sox, helping the team win a pair of World Series titles. Disagreeable contract negotiations soured the end of his time in Boston during the 2008 season, however, and the slugger was shipped off to the Dodgers.
The Dodgers benefited immediately from Ramirez’s arrival, as he batted .396 and jacked 17 home runs in just 53 games, helping the team reach the playoffs.
Unfortunately for Los Angeles, things quickly took a turn for the worse. The Dodgers entered their own difficult contract negotiations with Ramirez, eventually signing him to a two year deal worth $45 million. Ramirez promptly tested positive for a banned substance at the start of the 2009 season and was suspended for 50 games.
Ramirez’s career has been a saga of suspensions, injuries and even an early retirement ever since 2008. Boston was fortunate to part ways with him when they did, and benefited further in that they acquired Jason Bay from the Pirates in the trade.
Bay gave the Red Sox two solid seasons before struggling to stay healthy over his next three with the New York Mets.
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