Every MLB Team's Biggest Surprise Steal
Every now and then teams will see something that they like in a player that other teams miss. They then either trade for these players or sign them to low-risk contracts in the hopes that they can reach their potential.
These acquisitions often turn out to be decent ones, but occasionally teams get a steal. Finding a player that no one else valued as highly and having them produce at a high level is very rewarding.
Occasionally these players are just throw-ins to make a trade work and they end up being the best player in the deal.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Luis Gonzalez
As an expansion franchise, the Arizona Diamondbacks were looking for any established players that they could get their hands on in 1998. They found a good one when they acquired Luis Gonzalez from the Detroit Tigers for Karim Garcia.
Gonzalez was a good player in Detroit, but he turned into a superstar in Arizona and helped lead the Diamondbacks to a World Series title in 2001.
Atlanta Braves: John Smoltz
One of the faces of the Atlanta Braves franchise through the 1990s and into the 2000s was a huge steal for the Braves. John Smoltz had been pitching poorly for the Detroit Tigers Double-A team and had posted a 5.68 ERA in 1987 when he was sent to the Braves for Doyle Alexander.
Along with Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox, Smoltz was able to help the Braves dominate the National League East for more than a decade.
Baltimore Orioles: Brady Anderson
When the Baltimore Orioles traded away Mike Boddicker in 1988, the main piece that they received in the deal was Curt Schilling. Along with Schilling, the Orioles picked up a 24-year-old outfielder.
While Brady Anderson would struggle during his first few years with the Orioles, he eventually earned the role as the team's starting center fielder. During his career, Anderson would set the Orioles' team record with 50 home runs in a season.
Boston Red Sox: Jason Varitek
Finding a catcher that can play at a high level for a decade is incredibly hard to find. The Boston Red Sox were able to do just that when they dealt Heathcliff Slocumb to the Seattle Mariners for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek.
At the time, Varitek was a 25-year-old catcher that was hitting just .244 at Triple-A. He ended up being a key piece for the Red Sox for many years and helped them win two World Series titles.
Chicago Cubs: Ryne Sandberg
One of the best players in Chicago Cubs history was acquired when he was an unknown commodity playing for the Philadelphia Phillies. In 1982, the Cubs traded Ivan DeJesus for Larry Bowa and Ryne Sandberg.
While Sandberg was putting up good numbers in the minor leagues, no one suspected that he would be a future member Hall of Fame. Sandberg was a threat at the plate and had an outstanding glove, which made him one of the best second basemen of all time.
Chicago White Sox: Wilbur Wood
After playing parts of five seasons in the major leagues, Wilbur Wood had not put up great numbers for his career even though he had good minor league numbers. The Chicago White Sox took a risk on Wood when they traded Juan Pizarro for him.
The knuckleballer started his time with the White Sox as a reliever and was eventually moved into the team's rotation. Wood was fantastic after the switch and had four straight 20-win seasons.
Cincinnati Reds: Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton had immense potential when he was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays as the first overall pick of the 1999 MLB draft, but his career got derailed as a result of personal issues.
After taking years off from the game, Hamilton attempted a comeback. The Chicago Cubs then selected him in the Rule V Draft and sent him to the Cincinnati Reds.
Even though Hamilton only played one year in Cincinnati, he is the Reds' biggest steal because no one expected him to play at the level that he did once he returned and jumped quickly to the big leagues after a three-year break.
Cleveland Indians: Grady Sizemore
With the Montreal Expos desperate to make the postseason in 2002, the Cleveland Indians found a trade partner to take advantage of. In return for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew, the Indians received Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens.
While Lee had already had success in Triple-A at the time of the deal, Grady Sizemore was putting up mediocre numbers at the High-A level.
Sizemore eventually broke out in a big way when he reached the major leagues and hit 139 home runs during his eight years with the Indians while also being selected to three All-Star teams.
Colorado Rockies: Dante Bichette
When the Colorado Rockies traded Kevin Reimer for Dante Bichette in 1992, the team believed that it was getting a decent outfielder, but Bichette was certainly not a star.
He turned into one once he joined the Rockies, and Bichette played at an All-Star level for four years and had many other good seasons. Bichette was a big bat in the middle of the Rockies lineup, which was slightly unexpected considering that his career high was 15 home runs before joining the team.
Detroit Tigers: Carlos Guillen
After parts of six seasons in the major leagues with the Seattle Mariners, Carlos Guillen was a below-average hitter that had a career 93 OPS+. However, the Detroit Tigers saw something in him that they liked.
With the Tigers, Guillen was able to all of a sudden produce at an All-Star level, which was certainly a present surprise. In eight years with the Tigers, Guillen had a 121 OPS+ and was a key part of the team's lineup.
Houston Astros: Mike Scott
In four seasons with the New York Mets, Mike Scott had not proven that he could pitch at a high level in the majors leagues. During that time period, he had an ERA+ of 77.
Looking for pitching, the Houston Astros traded Danny Heep for him. Scott got off to a good start with the Astros and would eventually go on to win the Cy Young Award in 1986 after going 18-10 with a league-best 2.22 ERA.
Kansas City Royals: Steve Balboni
In the early 1980s, the New York Yankees did not really give Steve Balboni a chance at the big league level. When he did play in the majors, he struggled.
The Royals decided to trade for Balboni in 1983, and he played a big role in their run to the World Series title in 1985. Balboni hit for power during his time with the Royals, but he was limited in his production because of his strikeout issues.
Los Angels Angels: David Eckstein
With Nomar Garciaparra firmly entrenched at shortstop in Boston in 2000, it was clear that the Boston Red Sox had no room a player like David Eckstein on their roster. The Los Angeles Angles claimed Eckstein once he was put on waivers.
This turned out to be a brilliant decision. Eckstein earned a starting job during his first year in the major leagues and played at a high level. He was a key part of the Angels' championship team in 2002.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Mike Piazza
Nothing is expected of a pick from the 62nd round of the MLB draft, so to say that Mike Piazza exceeded expectations is a massive understatement.
Piazza's draft story is well known, and he is one of the greatest steals in the history of the draft. He became one of the greatest hitting catchers in baseball and he should eventually be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Miami Marlins: Dan Uggla
After a number of years in the Arizona Diamondbacks minor league system, Dan Uggla was eligible for the Rule V Draft. The Miami Marlins decided to take him.
Uggla has performed better than many other Rule V Draft picks and he made two All-Star games while with the Marlins. His power at the second base position proved to be very valuable for the Marlins.
Milwaukee Brewers: Teddy Higuera
Following a stint in Mexico, the Milwaukee Brewers decided to purchase Teddy Higuera and give him a shot at pitching in the MLB after a year in the minor leagues.
Higuera won a job with the Brewers and pitched better than they could have expected. He put together six solid season for the Brewers including one 20-win year.
Minnesota Twins: Johan Santana
Johan Santana bounced around a lot before he reached the major leagues at age 20. He was drafted by the Houston Astros, was selected by the Florida Marlins in the Rule V Draft and then was traded to the Minnesota Twins.
Santana pitched well above and beyond anyone's expectations, as he won two Cy Young awards with the Twins and was one of the best pitchers in baseball for an extended period of time.
New York Mets: R.A. Dickey
There have been few stories in baseball recently that have been better than R.A. Dickey's story. A former first-round pick, Dickey struggled for years before finally reinventing himself as a knuckleball pitcher.
The New York Mets were willing to give Dickey a chance and that move paid off big time. Dickey had three very strong seasons with the Mets and won a Cy Young award.
New York Yankees: Mike Stanley
The New York Yankees were looking for a catcher for the 1993 season and they made the decision to sign Mike Stanley as a free agent. This turned out to be a great move.
Stanley, who had hit only 24 home runs in the first 1,160 at-bats of his career, slugged 26 homers in his first year with the Yankees. He continued to produce at a high level throughout his time with the team.
Oakland Athletics: Scott Hatteberg
The Oakland Athletics' plans for Scott Hatteberg played a role in the book Moneyball, which makes him the perfect choice to be the team's surprise steal.
Hatteberg, a catcher by trade, was brought in by Billy Beane to play first base for the Athletics. Hatteberg did a good job at the position and proved that Beane's sabermetric approach to the game can work.
Philladelphia Phillies: Bobby Abreu
While Bobby Abreu had shown promise during his time with the Houston Astros, it did not look like he would turn into an All-Star. He was left unprotected during the expansion draft and the Rays selected him and then flipped him to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Once in Philadelphia, Abreu began to produce at a high level as an everyday outfielder. He would become a team mainstay and spent nine seasons in Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Roberto Clemente
Imagine how good the Dodgers could have been in the 1950s if they had Roberto Clemente. The team had him and then lost him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Rule V Draft.
Clemente is the only Hall of Fame player to be selected in the Rule V Draft. Pittsburgh certainly did not expect him to be an all-time great when it chose him.
San Diego Padres: Trevor Hoffman
Trevor Hoffman had just 35.2 innings in the big leagues under his belt and was 25 years old when the San Diego Padres traded for him in 1993.
The deal turned out to be an incredible one for the Padres as Hoffman would go on to record 601 saves in the major leagues. Hoffman was inexperienced when the Padres acquired him and he eventually turned into one of the best closers in baseball history.
San Francisco Giants: Jason Schmidt
Prior to joining the San Francisco Giants, Jason Schmidt was an average pitcher at best and he certainly was not the leader of the pitching staff that he was on.
That all changed when Schmidt came to San Francisco. He had a 126 ERA+ and made three All-Star appearances in his seven years with the Giants.
Seattle Mariners: Jamie Moyer
Off all the stops that Jamie Moyer has made throughout his extensive major league career, Moyer's longest tenure came with the Seattle Mariners. He spent 11 years with the team.
Moyer was a part of the Mariners team that won 116 games in 2001 and he also had two 20-win seasons with the team. Overall, Moyer had a 112 ERA+ while in Seattle.
St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols
After watching him play in the major leagues, it is hard to believe that Albert Pujols lasted until the 13th round of the 1999 MLB draft before being selected by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Pujols would go on to become a legend in St. Louis and he has left a long legacy with the team. He is one of the all-time greats to wear a Cardinals uniform.
Tampa Bay Rays: Ben Zobrist
When the Tampa Bay Rays acquired Ben Zobrist in 2006, he was nothing more than a Double-A player that could hit for average but not power. Things have changed for him during his time with the Rays.
Zobrist has developed a power stroke but lost some of his ability to hit for a high average. The Rays are certainly okay with that as Zobrist has become an invaluable part of their team.
Texas Rangers: Michael Young
Michael Young put up decent numbers within the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system, but the team decided to deal him to the Texas Rangers in 2000 so that they could acquire Esteban Loaiza.
In 13 seasons with the Rangers, Young batted .301 and drove in 984 runners. He also appeared in seven All-Star Games and was the face of the franchise for years.
Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista
Based on his performance with the Pittsburgh Pirates, it appeared as if Jose Bautista would not have a long or impressive career in the major leagues. The Pirates no longer felt that he could help their team as much as another player so they dealt him to the Toronto Blue Jays.
After a few more years of mediocre production at best, a switch turned on and Bautista became a star. Bautista has become an All-Star and is currently one of the best power hitters in baseball.
Washington Nationals: Henry Rodriguez
To find the best surprise steal the Washington Nationals had, one has to go back to when the franchise was still in Montreal.
Henry Rodriguez was once a top prospect, but he struggled as he continued to climb up the ranks in the minors and when he got short stints in the majors.
Montreal traded for him and he showed why he had previously earned his ranking. Rodriguez had an impressive power stroke and slugged 62 home runs during his two-year stint with the Expos.
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