Ranking the 5 Greatest April Trades in MLB History

Ben Stepansky@@benstepanskyCorrespondent IApril 20, 2013

Ranking the 5 Greatest April Trades in MLB History

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    How much of an impact do early season trades make? They occur infrequently and usually do not involve big-name players.

    The MLB trend is to anticipate the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and strike a deal on or before that date. It's one of the most exciting days during the baseball season, as contending teams look to land a player for their playoff push while cellar dwellers dump stars for prospects.

    So why aren't there any titillating transactions in April? 

    For one, most teams craft their rosters in the offseason, and it may take more than a few weeks in April to step into the rhythm of success. Also, with such a small sample size of games, determining the problem that a trade would solve is not always possible.

    Plus, those non-contending teams who could provide a worthy veteran or power bat are not willing to raise the white flag on a young season, succumbing to more dominate teams and crippling the fan base.

    All that said, here are the five greatest, if not the smartest, April trades of all time.

    (H/T to articles written by Bleacher Report's Doug Mead, Joel Reuter and Ely Sussman)

5. Chicago Cubs Trade for Fergie Jenkins

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    Cubs get: SP Fergie Jenkins, CF Adolfo Phillips and OF John Herrnstein

    Phillies get: SP Larry Jackson and SP Bob Buhl

    Date: April 21, 1966

    The core of an early season trade between the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies was two starting pitchers who were 12 years apart in age. 

    Larry Jackson was a 12-year veteran who was just two years removed from a second-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting—a season in which he led the league in wins (24) and threw nearly 300 innings (297.2), thanks to 19 complete games. 

    However, the Phillies would only get three seasons of work out of Jackson, who retired after the 1968 season. He went 41-45 with a 2.95 ERA in that span. 

    Fergie Jenkins was a fresh, young kid when he was traded to Chicago. The 23-year-old had only appeared in seven games for the Phillies in 1965 and was used liberally by the Cubs as a starter, reliever and closer in 1966.

    The next season, Jenkins entered the rotation and won at least 20 games in six consecutive seasons, including in 1971 when he won the NL Cy Young award. That year, he led the league in wins (24), games started (39), complete games (30) and innings pitched (325). He also collected 263 strikeouts. 

    Jenkins finished in the top three of Cy Young voting five times in his career and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.

4. Cincinnati Reds Trade for Brandon Phillips

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    Reds get: 2B Brandon Phillips

    Indians get: RP Jeff Stevens

    Date: April 7, 2006

    The Cincinnati Reds didn't have to give up much for their second baseman of the future.

    While Jeff Stevens would never pitch at the major league level for the Cleveland Indians, Brandon Phillips made an immediate impact for his new team in Ohio.

    In his first season with the Reds, Phillips batted .276 with 17 home runs and 75 RBI. His offensive numbers took a jump in 2007 during a breakout season in which he hit .288 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI. He also swiped 32 bases.

    Phillips has become one of the most consistent second basemen in the game, both offensively and defensively. His season fielding percentage has never dipped below .988.

    Stevens has seen action in just 33 games in his career, compiling a 6.27 ERA. 

3. Pittsburgh Pirates Trade for Andy Van Slyke

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    Pirates get: CF Andy Van Slyke, SP Mike Dunne and C Mike LaValliere

    Cardinals get: C Tony Pena

    Date: April 1, 1987

    While the swapping of four-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner Tony Pena to the St. Louis Cardinals for three young ballplayers didn't impact the Pittsburgh Pirates initially, it brought much success in the early 1990s.

    Center fielder Andy Van Slyke came to Pittsburgh as a 26-year-old and hit .293 with 21 home runs and 82 RBI in his first season with the Pirates. He would go on to slug 25 home runs and drive in 100 runs the next season and would win two Silver Slugger awards, four Gold Glove awards and be named to three All-Star teams over the next six seasons.

    He became a key piece to three consecutive Pittsburgh trips to the NLCS from 1990 to 1992 along with outfield teammates Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla.

    Starting pitcher Mike Dunne finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 1987, going 13-6 with a 3.03 ERA.

    Tony Pena remained a fantastic defensive catcher but never reached the same significant success that he experienced during his 20s in Pittsburgh.

2. Detroit Tigers Trade for Norm Cash

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    Tigers get: 1B Norm Cash

    Indians get: 3B Steve Demeter

    Date: April 12, 1960

    Steve Demeter wasn't cut out for a baseball life. Norm Cash was. 

    Demeter appeared in 11 games for the Detroit Tigers in 1959 and a whopping four games for the Cleveland Indians in 1960 before calling it quits. He retired with a .087 batting average in 23 at-bats.

    Norm Cash, on the other hand, tried another approach.

    On his way to becoming one of the most respected sluggers of the 1960s and early 1970s, Cash had his iconic season in 1961, just his second year with the Tigers and fourth in the majors overall. That season, the then-26-year-old won the batting title with a .361 average, leading the league in hits (193), OBP (.487) and OPS (1.148). Cash cranked 41 home runs and drove in 132 runs. 

    He was also an important piece to the Tigers' World Series championship in 1968, a season when the team won 103 games and defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

1. Cleveland Indians Trade for Tris Speaker

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    Indians get: CF Tris Speaker

    Red Sox get: SP Sad Sam Jones, 3B Fred Thomas and $55,000

    Date: April 12, 1916

    Disgruntled with Red Sox president Joseph Lannin asking to cut his salary (from $15,000 to $9,000), Tris Speaker was traded to the Cleveland Indians shortly before the start of the 1916 season

    The nine-year veteran had already led the Red Sox to two World Series championships in 1912 and 1915 and won the AL MVP award in 1912.

    In his first season with the Indians, Speaker won the AL batting crown with a .386 average and led the league in hits (221), doubles (41), OBP (.470), SLG (.502) and OPS (.972).

    Four years later, the future Hall of Famer would bring a world championship to Cleveland, which began his seven-year tenure as player-manager for the Indians. He guided his team to winning records in five of the seven seasons, though never reached the World Series.