Re-evaluating MLB's Biggest Rental Trades of the Past 10 Years
Teams that feel they are close to being championship-caliber will occasionally take the risk of trading away young talent in exchange for one year, and sometimes only two to three months, of an impact player.
While sacrificing the "future"—players with impact potential who will be under team control for several years at a team-friendly rate once they reach the majors, if they're not there already—to give the big league team a better chance to advance to the playoffs and beyond for the current season has been known to backfire, it can also be great for business.
And because the business is heavily based on selling tickets—mainly to baseball fans who are focused on how good the team is right now and not three to five years down the road—it's important for a front office to be aggressive and "go all in" when they feel the time is right.
If all the pieces fall into place, the excitement surrounding the team during a heated pennant race and the capturing of a division title, as well as the anticipation of a playoff series—not to mention ticket sales for games that aren't on the regular-season schedule—and the actual playoff run is what can win over a fan for life.
For most of us who have loved a particular team since our youth, it's very likely that we didn't become passionate about a team that was losing year after year. Even if it was just one magical season, like in 1984 when the San Diego Padres won the heart of this then-nine-year-old, the excitement of that winning season is what made you want to cheer for that team from that point on.
Regardless of the outcome, you can't blame an organization for acting on a golden opportunity to win over thousands of new customers for life. Many have worked out great. Others, not so much.
Here are eight of the most notable trade rentals over the past decade with an updated grade for each team involved in the deal.
Angels Acquire Mark Teixeira (July 2008)
Los Angeles Angels acquire 1B Mark Teixeira; Atlanta Braves acquire 1B Casey Kotchman and RHP Stephen Marek.
After adding Teixeira in late July 2008, the first-place Angels quickly pulled away from their division rivals, finishing with 100 wins and a 21-game lead in the AL West.
During his 54-game regular-season stint with the Halos, Teixeira posted a 1.081 OPS with 13 homers and 43 runs batted in. He didn't slow down in the American League Division Series, reaching base in 11 of 19 plate appearances (seven singles, four walks), but it wasn't enough, as the Angels were defeated in four games by the Boston Red Sox.
Just like that, his career in Anaheim was over.
Fortunately, the price to acquire Teixeira turned out to be a small one, as Marek never reached the majors during an injury-plagued career, and Kotchman's career has been underwhelming since leaving the Angels. Still, it was a missed opportunity and an abrupt end to the season for one of the best Angels teams of all time.
Los Angeles: A-
Angels Acquire RHP Zack Greinke (July 2012)
Los Angeles Angels acquire RHP Zack Greinke; Milwaukee Brewers acquire SS Jean Segura, RHP Johnny Hellweg and RHP Ariel Pena.
The Angels missed the playoffs with Greinke, and Segura was a National League All-Star the following season.
While that may have been one of the worst-case scenarios, it's hard to blame the Angels for taking a chance.
They had two superstar hitters in their lineup, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, and adding a third impact starter to a rotation that already included Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson would've made them a very dangerous team had they earned a playoff berth.
Segura was also blocked from regular playing time in Anaheim by Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick up the middle, and to be fair, no one expected him to be as good as he was in 2013 (.752 OPS, 12 HR, 20 2B, 10 3B, 44 SB).
Still, the Angels would love to have him in their lineup now, and the addition of Greinke in 2012 didn't make them a better team, at least not in the wins and loss columns; they were 55-45 at the time of the trade and 44-38 after. Greinke posted a 6-2 record with a 3.53 ERA in 13 starts.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto won't admit it, but he probably would love to have a do-over on this one.
Los Angeles: C
Astros Acquire Carlos Beltran (June 24, 2004)
Houston Astros acquire OF Carlos Beltran; Kansas City Royals acquire C John Buck, 3B Mark Teahen and RHP Mike Wood; Oakland Athletics acquire RHP Octavio Dotel.
After starring on non-competitive Royals teams for more than five seasons, Beltran finally got his chance to play meaningful games late in the season when the Astros acquired him on June 24, 2004.
With a 37-34 record and sitting five games out in the NL Central, the 'Stros added another impact hitter to an already strong lineup that included Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent.
It wasn't enough to win the division, but the Astros went 54-36 after Beltran joined the lineup behind his .926 OPS, 23 homers and 26 stolen bases. It was enough to earn a playoff berth, though, where Beltran began his illustrious postseason career—in 51 postseason games to date, Beltran has a 1.128 OPS with 16 homers and 40 runs batted in.
They were eventually knocked out of the NLCS by the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, but they had won a playoff series for the first time ever when they defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. Beltran was 20-for-46 with eight homers, 14 runs batted in and six stolen bases over the team's 12 playoff games.
While Buck and Teahen each put together a handful of solid seasons for the Royals—Buck had a .709 OPS and 70 homers over 584 career games; Teahen had a .749 OPS and 59 homers in 676 career games—the Astros aren't likely to have regretted the trade at any point despite advancing to the World Series the following season without Beltran.
Kansas City: C-
A's Acquire Matt Holliday (November 2008)
Oakland Athletics acquire OF Matt Holliday; Colorado Rockies acquire OF Carlos Gonzalez, RHP Huston Street and LHP Greg Smith.
The Rockies got five terrific seasons out of Holliday, including 2007, when he finished second in NL MVP voting and led the team to its first World Series appearance. Flipping him to Oakland prior to his last year of team control for six years of Carlos Gonzalez was a very smart move.
The A's, on the other hand, may have acted prematurely. After back-to-back poor seasons, general manager Billy Beane tried to make a move that would bring the team back to its recent glory days when it had eight straight winning seasons from 1999-2006, which included five playoff appearances.
Acquiring Holliday didn't help despite his .831 OPS with 11 homers and 12 stolen bases in his 93 games with the team.
When the A's started slowly and quickly fell out of contention—they were 40-54 and 17 games out of first place on July 24—Beane tried to recoup what he gave up to acquire Holliday by flipping him to the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the trade deadline.
In the end, the A's ended up with future bust Brett Wallace while Gonzalez became a star for the Rockies.
Brewers Acquire CC Sabathia (July 2008)
Milwaukee Brewers acquire LHP CC Sabathia; Cleveland Indians acquire 1B Matt LaPorta, OF Michael Brantley, RHP Rob Bryson and LHP Zach Jackson.
Even if Matt LaPorta turned out to be a perennial 30-homer hitter, as some had projected while he was in the minors, the Brewers wouldn't take back the rental of CC Sabathia for 17 regular-season starts and one postseason start in 2008.
But LaPorta wasn't very good—he had a .694 OPS with 31 homers in 291 career games for the Indians; he recently signed to play in the Mexican League—and Sabathia was absolutely dominant with an 11-2 record, 1.65 ERA, seven complete games and three shutouts to lead the Brewers to their first playoff berth since 1982
While he was knocked around in his lone playoff start in the NLDS, which the Phillies won in four games, Sabathia's impact down the stretch won't easily be forgotten by Brewers fans. Even if Brantley finally develops into an All-Star-caliber player—he has an .840 OPS and six homers through 34 games—enough time has passed that Brewers fans aren't likely to look back and wonder what if they had held on to Brantley.
Mariners Acquire Cliff Lee (December 2009)
Seattle Mariners acquire LHP Cliff Lee; Philadelphia Phillies acquire three minor leaguers: OF Tyson Gillies, RHP Phillippe Aumont and RHP J.C. Ramirez.
After an 85-win season and a third-place finish in 2009, the Seattle Mariners were hoping to take the next step in 2010 and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. By acquiring 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, they felt they had put themselves in excellent position to do just that.
But despite having Lee—who went 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 starts as a Mariner—and Felix Hernandez—who was on his way to winning his first AL Cy Young Award—leading the rotation, the M's were a terrible team.
After a loss to the New York Yankees on July 8 dropped their record to 34-51, the M's, who were 16 games out of first place, threw in the towel and traded away Lee, who was set to become a free agent at the end of the season, to the division-rival Texas Rangers.
While the package of players the Mariners received for just a few months of Lee has turned out to be much better than what they traded away—mostly because Gillies (.547 OPS in Triple-A), Aumont (12 BB in 11.2 Triple-A innings) and Ramirez (signed by Cleveland as a minor league free agent; hasn't pitched in 2014 due to injury) have proven to be busts—it still hasn't given them much value (see Lee to Rangers slide) considering how well Lee was pitching at the time.
By sending Lee packing and giving up on the season, any excitement the team had built up with its strong 2009 efforts and the offseason acquisition of Lee was likely all but gone.
Rangers Acquire Cliff Lee (July 2010)
Texas Rangers acquire LHP Cliff Lee and RHP Mark Lowe; Seattle Mariners acquire 1B Justin Smoak and three minor leaguers: IF Matt Lawson, RHP Blake Beavan and RHP Josh Lueke.
At the time of the deal, the Rangers were at the top of the division with a 5.5-game lead. They had lost four out of 10, however, and maybe general manager Jon Daniels sensed a letdown coming because they were about to lose three more in a row.
In reality, the Rangers did appear to have a strong hold of the division, and the Lee acquisition was all about setting the team up for success in the playoffs.
While Texas only went 40-37 the rest of the way and Lee wasn't overly impressive—he was 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA with the Mariners prior to the trade; he was 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 15 regular-season starts with the Rangers—the division lead never dropped below 4.5 games, and the team coasted into the playoffs.
That's when the trade began to pay dividends, as Lee went 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA, one walk and 34 strikeouts in three starts between the ALDS and ALCS to help lead the Rangers to their first World Series appearance ever.
Lee was ineffective in the two World Series starts, but his impact was great enough for the trade to be worth it even if the players traded away became productive major leaguers.
Of the players traded away, though, only Smoak has had any type of success in the majors. His overall production, however, is mediocre for a first baseman, and he hasn't come close to living up to the hype. The 27-year-old, who is the regular first baseman for the Mariners, still has time to boost Seattle's grade, but he's running out of time.
Reds Acquire Shin-Soo Choo (December 2012)
Cincinnati Reds acquire OF Shin-Soo Choo; Cleveland Indians acquire OF Drew Stubbs, RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Matt Albers and RHP Bryan Shaw; Arizona Diamondbacks acquire 1B Lars Anderson, SS Didi Gregorius and LHP Tony Sipp.
It's not too late for Bauer to emerge into the front-line starter that many thought he'd be when the D-backs took him with the third pick in the 2012 draft. The 23-year-old has a 1.12 ERA in his first six Triple-A starts and was also terrific in one big league spot start earlier in the year.
Still, it's impossible for Indians fans not to wonder what could've been if Choo had been on the roster during the team's magical run of 2013, which ended in a Wild Card Game loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. The difference could've meant a division title—they finished a game behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central—and a better position to advance deep into the playoffs.
On the other hand, the Reds are probably more than satisfied with what Choo gave them in his lone season in Cincinnati (.885 OPS, 21 HR, 34 2B, 20 SB, 112 BB, 107 R). They were also eliminated after a Wild Card Game, though there isn't a player that they dealt away who could've made them any better had they kept them.