The 10 Best Trades in Seattle Professional Sports History

Phil CaldwellCorrespondent IIIJanuary 19, 2011

The 10 Best Trades in Seattle Professional Sports History

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    Although Seattle is a beautiful city with crisp snow-capped mountains and pristine waters, building professional sports dynasties is not our gift. In general terms, our teams are terrible.

    Be it stadiums built on ancient burial grounds, or just incompetent management, Seattle's professional teams have been a complete disaster for decades. The trades we make usually blow up in our faces.

    We have one single championship in the last half a century, and now that team is gone. Our baseball team tied a single season record for wins, but failed to make the World Series. When our football team finally advanced to the Super Bowl after 29 years of futility, referees stepped in and busted up the action.

    And yet in spite of all of this, our teams have actually done trades that worked out. Not often mind you, but once in a while the fleecing goes in the other direction.

    This article is devoted to those trades. The ones when Seattle teams have gotten the better of the deal.

    First a few ground rules: All of the players in this list were drafted by other teams. Few could argue, for example, that Supersonic great Gary Payton didn't deserve to be at the top of any list featuring former fantastic players in Seattle.  But in this case he is missing from the list.

    Why? Because he was drafted by the Sonics.

    None of the following players were drafted by Seattle’s franchises.  They were all on other professional teams before we got them, acquired by smooth-talking yet handsome general managers. Usually because of inside knowledge by a recently hired Seattle manager and/or coach.

    This should be a lesson for local fans who constantly whine and carry on about general managers not making enough trades.  As was evident when researching this article, the vast majority of great players were drafted by the team they play for. Very few impact players have been traded for, especially in Seattle.

    Secondly, this article includes only major league professional franchises, and not the forerunners of the modern game. Early 20th Century Pacific Coast League teams, or the other semi-pro teams, are not included in this list. Undoubtedly there were fantastic trades made by the 1917 Seattle Metropolitan NHL team, but they’re not included on this list.

    This article deals only with the modern era of the past 50 or so years.

    Here now, the top 10 best trades made by a Seattle professional sports teams!

#10: Seattle Mariners: The JJ Putz Trade to the Mets for 8 Players

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    In the last full season that JJ Putz pitched for the Seattle Mariners in 2007, he had 40 saves, pitched 71.2 innings of relief, and had a 1.38 era. This followed the 2006 season with 36 saves in 78 innings and a 2.30 era.

    In 2009 with the New York Mets, he was injured for over half the season and only pitched 29.1 innings with 2 saves and 5.22 era.

    Last year with the White Sox he threw 54 innings with 3 saves and a 2.83 era.

    In exchange for Putz, the Mariners received CF Franklin Gutierrez, OF Eddy Chavez, 1B Mike Carp, MIF Ronny Cedeno,  LHP Jason Vargas, LHP Garrett Olson,  RHP Maikel Cleto, and OF Zeke Carrera. But they gave up Sean Green, Jeremy Reed, and 2B Luis Valbuena.

    A year ago this trade looked like a Mariner fleecing of epic proportions, since Gutierrez and Vargas had decent years and the others were ok too. The moves it enabled the Mariners afterwards, makes it more complicated to rate, but suffice to say that three years later, this one is looking good for Mariner fans.

    But it’s still a bit too early to know the full results repercussions of this trade. Stay tuned....

#9: Seattle Mariners: Dan Wilson from Cincinnati for Brett Boone and Erik Hanson

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    When Lou Piniella was hired by the Seattle Mariners in 1993, he immediately set out to convince then-general manager Woody Woodward to acquire a young up-and-coming catcher in the Cincinnati Reds system that he was familiar with. It turned out to be one of the best trades in Mariner franchise history.

    The 24-year-old rookie Dan Wilson would be recognized as an American League All-Star six years later, and one of the top-10 defensive catchers in Major League history by the time he was finished with the Mariners.

    He grew up in Barrington, Illinois and was first drafted in the 26th round of the 1987 MLB draft by the New York Mets, but instead enrolled at the University of Minnesota. Later he was drafted again, this time by the Cincinnati Reds in the first round with the 7th pick in the 1990 amateur draft.

    The Mariners pulled off the heist for Wilson and much maligned reliever RHP Bobby Ayala on November 3, 1993.

    What Dan Wilson did for the Seattle Mariners cannot be measured in statistics. Known fondly by his nickname of “Willie,”  Wilson was a Mariner staple during his years in Seattle from 1994 through 2005. He is still regarded as one of the top-10 best defensive catchers in major league history with the 6th-best career fielding percentage of .995.  And like his mentor Jamie Moyer, his calming character and strong community leadership with charitable works, was almost as important as his baseball skills to the city of Seattle. 

    He was behind the plate and managed the pitching staff when the Mariners made their playoff runs in 1995 and 1997. In 1996 he made the American League All Star team, and was there again during the 2001 season when the Mariners won a major-league record 116 games,  batting .265 with only one error in 744 chances.  The following year of 2002, he hit .295 with .998 fielding percentage in over 96 games.

    He was never a power hitter, charting only 88 career home runs and 1,097 hits. But his 1,251 games made him a consistent fixture for some pretty decent Mariner teams, on a franchise where decent teams have been few and far between.

#8: Seattle Sonics: Hersey Hawkins for Kendell Gill and David Wengate

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    Traded to the Sonics in 1996 for disgruntled former All Star Kendell Gill, Hersey Hawkins became a major component of the five straight 60-ish win playoff teams of the mid 1990's. 

    Kendell Gill spent the two prior seasons feuding with then-coach George Karl over playing time and other matters, Seattle finally got fed up and traded him to the Charlotte Hornets in 1993! for Hawkins and journeyman David Wingate, who was mostly a role player for the Sonics.

    The reaction in Seattle and elsewhere was mostly muted. Kendal Gill had played some fabulous basketball for the up-and-coming Sonics during the two seasons prior, but he was a pain in the posterior for many reasons.

    Gill was part of the team to lose what many suspect was a thrown seventh game in Western Conference finals in 1993 versus the Phoenix Suns, due to a lucrative potential blockbuster Jordan vs Barkley finals, which did garner record viewership for NBC and the league. 

    But by the end of the 1992-93 season, Kendal Gill was riding major pine after several very public blowups. In came Hersey Hawkins, who had been drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers.

    In traditional Clipper fashion, Hawkins was immediately traded to Philadelphia. He would earn NBA All-Rookie First Team honors in 1989, and in 1991 made the NBA All-Star team while averaging 22.1 points along side, ironically, the same Charles Barkley.

    When Philadelphia blew up that team, Hawkins was shipped off to Charlotte where he had a couple of productive years before landing in Seattle during the 1993-94 pre-season.

    Along with just-acquired, former-Husky Detlef Schrempf, the two became key pieces in the terrific mid 1990’s Sonic teams that eventually ended up in the NBA finals.  Hard to say whether it was Schrempf or Hawkins that made the ultimate difference.

    Whatever the case, the trade worked extremely well for the Sonics, and Seattle enjoyed relative peace and success until the days of “Wonderful” GM Wally Walker when the team fell into ruin. 

    Walker eventually signed center bust Jim McIlvane to a seven-year, $35 million contract, which ticked off Shawn Kemp and started the spiral of events that resulted in the terrible Vin Baker trade. From there the unraveled, and a decade later the hapless franchise found themselves in cow-infested Oklahoma City.

    Hawkins would retire a Hornet after returning to Charlotte after a single injury-prone year in Chicago, with 14,470 points and a ranking of 15th all-time in career NBA three-point field goals made, but his greatest years were with those Sonic teams. And the trades that took place in the pre-season of 1993-94 brought a 60 win average in Seattle during the golden days of the mid 1990’s, with this one being the lynch pin of it all.

#7: Seattle Seahawks: Matt Hasselbeck from Green Bay for Draft Pick Switch

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    This one has draft picks involved, but only after Hasselbeck had been drafted.

    On March 2, 2001, just months before all eyes would be directed towards the national tragedy in New York and distracted by a 116-win Mariner season, new Seattle General Manager Mike Holmgren engineered a trade with Green Bay for backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, for a pittance.

    All Seattle gave up was switching first round draft pick positions with the Packers and sending their third-round pick to Green Bay. It ended up being the 10th pick for the 17th.

    Not much, considering the former Boston College quarterback went on to become a Super Bowl starter and three-time Pro-Bowler, and has led the Seattle Seahawks for the last six years.  

#6: Sonics: Benoit Benjamin and Doug Christie to Los Angeles for Sam Perkins

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    During the 1984 amateur draft, center Sam Perkins was drafted out of North Carolina by the Dallas Mavericks with the fourth pick. It was the pick directly after the Bulls took collegiate teammate Michael Jordan.

    Perkins spent his first five years in the league in Dallas, averaging around 15 points and eight rebounds. The Mavericks went to the playoffs in four of those years, getting as far as the Western Conference Finals in 1987-88. 

    In 1990 he signed with the Lakers, and in 1991 hit a three-point shot for a victory in the Laker’s only win during a 4-1 finals series loss to the Bulls.

    Two years after that, on February 22, 1993, Sonic GM Bob Whitsitt pulled off what could have been the biggest fleecing in Sonic history.  He traded the rights to cranky hold-out Seattle native Doug Christie—who the Sonics drafted out of Pepperdine but failed to sign—and threw in center stiff and major disappointment Benoit Benjamin, for Perkins.

    Known as “Big Smooth” throughout his career for his silky three-point shooting, he was another major component of the five straight killer Sonic teams during the mid 1990’s. Meanwhile the Lakers took a huge hit. 

    Benoit Benjamin, taken with the 3rd overall pick by who else, the Clippers in 1985, last was reported to have been hijacked at gunpoint by a man half his height, with Benjamin over a half a million past due child support. 

    The Sonics had been robbed by trading Scottie Pippen for Olden Polynice several years prior. They got swindled again, when in February of 1991, they unloaded Polynice and two first round draft picks to get Benjamin.

    After the trade to the Lakers, Benjamin played for a total of two months before they gave up and shipped him off to New Jersey for another well-known stiff named Sam Bowie (the same Sam Bowie who the Trailblazers had picked in 1984 instead of Michael Jordan).

    On the other part of the trade, Doug Christie played sparingly for the Lakers before being shipped off to the New York Knicks the following year. After brief stints at Toronto he eventually emerged as a defensive stalwart for the Sacramento Kings, before finally going to Orlando in a hostile trade where his career ended.

    Over a decade later Laker fans are still grumbling about this heist, that ended up transforming the Sonics from a good team, to a championship-contending team.

#5: Seattle Supersonics: Lenny Wilkens for Walt Hazzard

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    As the NBA was feeling heat from the rival ABA, they expanded into eight separate cities in a single season in 1967-68. Seattle was one of those cities.

    In the expansion draft the infant Sonics acquired Walt Hazzard, who ended up being the NBA’s seventh leading scorer that inaugural season with 24 ppg. He also represented the Sonics in the NBA All Star game during their first year.

    Fans soon learned the perils of professional sports, however, when the Sonics traded the new hero to the St. Louis Hawks in the off-season, for NBA All-Star guard Leonard Randolf Wilkens.

    Wilkens went on to lead the early Seattle teams, playing alongside former all-rookies (from the Sonic’s first ever draft),  1st round pick Al Tucker and 2nd round pick Bob Rule . 

    Lenny Wilkens was a nine-time NBA All-Star, and coached the Sonics to their first ever winning season in 1971-72 with a 47-35 record.  But when owner Sam Schulman issued an ultimatum to either coach or play, Wilkens chose to play and was promptly traded to Cleveland.

    Wilkens returned to coach the Sonics starting in 1977 for eight years, transforming an underperforming  5-17 team to the 1977-78 finals. He eventually retired as a coach with 1,332 career wins.

    Meanwhile Walt Hazzard played for the Hawks, Buffalo Braves and Golden State Warriors before returning to the Sonics to retire in after the 1973-74 season, never having another year like he did in Seattle.

    The impact Wilkens had on the Pacific NW, both then and now, can never be fully measured. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame on three separate occasions, once as a player and twice as a coach (including as an assistant on the Olympic Dream Team).

    Today he’s still in Seattle, helping Kevin Calabro broadcast the UW Huskies on radio.

#4: Seattle Mariners: Left-Handed Pitcher Jamie Moyer for OF Darren Bragg

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    Considering how badly the Red Sox fleeced the Mariners a year after this trade was made in the 1997 Heathcliff Slocumb fiasco (for Lowe and Veritek), this one brings smiles to the faces of Seattle Mariner fans.

    Perhaps Red Sox revenge for the pig they had succumbed to a year prior?

    During the late 1990’s, the Mariners had awful pitching. Several attempts to improve it failed, and with Jose Cruz Jr. coming up through the ranks, it seemed they could part with highly touted prospect and then-current left fielder Darren Bragg, without hurting themselves too critically. 

    So they made two deadline trades in late July of 1996.

    1) Outfielder Darren Bragg to Boston for left-hander Jamie Moyer; and 2) Desi Ralaford to Philadelphia for another lefthander, former National League All Star Terry Mulholland.

    Because of the team's cash flow, the plan was to re-sign whomever did better the remainder of the season. That ended up being Jamie Moyer.

    Bragg became the everyday starter for the Red Sox in centerfield for a couple of years, then was released and ended his career with unremarkable stints in St. Louis and Atlanta.

    At the time of the trade, Jamie Moyer was mediocre at best. During the previous decade he had been released by the Texas Rangers in 1990, St. Louis Cardinals in 1991, Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers in 1992 and Baltimore Orioles in 1995. The Red Sox picked him up, and he spent time in their bullpen, making seven starts. He was finally traded to the Seattle Mariners in 1996.

    For the Mariners, Jamie Moyer went on to post a 145-87 record with an ERA of 3.97. He still holds the Mariner career record for most wins. He pitched 2,093 innings and started 323 games for Seattle.

    But his greatest asset may have been as a teammate, and philanthropic work in the community with his foundation was better yet. His best season was during the remarkable 116 win run in 2001 where Moyer went 20-6, followed by the 2003 season where he went 21-7.  All for a mediocre outfielder who was out of the league soon thereafter!

#3 Seattle Mariners: Ken Phelps to the New York Yankees for OF Jay Buhner

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    This trade was so bad for the Yankees, that it was featured on a famous Seinfeld episode.

    The Yankees, as always, were in a pennant race. New York icon George Steinbrenner was desperate for a power hitter and decided to go after the Mariner’s veteran power hitter Ken Phelps.

    Phelps had 14 home runs in the 1988 season. The Yankees made an offer with a couple of pitching prospects and a throw-in outfielder rookie who looked sorta goofy when he batted.

    Turns out Jay Buhner would share the outfield with all-world Ken Griffey Jr. for almost a decade. Buhner’s best years were from 1995 to 1997, where he hit 40 or more home runs in three straight seasons.

    He finished his career with 310 home runs and 965 RBIs. He was an American League All Star, won a Golden Glove in 1996 and currently resides in the Seattle Mariner’s Hall of Fame.

    Ken Phelps? He hit .224 the remainder of the 1998 season, hardly got any playing time behind entrenched Don Mattingly at first base, and was eventually traded to the Oakland A’s after only hitting another 7 home runs.

    No wonder George Castanza's father ripped into Steinbrenner!


#2 Seattle Mariners: Mark Langston to the Montreal Expos for LHP Randy Johnson

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    In 1989, former World-Series winning manager Dick Williams of the Seattle Mariners had grown tired of the antics of ace pitcher Mark Langston. Williams accused Langton of being a spoiled brat, of being soft and not nearly competitive enough.

    With rumors that Langston would soon be headed to Los Angeles when he became a free agent at the end of the year, to help with his wife’s acting career, Seattle finally pulled the trigger on one of the biggest trades in their history.

    Nobody knew it then, but calling this trade “big” is a major understatement.

    Seattle got prospects Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris for Mark Langston and Mike Campbell. Later, Seattle would get three more prospects when they unloaded an unhappy and soon-to-be free agent Randy Johnson to Houston a decade later, for future All Stars Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen, plus John Halama.

    During Seattle’s remarkable “Refuse to Lose” season of 1995, it was the same Mark Langston who lost the one-game playoff for the Western Division title for the California Angels.  Lost it io one budding lefty superstar known as Randolf Johnson, who had been traded for him. 

    Johnson would go on to superman status for the Mariners. Brian Holman, too, came within one out of throwing a perfect game in Oakland before former Mariner David Henderson busted it up.  Harris also had moments of brilliance, but certainly not like Johnson.

    In Montreal that summer, Langston did pitch fairly well for the Expos in 1989.  Mariner fans cried and carried on about the trade that entire summer.  But as things turned, out this may have been the best trade in Mariner history.

#1 Seattle Seahawks: Steve Largent from Houston for Almost Nothing

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    Usually the best moves in professional sports involve luck, and no team won the NFL player trade lottery like the expansion Seattle Seahawks in 1976. 

    At 5-11 and 187 pounds, the Oilers thought Steve Largen was too small and too slow to ever be a serious threat in the NFL. But he had the uncanny ability to get open, and after only missing four games in 13 seasons with the Seahawks, he managed to amass every single NFL receiving record by the time he retired in 1989:

    Receptions (819), yards (13,089), and touchdowns (101), and the then-record streak of 177 straight regular season games with a reception.

    Selected with the 117th pick in the fourth round in the 1976 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers, he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks instead of being cut, for a couple bags of chips and a seventh round pick in the 1977 draft. 

    Largent went on to become a seven-time Pro Bowler and was named to the 1980's All-Decade Team.  

    Largent was also selected to the Hall of Fame in 1995 and was the first member inducted into the Seahawks' Ring of Honor. He is number 46 on the list of The Sporting News list of 100 greatest football players.

    For the other side of this debate, see Phil Caldwell's previous article entitled the 10 worst trades in Seattle sports history.