Ranking the Top 5 MLB Trades of the Last 10 Years

Abbey MastraccoContributor IIJuly 1, 2021

Ranking the Top 5 MLB Trades of the Last 10 Years

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    After big MLB trades, people immediately ask which team won.

    The reality is that it's difficult to determine a winner right away. If the central figure in the deal helped his new team make the postseason, then you could say that team won the trade. But maybe the other team got a gem of a prospect who becomes a huge factor years later. It's possible for both teams to win the trade.

    Regardless, it's fun to look back at blockbusters and see how they worked out for each team, especially recent trades since many of the key figures are still playing. Here's a look at five of the biggest trades made in the past decade. A few factors went into these rankings:

    • How significant were the contributions from the centerpieces of the trades?
    • Did those players make their new teams better?
    • What did they help their new teams accomplish? Did they help with a postseason push or get those teams all the way to the World Series?

    Here are five trades, ranked in order of their impact.

5. Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    In December 2017, New York Yankees great Derek Jeter was the newly minted CEO and part-owner of the Miami Marlins, and Giancarlo Stanton was the National League MVP. He hit an MLB-leading 59 home runs that year and led the majors in slugging percentage at .631. He was also three years into a 13-year, $325 million contract, which was too rich for new Marlins management.

    The Marlins dumped the salaries of Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Stanton that offseason, dismantling a good lineup. Trading Stanton to one of the richest teams in baseball came as a shock because the Yankees didn't need to add a heavy-hitting outfielder to a loaded outfield led by Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks. However, they acquired Stanton in exchange for second baseman Starlin Castro and two prospects, right-handed starting pitcher Jorge Guzman and infielder Jose Devers. Trading Castro cleared the way for Gleyber Torres.

    Stanton hasn't matched the production from his MVP season, but he has been a big piece of the Yankees lineup. The club is struggling this season, but Stanton has the team's second-highest OPS and 14 home runs. Meanwhile, Devers and Guzman are still working their way through the minor leagues. The Yankees will be paying Stanton until 2028, so that contract could haunt them, but general manager Brian Cashman knew that would be a possibility when he acquired him.

    Ultimately, Stanton hasn't helped the Yankees get to a World Series, so this one doesn't rank high. He's been one of their more productive hitters this season, but he hasn't had a signature moment in pinstripes just yet. The Yankees are struggling to keep pace in the AL East this season, and they may have to make some big changes, but moving on from Stanton won't be one of them.

4. Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Let me preface this one: The Yoenis Cespedes trade worked out well for the New York Mets, but the contract he signed to stay with the team long-term did not work out well.

    The Mets were in the hunt for a playoff spot, but their offense was stagnant midway through 2015. They needed a big bat and Cespedes, then with the Detroit Tigers, was the biggest bat on the market. It was a huge trade at the time. Who could forget Mets infielder Wilmer Flores crying on the field thinking he had been traded from the only organization he had ever known? But that Carlos Gomez trade fell apart. The Mets were able to hang on to Flores and instead traded minor league pitchers Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa to Detroit for Cespedes.

    He hit 17 home runs, drove in 44 and had an OPS of .942 in 57 games. The Mets won 90 games to win the NL East and eventually won the National League pennant. That World Series electrified the city.

    Cepedes was an All-Star and a Silver Slugger the following season. The Mets signed him to a giant deal that winter, and it all went downhill from there. He was injured for much of 2017 and 2018; he underwent heel surgeries, but his rehab was set back after an accident on his ranch in Florida. He opted out of the 2020 season and hasn’t played since.

    Fulmer was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2016 and was an All-Star in 2017, but he hasn't matched his production since then. He missed 2019 to rehab from Tommy John surgery. He's 4-4 with a 4.05 ERA this season and currently on the injured list with a neck injury.

    The Tigers didn’t hang on to Cessa for long. They flipped him to the Yankees in the offseason for Justin Wilson. Chad Green was also sent to New York in the deal. Cessa has become a key fixture in the Yankees' bullpen.

    The Mets lost to the Kansas City Royals in the 2015 World Series, but this trade was signifiant because of the impact Cespedes had on the club over two seasons. The Mets haven't even made the playoffs since his injury issues started in 2017. This one ranks above the Stanton trade.

3. James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    This trade worked out well for the Kansas City Royals, but the club had to wait a few years to see it pay off.

    The Royals pulled off a stunner in December 2012. They sent Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard to the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields, Wade Davis and a player to be named later (Elliot Johnson). Shields was the key piece in this trade, but Davis became the most important part years later.

    Shields became a workhorse for the Royals, starting 34 games in back-to-back years. In 2014, he won five games in August and September to help pitch the Royals to the postseason. He wasn't as effective in the playoffs, but he did have a big win against the Los Angeles Angels in the American League Division Series.

    Shields left in free agency that offseason, but Wade Davis became an All-Star reliever. The Royals won the World Series, and Davis got the final three outs in Game 5 to clinch the title.

    As for the Rays' return, those players are all elsewhere. Myers won the AL Rookie of the Year Award with the Rays in 2013, but they traded him to the San Diego Padres two years after acquiring him. Shields later joined him in San Diego. Odorizzi is in a solid season with the Houston Astros. Mike Montgomery is playing in Korea, and Johnson hasn't pitched in the major leagues since 2014.

2. Zack Greinke to the Houston Astros

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    In 2019, the Houston Astros were shopping for pitchers as the trade deadline neared. They had checked in on Zack Wheeler, then with the Mets, but a deal never materialized. The San Francisco Giants ended up hanging on to Madison Bumgarner. Right at the deadline, they pulled it off: Zack Greinke and cash considerations for Seth Beer, Corbin Martin, J.B. Bukauskas and Josh Rojas.

    Greinke still had three years left on his contract, which is what made this deal even more valuable for the Astros. They would have Greinke for an extended period while their championship window was still open. And he delivered as promised, going 8-1 in 10 games down the stretch. The Astros reached the World Series with one of the most formidable rotations since the 1990s Atlanta Braves, but they lost to the Washington Nationals.

    This one ranks high but not as high as another Astros trade. Maybe Greinke will help them return to the World Series for a third time in four years and win it for a second time. If that's the case, the next time we do these rankings, this trade could end up higher. But for now, another tops the list...

1. Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Tigers were staring down a rebuild in the summer of 2017. They had traded J.D. Martinez, Alex Avila and Justin Upton. Trading their ace was the next domino. Former Houston ace Dallas Keuchel expressed disappointment in the club's decision not to bring in any pitching help at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Verlander had to be talked into the trade by general manager Al Avila, and even Keuchel jumped in to help recruit him.

    He wanted to go to a contender, and the Astros had the prospect capital to be able to make a deal and room to take on a salary like Verlander's. A deal fell through, but then somehow Luhnow and Avila made it work. A deal was completed on the last day possible at the last possible minute. Verlander signed the paperwork at 11:59 p.m., allowing him to be eligible for the Astros' postseason roster.

    Daz Cameron, the son of former outfielder Mike Cameron, Franklin Perez and Jake Rogers were on their way to Detroit for Verlander.

    He won four games in the postseason, and the Astros won the World Series.

    Meanwhile, the trio of prospects have all struggled to solidify themselves as major leaguers. But the manager overseeing the rebuild is familiar with them as well as Verlander: former Astros manager A.J. Hinch.

    This one tops the list because Verlander helped the Astros win a World Series, and he's continued to have success in Houston, winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2019. It was his second Cy Young, and he won it in his age-36 season. All trash can jokes aside, clearly he's been a fit for the organization.