By In Baseball

Ten Most Lopsided Trades Ever

If you look closely, you will see No. 36 on the all-time baseball list.

Let’s make a steal

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43 Responses to Ten Most Lopsided Trades Ever

  1. Face says:

    Where’s number 36 on the all time list, I thought you stopped writing those

  2. Cory Boyes says:

    Not only is the Lofton/Taubensee trade lopsided – it also started that insane chain reaction that led to Corey Kluber.

  3. Writer of Letters to the Editor says:

    The lack of copy editing on this blog has always been one of it’s frustrating charms. The lack of copy editing at comes off as faintly depressing.

  4. Karyn says:

    Three comments so far. Two complaints. About free content.

  5. NevadaMark says:

    How about Cedric Durst and 50,000 bucks going from the Yankees to the Red Sox for Red Ruffing? Wasn’t Ruffing the Yankee ace for 10 years? I know not a thing about Cedric Durst.

    • NevadaMark says:

      Just looked it up: Durst played ONE season with the Red Sox and was gone from the game forever.

      • Justin says:

        Ruffing is a fascinating case because his career featured such a drastic turnaround. At the time of the trade his career record was 39-93 and a career high ERA+ of 104. It seems unfathomable that he ended up 273-225. Obviously team context played a huge role, but it wasn’t quite the same as trading an unknown commodity and having him blossom. Here you had an established pitcher who was clearly cromulent at best, but not a world beater, improving drastically once he went from the worst team in the league to the best team.

  6. Jaunty Rockefeller says:

    Delino DeShields for Pedro Martinez straight up? Pedro didn’t fully become Pedro until a few years later, and DD was adequate for a few seasons…but that was pretty evidently a huge mistake within a season or two.

  7. Anon says:

    I’ve always thought it was interesting that Schilling was traded 5 times and the team trading him away got hosed every single time.

    • jalabar says:

      What is also interesting is that, as Pos says above, Houston traded all three of the players they got from Baltimore in that horrendous deal, but the one they kept the longest, the one they valued the most, was Harnisch. Finley finished his career with 300+ HRs and SBs and 2500+ hits and Schilling became Schilling, but the guy who earned almost all of those 14 WAR for Houston post-trade was Harnisch.

  8. Cliff Blau says:

    It’s not clear that there was a Mathewson for Rusie deal. Do you have a contemporary source for that?

  9. You mention the fact that the Mets traded Amos Otis for Joe Foy, and of course it was a bad deal for the Mets. But if you ask any Mets fan what the Mets worst trade of all time was, you will get a unanimous vote for Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi. To a Mets fan, that is on par with selling Babe Ruth. Somehow, I didn’t see this one pop up on your list.

    Now I know that certain people like to claim Nolan Ryan was overrated, but wherever you choose to put Nolan in the pantheon, this 300 game winner/Hall of Famer/all-time strikeout/no-hitter king had an awesome career, in exchange for a washed up infielder who hit a soft .230 in about a years worth of playing time for the Mets. I mean, I suppose it doesn’t prove your baseball bona fides to pick such a famous brick of a trade, but sometimes the obvious answer is the right answer.

    • JDN says:

      As the article states clearly, the value is for the team who traded for the player. The Angels had Nolan Ryan for 8 years, for a total of 40.1 WAR (BR). That’s a good pitcher, but since it doesn’t take into account his later years in Houston and Texas, it doesn’t rise to the level of some others on the list.

      • For a moment, let’s imagine Nolan Ryan without the measuring stick of WAR. If Nolan Ryan had dropped dead the day he signed with Houston, he would still have been a legendary pitcher, throwing 100mph heaters in a perfect power motion,

        In 8 years with the Angels, the 5-time All Star had 4 no-hitters, 7 strikeout titles (5 times over 300 Ks, including the single season best at 383), and 43 shutouts (leading the league 3 times). However you slice it, Nolan Ryan was the hardest pitcher ever to hit—ever—despite throwing an insane number of innings.

        Jim Fregosi, well, he was no longer able to play shortstop during his year with the Mets, moving his 4 home runs to 3rd base.

        Amos Otis was a good player, but there have been plenty of Amos Otis’s out there, some better, some worse. Nolan Ryan has his own room in the pantheon of all-time greats.

        • Anon says:

          Why does it always go here with Ryan? Dude, RYan is a legend and a great pitcher but let’s not get carried away here. With the Angels the guy also led the league in walks 6 of 8 years and was 2nd the other 2 and he was injured 1 of those 2 years. But even that doesn’t quite capture it. He usually led the league by HUGE margins and you can’t just pretend that doesn’t matter. Despite being a K machine, guy was only top 10 in ERA 4 times with the Angels and never higher than 3rd even though he pitched in a great pitcher’s park. THis despite the K’s and the fact that he was actually really good at preventing HR (or really, any hits) – the 3rd part of FIP.

          As an aside, the only reason RYan still holds the single season K record is because Randy JOhnson’s was skipped in his last start of 2001 on the last day of the season because the DBacks already had a post-season spot tied up.

          • Richard says:

            Consider the Ryan – Fregosi trade from the Mets point of view. Ryan was their #4 starter (behind Seaver, Koosman, and Gentry), and he had known control issues. The Mets had plenty of good young pitching (the line that “you can never have enough pitching” hadn’t been written yet); what they needed was a bat. Fregosi was a six-time All-Star….

            Given the information available at the time, it looks like a decent trade.

          • Yes, Ryan had control issues, particularly as a young pitcher, and gave up a lot of walks, which is why he isn’t the greatest pitcher of all time, only the most dominant. We can’t all be perfect. Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle both led the league in strikeouts 5 times—if only they made more contact! To be in the top ten in ERA 4 years out of 8 with the Angels was pretty darn good, particularly when you consider the boatload of innings he was piling up. Ryan threw 326 and 332 innings in 1973 and 1974, which makes his 2.88 ERA over that span all the more impressive (the ERA leader in 1974 was Buzz Capra, who threw 217 innings—who would you rather have?).

            My larger point is about value. 4 no-hitters in 8 years may be statistical static, but they were electric in real life. Ditto all those Ks and shutouts, the sheer domination of opponents, the excitement when he took the mound. Ryan was an icon who transcended the game, so that even a casual fan knew who he was. How do you even begin to measure that?

  10. Trent Phloog says:

    I was shocked not to see Cleveland trading Bartolo Colon to Montreal for Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Phillips on this list. Seems crazy lopsided, but I guess it doesn’t quite fit the rules you set.

    Sizemore racked up 27.5 bWAR for Cleveland; Lee added another 16. Colon had one unremarkable year for the Expos (2.4 bWAR). That’s +41 for Cleveland.

    Phillips did almost nothing for Cleveland and they gave him away to Cincinnati, where he has racked up 28 bWAR so far. If Cleveland had kept him, this could have been a +69 trade!

    Plus, I don’t know if it’s legitimate to consider “downstream” effects of a trade, but Lee eventually netted Carlos Carrasco from the Phillies, and he’s put up 4.6 bWAR, and looks like a good bet for more. A few more years might push up the total…

    Can anyone think of another case where a team gave up THREE quality major-leaguers for basically a rental?

    • invitro says:

      I don’t know how you define rental, but Joe did mention the Glenn Davis trade.

      • Trent Phloog says:

        Good point — forgot that. But Pete Harnisch wasn’t as good as Sizemore, Lee, or Phillips.

        • jalabar says:

          Harnisch did make an all-star team for Houston before he was traded again. He went 45-33 for Houston, winning over 11 games per season and going 16-9 with a 2.98 ERA in ’93. He also later had a 16 win season with Cincinnati. So, while he may not be the level of Sizemore, Phillips, or Lee, he was a solid major-league pitcher. And it’s arguable that the difference between Finley (300+ HRs, 300+ SBs, 2500+ hits and excellent outfield D) and Schilling and any two of the players from that other trade makes up for the difference between Harnisch and the other guy.

      • jalabar says:

        Yeah, it was NOT the Orioles intention to rent Davis. He was under contract for a couple seasons, and was traded in the off-season. However, he played very badly, then got injured, and again, and again, and again, and then done. He famously got injured one of those times in a bar fight, having his jaw wired shut, and then again getting hit with a foul ball will spacing on the bench.

    • Justin says:

      As a big Expos fan at the time, I thought it was pretty poor, since the Expos were still a longshot to make the playoffs. I do enjoy the fact that Bartolo Colon still has a shot at outlasting all Lee, Sizemore, and Phillips.

  11. LoSonnambulo says:

    Looks like the Pirates trade of Wilbur Wood for Juan Pizarro just misses the top ten, or maybe was overlooked? Wood rang up 51.8 WAR for the White Sox, Pizzaro -1.4 WAR before being sold to Boston, for a 53.2 difference.

  12. John Leavy says:

    Gabe Paul made a lot of great trades for the Yankees (Danny Cater for Sparky Lyle, Lindy McDaniel for Lou Piniella, et al.), but the best trade he ever made had to be sending pitcher George “Doc” Medich (he earned the nickname honestly- he wa a medical student) to Pittsburgh for Willie Randolph.

    Randolph had a career WAR of 65.5, while Medich never amounted to much after the trade.

    • rmdesh says:

      If I remember the Yanks also got Doc Ellis (not a real M.D.) in that trade. He was their #3 starter in ’76 and had a good year. They also got Ken Brett I think in that deal – George’s brother – although they traded him mid season.

  13. Jack says:

    Well the Red Sox nearly made it to the honorable mentions on the good side of a trade – Heathcliff Slocum (0.5 WAR for Seattle post-trade) for Derek Lowe (19.4 WAR for Boston post-trade) and Jason Varitek (24.3) for a differential of 43.2 WAR.

    • Jack says:

      Also, those numbers were rWAR (I don’t believe Joe specified which version he used). fWAR has Slocumb-0.6 Lowe-19.1 Tek-24.7 for an identical 43.2 differential. Funny how things work out. Apologies for Slocum vs Slocumb as well.

  14. AaronB says:

    Joe, quick comment on the Wise/Carlton trade. It wasn’t the Card’s GM who wanted to do it, he did on orders from Gussie Busch over a $5000 dispute. Busch later admitted it was one of the worst decisions he’d made.

  15. Tom Wolf says:

    With respect to Joe Morgan, you cherry pick the year 1971 to justify your narrative that playing in the Astrodome caused him to be under-valued. I have heard this argument from Bill James. However, the facts don’t clearly prove it to be true. Before 1971, going back to his 1965 rookie year, Morgan’s slash numbers were always better at home.

  16. John Leavy says:

    Doc Medich only spent one mediocre season in Pittsburgh, and had a WAR of 1.2. Meaning the Yankees got a net gain of 64.3 WAR. That should put the Randolph trade well within the all time top ten most lopsided trades.

  17. The Red Sox almost made the list (again, on the good side) with THEIR Pedro Martinez trade. They got Pedro (53.7) for Carl Pavano (2.6) and Tony Armas Jr (7.8) for a difference of 43.3 bWAR.

  18. Cuban X Senators says:

    The tale of Glenn Davis’ Orioles career just isn’t complete without stating that during his first Oriole spring training he developed a degenerative nerve issue lead to muscular atrophy, then while in week two of a rehab assignment, he had his jaw broken outside of a Tidewater bar and lastly while coming back from that, Davis was hit in the head by a line drive into the dugout.

    The trade was going to be a disaster already, but that string of slapstick, ludicrously bad luck sure did compound things.

  19. Herby Smith says:

    I’ve been hammering the point about the Cubs making out BETTER in their mid-60’s trades (instead of worse) for years. Fergie Jenkins was basically an 83 WAR player, or almost exactly DOUBLE the Career value of Lou Brock.
    His career value is very similar to the career value of Bob Gibson and/or Pedro Martinez.

    And what’s always inexplicably left out of the Brock-for-Broglio screaming: at that time, the Cubs had two good-hit, terrible-field Leftfielders, Brock and Billy Williams. Both had noodle arms, so playing one in RF wasn’t an option (though they tried). Go look up this on FanGraphs: the worst-FIELDING OFers in baseball history. Both Brock and Billy Williams are close to the top (bottom?) of the list.

    Billy was a proven hitter, already a multiple All-Star. He would continue to be more valuable, until they retired. The Cubs actually traded away the correct LFer.

    • NevadaMark says:

      Yes, but the RETURN was terrible. Isn’t that the whole point?

      • Herby Smith says:

        Yes, you’re right. I can’t even TRY to argue that one.

        Joe mentioned that Trade #2 (Bagwell) was the only trade in this article that was totally inexplicable. Most of these trades made some sense at the time, but just turned out very badly for one of the teams.

        I guess I was trying to give some reasons why Brock-for-Broglio seemed vaguely reasonable at the time. The Cubs had two talented young leftfielders who couldn’t play any other position. They really needed starting pitching. Broglio was a 20-game winner, and was considered one of the premier starters in the NL at the time. Brock was basically Corey Patterson, circa 2004; great speed, swung at everything, had surprising power, and showed promise…but had never done anything to live up to his hype.

        As many have noted, almost every star player from BOTH teams initially thought the Cardinals had gotten swindled. Ron Santo expressed that he couldn’t believe the Cubs had pulled off such a great trade, while Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver, and Bill White were all PISSED (and publicly said so).

        But as you said…yeah, it turned out hideously for the Cubs.

  20. David Cohen says:

    I thought you had quit doing the top 100 list.

  21. Wilbur says:

    People forget the trade after the the 1962 season between the Cubs and Cardinals: George Altman for Larry Jackson. Altman was an All-Star right fielder for the Cubs coming off two near-great seasons. He didn’t do much for the Cardinals and was traded after one season, as I recall. Jackson pitched very well in ’63 and then won 24 games in ’64 and was later swapped to the Phillies for Ferguson Jenkins.

  22. Bill Caffrey says:

    He was much too far into his career at the time of the trade to accumulate enough WAR post-trade for it to make this list (or even come close) but as a Mets fan I’ve always been partial to Keith Hernandez for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. Hernandez compiled 26.5 WAR for the Mets in just 5 1/2 seasons. Allen put up -.2 for the Cardinals, Ownbey -.3, so that’s a +27 for the Mets.

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