Depending on the team and players you show support for, the Major League Baseball trade deadline can either be a heartbreaker or a ray of sunshine on a dark winter’s day. Depending on your association with the game — if you’re a player, a general manager, a writer, a diehard fan, etc — you can feel the same emotions but tenfold.
The trade market around the annual July 31 movement deadline is essentially a competition inside a competition with so many unpredictable moving parts. On account of this, we’ve seen a myriad of surprising trade deadline deals that have sent shockwaves through the majors while also sending fans into elation (and suffrage, of course). Transactions of this caliber occur yearly, but some unimaginable transfers hold large chunks of our memory to this day.
Some of them are win-win deals, with the seller getting a package that assists mightily in their rebuilds or retools while the buyer acquires All-Star level late-season help. Some of them are total robberies, with one team running away as clear winners of the deal. Some are utter disappointments, with traded players failing to live up to the hype that necessitated a trade in the first place.
What we’re going to look at today, with the 2018 trade deadline staring us right in the face, are the absolute best performances from traded players in MLB history. Guys that are traded from their old teams (often times for scraps) who lit the baseball world on fire with their new teams, sometimes obtaining hardware in the end.
Complete with a few honorable mentions, these are the five-most effective trade deadline acquisitions in MLB history.
Mark Teixeira: Now retired and a part of the ESPN broadcast team, Mark Teixeira was a borderline superstar in his prime, and he showed that superstar ceiling in 2008. Traded from the Atlanta Braves to the Anaheim (now Los Angeles, whatever) Angels, Big Teix hit .358 with 13 homers, more walks than strikeouts (32 to 23), and an OPS of 1.081 over his 53 games in SoCal.
The Angels fell in the American League Divisional Series to the Boston Red Sox and lost Teixeira to free agency in 2009. The switch-hitter signed with the New York Yankees, earning the Angels a compensatory first-round MLB Draft history in 2009… which turned into Mike Trout. All things considered, this was a franchise-altering trade and it cost the Angels two players, Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek.With the @MLB trade deadline looming, @TomDorsa ranks the most effective trade deadline acquisitions by a contender in baseball history.Click To Tweet
J.D. Martinez: If you’ve been following MLB this season, you’re not unfamiliar with J.D. Martinez raking. After the Detroit Tigers sent the right-handed power-hitter to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the deadline last season, Martinez knocked 29 home runs, drove in 65 RBIs, and hit .302 while slugging an MLB-best .741 in 62 games for the D-Backs. Pretty good production from a guy acquired for three minor-leaguers.
Justin Verlander: Different from anything else on this list in that Verlander was a waiver trade acquisition, the future Hall of Famer went 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in five regular season starts for the Houston Astros last season, and continued that excellence into the postseason where he took home AL Championship Series MVP honors.
It’s hard to say you lost a trade when the player you received was a pivotal asset in winning a World Series, but Verlander still has two years of control remaining. All Houston had to send to the Detroit Tigers was three of their many super-talented prospects. They would make that trade yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Fred McGriff: Amid an epic 1993 fire sale from the San Diego Padres, the Braves nailed down potential Hall of Fame first baseman Fred McGriff, who hit .310 with 19 home runs, 55 RBIs, and an OPS over 1.000 down the ’93 stretch run for Atlanta. 130 of his career 493 long balls came as a Brave, as did his only World Series title in 1995.
Mark McGwire: Much of Mark McGwire’s legacy is as a St. Louis Cardinal, a legacy (tainted or not) that would have never formed without a midseason, 1997 deadline day trade from the Oakland Athletics. With the Cards, McGwire knocked 24 long balls and blah blah blah, whatever, a year later he captivated audiences around North America with his chase for a then record single-season home run mark, hitting 70 in 1998.
Whether that record matters to you or not, McGwire instantly became a St. Louis legend with his unparalleled, totally legal and natural power and only costs the Cards forgettable players Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews, and Blake Stein.
5. Cardinals nabs Lou Brock from Cubs
In the early 1960s, the Chicago Cubs had one of the fastest dudes in the history of baseball, whose wheels and contact-heavy bat would eventually propel him to a Baseball Hall of Fame induction. Chicago, in true pre-2016 Cubs fashion, dealt Brock to their midwestern rivals St. Louis for a package headlined by pitcher Ernie Broglio on deadline day in 1964.
Broglio went 7-19 with an ERA over five in his 33 starts (59 total appearances) with the Cubs, being run out of the major leagues by 1966. Meanwhile, Brock went on to have one of the most productive careers in the history of the MLB left-field position, slashing .297/.347/.414 with 129 home runs, 814 RBIs, and a whopping 888 steals (his total of 938 is second-best all-time) over his 16 years as a Cardinal.
Brock would win the World Series twice, make six All-Star rosters, and garner MVP votes ten times after the deadline day swap from Chicago and St. Louis. Brock was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.
4. The Big Unit heads to Houston
The 1998 Astros were loaded from top to bottom with elite talent. The NL Central winners had five position players hitting .300 or better, four starters with double-digit wins, and super-relievers Billy Wagner and Trever Miller to hold down the fort in the bullpen. Much like the 2017 Astros needed Verlander as a finishing touch to a division champ, the ’98 Astros needed Seattle Mariners strongarm Randy Johnson.
Johnson was acquired for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and John Halama, who all contributed something to the Mariners, but the Astros got what they needed when they nailed down The Big Unit. Johnson went 10-1 with an ERA of 1.28 in 11 post-deadline starts, going 84.1 innings, striking out 116 batters, posting four complete game shutouts, totaling 4.3 bWAR, and setting a 322 ERA+ plus mark.
This trade isn’t remembered for Johnson’s absolute dominance the way it should be, and instead recalled as the big, hyped-up deal that didn’t matter in the end because Houston was ousted in the NL Divisional Series. What it was, however, was Houston going all-in and getting a Hall of Famer who put up an 11-game stretch no Astro has replicated before or since. It was magic.
3. CC Sabathia‘s dominance in Milwaukee
Winning the AL Cy Young Award as a member of the Cleveland Indians the year prior, fans knew CC Sabathia was one of the game’s preeminent starting pitchers. When Cleveland dealt the impending free agent left-hander to the Milwaukee Brewers near the deadline in 2008, fans of the Brew Crew got to experience the Sabathia dominance for themselves.
Sabathia was lights out for a Brewers team that stormed through the second half of the season and won the NL Wild Card spot. The 6’6″ behemoth went 11-2 in 17 starts, posting an ERA of 1.65, 128 strikeouts, and a 255 ERA+ in 130.2 innings. Seven of his 17 starts were complete games, and three were complete game shutouts. This was after a shaky, 6-8 start with Cleveland, meaning CC turned it all around and did it fast.
He finished fifth in the NL Cy Young Award voting, and sixth in the running for MVP. It wasn’t a total loss for the Tribe, who got Michael Brantley in return, but the Brewers were clear winners of the trade for the second half of a win-now, contending season.
2. Welcome to Mannywood
Manny Ramirez, for better or worse, was always overly dramatic. With the Red Sox, Ramirez faked a knee injury to skip games and force a trade, citing “The Red Sox don’t deserve a player like me.” It was always this way with Manny, but in 2008, the 12-time All-Star wanted out, and got his wish as part of a three-team trade that sent Ramirez to the Dodgers.
Manny wasted no time getting acclimated to his new team, slashing a ridiculous .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs, 53 RBIs, a 221 OPS+, and a fourth-place MVP finish despite only 53 games — less than a third of the schedule — spent in the National League. L.A. became Mannywood when the 36-year-old righty arrived on the scene and instantly starting ripping things apart.
Ramirez helped the Dodgers- heck, he led the Dodgers to a win in the NLDS before falling to the eventual World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies. He was always one of the most enigmatic players in the game, but when Ramirez was on, there was little any pitcher could do to get around him. All he cost the Dodgers was Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris.
1. Rick Sutcliffe, NL Cy Young Award winner
You’ve probably heard about the Cubs and Indians trade surrounding starting pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, but if you weren’t around to see it (like me), it’s still legitimately dumbfounding to read up on. Sutcliffe, a former Rookie of the Year in the AL, looked like he had lost it. His record with Cleveland in 1984 was 4-5 and his ERA sat over five with no signs of trending downward.
So the Indians traded their former ace to the Chicago Cubs for a pretty respectable package headlined by a youthful Joe Carter two days before the 1984 deadline. Sutcliffe, because baseball is the weirdest game ever, promptly went 16-1 over his 20 starts as a Cub, posting a ERA of 2.69, seven complete games, three shutouts, 155 strikeouts, and a 3.9 bWAR score. Sutcliffe won himself the NL Cy Young Award for his unbelievable resurgence.
The Cubs won the NL East in 1984, and by bWAR, Sutcliffe was their second-most valuable player that season behind only Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. The Cubs set out to acquire a reclamation project, hoping to reignite a former ace, and got themselves a Cy Young winner instead. Decent!