It's the rare MLB trade that sees blue chip prospects traded these days. You can't blame team GM's for being reluctant to surrender young, talent-laden assets with years of club control still ahead, even if it would mean landing a pretty enticing trade return. In fact, the only truly elite prospects to have switched teams in recent years were exchanged for truly special players. That was the case when the Chicago Cubs fortified what would be a championship bullpen by trading Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman and when the Boston Red Sox reeled in ace Chris Sale by dangling Yoan Moncada.
That's all to say that there is serious value in potential, which is why so many organizations have taken to hoarding their prospects. This hasn't, however, always been the case. Ever since MLB's Amateur Draft began in 1965, tight along with draft misses and draft busts, there have been countless occasions of ill-fated trades in which a drafted prospect blossomed elsewhere. As a matter of fact, there have been a whole host of major league standouts, from All-Stars all the way up to Hall of Famers, who only reached the highest level of professional baseball after they had moved on from their draft team.
And you're darn right we're going to list them! But first, a few ground rules. To best identify the 30 biggest MLB stars that never suited up for the club that drafted them, we will focus only on players who actually signed with their drafted team, since some players, like Paul Goldschmidt, were drafted without ever intending to sign a pro contract. We will also emphasize the "never" part of this - so even though Curt Schilling was traded from the Red Sox after they drafted and signed him, he doesn't qualify here after famously returning to Boston. Without further ado, here we go!
30 Addison Russell - Oakland Athletics
Addison Russell won't turn 25 until January, but he's already enjoyed some career highlights that some MLB lifers would be envious of. Russell collected both an All-Star nod and a World Series ring as part of the drought-ending 2016 Chicago Cubs. The middle infielder has been a lineup regular since day one, making both his Cubs and major league debut less than a year after being traded by the Oakland A's in an ill-fated deal for veteran hurlers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
29 Patrick Corbin - Los Angeles Angels
With Shohei Ohtani undergoing Tommy John surgery and just one pitcher on the team winning as many as 10 games, it's become painfully clear that the Los Angeles Angels need some pitching depth. It's a key part of the reason why the Halos missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season this year despite having Mike Trout, probably the best player in baseball. They sure could use some pitching help - you know, like Patrick Corbin. The Arizona Diamondbacks' two-time All-Star was drafted into the Angels' organization before being shipped to the desert as part of the 2010 Dan Haren deal.
28 A.J. Burnett - New York Mets
A.J. Burnett always had some serious, fireballer stuff, but the question was always whether he could harness it or not. While Burnett won 164 career games and earned an All-Star invite (at age 38, no less) and a World Series ring, he never seemed to make the most of his pitching talents. Still, the New York Mets, who drafted him in the eighth round of the 1995 draft, probably saw enough to know what they missed out on by trading him in the 1998 Al Leiter deal. After all, Burnett spent eight of his 17 seasons with rival NL East teams and three more as a member of the Subway Series rival New York Yankees, with whom he won the 2009 World Series.
27 Michael Brantley - Milwaukee Brewers
In order to acquire ace hurler CC Sabathia just one season removed from a Cy Young campaign, the Milwaukee Brewers had to pay up. They sent the Cleveland Indians a package that included top prospects Matt LaPorta and Zach Jackson, a costly but reasonable price to pay for a guy who would go 11-2 down the stretch with a near-unhittable 1.65 ERA. Three months later, after Sabathia's remarkable second half and amid far less publicity than the blockbuster deal initially drew, the Brewers quietly completely the trade by throwing in Michael Brantley as a player to be named later.
Brantley remains with Cleveland to this day, a full decade after Sabathia last pitched for Milwaukee. In that time, Brantley has been named to three All-Star teams and finished third in 2014 AL MVP voting.
26 Justin Turner - Cincinnati Reds
It would have been a match made in heaven for editors at Cincinnati newspapers had the very ginger Justin Turner risen to prominence as a member of the Reds, but alas, the fitting "Big Red" nickname was not meant to be. Instead, the 2017 NLCS MVP took a roundabout route - one that saw him pass through four different organizations before making his MLB debut - before winding up in Dodger blue. All Cincy has to show for the popular All-Star third baseman is two unmemorable seasons of catcher Ramon Hernandez.
25 Jason Bay - Montreal Expos
The narrative practically writes itself: homegrown boy in Canada achieves well beyond his 22nd round draft slot and becomes a star while playing in his home country. Well, not quite. Although Jason Bay did become a three-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year despite waiting to hear his name called until the 22nd round of the MLB Amateur Draft, it didn't happen at home. That's because the Montreal Expos, the club who drafted him, traded him for 13 games of utility man Lou Collier. Ironically, Bay's starry 2004 rookie campaign also represented Montreal's final season in Major League Baseball.
24 Ben Zobrist - Houston Astros
For as useful as utility players can be in baseball, they are rarely the biggest stars on a given roster. Such is the contradiction that rather nicely sums up the career of Ben Zobrist, who was never anyone's idea of an all-world talent, but who thrived anyway. Zobrist has never hit more than 20 home runs and hit over .300 for the first time this year at 37 years of age, but his resume has come to include three All-Star appearances, two World Series rings and even a Series MVP award.
The Houston Astros, who originally drafted him in the sixth round back in 2004, certainly didn't expect those lofty accomplishments from Zobrist when they traded him to Tampa Bay for Aubrey Huff in 2006.
23 Fred McGriff - New York Yankees
The New York Yankees love their sluggers and star power. They played in the House That Ruth Built and are popularly known as the Bronx Bombers. For all the big bats they've had over their record 27 championships, they missed out on a pretty good one when it came to Fred McGriff. Before the five-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger ever donned pinstripes, he was traded to the Blue Jays for Dale Murray and Tom Dodd. While few will feel pity for the Bronx Bombers in missing out on the owner of 493 home runs, it's worth noting that McGriff's prime coincided with a rare down period in Yankee history. Perhaps the Crime Dog would have made a difference.
22 Anthony Rizzo - Boston Red Sox
Missteps when it comes to the Boston Red Sox front office have been few and far between over the past decade or two. But make no mistake: giving up on Anthony Rizzo was one of those rare missteps. Yes, it earned the BoSox an MVP-caliber season from trade acquisition Adrian Gonzalez, but it came at the cost of Rizzo (among others), a three-time All-Star and 2016 World Series champion who has grown into a foundational piece for the perennially-contending Chicago Cubs. Imagine Rizzo in an already-loaded Red Sox lineup, where the only hole happens to be at his first base position.
21 Adam Wainwright - Atlanta Braves
Adam Wainwright seems to be at a crossroads in his MLB career. The right-hander is entering free agency at 37 years of age and coming off yet another injury setback - this time an elbow injury that held him to just eight starts this year. With an uncertain future, some preemptive tributes have been put forth for the lifelong St. Louis Cardinal. But for as tough as it may be to picture Wainwright in any other team's colours, he didn't actually begin his pro career in St. Louis.
The Braves originally took him in the first round of the 2000 draft, although they likely didn't see a future three-time All-Star and World Series winner, or else they wouldn't have thrown him in to their 2003 swap for J.D. Drew.
20 Jeff Bagwell - Boston Red Sox
It's fundamental human nature to compare oneself to others, so it must be hard to avoid those instincts as an athlete when you are traded for someone. And so it must have been at least a little bittersweet for Larry Andersen to see Jeff Bagwell be enshrined in Cooperstown last year. Famously, Bagwell was a prospect in the Red Sox farm system when he was traded straight-up for Andersen, a pretty good reliever who was in the 15th of a 17-year career at the time.
The biggest knock against him, however, was that he wasn't Bagwell. The deal saw the slugging first baseman end up in Houston, his only MLB home, where he would win both Rookie of the Year and MVP honours to go along with four All-Star appearances.
19 Trevor Hoffman - Cincinnati Reds
Cooperstown has been slow to come around to inducting closers into the Hall, so it was a pretty remarkable achievement when Trevor Hoffman got the call this year. And indeed, until Mariano Rivera becomes eligible next year, Hoffman was certainly the right guy to choose. Spending almost the entirety of his 18-year career with the Padres, Hoffman amassed 601 saves, good for second all-time to Rivera (and no one else is close). His career-best 53 saves came in the same 1998 season that the Padres last ventured to the World Series.
And to think, the Cincinnati Reds once let him go for... well, nothing. Hoffman was made available to the Florida Marlins in the 1992 expansion draft and selected before being flipped to San Diego in the Gary Sheffield trade one year later.
18 Adrian Gonzalez - Florida Marlins
Back in 2012, the Dodgers stunned the baseball world by pulling off a mega-deal past the non-waiver trade deadline, taking on the massive salaries of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford from the Boston Red Sox. It was believed that the Dodgers were mainly sold on the idea of bringing in Gonzalez as a star in a largely Hispanic market. You know which other major league team plays in a largely Hispanic market? That would be the Florida Marlins, who could have had Gonzalez on their roster for far less than the $21 million he was earning in LA.
To be fair, the Marlins did send him to Texas for closer Ugueth Urbina, who was integral in the club's 2003 World Series win. But losing Gonzalez and his five All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards had to hurt.
17 Michael Young - Toronto Blue Jays
Some trades carry nuances and complexities that make them difficult to evaluate on a simple winner vs loser level. The Blue Jays' trade of Michael Young and Darwin Cubillan for Esteban Loaiza is not one of those deals. It's actually remarkable how many ways the 2000 mid-season swap has blown up in the face of the Blue Jays. As we all know, Michael Young developed into a perennial All-Star and ultimately a member of the Texas Rangers' Hall of Fame. Even beyond that, though, the Jays got two middling seasons out of Loaiza before watching him head to Chicago and become an instant All-Star with the White Sox.
16 Josh Hamilton - Tampa Bay Rays
No, I certainly didn't intend for a reference about drug charges to segue immediately into an entry on Josh Hamilton, but it does feel apt, albeit a little cruel. To be sure, substance abuse problems played a central role in both the fall and dramatic redemption of the one-time first overall blue chipper. As such, its an oversimplification to suggest that Tampa Bay was wrong to give up on Hamilton. He would, in fact, pass through the Chicago Cubs and spend one season in Cincinnati before finding his true home with the Texas Rangers. It was there that, thanks to a tremendous support staff, he blossomed into a five-time All-Star and both a regular season and ALCS MVP. Even as he moved onto LA, it was never the same as his Texas days.
15 Josh Donaldson - Chicago Cubs
Hamilton wasn't the only MVP that was once in the Chicago Cubs' system before finding success elsewhere. Although the Oakland A's are often singled out for trading Josh Donaldson just in time for his 2015 MVP breakout in Toronto, Chicago was actually the original pro baseball home of the 32-year-old third baseman. Donaldson was the only real prize in a 2008 prospects package that netted the Cubs Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. It was the first of three lopsided transactions that Donaldson has now been a part of, with the most recent one seeing the three-time All-Star net just a player to be named later from the Cleveland Indians this past August.
14 Corey Kluber - San Diego Padres
Although Blake Snell won it, Corey Kluber very easily could've won third Cy Young award in five seasons. Even if he doesn't take home hardware after winning 20 games and leading the Cleveland Indians to their third straight AL Central pennant, Kluber has amassed an incredible body of work that would be the envy of 29 other major league franchises, but none moreso than the San Diego Padres. It was San Diego who drafted the 32-year-old back in 2007 before sending him to the Tribe in a three-team deal that netted them outfielder Ryan Ludwick. Kluber has now won 18 games or more in four of the past five seasons, while the Padres haven't had so much as a 14-game winner over that stretch.
13 Tom Seaver - Atlanta Braves
It was the 1969 season that saw the New York Mets' unlikely rise from perennial bottom feeders to World Series champions, but miracles for those so-called 'Miracle Mets' actually began years earlier. Take the tale of their ace, Tom Seaver. Seaver had signed with the Atlanta Braves after being taken in the first round of the 1966 Amateur Draft. However, MLB Commissioner William Eckert nullified the deal upon finding that Seaver had played exhibition games as a member of the USC Trojans. When the right-hander tried to return to college, however, the NCAA ruled him ineligible for having originally signed the pro contract.
Thus, Seaver was made available through a lottery process of interested teams, with the Mets emerging victorious. And just like that, they landed a future 12-time All-Star, three-time Cy Young winner and Hall of Fame pitcher.
12 Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips & Grady Sizemore - Montreal Expos
The Montreal Expos were on life support back in 2002, being operated and financially backed by Major League Baseball, when they made a stunning deal for Bartolo Colon. Some lauded them for having the moxie to actually add an established star, while others were bewildered by their ability to take on salary while being league-operated. Few, however, wondered if it was actually a good deal. Now, with baseball long gone from Montreal, we see how terrible a deal it turned out to be for the Expos. For all of 17 starts by Colon, Montreal surrendered Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore to the Cleveland Indians. If you're scoring at home, that's 10 All-Star appearances, six Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers and a Cy Young award.
11 John Smoltz - Detroit Tigers
Okay, let's give credit where credit is due here and offer some praise to the Detroit Tigers for what was some remarkable asset management. They managed to take a player drafted in the 22nd round of the 1985 Amateur Draft and turn him into Doyle Alexander, a reliable veteran hurler who would be an All-Star in his first full season in Detroit. The only problem, however, was that the draft pick in question turned out to be John Smoltz. The Braves, of course, took Smoltz and developed him into one-third of the revered pitching trinity alongside Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine that helped the club own the National League throughout the '90's and into the 2000s.
During a decorated 21-year Hall of Fame career, Smoltz would win Cy Young honors, make eight All-Star teams, win an NLCS MVP, earn a 1995 World Series ring and even reinvent himself as an elite closer with 144 saves over three seasons.
10 Tanner Roark - Texas Rangers
Though often overshadowed by teammate Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark is nevertheless a rotation mainstay for the Washington Nationals. Roark, the owner of a 16-win season, a 15-win season and a single 2016 NL CY Young vote, has spent the entirety of his six-year career in the nation's capital, but that isn't the only MLB team he's known. He was originally a product of the Texas Rangers' system, getting drafted by the Rangers in the 25th round of the 2008 draft.
Two years later, he was dealt, along with fellow pitching prospect Ryan Tatusko, to the Nats for veteran infielder Cristian Guzman, who contributed all of 46 at-bats and just seven hits for Texas.
9 Michael Fulmer - New York Mets
The thing about prospect trades is that you can never really rule on a winner right away, even as one trade participant may seem to be getting the upper hand. That was the case in the 2015 trade of Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets for prospects Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa. New York was surely pleased with their early returns, as the slugger bashed 31 home runs and earned an All-Star nod in his first full season in the Big Apple.
Things have turned since then, however, as Cespedes has struggled to stay healthy over the past two seasons while Fulmer won AL Rookie of the Year honors and an All-Star invite before regressing during what has been a hugely disappointing 2018 campaign. Dude's still 25, so there's no need to worry just yet.
8 Noah Syndergaard - Toronto Blue Jays
Reigning Cy Young winners don't come cheap, and so the Toronto Blue Jays had to pay up in order to pry R.A. Dickey away from the New York Mets. While the centerpiece of the return package was originally thought to be catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard soon emerged as the true prize of the deal. When healthy, the hurler known as Thor has been a Marvel (sorry). In just four seasons at the major league level, Syndergaard has two seasons of 13-plus wins and an All-Star appearance under his belt, not to mention a career 2.93 ERA to date.
Injuries, however, have become a lingering concern for the 26-year-old, costing him all but seven starts during a forgettable 2017 season. If the 6'6" righty can stay on the mound, he could well wind up with a Cy Young of his own.
7 Chris Tillman - Seattle Mariners
Can we count the ways in which Erik Bedard was a disaster for the Seattle Mariners organization? First off, acquiring the southpaw meant surrendering future All-Star pitchers in Chris Tillman and George Sherrill and superstar outfielder Adam Jones, who can't be included here because he did play parts of two seasons in Seattle. Secondly, Bedard was expected to be a frontline starter for the M's, but struggled to stay healthy and never won so many as seven games in the Pacific Northwest. The catastrophic Bedard trade would have already been bad if it only cost the Mariners Tillman, who has spent the last decade in Baltimore and was named to the All-Star Game during a 16-win 2013 season.
6 Dansby Swanson - Arizona Diamondbacks
On December 9, 2015, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves participated in a pretty unique deal that wasn't just your average talent swap. Both teams gambled on young assets, as the D-Backs parted ways with that season's No. 1 overall draft pick Dansby Swanson in order to acquire Shelby Miller, a 25-year-old righty who was named an All-Star and sported a 3.02 ERA despite incurring a league-high 17 losses for an awful Braves team.
In a deal where the protection of young assets was thrown out the window, its clear that Atlanta is a big winner, as Swanson looks like a rising star and the injury-prone Miller has won all of five games since the deal.
5 Jay Buhner - Pittsburgh Pirates
The wasted potential trade that Jay Buhner is most commonly associated with is the deal that saw the New York Yankees send a 24-year-old Buhner to Seattle for Ken Phelps. And if you don't believe me, just ask Frank Costanza. Before that, though, the Pittsburgh Pirates had already beaten the Yanks to the punch in giving up on the young slugger less than a year after drafting him. To get journeymen Tim Foli and Steve Kemp, the Bucs shipped out a trade package headlined by a future All-Star, 40-home run hitter and a Gold Glove right fielder in Buhner.
4 Gio Gonzalez - Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox liked Gio Gonzalez well enough to take him with their supplemental first round pick in the 2014 draft. After that, though, the ChiSox didn't exactly show the left-hander much love. In fact, they traded him - twice! He was first moved to Philadelphia as the player to be named later in the 2005 Jim Thome trade. Three years later, Gonzalez found himself back in the White Sox organization, only to be shipped out again, this time for Nick Swisher. That trade to Oakland helped him finally find a home in the majors and set off on a career that has produced two All-Star appearances and a 21-win season to date.
3 Trea Turner - San Diego Padres
You get the sense that including Trea Turner in the Wil Myers trade back in 2014 (they couldn't officially include him in the deal until 2015) will only look worse over time for the San Diego Padres. The versatile shortstop / second baseman / center fielder is already a bona fide everyday starter, as is evidenced by his league-high 664 at-bats this season. The 25-year-old doesn't have an All-Star nod to his name yet, but he finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2016 and looks like a foundational piece in DC, especially if Bryce Harper bolts this offseason.
2 Kyle Hendricks - Texas Rangers
When the Texas Rangers added Ryan Dempster at the 2012 trade deadline, they had one thing in mind: playoffs. Texas ultimately fell short to the Baltimore Orioles in the Wild Card game. Ironically, the guy they gave up has carved out a pretty good postseason pedigree of his own. Kyle Hendricks started Games 3 and 7 of the 2016 World Series, helping the Chicago Cubs end their 108-year title drought after a season in which he won the NL ERA title with a sparkling 2.13 mark.
1 Kelly Gruber - Cleveland Indians
It's been 25 years since Kelly Gruber hung up the cleats, yet he remains something of a living legend in Toronto. That goes to show the kind of currency you can earn by being a key member of a championship team. And Gruber was more than that. The third baseman spent nine years of his 10-year career with the Blue Jays, making two All-Star games and earning both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award. But for as much of a mark as the affable Texan made on Canada's team, he wasn't a Jays' draft pick. He was actually acquired for nothing as a Rule Five draft pick in 1983.