There's an old adage in sports that whichever team gets the best player in a trade wins the deal. It's a saying that gets thrown around quite a bit in hockey, but it can also apply to baseball. The belief is that making a deal that nets your team a star player is often a win because he can make a bigger impact than the total contributions of several lesser talented players. Teams often prefer quality over quantity. That's why, when a star player is traded - usually because he's on the verge of free agency, his play is on the decline, or the team is rebuilding -the acquiring team isn't hesitant to give up a package of multiple young prospects. Conversely, the team trading away their star usually aims to get one big time prospect in the deal, who down the line could conceivably end up being the best player in the deal.
As we know, trades don't always work out well for both sides and a trade to deal away a star player can end up leaving one team empty handed. Sometimes it's because prospects don't progress as well as expected. Other times it's because one of those prospects ends up becoming the starwhile the former star's play drops off. Every once in awhile, a deal that seems insignificant at the time ends up coming back to bite a team because a player has an unexpected breakout. Whatever the reason may be, the teams that traded away these star players often regret their mistakes when they end up with basically nothing in return. Here are the top 15 MLB players who were traded for basically nothing.
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15 Michael Young
A fifth round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997, Michael Young was still just a prospect when he and reliever Darwin Cubillan were shipped to the Texas Rangers for starter Esteban Loaiza in 2000. While Loaiza had a lengthy big league career, he didn't provide much in parts of three seasons in Toronto, posting a 4.96 ERA during his Blue Jays tenure before departing as a free agent.
As for Young, he went on to become one the Majors' most consistent shortstops and played parts of 13 seasons with the Rangers, making seven All-Star appearances, leading the league in hits twice, and taking home a Gold Glove and a batting title.
14 Pee Wee Reese
A one time prospect of the Boston Red Sox, Pee Wee Reese was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers midway through the 1939 season for $35,000 and several players, none of whom lasted very long in the Majors. Reese went on to play 16 seasons with the Dodgers, while missing three others as he served in World War II. He was a 10-time All-Star and finished tops in the NL in Defensive WAR four times. While he never took home an MVP Award, Reese did finish top 10 in voting for the trophy on eight different occasions. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984.
13 Nellie Fox
Signed by the Philadelphia Athletics in 1944, Nellie Fox saw limited action in three Major League seasons with the Athletics before he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox for Joe Tipton following the 1949 season. Tipton played parts of three seasons in Philadelphia, but wasn't anything more than a back-up catcher, while Fox went on to have a Hall of Fame career in Chicago. In 14 seasons with the White Sox, Fox made 12 All-Star appearances, finished atop the AL in hits four times, won three Gold Gloves and took home an AL MVP Award in 1959. Fox was posthumously inducted into Cooperstown in 1997.
12 Curt Schilling
Curt Schilling may have some very questionable political beliefs, but there's no denying that he had a very productive Major League career. A second round pick by the Boston Red Sox in 1986, Schilling bounced between the Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and Houston Astros before finally finding success with the Philadelphia Phillies. While the Red Sox and Orioles certainly didn't get equal value in their Schilling trades, it was the trade from the Astros for fellow young starter Jason Grimsley that ultimately provided the least value in return. Grimsley never made a single Major League appearance for the Astros before being released in 1993, while Schilling went on to play parts of nine seasons in Philadelphia, being named an All-Star three times and leading the Majors in strikeouts twice.
11 Johan Santana
Johan Santana was signed as a 16-year-old free agent by the Houston Astros in 1995. After several years in the minors, Santana was selected by the Florida Marlins in the 1999 Rule 5 Draft and subsequently traded to the Minnesota Twins for minor league pitcher Jared Camp, who had been taken with the prior Rule 5 pick, and $50,000 to cover to cost of the pick.
Camp never made it to the Major Leagues and while Santana struggled initially for the Twins, he eventually became one of the Majors' premier starters, winning two AL Cy Young Awards. In this case, the loss of Santana was probably a worse move for the Astros, who signed and developed him only to see him have success elsewhere, than it was for the Marlins, who only held his rights briefly before trading him for basically nothing.
10 Christy Mathewson
Originally purchased by the New York Giants in July of 1900, Christy Mathewson was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in that year's Rule 5 Draft but was later traded back to the Giants for pitcher Amos Rusie. Rusie pitched in just three games for the Reds with an ERA of 8.59. Meanwhile, Mathewson went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career, pitching parts of 17 seasons for the Giants with a 2.12 ERA while winning five NL pitching titles and two NL Triple Crowns (leading the league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA). Mathewson then finished his historic career by being traded back to the Reds where he pitched in one final game.
9 Lou Brock
Signed as a free agent by the Cubs in 1960, Lou Brock played parts of four big league seasons in Chicago before he was traded, along with Jack Spring and Paul Toth, to the St. Louis Cardinals for Bobby Shantz, Ernie Broglio and Doug Clemens. The latter three all lasted less than three disappointing years in Chicago while Brock became a first ballot Hall of Famer for the Cardinals. In parts of 16 seasons in St. Louis, Brock made six All-Star appearances, led the league in stolen bases eight times, and was named the 1974 Major League Player of the Year. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1985.
8 Jose Bautista
Another former Rule 5 pick, Jose Bautista was selected by the Baltimore Orioles from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2003. In 2004, he bounced around between the Orioles, Royals, Rays, and Mets before making his way back to the Pirates, making him the first and to date, only player to be a member of five different teams in one season. By 2008, he was still struggling to stay in the Pirates lineup on a daily basis.
So on August 21, 2008, when the Pirates shipped Bautista to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later, with Robinzon Diaz ultimately going to Pittsburgh. No one thought much of it. Two years later, Bautista was in the midst of a 54 home run season, on the verge of his first of back-to-back home run titles and first of three 40 plus home run campaigns, while Diaz had already played the last of his 43 career Major League games.
7 Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera played parts of five big league seasons with the Miami Marlins, helping them win a World Series title in 2003 and reaching the 30 home run mark three times. Following the 2007 season, the team decided to shop the 24-year-old star, rather than pay him big money. Although several teams were in the running, Cabrera was ultimately shipped to the Detroit Tigers, along with struggling starter Dontrelle Willis, for prospects Cameron Maybin, Mike Rabelo, Dallas Trahern, Frankie de la Cruz, and Burke Badenhop.
Maybin, who had been the 10th overall pick in 2005, was expected to be the crown jewel of the bunch, but he never lived up to his billing, struggling across three seasons with the Marlins before he was traded for a pair of relievers. The only other impactful player in the deal was Miller who developed into one of the Majors' top relievers, but not until after the Marlins shipped him out for a minor league pitcher. Cabrera went on to post six consecutive 30 home run seasons with the Tigers, including back-to-back 40 plus home run, AL MVP seasons in 2012 and 2013.
6 Jeff Bagwell
Jeff Bagwell played all 15 of his Major League seasons with the Houston Astros and, depending on who you ask, may or may not be a Hall of Fame worthy candidate. Bagwell took home NL Rookie of the Year honors with the Astros in 1991 and was unanimously voted NL MVP in 1994. He reached the 40 home run mark three times and finished his career with 449 home runs. However, Bagwell's impressive career began as a prospect of the Boston Red Sox. A fourth round pick by the Red Sox in 1989, Bagwell was shipped to the Astros a year later for reliever Larry Andersen. While Andersen pitched well for Boston, his Red Sox tenure was quite brief. He pitched in just 15 regular season games and three postseason contests before departing as a free agent.
5 David Ortiz
Signed as a 17-year-old free agent out of the Dominican Republic by the Seattle Mariners in 1992, Ortiz was not yet a 21-year-old prospect when he was shipped to the Minnesota Twins in 1996 as the player to be named later in a deal for infielder Dave Hollins. Hollins played just 28 games for the Mariners before departing as a free agent. Ortiz, meanwhile, played parts of six seasons in Minnesota and battled a number of injuries and struggles at the plate to post 18 and 20 home run seasons in limited action.
However, the Twins released Ortiz following the 2002 season and it wasn't until after he signed with the Boston Red Sox that offseason that Big Papi finally became a star, reaching the 30 home run mark nine times, the 40 home run plateau thrice, and hitting a whopping 54 bombs in 2006.
4 Ryne Sandberg
A 20th round pick by the Philadelphia Phillies, Ryne Sandberg played just 13 Major League games before he was traded, along with Larry Bowa, to the Chicago Cubs for Ivan de Jesus. De Jesus played three seasons in Philadelphia, batting .249, and is known primarily for his involvement in this lopsided trade. That's because Sandberg played 15 seasons with the Cubs, making 10 All-Star appearances, taking home nine consecutive Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, and both the NL MVP and Major League Player of the Year Awards in 1984. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
3 Pedro Martinez
Pedro Martinez signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a 16-year-old free agent in 1988 and pitched well in limited Major League action in 1992 and 1993 before he was traded to the Montreal Expos following the 1993 season for Delino DeShields. DeShields played three seasons with the Dodgers at second base, but was a pretty replaceable player. Martinez became a star in four seasons with the Expos, taking home the NL Cy Young in 1997, before he was once again traded for very little, this time to the Boston Red Sox for Carl Pavano.
While Pavano had a lengthy Major League career, he never pitched as well as expected for the Expos, posting an ERA of 4.83 in parts of five seasons in Montreal. He was definitely not a worthwhile return for Martinez who won two more Cy Young Awards and a World Series title in Boston.
2 Nolan Ryan
A 12th round pick by the Mets in 1965, Nolan Ryan played four Major League seasons in New York before he and three others were traded to the California Angels for third baseman, Jim Fregosi. Fregosi lasted just 146 games with the Mets batting .233 while Ryan became one of the game's all time great pitchers. He played 22 more seasons after being traded by the Mets, making eight All-Star appearances, leading the Majors in strikeouts 11 times, and throwing seven career no-hitters – a mark than isn't likely to be matched any time soon.
1 Babe Ruth
Undoubtedly the biggest star to ever be traded for basically nothing, Babe Ruth played parts of six seasons for the Boston Red Sox and helped the team to three World Series titles before he was famously shipped to the rival New York Yankees on December 26, 1919 for $100,000. Over 15 seasons with the Yankees, the Babe would fail to reach the 30 home run plateau just twice, leading the Majors in home runs 10 times, hitting a total of 659 home runs, and leading the Bronx Bombers to four World Series titles.
The Red Sox regret over the move has been well documented, as they went 86 years between championships with much of their failure being attributed to the "Curse of the Bambino". What Red Sox owner Harry Frazee needed $100,000 for remains unclear. It has been speculated that the money was used to finance the Broadway Musical, No, No, Nanette, but the validity of that claim remains in question.
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