Best gift each team has ever received

December 25th, 2022

With the holiday season in full swing, it's the perfect time to recognize the best gift every Major League club has ever received.

And while the old adage says it's better to give than to receive, there's no question that each team and its respective fanbase was grateful to be on the receiving end in the following instances. From landing star players to benefiting from controversial calls to front offices making the right decisions, here's a list of each team's best gift throughout MLB history:


Blue Jays: The José Bautista trade of 2008
Back in 2008, Bautista was a fringe player with the Pirates, his fourth MLB organization. The Blue Jays swung a minor trade with the Bucs, sending them catcher Robinzon Díaz, the type of trade that’s typically forgotten a year later. Instead, Bautista went on to become one of the greatest Blue Jays of all time, beginning with his historic 2010 season. That year, Bautista set a club record with 54 home runs, and by the time the postseason runs of '15 and ‘16 rolled around, the slugger was still the heart and soul of the team. There may never be a better trade for the Blue Jays, but every time a Major League club rolls the dice on upside, it's dreaming of finding the next Bautista. -- Keegan Matheson

Orioles: Frank Robinson falls into their laps
Sometimes, one trade can alter the course of an entire franchise’s history. The Orioles were growing into contenders when they acquired Frank Robinson from the Reds at the 1965 Winter Meetings in exchange for Milt Pappas, Dick Simpson and Jack Baldschun in what is now considered one of the most lopsided deals in Major League history. Robinson was already an MVP and a perennial All-Star at the time, but he bristled at Cincinnati ownership’s perception of him as a player in decline. He arrived in Baltimore at age 30 and he immediately proved that wasn’t the case. Robinson won the AL hitting Triple Crown and led the O’s to their first World Series title in '66, earning MVP honors in both the regular season and the Fall Classic. He’d anchor the O’s lineup for the next five seasons, during which Baltimore reached three more World Series and won another title. Decades later, Robinson’s impact on the franchise and city remains undeniable. Both were fortunate the Reds misjudged him when they did. -- Joe Trezza

Rays: The Delmon Young trade tree
Four years after selecting Delmon Young with the first overall pick in the 2003 MLB Draft, the Rays sent him (along with Brendan Harris and Jason Pridle) to the Twins for a return headlined by starter Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett. Garza and Bartlett played key roles in the Rays’ worst-to-first turnaround in 2008, helping Tampa Bay reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history, as well as for their 2010 AL East championship club. It was arguably the biggest trade in franchise history on its own merits, but it didn’t stop there. The Rays went on to deal Bartlett to the Padres in December 2010 for Brandon Gomes, Cesar Ramos, Cole Figueroa and Adam Russell, then they sent Garza to the Cubs in January 2011 for Chris Archer, Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer and Hak-ju Lee. In July 2018, the Rays flipped Archer to the Pirates for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Shane Baz. The trade tree has netted the Rays about 52 Wins Above Replacement over the last 14 years, a total that will only grow with time. For Tampa Bay, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. -- Adam Berry

Red Sox: The Twins releasing David Ortiz
When the Twins released Ortiz on Dec. 16, 2002, nobody could have guessed such a non-descript transaction would change the course of Red Sox history. Boston took a chance on Ortiz with an initial deal that was worth $1.25 million over one season. Ortiz wore the Red Sox uniform for the final 14 seasons of his career, leading the franchise to its first three World Series championships since 1918. Ortiz helped change the culture of the Red Sox and the Boston sports scene with his booming bat and gregarious personality. The perfect nickname of Big Papi was bestowed on him from the late, great Red Sox analyst Jerry Remy on a broadcast in 2004. Only Ted Williams hit more homers for Boston than Ortiz. In all, Ortiz smoked 541 homers over 20 MLB seasons to go with 632 doubles and a .931 OPS. Not bad for someone who was an injury-prone platoon player in Minnesota. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: Babe Ruth purchased from the Red Sox
Ruth’s exploits on the mound and at the plate had already helped produce three Red Sox championships when owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the Yankees on Jan. 3, 1920, for $125,000, plus a $300,000 loan (contrary to popular belief, Frazee did not use the proceeds to finance the show "No, No Nanette," which did not reach Broadway until 1925). Ruth propelled the Yankees from an also-ran into a juggernaut, leading the franchise to seven pennants and four championships. Attendance swelled as Ruth’s exploits led the club from the Polo Grounds into a palatial new home across the Harlem River in 1923; Ruth belted a remarkable 60 home runs in 1927, a single-season mark that stood for more than three decades. Saddled with the “Curse of the Bambino,” the Red Sox didn't win another title until 2004. -- Bryan Hoch


Guardians: Jim Thome falls to Round 13 in 1989 MLB Draft
We’ve all heard the underdog stories of players turning into superstars after falling to the later rounds of the MLB Draft. While the 13th round is far from Mike Piazza territory (drafted in the 62nd round), it’s hard to believe a Hall of Famer with 612 homers, 1,699 RBIs and a career .956 OPS was anything but a top pick. Of every player in Major League history to be selected in the 13th round, he owns the second-highest WAR (72.9), trailing only Albert Pujols. Thome was a dangerous bat in Cleveland’s lineup throughout the 1990s, helping create one of the most memorable decades in the organization’s history. Thome holds club records in home runs (337) and walks (1,008), and he ranks second with 937 RBIs. His time in Cleveland was so impactful that a statue was built in his honor on the concourse in center field at Progressive Field -- just steps away from a bronze plaque in the concrete that marks where his 511-foot homer (the longest home run in that ballpark) landed on July 3, 1999. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: Don Denkinger’s World Series call
In umpire circles, Denkinger was a star. But because of one call in a crucial moment, he’s an enemy on the eastern side of Missouri and somewhat of a cult hero on the western side. In Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, with the Cardinals leading the Royals, 1-0 -- and 3-2 in the series -- the Royals came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. Pinch-hitter Jorge Orta hit a chopper on the AstroTurf and steamed up the line. Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark fielded the ball in front of second baseman Tom Herr as reliever Todd Worrell ran to first, and Clark threw it sidearm to the bag. It’s a close play at first glance -- Denkinger rules the runner safe as the Cardinals begin arguing. On the replay, it’s clear Orta was out. But there was no instant replay challenge then, and the call stood. Of course, the Cardinals contributed to their own demise after that; Clark didn’t catch Steve Balboni’s foul popup, and then Balboni singled. After a passed ball, two men were in scoring position, and Dane Iorg got to be a hero against his former team, driving in two runs with a single to right and sealing the Royals’ victory. And perhaps the greatest gift for the Royals was 21-year-old Bret Saberhagen’s stellar performance in Game 7, shutting out the Cardinals to give Kansas City its first World Series title. --Anne Rogers

Tigers: Juan Gonzalez turned down record contract
Late Tigers owner Mike Ilitch forged a well-deserved reputation for some big contracts, but Detroit also had the good fortune of some players turning down contracts. One was Gonzalez, whom the Tigers acquired in a trade from Texas to bring a big-time slugger into Comerica Park for its inaugural season in 2000. Before the season, he turned down a reported eight-year, $140 million extension that would’ve been the largest contract in MLB history at the time. He was not a fan of the big ballpark, and he left as a free agent at season’s end. Gonzalez had a bounceback season in Cleveland in 2001, but he battled injuries after that and was out of the Majors by 2006, by which point the Tigers had a World Series team with help from free-agent signings Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez. -- Jason Beck

Twins: Johan Santana left unprotected in Rule 5 Draft
Rule 5 Draft picks are considered a success for a team when the selected player becomes even a modestly successful big leaguer who sticks on the roster. Getting a franchise-altering star and one of the greatest players in club history would be nearly unprecedented -- but that’s exactly what the Twins did in 1999. The Astros left a 20-year-old Santana unprotected after the young left-hander caught the eye of Minnesota scouts, and a pre-arranged deal between the Twins and Marlins brought Santana to Minnesota, along with $50,000, covering the cost of the pick. Once he was in the fold, the Twins knew they couldn’t let him go during a rough 2000 season. Two Cy Young Awards, a pitching Triple Crown and four division titles later, the rest, as they say, is history. -- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Getting Mark Buehrle in the 38th round
A strong argument can be made for Buehrle as one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history. But let’s go one step further and list the southpaw as one of the most popular and accomplished White Sox players overall. Buehrle arrived in the Majors two years after he was selected in the 1998 Draft and he posted 11 straight seasons in Chicago with at least 200 innings pitched, 30 games started and double-digit victories. He started Game 2 of the 2005 World Series and saved Game 3 by recording the final out in a 14-inning victory, having his No. 56 jersey retired in 2017. Buehrle finished 161-119 with the White Sox, while mentoring young hurlers along the way. He threw a no-hitter against the Rangers, a perfect game against the Rays, captured three of his four Gold Glove Awards in Chicago and finished as a five-time All-Star. Not a bad showing for a draft-and-follow out of Jefferson College in Missouri. -- Scott Merkin


Angels: Mike Scioscia becomes available as manager
Scioscia played his entire career with the Dodgers from 1980-1992 and he helped the franchise win the World Series in '81 and '88. After his career, he was being groomed as a future Dodgers manager, serving in a variety of roles, including as a catching coordinator, a Major League coach and a Triple-A manager. But he quit as Triple-A manager on Sept. 20, 1999, as he felt his voice wasn’t being heard within the organization. It turned out to be the Angels’ gain, as newly hired general manager Bill Stoneman’s first big move was hiring Scioscia as manager on Nov. 18, 1999. Scioscia helped change the direction of the franchise, leading the club to the organization’s first World Series title in 2002 in just his third year as manager. He went on to manage the club for 19 seasons from 2000-2018, winning AL manager of the Year honors in '02 and '09 and leading the club to six AL West division titles. He leads all Angels managers in wins, games managed and division titles, while becoming just the 23rd manager to win at least 1,000 games with one club. The Dodgers, meanwhile, had six managers during Scioscia’s tenure and never won a World Series during that stretch. -- Rhett Bollinger

Astros: Red Sox trade Jeff Bagwell to the Astros for pitcher Larry Andersen
Bagwell was a skinny third baseman who was blocked in Boston’s system, so the Red Sox traded him to the Astros on Aug. 31, 1990, in exchange for Andersen, a journeyman reliever. With Ken Caminiti established at third base in Houston, the Astros shifted Bagwell across the diamond to first. He was in the Opening Day lineup in 1991 and would remain there for 15 consecutive seasons. Bagwell appeared in four All-Star Games, amassed 2,314 hits, 449 home runs and 1,529 RBIs, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017. -- Brian McTaggart

Athletics: Yankees send Rickey Henderson back to Oakland
A 30-year-old Henderson was set to hit free agency at season’s end in 1989 and the Yankees were unwilling to offer him a long-term extension, instead opting to pursue a trade for the outfielder. Luckily for Oakland, Henderson reportedly made it clear he would only accept a trade back to his hometown A’s, with whom he’d spent the first six years of his big league career. Acquiring Henderson for left-hander Greg Cadaret, right-hander Eric Plunk and outfielder Luis Polonia on June 21, 1989, the A’s went on a run to a World Series title that year. Henderson played a starring role on the club, hitting .474 in a four-game World Series sweep of the Giants before going on to win the AL MVP Award the following season. -- Martin Gallegos

Mariners: Front office ignoring owner George Argyros’ wishes to draft Mike Harkey over Ken Griffey Jr.
Argyros, a California native, had his eye on the Cal State Fullerton standout in Harkey, widely touted as the best college arm that year. But scouting director Roger Jongewaard and GM Dick Balderson, who liked Harkey, viewed Griffey as a can’t-miss, face-of-the-franchise-type player despite being just 17 years old, and they took him with the No. 1 overall pick. Harkey carved out an eight-year career as a replacement-level player, while Griffey went on to earn 99.3% of the vote to become a first-ballot Hall of Famer, which at the time was the highest in history. The Kid and his teammates’ roles in the magical 1995 season also helped save baseball in Seattle. Argyros, meanwhile, sold the Mariners two years after that fateful Draft. -- Daniel Kramer

Rangers: Astros fail to re-sign Nolan Ryan during the 1988 offseason; Rangers swoop in
Ryan seemed poised to finish his career in Houston, where he had played since 1980, but a contract dispute between himself and the front office caused Ryan to open his free agency to other offers. He ultimately decided to stay in Texas, signing a two-year deal with the Rangers, where he ultimately finished his Hall of Fame career. Ryan was the first player to go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Rangers cap on his plaque despite having spent more time with both the Astros and Angels. He spent five of his 27 seasons in Arlington, posting a 51–39 record and a 3.43 ERA with 939 strikeouts in 840 innings, while also tossing his seventh no-hitter. --Kennedi Landry


Braves: Todd Van Poppel’s reluctance
Van Poppel was widely predicted to be the top pick in the 1990 MLB Draft. But every time Bobby Cox, Hank Aaron or anybody from the Braves organization spoke to the 6-foot-5 high school pitcher, Van Poppel said he planned to pitch at the University of Texas. This led Atlanta to instead use the first overall selection on Chipper Jones, who spent the following two decades becoming one of the franchise’s most beloved icons. Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. are the only players to be elected to the Hall of Fame after being taken with the first pick of any MLB Draft. Van Poppel produced a negative WAR (-0.3) and was used primarily as a reliever while producing a 5.58 ERA over 11 big league seasons (907 innings). -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: The Steve Bartman play
Many fans dreams of catching a souvenir when attending a baseball game. Unfortunately for Bartman, his chance went down in infamy. With the underdog Marlins five outs away from being eliminated by the Cubs in Game 6 of the NLCS, Luis Castillo sent a pitch toward foul territory in left field. In a sea of spectators, Bartman deflected the ball out of a leaping Moises Alou's reach. The Marlins would go on to score eight runs on five hits in the inning, erasing a 3-0 deficit with the help of a Mark Prior wild pitch and an Alex Gonzalez error. Eleven days later, the Marlins were crowned World Series champions. -- Christina De Nicola

Mets: Bill Buckner’s error in 1986 World Series Game 6
The Mets’ second (and most recent) championship might not have happened if Buckner had fielded Mookie Wilson’s two-out grounder up the first-base line cleanly. At best, the Mets would have gone to an 11th inning at risk of elimination. As it was, the play was a gift for the ages; the ball trickled through Buckner’s legs, the Mets forced Game 7 against the Red Sox and the rest is, quite literally, history. -- Anthony DiComo

Nationals: Mariners sweep Athletics in final series of ‘08
As the Nationals were swept by the Phillies in their final series of the 2008 season to finish 59-102, the results of a matchup across the country had major implications on the franchise for years to come. That same weekend, on the West Coast, the Mariners -- who had lost 14 of 15 games heading into their final series -- swept the Athletics to finish the season 61-101. With that, the Nats had the worst record in baseball and received the No. 1 pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. Washington selected Stephen Strasburg with the first overall selection and Seattle chose Dustin Ackley at No. 2. -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: Steve Carlton’s pay dispute with Busch sends him to Philly
Carlton went 20-9 with a 3.56 ERA with St. Louis in 1971, making his third NL All-Star team in his seventh big league season. Carlton wanted a raise, so he asked for $65,000 per year. Cardinals owner Gussie Busch told Carlton he would pay him no more than $60,000. The parties reached an impasse and Carlton held out, so St. Louis dealt Carlton to Philadelphia in late February 1972 for Rick Wise, who was the Phillies’ own holdout. Carlton went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA with the Phillies in 1972, winning his first of four NL Cy Young Awards. He finished his career 329-244 with a 3.22 ERA, 4,136 strikeouts and 10 NL All-Star appearances. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994 in his first year of eligibility. -- Todd Zolecki


Brewers: Judge rules Seattle Pilots can move to Milwaukee
Bud Selig was at home on March 31, 1970, when the phone rang at 10:15 p.m. Milwaukee Sentinel sports editor Lloyd Larson barked three words through the line before hanging up to chase deadline: “You got it.” The next day, the news was official. Judge Sidney Volinn had ruled in a federal court that the Seattle Pilots were bankrupt and should be sold to a group led by Selig in Milwaukee, where Opening Day was less than a week away. The last-minute drama birthed the Brewers, ending a five-year saga for Selig and a group of civic leaders who had run into roadblocks in their effort to bring a Major League Baseball team back to County Stadium following the 1965 departure of the Braves. “It had been five and a half years of disappointment after disappointment,” Selig said. “I remember that night I took a walk, thinking, ‘Who would have dreamed after all these years of wanting to own a Major League Baseball team, and now we do? Wow.’” -- Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: A heist of legendary proportions
One of the more lopsided trades in the Expansion Era -- and by far the most one-sided deal in Cardinals history -- the acquisition of Lou Brock by the Cards remains one of the most fruitful transactions pulled off by the franchise. In landing the stolen-base king of his time in the midst of the 1964 season, the Cardinals gave up three players whose primes were well past. Ernie Broglio was a solid player, but he went on to put up a 5.40 ERA in three seasons for the Cubs; Doug Clemens was out of the league within five years; and Bobby Shantz was in the final year of his admittedly great career, though he didn’t even finish the year with the Cubs. But the Cards? They merely got one of the most legendary players in their history, setting the then-record with 118 stolen bases in 1974 at the age of 35. Even more important: A World Series triumph in the first year of the deal, as well as another in ’67. -- Zachary Silver

Cubs: Landing Sandberg
There was a box left under the tree in January 1982, when then-Cubs general manager Dallas Green used his prior knowledge of the Phillies’ system to his advantage. In acquiring veteran shortstop Larry Bowa, whose contract dispute with Philadelphia made a trade inevitable that winter, Green also asked for a player the Chicago Tribune called an "untested Minor Leaguer." That player was Ryne Sandberg, who was included in the Jan. 27 deal that sent Ivan de Jesus to the Phillies. Once thought to be a future utility man, Sandberg spent 15 seasons with the Cubs, making 10 All-Star teams, winning nine Gold Glove Awards at second base and eventually having a home in the Hall of Fame. Sandberg won the NL MVP Award in 1984, when he helped the Cubs win the NL East, marking Chicago's first playoff berth since 1945. Ryno was the gift that kept on giving for Cubs fans, who had a generational superstar to call their own for parts of two decades on the North Side. -- Jordan Bastian

Pirates: The 1954 Rule 5 Draft
The Dodgers signed a Puerto Rican player named Roberto Clemente for a deal reported to be worth $5,000, with a $10,000 signing bonus, in February 1954. However, they didn’t add Clemente to their Major League roster, and he was sent to play with the Montreal Royals in the Minor Leagues. Since Clemente was signed for more than $4,000, rules at the time stipulated he had to play a minimum of two years on the Major League roster with the Dodgers or risk being unprotected in the offseason’s Rule 5 Draft. Despite Brooklyn’s connections to then-Pirates GM Branch Rickey, the Bucs took Clemente -- arguably Pittsburgh’s most revered baseball legend -- with the first pick of the Rule 5 Draft that November. -- Jake Crouse

Reds: Hiring an unknown Sparky Anderson
At age 35 -- but with his trademark white hair already sprouted -- Anderson was plucked from relative obscurity when Reds general manager Bob Howsam hired him after Dave Bristol was fired following the 1969 season. Anderson lacked a distinguished playing career, but he managed in the Minor Leagues for five seasons in the 1960s. In ‘69, he was a coach on the Padres’ Major League staff and he had departed there to take a coaching job with the Angels for the ‘70 season when the Reds called. Anderson inherited a loaded, but skeptical, Big Red Machine roster with future Hall of Famers like Johnny Bench and Tony Perez and eventual all time hits leader Pete Rose, and he immediately helped guide them to another level of success. Cincinnati won 102 games and the NL pennant in 1970. Under Anderson, the Reds went to the postseason five times in his nine seasons with four NL pennants and back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-76. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. -- Mark Sheldon


D-backs: Luis Gonzalez trade
Looking to add to his outfield, then-D-backs GM Joe Garagiola Jr. made arguably the most lopsided trade in franchise history when he acquired Gonzalez from the Tigers on Dec. 28, 1998, in exchange for outfielder Karim Garcia. Gonzalez would go on to slash .298/.391/.529 over eight seasons in Arizona. In 2001, he hit 57 homers and drove home 142 runs during the regular season, but will forever be remembered for a bloop single that brought home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning as the D-backs walked off the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series. Garcia lasted two seasons in Detroit and hit just .236 for the Tigers. He spent 10 years in the big leagues, finishing with 66 homers and a .241 batting average. -- Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: Kirk Gibson’s heroics
Gibson gave Dodger fans -- and baseball fans, in general -- one of the most memorable moments in MLB history in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against the A’s. Despite barely being able to walk, Gibson took Dennis Eckersley deep to help the Dodgers win the game. They would go on to win the World Series, and the image of Gibson limping around the bases is one of the most iconic moments in Dodgers history. -- Juan Toribio

Giants: Landing Christy Mathewson from the Reds
The New York Giants initially purchased Mathewson’s contract from the Virginia-North Carolina League in 1900, but they sent him back to Norfolk after six poor appearances in the Majors. That offseason, the Reds drafted the 20-year-old Mathewson before trading him back to the Giants for a declining Amos Rusie, resulting in one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history. Armed with his famous “fadeaway” pitch and precise control, Mathewson developed into one of the most dominant pitchers of all-time, going 372-188 with a 2.12 ERA over 17 seasons with the Giants. Rusie, another future Hall of Famer, pitched only three games for the Reds and logged an 8.59 ERA over 22 innings before announcing his retirement. -- Maria Guardado

Padres: Tony Gwynn in the third round
Every team passed on Tony Gwynn in the 1981 Draft. Then, every team passed on him again. It wasn’t until the third round (No. 58 overall) that the Padres took a chance on the scrawny outfielder from hometown San Diego State. They thought they’d gotten a steal at the time, but even they couldn’t have envisioned that he’d become a 20-year big leaguer and one of the greatest hitters who ever lived. Gwynn posted some gaudy numbers in college, but he was largely unheralded as a draft prospect after splitting his time between basketball and baseball for the Aztecs. In fact, Gwynn still stands as the all-time assists leader at SDSU, and -- in a fun twist -- he was drafted by both the Clippers in the NBA and Padres on the very same day in 1981. Gwynn chose baseball. Worked out for him. Worked out for the Padres, as well. -- AJ Cassavell

Rockies: No holiday like September and October
On Sept. 16, 2007, the Rockies shook off a three-game losing streak by beating the Marlins, 13-0, at Coors Field. Impressive as the win may have been -- with Garrett Atkins, Chris Iannetta, Matt Holliday and Todd Helton knocking homers -- the wider baseball community, if it paid any attention at all, passed it off as an also-ran team having a big night in its favorable ballpark. Very few outside Denver paid attention the next night, when the Rockies swept a doubleheader from the Dodgers, their longtime tormentors, with Helton blasting the winning homer in the nightcap. Well, almost a month later, on Oct. 15, the Rockies were going to the World Series. Between the blowout of the Marlins and the NLCS-clinching victory, the Rockies lost just once -- to the D-backs on Sept. 28. But that loss made the run even more remarkable. It plunged the Rockies into a tie for the NL Wild Card spot, which only provided the opportunity for a classic 9-8, 13-inning victory over the Padres in the tie-breaking Game 163. They then swept the Phillies in the NLDS and gained revenge over the D-backs by sweeping them in the NLCS. -- Thomas Harding