Stars who were traded as top prospects

November 20th, 2023

MLB clubs are taking a calculated risk when they trade a highly ranked prospect. There's always a chance the player will go on to reach stardom while wearing another team's uniform.

There are numerous examples of this happening, but here are 12 notable ones.

A few notes on the selections:

• This list only goes back to when Baseball America began putting out an annual top 100 prospects list in 1990. To qualify, players must have ranked in the top 100 shortly before or after the trade. They also must have retained rookie eligibility when the trade occurred. (So, for example, no Pedro Martínez, whom the Dodgers dealt after his rookie year).

• While some young players could ultimately join this list, the focus here is on those who already have produced at least 15 career WAR.

• Preference was given to players who excelled with the team on the receiving end of that original trade. Others, such as Adrián González and Brandon Phillips, didn’t break out until they were traded again, past the point when they were considered prospects.

Here are the players, in descending order of when they were traded.

Dansby Swanson: AZ to ATL, December 2015
Pre-2016 ranking: 8th (MLB Pipeline)
This was a stunner. Just six months earlier, the D-backs had made Swanson, a Vanderbilt shortstop, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 Draft. He did nothing the rest of that season to call that pick into question, posting an .876 OPS in 22 Minor League games. But Arizona was trying to load up its rotation, signing free agent Zack Greinke to a big deal and then going after Miller, a 25-year-old righty who had pitched to a 3.27 ERA while making 95 starts for the Cardinals and Braves over the three previous seasons. The D-backs took immediate criticism for the trade, which also sent righty Aaron Blair (also a Top 100 prospect) and young center fielder Ender Inciarte to Atlanta. Indeed, the move proved disastrous for the D-backs. Miller battled injuries and ineffectiveness over three seasons in the desert, Inciarte became a three-time Gold Glove Award winner in Atlanta, and most importantly, Swanson spent six seasons as the Braves' everyday shortstop, helping lead them to a World Series title in 2021.

Trea Turner: SD to WSH, June 2015
Pre-2015 ranking: 62nd (MLB Pipeline)
Because of a since-scrapped rule that prevented players from being dealt until a year after they were drafted, Turner was the unnamed “player to be named later” in a three-way trade from December 2014 between the Padres, Nationals and Rays, which sent Wil Myers (among others) to San Diego. Turner, who had been picked 13th overall in the 2014 Draft, began the ‘15 season in the Padres’ system until the trade could go through. The wait was certainly worth it for Washington, where Turner established himself as an elite shortstop and won a championship in 2019 before being traded to the Dodgers in 2021.

Anthony Rizzo: SD to CHC, January 2012
Pre-2012 ranking: 37th (MLB Pipeline)
A sixth-round pick, Rizzo spent his first four professional seasons in the Boston system before heading to San Diego in the Adrián González deal. The first baseman was only a Padre for about a year, which included a rough MLB debut (.141 in 49 games) but big numbers at Triple-A. Theo Epstein, who had drafted Rizzo with the Red Sox, then reacquired him for the Cubs, in a deal that sent pitcher Andrew Cashner to the Padres. Needless to say, the Cubs got the better of that one, with Rizzo becoming a championship-winning franchise cornerstone.

Carlos Carrasco: PHI to CLE, July 2009
Pre-2009 ranking: 52nd (Baseball America)
When the Phillies acquired Cliff Lee ahead of the 2009 Trade Deadline, Carrasco was part of the package that went back to Cleveland. The promising 22-year-old right-hander debuted that September, and while it took him a while to find his footing in the Majors, Carrasco posted a 3.41 ERA as a reliable starter for Cleveland from 2014-20 before a trade to the Mets.

Gio González: CHW to OAK, January 2008
Pre-2008 ranking: 26th (Baseball America)
González had a strange go of it early in his pro career. He ranked in the Baseball America top 100 in four different years but also was traded three times -- from the White Sox to the Phillies, back to the White Sox and then to the A’s. The last of those deals, which sent Nick Swisher to Chicago, set up González for a starring role with the 2010-11 A’s (31 wins and a 3.17 ERA in 65 starts) before yet another trade, to Washington.

Elvis Andrus: ATL to TEX, July 2007
Pre-2007 ranking: 65th (Baseball America)
While Mark Teixeira raked for the Braves after they acquired him at the 2007 Trade Deadline, the cost turned out to be steep. Andrus was the biggest piece, playing 1,652 games for Texas (second in franchise history) before a trade to Oakland. At the time Atlanta dealt him, though, Andrus was just a promising 18-year-shortstop who had yet to reach Double-A.

Hanley Ramírez: BOS to MIA, November 2005
Pre-2006 ranking: 30th (Baseball America)
Ramírez had gotten all of two plate appearances in a Red Sox uniform as a 21-year-old shortstop in September 2005 before he was on his way to South Florida. Ramírez became a dynamic force with the Marlins, stealing 50-plus bases twice, hitting 20-plus homers four times and winning a batting title in 2009. Boston didn’t regret the trade, as Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell played key roles on the 2007 championship team. But there were regrets when Ramírez struggled after re-signing with the Sox before the 2015 season.

Scott Kazmir: NYM to TB, July 2004
Pre-2004 ranking: 12th (Baseball America)
The Mets had selected Kazmir 15th overall in the 2002 Draft, and he did nothing to hurt his prospect status over the next couple of years, racking up strikeouts in the Minors. Yet a Mets team that would go on to lose 91 games gave him up to acquire pitcher Victor Zambrano, who would go on to make only 35 starts for the club. Kazmir became a three-time All-Star and helped the Rays make the 2008 World Series.

Adam Wainwright: ATL to STL, December 2003
Pre-2004 ranking: 49th (Baseball America)
Wainwright is a Georgia native who became the Braves’ first-round pick in 2000. The right-hander rose steadily through the Minors, but before he could make it Atlanta, he became the prize the Braves parted with to acquire another Georgia product, outfielder J.D. Drew. While Drew enjoyed a career year for the 2004 Braves before departing in free agency, Wainwright is just now wrapping up his Cardinals career 20 years later.

Derrek Lee: SD to MIA, December 1997
Pre-1998 ranking: 47th (Baseball America)
The Padres picked Lee 14th overall in the 1993 Draft, and the 6-foot-5 first baseman backed that up in the Minors, including a 34-homer season at Double-A in 1996. But after Lee got a couple cups of coffee with San Diego in ‘97, he was used as trade bait for Kevin Brown, who was coming off an ace performance for the champion ‘97 Marlins. Brown was great in one season with the Friars, while Lee averaged 27 homers with the Marlins from 2000-03 before enjoying his best seasons with the Cubs.

Kenny Lofton: HOU to CLE, December 1991
Pre-1992 ranking: 28th (Baseball America)
A baseball and basketball player at the University of Arizona, where he played in the 1988 Final Four, Lofton was only a 17th-round pick. But he quickly impressed in pro ball, hitting .331 with 62 steals at Class A-Advanced Osceola in 1990. Lofton made a brief appearance in Houston in 1991, but with Steve Finley already manning center field there, Lofton was sent to Cleveland for pitcher Willie Blair and catcher Ed Taubensee. He immediately proceeded to win five straight MLB stolen base crowns while batting .316 in that span.

Moises Alou: PIT to MON, August 1990
Pre-1990 ranking: 37th (Baseball America)
Not only was Alou a prospect, he represented the next generation of a baseball family, following father Felipe and uncles Jesus and Matty. In July 1990, a 24-year-old Alou made his Major League debut with Pittsburgh, but he played all of two games before the NL East champions sent him to Montreal for pitching help, including Zane Smith (1.30 ERA the rest of that season). Despite injuries that wiped out two entire seasons (1991, ‘98), Alou would go on to star for the Expos -- playing for Felipe -- and finish his career with a .303 average and 332 homers.