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The stories behind the best and worst trades

MLB.com

It's safe to say that no Major League general manager ever sat down to make a trade with the intention of being fleeced. After all, that seems like a pretty direct method of soon becoming a former Major League general manager.

Still, as any baseball fan knows, like Orwell's animals, some trades are more equal than others.

It's safe to say that no Major League general manager ever sat down to make a trade with the intention of being fleeced. After all, that seems like a pretty direct method of soon becoming a former Major League general manager.

Still, as any baseball fan knows, like Orwell's animals, some trades are more equal than others.

Which brings us to Baseball Meat Market: The Stories Behind the Best and Worst Trades in History.

This is not, as the title implies, a simple attempt to list and rank every swap in history to determine which were the most lopsided. As author Shawn Krest rightly points out in the introduction, that's a judgment that depends on entirely which stool the judger is sitting on. He uses Jeff Bagwell going from the Red Sox to the Astros for Larry Andersen as an example. For Houston, it was a terrific move. For Boston, not so much.

Then there's the reality that trades aren't self-contained. Players acquired may be flipped for other players. The very first deal examined, Mike Piazza from the Dodgers to the Marlins, neatly illustrates that conundrum. Piazza was with the Fish for barely a week before being moved again, this time to the Mets.

"Every trade is a single thread in a complex tapestry connected to two dozen teams and hundreds of players. That makes it tough to determine which trades are the best and worst in the history of the sport. It won't stop us from trying, however," Krest writes.

What we have, then, is a deep dive into 20 of the more impactful player exchanges ever made. Trades that affected one season. Trades that mattered for a variety of reasons. Even the trade that helped changed the very foundation of baseball, when Curt Flood refused to report to the Phillies after being traded from the Cardinals.

That turned out to be so significant that it's largely overlooked now that, at the time, he was just part of a larger transaction in which slugging first baseman Dick Allen went to St. Louis for catcher Tim McCarver.

And, yes, despite the caveats, there is a reckoning. At the end of each chapter is a chart that neatly displays the value of each player involved and his Wins Above Replacement before and after the trade under discussion.

The end result is an entertaining volume that is both a sentimental journey back to some of the most fascinating trades for older fans who lived through them and a peek-behind-the-curtain primer for youngsters for whom, say, the deal that sent Jay Buhner from the Yankees to the Mariners is a scene from an episode of "Seinfield." The Bombers also traded prospects Willie McGee, Doug Drabek and Fred McGriff while getting little in return.

It might be a stretch to argue that when the Expos traded Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips to the Expos for Bartolo Colon in 2002 cost Montreal its franchise. The team was already teetering financially, for a variety of reasons. Krest notes that it was a gallant, last-ditch attempt to capitalize on an unexpectedly good start and possibly save the day if the team could bring back its fan base.

As everybody knows, it didn't work. The Expos failed to make the playoffs. After the season, facing a continued money crunch, Colon was traded to the White Sox. Less than two years later, the Expos played their final game at Olympic Stadium before moving to Washington.

Why did the Rangers trade Sammy Sosa? Why did the Phillies throw future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg into the Cubs deal that was essentially a swap of two aging shortstops, Larry Bowa and Ivan DeJesus? What's the story behind the infamous White Sox White Flag trade?

All that and more is examined in this book.

Paul Hagen, a reporter for MLB.com, won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in 2013 for a lifetime of excellence in baseball writing.