14 trade throw-ins who became stars

May 18th, 2020

Fernando Tatis Jr. is one of the most exciting young players in baseball. Though his rookie campaign in 2019 was limited to 84 games by a back injury, his performance both at the plate and in the field electrified the baseball world and left us wanting more. At just 20 years old, he slashed .317/.379/.590 with 22 home runs and 16 steals through Aug. 13, and made breathtaking plays at shortstop for San Diego.

But do you remember how Tatis ended up in the Padres organization in the first place?

On June 4, 2016, the White Sox traded Tatis and right-hander Erik Johnson to San Diego in exchange for veteran righty James Shields. At the time, the inclusion of Tatis was an afterthought for Chicago, which was seeking a rotation upgrade while in the thick of the early American League Central race. But as we've seen, things didn't quite work out for the Sox -- Shields ended up with a 6.77 ERA over 22 starts for Chicago and is no longer in the Majors.

Watching Tatis' tremendous rookie season got us thinking: What other interesting or productive players were acquired as pieces of deals you barely noticed at the time? Here are some more of our favorites.

It's a fun list.

Nov. 20, 2017: Ramón Laureano from Astros to A's for Brandon Bailey

It's OK if this deal didn't register, because Laureano was coming off a .227/.299/.369 season in Double-A, and this was largely about roster management ahead of the Rule 5 Draft deadline. Then he arrived in Oakland in 2018 and was something of a breakout name, hitting well (.288/.358/.474), making that throw, and winning the A's center-field job for 2019. He maintained the offensive production, slashing .288/.340/.521 with 24 home runs and 13 steals in 123 games. He also continued to dazzle with his glove and his arm.

Jan. 19, 2017: Luis Castillo from Marlins to Reds for Dan Straily

Castillo probably could have been on this list twice, because he was originally traded from the Giants to the Marlins in 2014's Casey McGehee deal. Or three times, because the Marlins tried to trade him to the Padres in 2016's injury-strewn and somewhat-reversed Colin Rea/Andrew Cashner deal. Castillo wasn't a nobody when he was dealt as part of a package for Straily three years ago -- he was Miami's No. 5 prospect at the time per MLB Pipeline -- but you don't get traded this often if you're that highly valued.

Straily had a 4.20 ERA in two years for Miami before being released last March. Castillo, 26, had a strong 2017 debut (eighth in the NL Rookie of the Year Award balloting), and even though he took a small step back in '18, he still struck out three times as many as he walked, and was Cincinnati's Opening Day starter in 2019. He went on to post a 3.40 ERA and 29 percent strikeout rate in an All-Star campaign.

June 30, 2016: Chris Paddack from Marlins to Padres for Fernando Rodney

The Marlins might have had an interesting young rotation if they'd kept Castillo, Paddack and Anthony DeSclafani, who was dealt to the Reds in 2014's Mat Latos deal. Back in 2016, just four games out of first at the July 31 deadline, they gave up Paddack for the 39-year-old Rodney. It didn't work; no team in the NL had a worse winning percentage than Miami's .393 after the trade. Paddack, meanwhile, had a great rookie season in 2019, finishing with a 3.33 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 26 starts for San Diego.

June 19, 2016: Chris Taylor from Mariners to Dodgers for Zach Lee

In 2016, Lee was a failed Dodgers prospect, and Taylor was a failing Mariners prospect. You know this story by now; Taylor famously changed his swing and became a breakout star for the Dodgers, posting an .807 OPS with 50 home runs from 2017-19, while making starts all over the field. Lee never pitched for the Mariners, and after throwing eight innings (with eight walks) for the 2017 Padres, he hasn't appeared in the big leagues since.

June 4, 2016: Fernando Tatis Jr. (and Erik Johnson) from White Sox to Padres for James Shields

Speaking of summer of 2016 trades that built the San Diego future, this one might go down in the all-time annals of heists, at least if it plays out like the Padres hope. A few weeks before the Paddack deal, the Padres traded the veteran Shields to the White Sox, and as the article at the time makes clear, the return in order of prominence was A) being rid of Shields, B) pitcher Johnson, and C) Tatis.

Johnson pitched four games for the Padres and is out of baseball. Shields had a 5.31 ERA in 77 games for the White Sox and is also out of the game. The 20-year-old Tatis, meanwhile, became the youngest Opening Day starter in decades and is already looking every bit the star he's expected to be.

Feb. 12, 2016: Khris Davis from Brewers to A's for Jacob Nottingham and Bubba Derby

We're fudging a little bit here, because Davis wasn't a prospect; he was a young veteran with parts of three seasons under his belt with the Brewers. But at the time of the trade, the Brewers wanted catching depth and to clear an outfield spot for the recently-acquired Domingo Santana. There's still hope for Nottingham to turn this one around, because he's only 24 and made his debut in 2018, but despite moving to a tougher hitter's park, Davis has made this look like a steal for the A's.

Only Nelson Cruz and Nolan Arenado have hit more home runs since this trade than Davis' 156.

Jan. 28, 2016: German Márquez (and Jake McGee) from Rays to Rockies for Corey Dickerson

This trade seemed fine at the time, really. The Rockies were aiming to add talent to their bullpen in McGee, Mike Dunn, and Greg Holland, which worked out a little (2017) and then not at all (2018-19). The Rays were looking to add a bat, and Dickerson hit 27 homers and made an All-Star team. No one thought about Márquez as any major part of this trade, and it took him a while to get there, as he put up a 4.48 ERA in 2016-17.

Of course, then the Rays traded Dickerson to Pittsburgh for Daniel Hudson, who never pitched for Tampa Bay. Then Márquez blossomed into an absolute star for the Rockies. They may not have known what they were getting at the time, but they do now. Over the past two seasons, Márquez has a 117 ERA+ and 3.71 FIP, signing a five-year, $43 million contract extension in April 2019.

Dec. 9, 2015: Chad Green (and Luis Cessa) from Tigers to Yankees for Justin Wilson

Wilson was a solid reliever who was productive with the Tigers and was eventually traded for Jeimer Candelario, so this isn't exactly a loss for Detroit. But before that, he was a Yankee headed to Detroit for "a pair of pitching prospects," as it was termed, who turned into much more than that. Cessa has been fine as a fill-in over the past three years, tossing 161 2/3 innings, but Green became a star by posting a 2.50 ERA and 32 percent strikeout rate in 2018 before struggling somewhat last year with a 4.17 ERA in 54 appearances (15 starts).

Dec. 9, 2015: Freddy Peralta from Mariners to Brewers for Adam Lind

No, you didn't notice the 2015 Winter Meetings deal that sent Lind to the Mariners for three teenaged Minor League pitchers. Peralta was in Rookie ball for Seattle at the time and barely warranted a mention in the article. Lind had an unimpressive '16 for the Mariners and after one more season in the bigs, he was done. Peralta turned heads by striking out 13 in his Major League debut, thanks in part to spin and deception. While his 2019 campaign was a rough one, he showed signs of added velocity, and he's still just 23 years old.

Bonus: You don't need us to tell you how great Josh Hader has been for Peralta's Brewers. He'd been traded from the Orioles to Houston in 2013 for Bud Norris, then from the Astros to the Brewers in 2015 as a part of the larger Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers/Brett Phillips/Domingo Santana deal.

Nov. 11, 2015: Aaron Hicks from Twins to Yankees for John Ryan Murphy

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman called this one "an independent, straight up, good old-fashioned baseball trade -- a lot of talent for a lot of talent," while Twins assistant GM Rob Antony said that "it was tough to part with [Hicks], because he started to turn the corner last year." At the time, the Twins thought they could part with Hicks because they were deep in outfielders with Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Miguel Sanó, while the Yankees had catchers Gary Sánchez and Austin Romine, so they could part with Murphy.

Murphy hit .146/.193/.220 in 26 games for the Twins before being traded to Arizona. Hicks, meanwhile, has overcome injury concerns and a poor 2016 debut. Since the start of '17, Hicks has hit .250/.359/.464 with 54 homers and played good defense, leading to a seven-year contract extension last offseason.

Dec. 11, 2014: Eugenio Suárez from Tigers to Reds for Alfredo Simón

Detroit made two big trades on the first day of the 2014 Winter Meetings, picking up Yoenis Céspedes for Rick Porcello and veteran starter Simón from the Reds. This was a problem on two fronts, because the pair of deals weakened the Tigers' rotation -- Simón had a 5.05 ERA in his lone year with Detroit -- and cost them Suárez, at the time considered a light-hitting shortstop. (Céspedes was at least dealt for Michael Fulmer several months later.)

That's because Suárez hit .242/.316/.336 as a Detroit rookie in 2014, and he had a .417 career slugging percentage in the Minors. Of course, that's no longer the case. Suárez has blossomed into a slugger -- since '16, he's posted a 128 OPS+ with 109 homers -- and after signing a seven-year deal last spring, he's become a building block of the Reds' future.

Aug. 7, 2014: Mike Clevinger from Angels to Indians for Vinnie Pestano

Pestano was a solid reliever for a few years with Cleveland, but by 2014, he was in Triple-A trying to make it back from arm injuries when he was traded to his hometown Angels in an August deal. He made 31 appearances for the Angels from 2014-15, and is currently out of baseball. At the time, Clevinger was a lottery ticket, one carrying a 5.37 ERA in Class A Advanced in his first year back from Tommy John surgery.

He'd get to the big leagues in 2016, and he's been a regular member of an elite Cleveland rotation over the past three years, putting up a 2.96 ERA in 80 games since 2017.

July 31, 2012: Kyle Hendricks (and Christian Villanueva) from Rangers to Cubs for Ryan Dempster

Seven years ago, the Rangers needed a starter, thanks to injuries to Colby Lewis and Neftalí Feliz and ineffectiveness from Roy Oswalt. So they turned to the rebuilding Cubs for the 35-year-old Dempster, who had a nice 2.25 ERA that was completely unsupported by advanced metrics. Dempster didn't contribute nearly as much to Texas, as he threw to a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts for the Rangers and had a decent 2013 for Boston before retiring.

It was actually Villanueva who was the bigger name for the Cubs, though he eventually got stuck behind Kris Bryant before surfacing with the Padres. But the soft-tossing Hendricks, at the time pitching for Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, has become a huge part of some of the best Cubs teams in history, contributing a 3.14 ERA over 966 innings.

July 31, 2010: Corey Kluber from Padres to Indians in three-team deal including Cardinals

This, along with the Jake Arrieta trade from the Orioles to Cubs in 2013, is perhaps the pinnacle of the genre, because Kluber didn't just work out well, he's a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner who's regularly in the "best pitcher in baseball" conversation. At the time, the NL West-leading Padres badly wanted a bat, namely St. Louis outfielder Ryan Ludwick. But in order to match up, they had to include Cleveland, who had Jake Westbrook, a starter the Cardinals coveted.

In order to make all the pieces fit, the Padres had to send a 24-year-old prospect who wasn't on any lists and was having a good-not-great year at Double-A. Three years later, Kluber, who was traded to the Rangers earlier this offseason, established himself as a regular big league starter. He's been building a sneaky Cooperstown case ever since, with two AL Cy Young Award wins and two more top-three finishes.