Looking back at notable trades of former MVPs

November 1st, 2021

In the fast-moving world of Major League Baseball, even fruitful partnerships tend not to last forever.

Sure, high-profile players occasionally stay with the same team for their entire careers. In recent years, MVP Award winners such as Joe Mauer (Twins), Chipper Jones (Braves) and Barry Larkin (Reds) have managed that feat. But more often, even MVPs end up moving on at some point. Sometimes, they get traded not so long after taking home their hardware.

Here is a look back at some of the more notable trades involving MVPs, listed based on transaction date. Only those traded by the team for which they won the award were included, with preference given to those whose award was more recent at the time of the deal.

American League MVP in 2018 for Red Sox
Traded to Dodgers on Feb. 10, 2020

Why the trade happened: Betts was a superstar at the top of his game, but the Red Sox followed up a championship-winning 2018 season by missing the playoffs in '19, despite Betts' best efforts. With a new front office in place and one season left before Betts would reach free agency, Boston decided it wanted to save money and receive some talent in return rather than allow him to hit the open mark after 2020. While an initial three-team deal involving the Twins fell through, Boston ultimately sent Betts to L.A., along with David Price (and his bulky contract), in exchange for young outfielder Alex Verdugo and two prospects.
After the trade: As it turned out, Betts did not reach free agency, signing a 12-year extension before playing a game in Dodger Blue. Then he backed it up by helping the team win its long-awaited first championship since 1988, while becoming an NL MVP finalist.

AL MVP in 2015 for Blue Jays
Traded to Indians on Aug. 31, 2018

Why the trade happened: Donaldson had helped lead Toronto back to the postseason in 2015-16, but the club was headed for fourth place in '18, and Donaldson was headed for free agency in November. Cleveland, postseason bound and looking for a lineup upgrade, gave up only a player to be named later in exchange for the hard-hitting third baseman, who had been out with a calf injury since May.
After the trade: Returning to the field Sept. 11, Donaldson raked for 18 games (.920 OPS) but struggled in an AL Division Series sweep to Houston. He since has moved on to Atlanta and now Minnesota.

National League MVP in 2013 for Pirates
Traded to Giants on Jan. 13, 2018

Why the trade happened: For all he meant to Pittsburgh, McCutchen had dropped some from his MVP peak, was a year away from free agency and had watched the Bucs slide from three straight postseason appearances to back-to-back losing seasons. Just before, they foreshadowed the McCutchen deal by making an ill-fated swap of pitcher Gerrit Cole to Houston.
After the trade: After nine seasons in the Steel City, McCutchen bounced to three teams in the next year, getting traded to the Yankees on Aug. 31, 2018, and then signing with the Phillies in December. Pittsburgh didn't come away empty-handed, as one of the prospects in the deal, outfielder Bryan Reynolds, enjoyed a strong rookie campaign in 2019.

NL MVP in 2017 for Marlins
Traded to Yankees on Dec. 11, 2017

Why the trade happened: Stanton joined Alex Rodriguez (2004) as the only players traded in the offseason after being honored as MVP since the Baseball Writers' Association of America began handing out the award in 1931. The deal happened only three years after Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million contract in Miami, but the Marlins didn't reach 80 wins in any of those seasons -- even with Stanton crushing 59 homers in 2017. And so, it was time to clear payroll and rebuild again in South Beach.
After the trade: Stanton is under contract through at least 2027. He has continued to be a big-time power source in the Bronx, though he's struggled to stay on the field at times.

AL MVP in 2011 for Tigers
Traded to Astros on Aug. 31, 2017

Why the trade happened: A powerhouse in the first half of the 2010s, the Tigers were beginning to fade, on their way to a 98-loss season. Verlander had a no-trade clause but waived it at the last second to go to a contender looking for its first championship and willing to give up prospects while taking on his salary.
After the trade: Already in the midst of a resurgence after some earlier signs of decline, Verlander took it to another level in Houston. The pairing resulted in a ring in 2017, and JV reestablished himself as an elite pitcher, winning his second Cy Young Award in '19.

Alex Rodriguez
AL MVP in 2003 for Rangers
Traded to Yankees on Feb. 16, 2004

Why the trade happened: Three years after signing Rodriguez to a record-smashing 10-year, $252 million contract, the Rangers got salary relief at the expense of a player who had already produced 25.5 WAR for them and was still only 28.
After the trade: Before opting out of his contract and re-signing with the Yankees at the end of 2007, A-Rod won two more MVP Awards and twice led the AL in homers and OPS. The biggest piece the Rangers got in return, Alfonso Soriano, provided two good, but unspectacular, seasons before he was dealt to Washington.

Ken Griffey Jr.
AL MVP in 1997 for Mariners
Traded to Reds on Feb. 10, 2000

Why the trade happened: Seattle was in a tough spot, as Griffey had requested a trade and had only one season left on his contract. Still, the club did well with a four-player package highlighted by fellow center fielder Mike Cameron, whose 18.3 WAR over four years with the Mariners more than doubled Griffey's output during the same stretch.
After the trade: Griffey, who signed a new deal after the trade, was terrific in 2000, but averaged only 79 games over the following four seasons as injuries plagued him. Cincinnati never made the postseason in his nine years there.

Rickey Henderson
AL MVP in 1990 for A's
Traded to Blue Jays on July 31, 1993

Why the trade happened: A pending free agent on an Oakland club headed for 94 losses, Henderson was moved at the Trade Deadline for a pair of prospects.
After the trade: The 34-year-old Henderson was having a huge year in Oakland but struggled in Toronto, aside from stealing 22 bases. Still, the Jays won the World Series -- with Henderson on base for Joe Carter's walk-off homer -- before Henderson re-signed with the A's as a free agent.

Jose Canseco
AL MVP in 1988 for A's
Traded to Rangers on Aug. 31, 1992

Why the trade happened: The first-place A's wanted to save money and bolster their pitching staff when they dealt Canseco, a big piece of their lineup who was signed through 1995.
After the trade: Canseco played 193 games for Texas before he was traded to the Red Sox after the 1994 season, providing 45 homers and one of the most memorable bloopers of all time. The A's went to the postseason without Canseco in '92, but then had six straight losing seasons.

Fred Lynn
AL MVP in 1975 for Red Sox
Traded to Angels on Jan. 23, 1981

Why the trade happened: While Lynn remained highly productive in Boston, he was due to reach free agency at the end of 1981 and was locked in a contract grievance with the club (along with fellow star Carlton Fisk). Boston responded by trading the Southern California native for a three-player package headlined by pitcher Frank Tanana.
After the trade: Following a rough 1981, Lynn put together three strong seasons for the Halos and was named MVP of the '82 ALCS, even though his club lost to the Brewers in five games.

Keith Hernandez
NL co-MVP in 1979 for Cardinals
Traded to Mets on June 15, 1983

Why the trade happened: Less than a year after Hernandez helped them to a championship, the Cardinals shipped him to the lowly Mets, apparently due to off-field issues and clashes with manager Whitey Herzog.
After the trade: Landing Hernandez was an enormous boon to the Mets. From 1984-88, he made three All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove Award each year, batted over .300 and helped win a championship in '86.

Rod Carew
AL MVP in 1977 for Twins
Traded to Angels on Feb. 3, 1979

Why the trade happened: In 1978, Carew hit .333 to win his seventh batting title in 10 years, but the Twins finished third or lower in the AL West for the eighth straight season. With one year left before Carew would reach free agency, Minnesota shipped him away for what turned out to be a minimal return.
After the trade: Though he wasn't quite the same player in Anaheim, Carew still batted .324 with a 126 OPS+ over his first five seasons there, as the Halos twice made the postseason. Carew finished his career with the club in 1985, when he notched his 3,000th hit -- against the Twins.

Reggie Jackson
AL MVP in 1973 for A's
Traded to Orioles on April 2, 1976

Why the trade happened: The A's knew that Jackson, coming off his second home run title in three years, would test free agency after the 1976 campaign. So just before it began, they dealt him and pitcher Ken Holtzman for three players (Don Baylor, Paul Mitchell and Mike Torrez), none of whom remained with the club beyond '77.
After the trade: Jackson tested free agency, signing with the Yankees. But in his one season in Baltimore, he led the AL in slugging (.502) and OPS+ (155) for an 88-win team that finished in second place.

Orlando Cepeda
NL MVP in 1967 for Cardinals
Traded to Braves on March 17, 1969

Why the trade happened: Cepeda's numbers plummeted in 1968, and St. Louis swapped him for Joe Torre.
After the trade: The Braves got two good years from Cepeda, but a knee injury struck in 1971, and a year later, he was traded to Oakland. Meanwhile, Torre produced 22.5 WAR in St. Louis and took NL MVP honors in '71, three years before he also was traded, to the Mets.

Frank Robinson
NL MVP in 1961 for Reds
Traded to Orioles on Dec. 9, 1965

Why the trade happened: Robinson's performance from 1963-65, while still quite good, was a step down from '60-'62, when he led the NL in OPS+ all three years (169 overall). Believing that the 30-year-old was declining, Cincinnati traded him for three players. The highlight was pitcher Milt Pappas, who started 64 games with a 101 ERA+ in the next two seasons.
After the trade: Robinson was far from over the hill. He won the Triple Crown in 1966 (.316, 49 homers, 122 RBIs) and became the first player to be named MVP in both leagues. While the Reds were under .500, the Orioles won their first World Series, and Robinson was named MVP of that as well. After five more strong seasons in Baltimore, he was traded to the Dodgers.