Ah…the trade. Fans love them and teams use them to shore up the rough spots of the roster, to cut deadweight or to improve the chemistry of the team. Sometimes they work out for both teams and everyone goes home happy. More often than not though, one side wins. Fans can live with it with a lopsided trade when a team trades away a prospect for a proven commodity and gives up the future to win now. But every so often one team completely fleeces another. Here are 10 of the most lopsided trades in baseball.
10 Randy Johnson to Houston
In 1998 the Astros were willing to gamble that they could win now and then potentially re-sign the best pitcher in baseball in a free-agent year, so they sent Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama to Seattle in exchange for 34-year-old Randy Johnson. The Astros did win the division while Johnson threw up an impressive 10-1 record and a 1.90 ERA. They lost in the NLCS to San Diego and Johnson signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the off-season. The Mariners did alright for their end, but Johnson was clearly the most dominant pitcher in the game at the time and they could have gotten a far better package for him. Johnson would go on to win four consecutive Cy Young Awards and a World Series in Arizona – proving he was far from done.
9 Pedro Martinez to Montreal
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ decision to trade Martinez was a curious one. While Pedro had hurt his shoulder the previous year, he wasn’t a bad pitcher – quite the opposite in fact. He’d pitched in 65 games the year after his injury and posted a 10-5 record, a 2.61 ERA, and struck out 119 batters in only 107 innings. However, they shipped him to Montreal for Delino DeShields. Talk about selling low. Not only was DeShields largely unproven, he was also ineffective in his time in LA. Pedro, meanwhile, went on to win 55 games in four years for the Expos. He won the Cy Young in 1997 when he went 23-4 while striking out 313 batters. He was phenomenal for Montreal and was subsequently part of another bad trade when the Expos determined they couldn’t pay Pedro what he demanded and shipped him off to Boston for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr.
8 Curt Schilling to the Astros, then the Phillies
This trade had a lot of moving parts, but the primary piece was Curt Schilling. Schilling was part of a package that included Pete Harnisch and Steve Finely, who were sent to Houston from Baltimore in exchange for Glenn Davis. Davis played three years in Baltimore where he was mostly injured and ineffective. In fact, the Orioles sent him to AAA at one point; he was that bad. Schilling would only pitch one year in Houston before they traded him to Philadelphia for Jason Grimsley. Schilling would go on to become one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation. He was the 2001 World Series MVP, played in six All-Star games and became known for his clutch World Series performance in 2004 for Boston.
7 John Smoltz to Atlanta
Smoltz was the prize the Braves demanded when the Tigers came in search of pitching in 1987. The Tigers acquired Doyle Alexander in exchange. Alexander played well and he helped lead the Tigers to the 1987 ALCS where they were shocked by the underdog Twins. At the time, this wasn’t a bad trade for Detroit. Smoltz had done little to prove his worth and Alexander went 9-0 for the Tigers with a 1.53 ERA in the last half of 1987. It took Smoltz a couple years to round into form, but when he did he would go on to become a Hall of Fame pitcher. Smoltz would pitch 21 years, win a Cy Young Award, become an eight-time All-Star and play in four World Series.
6 Frank Robinson to the Orioles
Robinson played ten years in Cincinnati, winning an MVP in 1961 while serving as a perennial All-Star. Believing Robinson was done, Bill DeWitt, the Reds' general manager, traded him to Baltimore for Jack Baldschun, Milt Pappas, and Dick Simpson. Pappas had a moderate amount of success while the other two were basically throw-away players. Robinson on the other hand, was not done. He’d win the Triple Crown and MVP in 1966, the first year as an Oriole, then go on to be a six-time All-Star with the Orioles, a Hall of Famer, and one of the best hitters in baseball history. Robinson would hit 586 home runs in his career and make this a very one-sided deal.
5 Nolan Ryan to the Angels
When the Mets sent Nolan Ryan to California in 1971 few people were upset. In exchange for the young fireballer, they received a shortstop named Jim Fergosi. Fergosi wasn’t good for the Mets, hitting only .233 in only 146 games, so they sold him to Texas in 1973. Ryan would go on to become one of the best pitchers of all time. He’d throw seven no-hitters, win 324 games, play in eight All-Star Games, and become the all-time leader in strikeouts. What’s so unusual about this deal was that Ryan was an erratic mess for the Mets for four seasons. His strikeout rates were decent, but not what they would eventually become. One has to wonder what he learned in California that the Mets weren’t teaching him in New York.
4 Jeff Bagwell to Houston
In 1990 the surging Red Sox traded top third base prospect Jeff Bagwell to Houston for Larry Anderson, a veteran reliever. The Red Sox bullpen was pretty terrible and the move did pay off to some degree. Boston would make the playoffs but eventually lose to Oakland in the ALCS. Anderson would skip town in the off-season and head to San Diego. Bagwell? Well, he’d go on to win Rookie of the Year in 1991, eventually moving to first base where he’d put together a near Hall of Fame career. Bagwell played 15 years, won the MVP in 1994, played in four All-Star Games and won three Silver Slugger Awards. All told, the Astros got the better end of that deal.
3 Lou Brock to St. Louis
Brock was sent to St. Louis in 1964 for 21-game winner Ernie Broglio in a move which seemed rather one sided for the Cubs. Borck was unspectacular for two-and-a-half years while playing in Chicago. But with the Cardinals Brock became a terror at the plate and on the base paths. He played 15 years with the Cardinals, was a career .293 hitter and at the time of his retirement was the all-time leader in stolen bases. Brock played in six All-Star Games and was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1985. He was part of three World Series teams, two of which his team won. Broglio didn’t fare quite as well. He won only four games in 1964 and then retired in 1965.
2 Mark McGwire to St. Louis
Despite all the controversy surrounding suspected PED users, this trade is still considered one of the worst trades ever consummated. McGwire hit 49 home runs and won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1987. He and Jose Conseco become known as the Bash Brothers and year after year McGwire would put up huge home run numbers. Oakland knew they couldn’t sign McGwire after the 1997 season when he’d become a free agent, so at the trade deadline they shipped him to St. Louis for T.J. Matthews, Blake Stein and Eric Ludwick. Everyone knows what happened after that. McGwire would go on to shatter Maris’ single season home run record and become an integral part of restoring baseball’s image after a disastrous labor strike. While his career would go on to be tarnished by suspected and admitted PED use, he helped usher in a new era of baseball at a time when it was desperate for some attention.
1 Babe Ruth to New York
The worst trade in baseball wasn’t even a trade – it was a sale. Babe Ruth was sold by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees for an undisclosed amount of money. While primarily a pitcher with the Red Sox, the Yankees made Ruth an everyday player. He’d play 22 years, swat 714 home runs (becoming the all-time home run leader until Hank Aaron came along), win an MVP and of course become the most iconic and popular baseball player in the history of the game. The Red Sox were said to be cursed for their sale of Ruth. The “Curse of the Bambino” would last until 2004, but the stain of trading the greatest player ever to play the game remains even to this day.