Ryan L. Fox
July 31 is a date on the calendar that baseball fans mark with a red mark. It’s the MLB Trade Deadline. At 4 p.m. Eastern Time, all 30 MLB teams have to put in their final trade offers otherwise the league office will null and void them. However what the casual baseball fan doesn’t know is that specific deadline is for non-waiver trades (i.e. you can trade a player on your roster for any player, cash consideration, or a bag of balls with no hassle). Teams can still make trades after July 31 but those trades are considered ‘Waiver Wire’ trades (i.e. trades that involve players who cleared waivers). The deadline for that is August 31.
Now most trades that happen during this time are usually small roster changes, mostly just an exchange of prospects for players to be named later or cash consideration, and even then they don’t happen as much as non-waiver trades. But every now and again, there’s a waiver trade that has significant impact for a team both in the present and further down the road.
After carefully going over the facts, reading all the numbers, yours truly has come up with the Top 3 MLB Waiver Wires deals of all-time. Let’s see which trades make the list.
Honorable Mention: Jose Bautista Goes North
I’m sure WBOB personality and The Rotunda co-host Tom Paolino will get some satisfaction that his boy Bautista made the list. All jokes aside, this was a pretty interesting scenario. Prior to busting out in Toronto, Bautista toiled around in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league season from 2000-03 and then in the MLB for one season. But from 2005-07, Bautista then became the starting 1B for the Pirates.
However in 2008, he was struggling offensive and got sent down to the minor leagues after losing his starting role to Andy LaRoche (who came over via trade that same season). He was then traded to the Toronto Blue Jays on August 21, for a player to be named later (that player turned out to be minor C Robinzon Diaz). Since joining the Blue Jays in 2008, Bautista has hit 258 home runs, driven in 677 RBIs, and was an All-Star from 2010-2015. Diaz? One home run and 20 RBIs in 43 games with the Pirates from 2008 to 2009 before being released and ha toiled between Minor League baseball and Dominican League Winter baseball since then.
#3: Red Sox Shed Some Weight
The origins of this trade started back in 2011 offseason when the Boston Red Sox did their best impression of their most hated rivals, New York Yankees (oh the irony). First they penciled free agent OF Carl Crawford to a 7-year, $142 million. Then they brought over Adrian Gonzalez via trade (sending top prospects at the time 1B Anthony Rizzo & RHP Casey Kelly as well as minor leaguer CF Reymond Fuentes and to the San Diego Padres) before signing him to a 7-year, $154 million contract extension. Then they resigned SP Josh Beckett to a 4-year $68-million. That’s a lot of dough. Unfortunately that didn’t translate to winning as the Red Sox had that historic collapse in September of that season and missed the playoffs.
Fast forward to August 25 of the 2012 season. It wasn’t a pretty season for the Red Sox. The Red Sox were still on the hook for those big contracts and things were not looking good for the team either on the field (sporting a record 60-66 record at the time) and off (players skipping out on the funeral former Red Sox player John Pesky earlier in the month). So a much needed change was in order for the team. At the same time, the Los Angeles Dodgers were in the midst of a playoff chase for the NL West Divisional title and were looking to acquire any talent and had the money to take on any contract.
The two teams then hammered out a trade that would end up as one of the biggest salary dumps baseball history. The Red Sox sent Crawford, Gonzalez, Beckett, SS Nick Punto (who signed a 2-year, $3-million in the ’12 offseason), and $11 million to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for 1B James Loney, prospects SP Allen Webster (who was the 2nd best prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system at the time) and INF Ivan De Jesus Jr., and two players to be named later: SP Rubby De La Rosa and OF Jerry Sands.
What makes this waiver wire trade was just the sheer amount of money that was being dumped. The Dodgers ended up taking over $300 million in total money between the Beckett, Crawford, Gonzalez deals alone while the Red Sox took on not even $10 million between the contracts they received (the highest was Loney’s $6.375 million contract). Since then, no waiver wire trade has come close to that amount of money.
#2: Every Body Wins....Sort of
When a waiver wire trade happens, it’s usually a salary dump or one team gets a key player to help them in the final playoff push in September and then the postseason in October. An example of a trade like that would be on August 27, 1992, when the Mets sent top pitcher David Cone to the Toronto Blue Jays for prospects 2B Jeff Kent and OF Ryan Thompson. While Kent and Thompson had some minor success with the Mets, Cone helped the Blue Jays capture the ’92 World Series title.
But before that waiver trade, there came another before it that had a much bigger significant impact for both teams. Rewind 5 years earlier to August 12, 1987. The Detroit Tigers were in the midst of a playoff race between the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees and needed some pitching help to get over the top. So they made a trade with the Atlanta Braves by sending a minor pitching prospect in exchange for 36-year old Braves starter Doyle Alexander, who was 5-10 with a 4.13 ERA with 64 Ks in 16 at the time. Doyle ended up going 9-0 with an ERA of 1.53 with 44 Ks in 11 starts as the Tigers went on to claim the AL East Divisional Title before losing to the eventual World Series Champion Minnesota Twins in the American League Championship 4-1.
But what about that pitching prospect that the Braves got in return? He toiled around in the Braves’ minor league system before making his professional debut on July 23, 1988, against the New York Mets where he picked up his first Major League win. That pitching prospect then went on have a 20-year career with the Braves (1988-2008) before finishing up baseball in 2009. He recorded a career record of 213-155 with a career ERA of 3.33, record 3,084 total strikeouts, and record 154 saves to become the only pitcher in MLB history to record 200 wins and 150 saves. His accolades include 8 All-Star Games, a World Series championship (1995), an NL CY Young award (1996), and he was voted into the MLB Hall of Fame back in 2015 in his first year of eligibility. Who was he? None other than John Smotlz.
Funny how things turned out like that. Don’t worry Tigers fans, the team did get another good year out of Doyle. He continued to pitch for Detroit for the next two years, making an All-Star appearance in 1988 (14-11, 4.32 with 126 Ks in 34 starts). However he posted an abysmal 6-18 record the following season and then retired afterwards. So in a way, the Tigers did enjoy some success from this trade. Just not to the degree of the success of the Braves.
#1: The Worst Trade Ever
Now earlier in the list, we saw the Red Sox make some ‘history’ with their blockbuster trade with the Dodgers. In the long run, the Red Sox ended being ‘winners’ since they used the money they freed up to bring in guys like 1B/C Mike Napoli, OF Shane Victorino, and…..OF Johnny Gomes (won’t lie, nearly threw up in my mouth typing that), which acted as key contributors for the 2013 World Series title run. But there was one waiver wire trade that still makes baseball analysts shake their heads and some might even say this was the worst trade in baseball history.
Rewind all the way back to August 23, 1990, 4 years after the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs in the ’86 World Series. The Boston Red Sox were still trying to get their first World Series title and in 1990, had a legitimate chance with their team, led by the likes of 3B Wade Boggs, CF Ellis Burks, DH Dwight Evans, and SP Roger Clemens. The team was at 66-56 and were looking to bolster their bullpen for the playoff run. So they dipped into their farm system and traded away and up-and-coming slugging infielder named Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros for relief pitcher Larry Andersen.
Now why did this trade surpass Smoltz going from the Tigers to the Braves? With that trade, both sides were able to profit from it (more so the Braves than Tigers). In the Bagwell-Andersen trade, only the Astros won and won in a very lopsided way.
Bagwell went on to enjoy a 15-year MLB career, all with the Houston Astros. He won NL Rookie of the year in 1991, won the 1994 NL MVP, made 4 All-Star teams, won 3 Silver Slugger awards, and is the Astros’ franchise leader in home runs (449), RBIs (1,529), walks (1,401), and WAR/Wins Above Replacement (79.6). He’s the only baseball player in MLB history to have six consecutive seasons (96-01) with 30 HRs, 100 RBIs, 100 runs scored, and 100 walks, is the only first basemen in MLB history to have 400 HRs and 200 stolen bases, and formed a core with fellow teammates 2B Craig Biggio, and OF/1B Lance Berkman (The ‘Killer Bs’) that allowed the Astros to finish in first or second of the NL Central division 11 out of 12 years from 1994 to 2005, including 6 playoff berths and a World Series berth in 2005.
And Larry Andersen? With his one ‘season’ with the Sox, he threw 22.0 innings, recorded 25 strikeouts, and had an ERA of 1.23 in 15 games. But that didn’t help improve the Red Sox’ chances of winning in the postseason as they got swept by the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series. To add even more insult, Andersen left the team for free agency at the end of the ’90 season after Red Sox management was reassured by the MLB's player relations committee that wouldn't happen. Talk about getting the short end of the stick in that deal. The Red Sox traded away a future cornerstone of their franchise for the dreaded 'rental player' and paid for it with 14 more years of mediocrity.
But such is the nature of the best when it comes to waiver trades. You either hit the target or miss completely...except in this case, the target was the side of a house and the Red Sox still missed. Oh well.
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