Gio Urshela spent the past few weeks showing his previous employers what they’re missing. In four games against the Blue Jays, for whom Urshela played 46 uneventful games last year, the Yankees third baseman tallied six hits, including three home runs; in four games against Cleveland, for whom Urshela played several uneventful years, he nabbed six more hits.
It’s impossible to overstate his turnaround in 2019, as he has helped stabilize a Yankees lineup ravaged by injuries. From 2015 through 2018, 449 players batted as many times in the majors as Urshela did; he ranked 438th among that group in wRC+, sandwiched between Jesús Sucre and Dixon Machado, with a batting line 43 percent worse than average. This year, 154 players have batted as many times as Urshela; he ranks in the top dozen in wRC+, just ahead of the likes of Rafael Devers and Freddie Freeman, with a batting line 48 percent better than average. And in every previous season in the majors, Urshela was a sub-replacement player, worth negative WAR; this year, he’s already at 3.5 WAR, which would rank first among Blue Jays position players and third for Cleveland.
This is the “Era of Breakout Batters,” as a recent Ringer headline put it, with enough surprisingly stellar performers to fill a whole All-Star roster. But it’s not just the Blue Jays and Indians who have lost a future contributor—every team, the Yankees included, has had the experience of watching a stagnated player bloom elsewhere. In that vein, we’re taking a look at the one active player that got away from each MLB team, from unheralded prospects who made strides with a new team to back-end major leaguers who learned a new swing or pitch after bouncing around the bottom of the league’s transactions column.
Players who were already stars with the original team don’t count, even if they improved elsewhere (see: Christian Yelich leaving the Marlins), nor do players who were traded for stars before succeeding, as they were sacrificed for the team’s greater good (see: Gleyber Torres leaving the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade). But even those exceptions still leave plenty of room for teams to rue a player evaluation whiff. Here’s the one that got away from each MLB team, ordered from least to most WAR accumulated since leaving, along with some other players who got away from teams unlucky enough to lose more than one. (All WAR figures come from Baseball-Reference.)
Phillies: Willians Astudillo (lost in free agency), 0.8 WAR
Astudillo’s baseball value might not match his online hype, but he finds himself here for three reasons. First, it’s an internet baseball list, so of course Astudillo should appear. Second, the Phillies don’t really have any other players they missed on; all the underperforming prospects their system churned out earlier this decade went on to underperform elsewhere, too. And third, Astudillo, who played for the Phillies’ minor league squads from 2009 through 2015, has been a solid player since becoming a Twins big leaguer, hitting at an average level while playing every position other than shortstop. If you think Astudillo shouldn’t count as a player Philadelphia rues letting go, consider Ender Inciarte instead, after the Phillies selected him in the 2013 Rule 5 draft, only to return him to Arizona to make room on the roster for Ezequiel Carrera, and then watch Inciarte become a viable everyday center fielder.
Nationals: Pedro Severino (claimed on waivers), 0.9 WAR
Not many Nationals fit the criteria, if only because the All-Star relievers they’ve traded—Felipe Vázquez, Blake Treinen—were exchanged for other, older All-Star relievers. But from 2015 through 2018, out of 588 players who batted at least 250 times, Severino ranked 572nd in wRC+; he hit .187/.273/.287 in D.C., which computes to 53 percent worse than average. Since traveling across Maryland this offseason to play for the Orioles, Severino has been comfortably average at the plate while, ironically, the Nationals’ two new, better-reputed catchers—Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes—have collectively fared worse.
Reds: Christian Walker (claimed on waivers), 1.5 WAR
Congratulations to the Reds—more than any other team, it seems, they lose future contributors only when they bring back present-day help at the same time. When they traded Edwin Encarnación, they received Scott Rolen and two All-Star appearances in return. Didi Gregorius’s trade returned Shin-Soo Choo, who received MVP votes in his lone season in Cincinnati; Yasmani Grandal’s trade put Mat Latos on the mound in Cincinnati, where he was worth nearly 3 WAR per year.
So to fill out the Cincinnati portion of the list, we’re left with Walker, who spent a total of 22 days in Cincinnati’s organization, after the Reds claimed him on waivers from Atlanta (which had itself claimed him on waivers from Baltimore a week earlier) and before Arizona claimed him on waivers from the Reds. During that time, Walker hit .238/.273/.381 in spring training, so Cincinnati was well within its rights to release a first baseman who couldn’t hit, especially with Joey Votto already on the roster. But now Walker’s a decent player in Arizona, even if he’s cooled since his hot start to the 2019 season.
Royals: José Martínez (purchased), 2.5 WAR
Already in his third minor league system when 2015 started, Martinez took advantage of perhaps his last opportunity to impress an MLB front office. Over 135 games at Triple-A that season and the following spring, Martinez hit .359/.431/.525, and he did so by hitting the ball consistently and incredibly hard. Kansas City either didn’t notice or didn’t care, but the team across the state did, and the Cardinals added a potent bat without sacrificing a single player in return. Martínez still hasn’t tapped into all of his power at the MLB level, and he still doesn’t really have a defensive home, but a Royals team without much future hope on the current MLB roster would want a bat like his.
Dodgers: Yordan Álvarez (traded for Josh Fields), 2.6 WAR
This trade could look even worse in the years to come, depending on how Álvarez’s one-dimensional skill set ages. But what a skill set it is—Álvarez can’t much field or run, but the 22-year-old slugger already boasts one of the best bats in the game. In 56 career MLB games, Álvarez is hitting .327/.417/.683 with 19 home runs—that’s nearly a prime Mark McGwire slash line—and his incredible minor league track record suggests this level isn’t a fluke. But Álvarez didn’t hit a single one of his minor league home runs in the Dodgers organization—he didn’t take a single official swing with them, in fact. After signing with L.A. for $2 million as an international free agent, Álvarez joined Houston—which, somewhat suspiciously, didn’t have that amount left in its bonus pool—in a trade just six weeks later. Notice that the player L.A. acquired in exchange for the young future star was a middling reliever; that will become a theme in this list.
White Sox: Fernando Tatís Jr. (traded for James Shields), 4.2 WAR
By the time Tatís’s career is done, the trade that brought him to San Diego could be the greatest swindle in MLB history, or at least since the Yankees nabbed Babe Ruth from Boston. Like Álvarez with the Dodgers, the then-17-year-old shortstop hadn’t played a single official game in Chicago’s system before he was traded for Shields, and his move didn’t produce shockwaves at the time. Baseball America “did not rank him as one of the top 30 international prospects in 2015 or one of the White Sox top 30 prospects before this season,” the prospect-ranking publication wrote at the time.
Now, Tatís is one of the sport’s most exciting players, one of its best in both the short and long term (even if some of his outrageous 2019 statistics are juiced by lucky batted-ball numbers), and the crown jewel of the Padres’ much-celebrated farm system. Reflecting on the trade earlier this year, White Sox GM Rick Hahn said that he’s tried to learn from what went wrong, and that “we have a very good understanding of what led to that one and the pitfalls that led us down that path and those will be avoided next time around.” They almost have to be—whiffing on a talent of Tatís’s level is by odds alone a once-in-a-career mistake.
Indians: Jesús Aguilar (claimed on waivers), 4.3 WAR
Also: Cameron Maybin (purchased)
In 58 MLB at-bats with Cleveland, spread across three seasons, Aguilar managed just 10 hits (for a .172 batting average) and one extra-base hit, a double. In his first season in Milwaukee, the burly first baseman bashed 16 homers in about half a year’s worth of at-bats; in his second, he made the All-Star team. Cleveland serves as a representative example for this whole exercise: The organization has done an excellent job of turning fringe players into stars this decade—Corey Kluber, José Ramírez—but it’s also failed to maximize plenty of talent in the system.
Brewers: Scooter Gennett (claimed on waivers), 5.9 WAR
After a surprise placement on waivers just before the 2017 season began, Gennett has been a prime beneficiary of the sport’s power spike. In four seasons with the Brewers, he never homered more than 14 times, and totaled just 35 long balls; in his two full seasons with the Reds, Gennett hit 27 and then 23 home runs, and boosted his offense from roughly league average to about 25 percent better than that. Any time a team loses a future All-Star, it’s a problem; any time that future All-Star breaks out for a division rival, it’s even worse.
Diamondbacks: Will Harris (claimed on waivers), 6.8 WAR
Also: Brad Keller (selected in Rule 5 draft)
The Diamondbacks’ real transaction regret of the past decade is surely trading Max Scherzer after just one full season; seven All-Star appearances and three Cy Youngs later, Scherzer profiles as a future Hall of Famer and a severe miss for the franchise. But Scherzer’s departure at least brought back touted talents in return—a reigning All-Star in Edwin Jackson and a recent top-50 prospect in Ian Kennedy, who for a time looked superior to Scherzer, winning an NL-high 21 games in his second Diamondbacks season.
In Harris, the Diamondbacks saw a fungible reliever with zero career saves and good but not great peripheral numbers. Since Houston claimed him on waivers after the 2014 season, Harris ranks sixth among 288 qualifying relievers with a 2.43 ERA—just between Kenley Jansen and Dellin Betances—and has posted above-average results every year.
Red Sox: Travis Shaw (traded for Tyler Thornburg), 7.1 WAR
Also: Ryan Pressly (selected in Rule 5 draft)
In December 2016, the Red Sox traded Shaw—a serviceable if not special corner infielder with a roughly average career batting line—plus three prospects for Thornburg, who had just completed a breakout season in the Milwaukee bullpen. Thornburg then missed the entire 2017 season due to thoracic outlet syndrome; he eventually compiled a 6.54 ERA and 5.76 FIP in 42 2/3 innings with the Red Sox before being released in July. Shaw, meanwhile, hit 63 combined homers and was a top-40 position player in his first two seasons in Milwaukee. Even if he has struggled mightily in 2019, the Brewers have to be thrilled with his post-trade performance.
Giants: Luis Castillo (traded for Casey McGehee), 8.7 WAR
Before Castillo went to Cincinnati—more on that move momentarily—he stopped in the Marlins system for two years, after San Francisco traded the then-22-year-old A-ball reliever for a veteran third baseman. McGehee proceeded to be worth negative-0.6 WAR in 49 games for San Francisco before being released the following July; Castillo soon transitioned to a starting role, but Miami wouldn’t reap the benefits either.
Marlins: Luis Castillo (traded for Dan Straily), 8.7 WAR
Also: Chris Paddack (traded for Fernando Rodney), Brad Hand (claimed on waivers), Trevor Williams (traded for Richard Mitchell)
Instead, the Marlins traded Castillo for Dan Straily before the 2017 season, even after Castillo had excelled as a starter in 2016, posting a combined 2.26 ERA at two minor league levels. By June, Castillo would prove himself ready for the majors—but Miami, which has a history of fast-tracking starters to the majors, didn’t realize this reality. In 2017 alone, Straily had a 93 ERA+ and was worth 1.1 WAR; Castillo, in half the innings for the Reds, had a 144 ERA+ and was worth 2.7 WAR.
Now Castillo looks like one of the top starters in baseball, and Miami is left to dream about a rotation built around all the starters it lost in silly transactions over the past few seasons. Yet the most extreme pictorial representation of the Marlins’ disastrous pitching plan over the past half-decade might involve Hand, who moved to San Diego via a waiver claim in early 2016. The trendlines on this graph change significantly at that time. (The red line shows Hand’s WAR based on actual runs allowed; the blue line shows his WAR based on underlying stats like strikeouts and walks.)
Twins: Aaron Hicks (traded for John Ryan Murphy), 9.5 WAR
Also: Niko Goodrum (lost in free agency)
Hicks was a disappointment in Minnesota, as the one-time top-20 prospect hit just .225/.306/.349 in three partial seasons before the Twins traded him for backup catcher Murphy. (Murphy hit .146/.193/.220 in Minnesota before being traded again.) Even in New York, Hicks took a year to click—and then he broke out, ultimately receiving an MVP vote and earning a long-term contract extension. Since the start of 2017, he’s been one of the five most valuable center fielders in the majors.
Athletics: Max Muncy (released), 9.9 WAR
Also: Joey Wendle (traded for Jonah Heim)
Muncy in two seasons as an Athletic: .195/.290/.321, 5 home runs, -0.2 WAR
Muncy in two seasons as a Dodger: .262/.383/.561, 68 home runs, 9.9 WAR
Muncy as a Dodger is a top-10 hitter in the sport; he displays power, patience at the plate, and capable multipositional flexibility for the team most suited to make use of that fluidity. Of course, every team could use a 30-homer hitter with elite on-base skills, but perhaps only the Dodgers could have coaxed such improvement out of Muncy, who has hit at every level since joining the club in 2017.
Pirates: Charlie Morton (traded for David Whitehead), 10.5 WAR
Morton wasn’t a terrible pitcher in Pittsburgh, but he wasn’t ever a reason for excitement, either. In seven years as a Pirate, Morton’s best ERA+ was just 109, and he was almost the definition of a replacement-level pitcher, accruing 0.2 total WAR in 801 innings.
Take a look at this graph and see whether you can guess when Morton left Pittsburgh:
After leaving Pittsburgh prior to the 2016 season, Morton spiked his strikeout rate in a brief stint in Philadelphia, then closed out a World Series win in Houston, and is now a Cy Young contender in Tampa. May we all experience the kind of career rejuvenation in our 30s that Morton did.
Mariners: Chris Taylor (traded for Zach Lee), 10.7 WAR
Also: Justin Smoak (claimed on waivers), Ryan Yarbrough (traded, with Mallex Smith, for Drew Smyly)
Let’s do the same exercise for Taylor as for Muncy:
Taylor as a Mariner: .240/.296/.296, 0 home runs, 0.7 WAR
Taylor as a Dodger: .268/.339/.466, 48 home runs, 10.7 WAR
Lee pitched 14 games for Seattle in Triple-A before being waived, during which time he recorded a 7.39 ERA. He hasn’t thrown an MLB pitch since playing for the Padres in 2017—the same year that, in the first game of the World Series, Taylor mashed the first pitch he saw for a leadoff home run.
Angels: Mike Clevinger (traded for Vinnie Pestano), 10.7 WAR
Also: Kirby Yates (claimed on waivers)
Like other players on this list, Clevinger was deemed expendable because he was a relatively older player toiling at the lower levels of the minors; in a piece for The Ringer last year, Michael Baumann described Clevinger’s role in the 2014 Pestano trade as “the anonymous minor leaguer sent to balance out the anonymous middle reliever.” But Clevinger improved almost immediately upon entering Cleveland’s system, seeing his ERA drop from 5.21 at High-A in 2014 to 2.73 at Double-A in 2015 as his once-spotty control improved, and he has since continually climbed the ladder from anonymous minor leaguer to interesting minor leaguer to erratic major leaguer to dark-horse award candidate. Clevinger missed a chunk of this season due to injury, but when healthy, he’s struck out hitters at basically the same rate as league leader Gerrit Cole. (And Pestano, for what it’s worth, threw a total of 21 1/3 innings as an Angel.)
Rockies: Collin McHugh (claimed on waivers), 11.2 WAR
Also: Mike Tauchman (traded for Phillip Diehl), Tommy Kahnle (traded for Yency Almonte)
It’s possible that McHugh was never properly positioned for success in Colorado, where the altitude messes with breaking balls, but his post-Colorado results still reflect poorly on the Rockies front office. McHugh was one of the Houston regime’s first analytical success stories, an older pitcher with a career 8.94 ERA—but more importantly, a pitcher with a high-spin curveball that the Astros figured they could use to mold a reliable starter. It worked right away: McHugh spun a 2.73 ERA in his first year in Houston and received Cy Young consideration in his second, and though he has since bounced between the rotation and bullpen—where, for a year, he was one of the best relievers in the majors—he stands as an unimpeachable success for the front office.
Cardinals: Adam Ottavino (claimed on waivers), 11.4 WAR
A first-round pick for St. Louis in 2006, Ottavino was slow to develop for the Cardinals, particularly for a college pitcher. He posted a 5.23 ERA in Double-A in 2008 and a combined 4.68 ERA in three Triple-A seasons, sprinkling in an 8.46 ERA in a brief MLB stint and all the while struggling to limit his walks. Then Colorado converted Ottavino to relief, and he ascended to MLB caliber in a snap. He wasn’t always the strikeout maven he is now—that took some self-motivated rebuilding in the offseason—but he’s had an average-or-better park-adjusted ERA every year since becoming a reliever and now profiles as one of the majors’ best.
Rays: German Márquez (traded for Corey Dickerson), 12.1 WAR
Also: Felipe Vázquez (traded for Nate Karns), Kirby Yates (purchased)
Finding an obviously mistaken Rays transaction is a challenge given the franchise’s lofty standard, but losing Márquez as a minor leaguer should qualify. Dickerson wasn’t as anonymous as some of the relievers traded for players on this list—he even made an All-Star team in Tampa—but he also stuck with the Rays for just two seasons before they flipped him to Pittsburgh; meanwhile, Márquez was growing into one of the sport’s best young starters after not being given much of a chance in the Tampa Bay system. His Coors-inflated ERA masks his underlying skills, which elevate him to the level of José Berríos or Blake Snell—and wouldn’t the Rays like another Snell for their rotation?
Blue Jays: Yan Gomes (traded for Esmil Rogers), 12.5 WAR
If there’s a moral from many of these trades, it’s to stop exchanging young players for mediocre relievers, and Gomes for Rogers fits that description. Rogers had enjoyed a pleasant half-season in Cleveland before this November deal, but he also had a career 75 ERA+ at that point, with middling strikeout numbers and troubling walk rates. His ERA across the next year and a half in Toronto—before he was waived—would hover above 5.
Gomes, meanwhile, was already 25 years old when Cleveland added him, along with Mike Aviles, in this trade, and though he had posted impressive offensive numbers for a catcher in the minor leagues, he didn’t rate as a prospect and had struggled in a cup of coffee in Toronto. He’d prove inconsistent in Cleveland but was ultimately a close-to-league-average bat at the league’s worst offensive position, and an All-Star and Silver Slugger winner to boot.
Tigers: Eugenio Suárez (traded for Alfredo Simón), 12.5 WAR
Also: James McCann (lost in free agency)
The Tigers couldn’t have known what they were losing in December 2014 when they sent Suárez to Cincinnati for journeyman pitcher Simón, who had taken advantage of the worst offensive environment in decades to turn in a career year. At that point, the 23-year-old Suárez was a light-hitting shortstop who had never hit more than 12 home runs in a single year; RotoGraphs wrote that his “ceiling is likely that of a super-utility type.” By 2016, Suárez was a 20-homer hitter; by 2018, he was an All-Star and middle-of-the-order force. (Simón played one season in Detroit, in which he posted a 5.05 ERA in 187 innings.)
Braves: Mike Minor (lost in free agency), 13.5 WAR
It’s not totally fair to ding the Braves for not maximizing Minor’s talent, given that his Atlanta tenure ended with a shoulder surgery. But it’s also not totally unfair. In five seasons in Atlanta, Minor’s ERA+ was 93, making him a slightly below-average starter; since leaving Atlanta to pitch for the Royals and Rangers, Minor’s ERA+ is 140—a top-10 mark in that span among pitchers with at least 400 innings. He leads the AL in ERA+ and pitching WAR this season, and could well win the Cy Young. Between Minor and Morton, this year’s American League has been dominated by pitchers who got away.
Rangers: Tanner Roark (traded for Cristian Guzmán), 19.5 WAR
Also: Renato Núñez (claimed on waivers)
More famously than Roark, the Rangers lost Kyle Hendricks in a trade for Ryan Dempster, but at least Dempster had a 2.25 ERA when the Rangers added him for a 2012 playoff push. The 2010 Rangers had no such excuse when they sent Roark to Washington for Guzmán, who had negative WAR at the time of the trade and would collect more negative WAR in his half-season in Texas—which ultimately represented the final playing time in his MLB career.
Roark was—surprise—a college pitcher without any prospect pedigree and middling minor league numbers. Had he remained in Texas and developed just as he did in D.C., he’d have the fourth-most pitching WAR in Rangers history and be the franchise’s second-best homegrown starter, behind only Kenny Rogers.
Cubs: DJ LeMahieu (traded for Ian Stewart), 22.6 WAR
Also: Marwin González (selected in Rule 5 draft), Tommy La Stella (traded for Conor Lillis-White)
In 2011, Stewart’s final year in Colorado, the third baseman hit .156/.243/.221—numbers that look abysmal even before factoring in the Coors effect. Yet that didn’t stop the Cubs from trading two young hitters for the Rockie: Tyler Colvin, who ended up accumulating 0.9 career WAR, and LeMahieu, who’s up to 22-plus and counting, along with three All-Star appearances and three Gold Gloves.
Even if LeMahieu didn’t break out offensively until this season, his first as a Yankee, he was still worth 3.1 WAR per 162 games as a Rockie, his decent (after park adjustments) offense, spectacular defense, and consistent health combining such that he easily outstripped the production expected of him. LeMahieu never registered as a top prospect, and though he hit well at the lower levels of the minors, he struggled in his first exposure to Triple-A and the majors in 2011 (44 wRC+ in 62 plate appearances at the latter level), evidently leading the Cubs to sour on his future. Stewart, meanwhile, played just one season in Chicago before being released midway through 2013—but at least the Cubs found a silver lining that summer, as they selected a new third baseman in the first round of the draft: Kris Bryant.
Orioles: Jake Arrieta (traded for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger), 24.2 WAR
Also: Josh Hader (traded for Bud Norris), Mike Yastrzemski (traded for Tyler Herb)
Here is Arrieta’s ERA+ (where 100 is average, and higher numbers are better) by season as an Oriole: 89, 83, 68, 57
Here is Arrieta’s ERA+ by season as a Cub: 106, 150, 215, 135, 124
The Orioles traded Arrieta in July 2013; over the next three seasons, as Baltimore contended for a playoff berth each year, Arrieta was the fourth-most valuable pitcher in baseball. If only the Orioles had actually allowed Arrieta to use his best pitch.
Astros: J.D. Martinez (released), 24.4 WAR
Also: Ramón Laureano (traded for Brandon Bailey)
Houston’s player development machine has itself developed to the point that it’s the subject of multiple books. After the Gerrit Cole trade, baseball analysts immediately figured that Houston would help the former no. 1 pick rediscover his potential; he did, and is now on pace to challenge the single-season record for strikeout rate. After the Aaron Sanchez trade, analysts thought the same, and Sanchez responded by participating in a combined no-hitter in his very first start as an Astro.
It seems, now, that Houston can make any player it acquires better, from Cole to Sanchez to Ryan Pressly. But that wasn’t always the case; even the Astros have swung and missed. In Houston, Martinez was a below-average hitter without much defensive value; on face value, it was understandable—and not very newsworthy—when Houston let him go. What the Astros didn’t know was that Martinez had remade his swing, crushed the Venezuelan Winter League that offseason, and secretly become one of the best hitters in the sport.
He signed with the Tigers in March 2014. Since then, here is every qualified MLB hitter with a better wRC+ than Martinez’s 151:
- Mike Trout
That’s it. That’s the whole list.
Yankees: José Quintana (lost in free agency), 27.1 WAR
Also: Kirby Yates (claimed on waivers), Caleb Smith (traded for Mike King)
On the one hand, it’s not a surprise that the Yankees didn’t realize what they had in Quintana when he became a minor league free agent after the 2011 season. To that point, he had never pitched above High-A, he had previously been suspended for violating the minors’ PED policy, and he had never exhibited dazzling stuff on the mound.
But on the other, Quintana had always amassed impressive statistics at the lower levels (his career minor league ERA with the Yankees was 2.63, including a 2.91 mark in his last year in High-A), and the Yankees—whose player development prowess rivals the Astros’—didn’t properly project how the southpaw’s subtle strengths would translate against better competition.
Since Quintana debuted in the majors in 2012, he ranks 12th in pitcher WAR, just behind more celebrated starters like Stephen Strasburg and Madison Bumgarner. No Yankee is within 10 WAR of Quintana in that span.
Mets: Justin Turner (lost in free agency), 27.1 WAR
Also: Collin McHugh (traded for Eric Young Jr.), Hansel Robles (claimed on waivers)
With Muncy, Taylor, and now Turner—the first of that trio to improve in L.A.—the lesson is never to let any underperforming major leaguer go to the Dodgers, lest the player develop into a star and make his original team look foolish. Turner was a replacement-level player in New York, popping around the infield as a perfectly serviceable utility man; with the Dodgers, after a swing change and a permanent move to third base, he’s received MVP votes three years in a row. To round out the trio, here are Turner’s isolated stats with the Mets and Dodgers:
Turner as a Met: .265/.326/.370, 8 home runs, 1.0 WAR
Turner as a Dodger: .303/.383/.506, 107 home runs, 27.1 WAR
That the Dodgers have a top farm system—which has produced Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and Will Smith, with more studs like Triple-A infielder Gavin Lux on the way—is pure luxury. L.A. could evidently build a formidable lineup from castoffs alone.
Padres: Anthony Rizzo (traded for Andrew Cashner), 32.6 WAR; AND Corey Kluber (traded for Ryan Ludwick), 33.1 WAR
Yes, the Padres have the two worst misses on the whole list, so instead of choosing one and picking a runner-up, we might as well discuss both together. It’s kind of a franchise trait—as Rany Jazayerli noted for Grantland in 2015, in A.J. Preller’s first year in charge of the Padres’ front office, the GM traded Yasmani Grandal, Trea Turner, and numerous other contributors. But the greatest losses actually came earlier in the decade: At the 2010 trade deadline, the Padres bolstered a contending roster by trading for outfielder Ryan Ludwick, in the process surrendering a little-known Double-A pitcher named Corey Kluber; and in January 2012, they sent Anthony Rizzo, the prize of the Adrián González trade, to Chicago for Andrew Cashner.
Nobody expected the Kluber trade to backfire on San Diego the way it did; then 24 years old, Kluber hadn’t exceeded Double-A or posted an ERA below 3 at any minor league stop. But those external factors hid some underlying advantages—namely, a strong minor league strikeout rate—and even though Kluber took a few years to refine his repertoire and adjust at the MLB level, he was a Cy Young winner by 2014.
By comparison to the Kluber swap, the Rizzo trade baffled from the moment it was made. Sure, Rizzo hadn’t hit in his introduction to the majors the previous year (.141/.281/.242 in 49 games), but he had also posted a 1.056 OPS at Triple-A that year, and was still a top-50 prospect that winter. Cashner, meanwhile, had missed most of the previous season with a rotator cuff injury and was “expected to begin his Padres career in the bullpen and perhaps later move to the rotation if his command and control improve,” wrote Brad Johnson for The Hardball Times. Not the most ringing endorsement!
The two players’ actual paths, of course, make the deal look even more lopsided in retrospect. Cashner is on his sixth team, with a career 98 ERA+, while Rizzo anchored a World Series–winning lineup and has received MVP votes in every season since 2014. With Tatís now in tow, the Padres look positioned to contend for the next decade—but in Rizzo and Kluber most of all, they must rue the ones that got away in this one.
Stats current through Wednesday.