Best players traded while minor leaguers

June, 6, 2012
6/06/12
3:30
PM ET
In my chat on Tuesday, we briefly discussed the all-time draft rosters for each team that I compiled. Somebody asked: What's the all-time roster for players drafted and traded away while still minor leaguers? Some of these deals are pretty famous -- Jeff Bagwell and John Smoltz being the two everyone remembers. There are some that fans think of but the player had received a cup of coffee before being traded: Ryne Sandberg and Kenny Lofton being two examples.

This list only includes drafted players, so Latin American free agents like Johan Santana (signed originally by the Astros) are not included. There are also a couple of U.S.-born players who weren't drafted who could have made the list, such as Toby Harrah or Tom Candiotti, but they weren't included either.

This post is longer than I intended, but I thought I'd fill in some details on why the player was traded or lost. So here's the team with Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement noted. Active players who could some day make the list would include Adrian Gonzalez (drafted by the Marlins), Josh Hamilton (Rays), Austin Jackson (Yankees) and Gio Gonzalez (White Sox).

C -- Jason Varitek (career WAR: 21.3)
Drafted: Seattle Mariners, 1st round, 1994
How lost: The Red Sox acquired Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb, July 31, 1997

One of the great deadline heists of all time. Desperate for a reliever, the Mariners gave up two of their top prospects for the mediocre Slocumb. It's difficult to understand why the Mariners were willing to deal Varitek, even though he was hitting just .254 at Triple-A Tacoma. He'd been a first-round pick and had power and solid defensive skills.

[+] EnlargeJeff Bagwell
Rich Pilling/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesJeff Bagwell played 15 seasons in the majors, all with Houston, and finished his career with 449 home runs.
1B -- Jeff Bagwell (career WAR: 76.7)
Drafted: Boston Red Sox, 4th round, 1989
How lost: Astros got Bagwell for Larry Andersen on Aug. 30, 1990

Fighting for the AL East title, the Red Sox decided they needed another reliever. Andersen did pitch well, allowing three runs in 22 innings, and the Red Sox edged the Blue Jays by two wins to take the division. But for 22 innings of Andersen they gave up one of the greatest first basemen of all time.

2B -- Tony Phillips (career WAR: 48.2)
Drafted: Montreal Expos, 1st round of January secondary draft, 1978
How lost: The Expos traded Phillips to the Padres for Willie Montanez (who hit .185 with Montreal). But the Padres traded Phillips to the A's with two others for two guys who never played for the Padres.

Phillips, of course, became a standout utility player with the A's, Tigers, Angels and White Sox, posting a .374 career OBP and scoring 1,300 runs. With the Expos in Double-A in 1980, Phillips had hit .249 with five home runs, but with 98 walks and 50 steals. Trading him for the washed-up Montanez was bad as it looks. The Padres traded Phillips late in spring training of 1981, acquiring reliever Bob Lacey (who must have gotten hurt). Billy Martin is listed as Oakland's GM at the time, but I'm not sure who actually made the deals for Oakland then -- president Roy Eisenhardt, Martin or a young lawyer named Sandy Alderson, who became the team's GM in 1983. Who knows, maybe Martin saw Phillips in a spring training game. Or the A's, early converts to the value of the walk, noticed Phillips' minor league stats.

3B -- Darrell Evans (career WAR: 55.1)
Drafted: Kansas City A's, 7th round, January secondary draft, 1967
How lost: The Braves selected Evans in the Rule 5 draft on Dec. 2, 1968

Evans had actually been drafted four times previously before finally signing with the A's. Evans had some sort of injury in 1968 and hit .241 with three home runs in Double-A in just 56 games, and considering he wasn't a high pick, probably wouldn't have been considered a top prospect in the modern style of thinking. Chalk it up to good scouting by the Braves. Evans went on to hit 414 home runs as one of the more underrated players in baseball history.

SS -- Jay Bell (career WAR: 34.1)
Drafted: Minnesota Twins, 1st round, 1984
How lost: Traded to the Indians for Bert Blyleven, Aug. 1, 1985. The were other players, but it essentially ended up Bell-for-Blyleven.

The Twins had another young shortstop in Greg Gagne, so could afford to part with Bell. The deal paid huge dividends two years later when Blyleven helped the Twins win the 1987 World Series. As for Bell, he didn't hit with the Indians, who of course gave up on him even though he was just 22 years old and traded him to Pittsburgh for somebody named Denny Gonzalez.

OF: Chet Lemon (career WAR: 52.0)
Drafted: Oakland A's, 1st round, 1972
How lost: Traded to the White Sox with Dave Hamilton for Stan Bahnsen and Skip Pitlock, June 15, 1975.

Here's a case of a player who clearly was a top prospect being dealt away. In fact, I'm sure if Keith Law and Kevin Goldstein were ranking prospects in the summer of 1975, Lemon would have been one of the best in the game, considering his age (20), production (he was hitting .307/.373/.508) in Triple-A, and speed. He was, however, fielding .858 at third base. The A's were in a pennant race (they'd win the AL West) and wanted a veteran starter. But here's what's odd: Bahnsen had a 6.06 ERA at the time of the deal. The White Sox moved Lemon to center field where he became an elite defender (though, surprisingly, never won a Gold Glove) and solid hitter.

OF -- Amos Otis (career WAR: 39.2)
Drafted: Boston Red Sox, 5th round, 1965
How lost: The Mets drafted Otis in the 1966 minor league draft

I'm not quite sure of the rules at the time, but somehow Otis was exposed in the minor league draft after the 1966 season. I assume he had to be placed on a certain roster relative to his experience, since the Mets jumped him from the New York-Penn League to Triple-A. Three years later (Otis had spent most of that time in Triple-A), the Mets traded him to the Royals for Joy Foy. Otis became a five-time All-Star while Foy played 99 games with the Mets.

OF -- Willie McGee (career WAR: 30.9)
Drafted: New York Yankees, 1st round, January secondary draft, 1977
How lost: Traded to the Cardinals for Bob Sykes, Oct. 21, 1981

If Baseball-Reference's date is correct, this trade happened on the day the Yankees played the second game of the World Series, which seems a little odd. Anyway, Sykes never pitched for the Yankees; in fact, never pitched again in the majors. But McGee wasn't even the best prospect the Yankees gave away during this era ...

DH -- Fred McGriff (career WAR: 48.2)
Drafted: New York Yankees, 9th round, 1981
How lost: Traded to the Blue Jays with Dave Collins and Mike Morgan for Dale Murray and Tom Dodd, Dec. 9, 1982

Murray posted a 4.73 ERA in 62 games with the Yankees. McGriff went on to hit 493 home runs. Would McGriff have been considered a top prospect at the time? He'd hit .272/.413/.456 in the Gulf Coast Rookie League, with nine home runs in 272 plate appearances. He struck out a ton (63 whiffs) but drew walks and the nine home runs led the league. The Yankees certainly should have realized he had big power potential. Instead, he was a throw-in for a mediocre veteran reliever. Man, I miss George Steinbrenner.

[+] EnlargeCurt Schilling
AP Photo/Kathy WillensCurt Schilling had a career postseason record of 11-2, including 4-1 in World Series games.
SP -- Curt Schilling (career WAR: 76.9)
Drafted: Boston Red Sox, 2nd round, January phase, 1986
How lost: Traded to the Orioles with Brady Anderson for Mike Boddicker, July 29, 1988

Schilling was actually traded three times before finally hitting it big with the Phillies -- the Orioles traded him to the Astros in the regrettable Glenn Davis deal and then the Astros traded him to the Phillies for (cough) Jason Grimsley. And then the Phillies traded him to the Diamondbacks and the Diamondbacks traded him to the Red Sox. The only deal where the team that traded Schilling actually got any value in return was the first one; Boddicker at least helped the Red Sox win division titles in 1988 and 1990.

SP -- John Smoltz (career WAR: 62.6)
Drafted: Detroit Tigers, 22nd round, 1985
How lost: Traded to the Braves for Doyle Alexander, Aug. 12, 1987)

Even though Smoltz had been a 22nd-round pick, I believe he was a highly rated prospect out of high school (he'd been an All-State pitcher in Michigan), but teams believed he was going to attend Michigan State. The Tigers took a flyer and signed him in September. At the time of the deal, he had a 5.68 ERA in Double-A with nearly as many walks (81) as strikeouts (86). Sometimes those hard-throwers do figure things out.

SP -- Cliff Lee (career WAR: 30.6)
Drafted: Montreal Expos, 4th round, 2000
How lost: Traded with Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew, June 27, 2002.

Forced to trade Colon the following January, that crafty Omar Minaya acquired Orlando Hernandez, Rocky Biddle and Jeff Liefer.

SP -- Kevin Tapani (career WAR: 26.6)
Drafted: Oakland A's, 2nd round, 1986
How lost: Traded to the Mets in a three-team deal, Dec. 12, 1987

The A's ended up getting Bob Welch in the deal. Tapani later became part of the Frank Viola deal with the Twins and was the best pitcher on the 1991 World Series champs. Yes, he was: Tapani had a 2.99 ERA that year, Jack Morris a 3.43.

SP -- Doug Drabek (career WAR: 25.0)
Drafted: Chicago White Sox, 11th round, 1983
How lost: Traded to the Yankees for Roy Smalley, July 19, 1984

Drabek was tearing up Double-A when the White Sox traded him for Smalley, who proceeded to hit .170 and was traded in the offseason to the Twins for Randy Johnson. Wrong Randy Johnson. Drabek pitched well as a rookie with the Yankees in 1986, but of course back then they always preferred an old guy on his last legs as opposed to a young guy with potential, so they traded Drabek to the Pirates for Rick Rhoden. Really, can't we get the Steinbrenners more involved in making trades again?

RP -- Trevor Hoffman (career WAR: 27.0)
Drafted: Cincinnati Reds, 11th round, 1989
How lost: Selected by the Marlins in the 1993 expansion draft

Hoffman had been drafted as a shortstop before converting to the bullpen. The Marlins would end up trading him, Andres Berumen and Jose Martinez to the Padres for Gary Sheffield. Somehow I doubt the Padres knew they were acquiring a reliever who would rack up 601 career saves.

David Schoenfield | email

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