In the new issue of ESPN The Magazine, we look at this summer's MLB hired guns, which we define as players on the verge of free agency who are traded to a contender for what will most likely become a two-month rental. This type of deal has dwindled in recent years as teams place a greater premium on the prospects necessary to acquire impact players at the deadline. This season, however, we were treated to a quintet of vintage hired-gun deals as CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez, Ken Griffey, Ivan Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira all made temporary address changes for the final eight weeks of the season before hitting the open market.
This got us thinking: why not rank baseball's hired guns from the last 25 years or so? Here's our timeline of some of the best (and worst) of the bunch.
Shotgun: Deadly—the hired gun does his job.
BB gun: A sharpshooter, but can't quite win the war.
Water gun: Mission accomplished, but no thanks to the new player.
1984: Indians trade Rick Sutcliffe, George Frazier and Ron Hassey to the Cubs for Mel Hall, Joe Carter, Don Schulze and Darryl Banks
Sutcliffe, who, at the time of the trade, had a 5.15 ERA, goes 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA for the Cubs. Sutcliffe wins the Cy Young, the Cubs make the post season for the first time in four decades, and he signs what is then considered a ground-breaking contract with Chicago that winter—five years, $9 million.
1992: Mets trade David Cone to Blue Jays for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson
Though the Jays give up a great prospect to get Cone, they can't complain about the results: Toronto wins their first World Series. Cone bolts for KC (yes, the Royals) as a free agent after the season. Three years later the Jays take part in another hired gun deal involving Cone. They reacquire him from the Royals that April, only to trade him to the Yankees in July for three no-names. Cone helps the Yankees make the playoffs, re-signs with the Yanks, and becomes an integral part of three World Series champions in the Bronx. Jackpot (for Cone).
1993: A's trade Rickey Henderson to Blue Jays for Steve Karsay
This deal worked out perfectly for everyone. The Jays won their second straight title, and not only did the A's acquire a good young arm, they also re-signed Henderson in the off-season. The Man of Steal is demoted to BB gun status only because he hit just .215 (albeit with a .356 OBP) for Toronto.
1996: Indians trade Eddie Murray to Orioles for Kent Mercker
Steady Eddie returns to the team he got his start with to man first base and help the Orioles reach their first postseason since 1983. Murray hits .333 in October, but the O's fall to the Yanks in the ALCS. The lesson: you can't always come home again.
1998: Mariners trade Randy Johnson to the Astros for Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia and John Halama
The Big Unit has what is arguably the best two-month stretch of his career in Houston. He goes 10-1, with a Bob Gibson-esque 1.28 ERA and a 116-26 strikeout-walk ratio. The bad news is that even though the Astros make the playoffs, they lose both of Johnson's NLDS starts, even though he only surrenders three runs. To add insult to injury, he leaves for Arizona's money after the season and the three players the Astros gave up become regulars on the 2001 Mariners, a team that garners the best regular season record in MLB history. Ouch.
2000: Reds trade Denny Neagle and Mike Frank to the Yankees for for Ed Yarnall, Drew Henson, Brian Reith and Jackson Melian (minors)
Yes, the Yanks win the World Series, but Neagle is of no help. He posts a 5.81 ERA down the stretch and somehow parlays that into a $51 million contract from the Rockies in the off-season. As it turns out, the Rockies know less than the media on this issue.
2002: White Sox trade Kenny Lofton to the San Francisco Giants for Felix Diaz and Ryan Meaux
San Francisco gives up virtually nothing to get Lofton, and he helps them get to the World Series in his first of two straight years as a hired gun. He signs with the Pirates in the off-season…
2003: Pirates trade Kenny Lofton with Aramis Ramirez and cash to the Chicago Cubs for Bobby Hill, Jose Hernandez and Matt Bruback
And you wonder why the Pirates have been bad for so long? Cubs lose in the NLCS, but can't blame Lofton. He hits .323 in that series. Oh, and that Ramirez guy has turned out to be pretty good too.
2007: Rangers trade Kenny Lofton to the Indians for Max Ramirez
Him again! Indians fall in ALCS, and Lofton now sits at .392 in postseason at-bats without a World Series ring.
2007: Rangers trade Eric Gagne and cash to the Red Sox for Kason Gabbard, David Murphy and Engel Beltre
The Red Sox win the World Series, but this trade is still a disaster for them. Gagne goes from closer in Texas to mop-up man in Boston, and then bolts for Milwaukee in the off-season (not that Red Sox would have wanted him back). Murphy has thrived in Texas, and the 18-year-old Beltre has the makings of a star.