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The ten best trade deadline position player acquisitions since 1998

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Where does J.D. Martinez rank?

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

There’s no doubt J.D. Martinez’s arrival on the Diamondbacks has helped sustain their push to the post-season. He has already set a franchise record for most home-runs in the second-half, including becoming the first Arizona hitter with four long balls in a single game. As we saw last week, he’s the best trade deadline position player acquisition in team history, that’s for sure. But where does he stand across all of baseball, compared to other deadline pickups of the last two decades? And how far did the teams benefiting, end up going into the post-season?

The methodology

  • For the purposes of this piece, I stuck to position players, since trying to compare pitchers to position players is a bit fraught.
  • I looked at all seasons by players since 1998, where they posted at least 3.5 bWAR - 1,275 in total - and also appeared for more than one team that year.
  • There may be some who didn’t reach a total of 3.5 bWAR, but exploded from mediocrity to become significant players with their new teams. If they were replacement level before the trade, then put up 3 bWAR after it, the above wouldn’t find them. So this list should not be taken as definitive. Suggestions for players missed are welcome, so I can update the list.
  • Below are those who posted more than two bWAR for their new team, after being dealt at the trade deadline.
  • I loosely defined “trade deadline” as those dealt any time after the middle of July. But I have noted below, some players traded earlier who put up really good seasons.
  • Haven’t limited it to teams who were in contention. If you were supposed a “seller”, but still got a player who put up a really good second-half, you are included.

1. Mark Teixeira, 3.7 WAR.

July 29, 2008: Traded by the Atlanta Braves to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Stephen Marek (minors) and Casey Kotchman.

The same deadline gave us the top two on the list. While the next is the one D-backs fans will remember, it’s this one which was the best. The Angels had tried to get Teixeira the previous season but lost out to the Braves. This time, Atlanta talked to several teams - including Arizona - before dealing the 1B to Anaheim. He exploded down the stretch batting .358 with 13 HR in 54 games for 1.081 OPS, as the Angels cruised to a 100-win season. It didn’t help them in the post-season, being rolled in the Division Series by the Red Sox in four games. But it did help Teixeira land an eight-year $180 million contract with the Yankees that winter. Team result: Lost in ALDS.

2. Manny Ramirez, 3.5 WAR.

July 31, 2008: Traded as part of a 3-team trade by the Boston Red Sox to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers sent Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Red Sox sent Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss to the Pirates. The Pirates sent Jason Bay to the Red Sox.

Remember “Mannywood”? Faux dreadlocks? After being effectively run out of Boston, Ramirez batted .396 with 17 HR in and 53 RBI in 53 games for the Dodgers, triggering mass hysteria. Of course, this gets a big asterisk. The next spring, he was busted for a female fertility drug used by ‘roiders to restore testosterone. Anyone think he was clean in 2008? Thought not. It’s especially galling as Manny is the all-time OPS leader against us (min 50 PA), at 1.305; his dubious production was more than the two-game margin by which the Dodgers edged the D-backs for the NL West title. Not the last time a subsequently proven PED cheat screwed Arizona. Team result: Lost in NLCS.

=3. Randy Velarde, 2.8 WAR.

July 29, 1999: Traded by the Anaheim Angels with Omar Olivares to the Oakland Athletics for Elvin Nina (minors), Jeff DaVanon and Nathan Haynes.

If you add in Olivares, who put up 0.8 bWAR over 12 starts for the A’s, this one would just edge out Ramirez for second-place. The pitcher was very much the minor producer beside Velarde: the second-baseman batted .333 with seven home-runs in 61 games, while playing solid defense. He ended up with a seven-WAR season, more than twice as much as any other season, though didn’t even merit any MVP mentions. Nor did he help the A’s, who missed out on a wild-card. However, Velarde was a key component of the team the following season, when they won the AL West. Team result: missed post-season.

=3. Scott Rolen, 2.8 WAR.

July 29, 2002: Traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Doug Nickle and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for Placido Polanco, Bud Smith and Mike Timlin.

Over the next four season, Rolen would be a four-time All-Star and also win a trio of Gold Gloves, after signing an eight-year contract extension the following September. He had rejected a TEN-year extension that winter from the Phillies, but when the team tanked into last place, became trade bait. Matters weren’t helped by fractious relationship in Philadelphia with manager Larry Bowa and team-mates, one of whom called Rolen a clubhouse cancer. Didn’t seem to infect the St. Louis locker-room, as they won the Central, then swept the reigning World Series Champion Diamondbacks out of the Division Series, before losing to the Giants. Team result: lost in NLCS.

5. Randy Winn, 2.6 WAR.

July 30, 2005: Traded by the Seattle Mariners to the San Francisco Giants for Jesse Foppert and Yorvit Torrealba.

Winn had the reputation of being a player who did very well against the D-backs, and certainly did for the Giants after his arrival, putting up a 1.051 OPS, which included him hitting for the cycle. At the time of the deal, San Francisco were 45-57, but were only 5.5 out in the terrible NL West, which the Padres would snare with 82 wins. Not everyone was that impressed, Grant Brisbee writing: “The trade to get Randy Winn encapsulates everything wrong with how the Giants are constructed. It represents a failure of imagination, and a squandering of resources. And it's a good trade for the Giants as they are presently constructed.” Team result: missed post-season.

6. J.D. Martinez, 2.5 WAR (through Tuesday)

July 18, 2017: Traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Sergio Alcantara (minors), Jose King (minors) and Dawel Lugo (minors).

When I started this article a couple of weeks back, Martinez wasn’t even in the top 10, but has continued to hit at an amazing rate, driving his value ever up. He’d likely be even higher, if this was based purely on offensive value. While J.D. has largely avoided obvious gaffes, he has seemed pretty slow out there, and the eye test is in line with the metrics (UZR/150 of -15.1). But that hitting... Every time he’s up at the plate, I expect something good to happen, and with Paul Goldschmidt, gives this team a 1-2 punch in the heart of the line-up that few playoff teams will be able to match. He’ll likely not be here in 2018, so enjoy him while you can! Team result: wild-card, at least.

7. Jay Payton, 2.4 WAR.

July 31, 2002: Traded by the New York Mets with Rob Stratton (minors) and Mark Corey to the Colorado Rockies for Mark Little and John Thomson.

Payton certainly benefited from the Coors Field effect: a career .279 hitter, he batted .311 over parts of three seasons with the Rockies. But this was a trade which was supposed to help the Mets, who were 4.5 back in the NL wild-card hunt. Their GM Steve Phillips said, "Thomson is one of the guys we had identified that if the price was right we thought he would help us. But we weren't sure the price would be right.'' It didn’t work out that way: Thomson went 2-6 with a 93 ERA+ in his nine starts, and Little ended the year appearing in 15 games as a Diamondback, Meanwhile the outfielder hit .335 with a .982 OPS for Colorado. Team result: missed post-season.

=8. Hunter Pence, 2.3 WAR.

July 29, 2011: Traded by the Houston Astros with cash to the Philadelphia Phillies for a player to be named later, Jarred Cosart, Jon Singleton and Josh Zeid. The Phillies sent Domingo Santana (August 15, 2011) to the Astros to complete the trade.

Pence hit .324 with 11 home-runs in 54 games for the Phillies, while the Astros - who were just starting their episode of Extreme Team Makeover - got a bunch of young prospects [Amusingly, it was subsequently reported that the PTBNL here was actually a Philadelphia error] Pence wasn’t a pure rental either, under 212 years of control. With the Phillies on the way to a fifth-straight division title and franchise record 102 wins, it made sense. But #YCPB: a year later, at the 2012 trade deadline and with his new team dead in the water at 45-57, Pence was on his way to San Francisco. The Phillies have not had a winning season since that 2011 campaign. Team record: lost in NLDS.

=8. Matt Holliday, 2.3 WAR.

July 24, 2009: Traded by the Oakland Athletics to the St. Louis Cardinals for Clayton Mortensen, Shane Peterson and Brett Wallace.

Having been traded to the A’s the previous winter from Colorado (for a package including Carlos Gonzalez), Holliday’s stay in Oakland was brief. He was brought to St. Louis to protect Albert Pujols, then at peak production (9.7 WAR!) and getting IBB’d like Barry Bonds, with twice as many as any other player that year. It worked. Holliday hit .353 with 13 home-runs and a 1.023 OPS, helping the Cardinals clinch the NL Central by an eight-game margin. While it didn’t help in the playoffs, as they were swept by the Dodgers, Holliday re-signed that winter to what was then the most expensive contract in team history (7 years, $120m). Team result: lost in NLDS.

=8. Yoenis Cespedes, 2.3 WAR.

July 31, 2015: Traded by the Detroit Tigers to the New York Mets for Luis Cessa and Michael Fulmer.

The most recent deal on the list, and one which has often been compared to the Martinez trade: both involved a slugging outfielder, approaching free-agency, traded out of Detroit. Though you could argue the Tigers got rather more here, with pitcher Fulmer already having been worth 8.3 WAR in two major-league seasons for them. Not sure the package we sent for Martinez will ever match that. But the Mets may not mind, given Cespedes was instrumental in getting them to the playoffs. He batted .292 with 17 HR in the regular season, though just .207 in the post-season, and had only a .293 OPS in the five-game WS against the Royals. Team result: lost in World Series.

The best non-deadline deals

Just for amusement, using the same methodology, here are the most productive seasons put up for their new clubs, by players who were dealt before the beginning of July.

  1. Mike Piazza, 5.4 WAR. May 22, 1998: Traded by the Florida Marlins to the New York Mets for Geoff Goetz (minors), Preston Wilson and Ed Yarnall.
  2. Carlos Beltran, 4.5 WAR. June 24, 2004: Traded as part of a 3-team trade by the Kansas City Royals to the Houston Astros. The Oakland Athletics sent Mark Teahen and Mike Wood to the Kansas City Royals. The Houston Astros sent Octavio Dotel to the Oakland Athletics. The Houston Astros sent John Buck and cash to the Kansas City Royals.
  3. Placido Polanco, 4.3 WAR. June 8, 2005: Traded by the Philadelphia Phillies to the Detroit Tigers for Ramon Martinez and Ugueth Urbina.