As Major League Baseball's annual non-waiver trade deadline approaches, teams need to recall not only the axiom caveat emptor but also caveat venditor. While a team's short-term postseason hopes can be dashed by trading for the wrong piece during the season, a team's long-term potential could be limited by dealing away a prospect poised to blossom into a superstar.
Teams dealing prospects for proven players at either the non-waiver trade deadline or the waiver deadline must sometimes weigh the balance between having a 36-year-old workhorse pitcher ready to contribute during a heated pennant chase or the future returns of an unproven 20-year-old in just his second season of professional ball who might eventually deliver. In 1987, the Detroit Tigers opted to trade potential for the present, acquiring Doyle Alexander from the Atlanta Braves for a young homegrown righty who had pitched to a 7-8 record in Single-A in his first campaign. Alexander went 9-0 in 11 starts after arriving in Motown to help the Tigers to a first-place finish in the AL East. That young righty? He was a product of Waverly High School in Lansing, Mich., named John Smoltz.
Perhaps the Tigers can rest easier knowing that they are hardly the only team to ship out a future star during the season. To the Tigers' credit, Alexander actually did produce during his short stint in Detroit. This makes him a far better pickup than pitcher Larry Andersen was for the Boston Red Sox late in the 1990 season. The 37-year-old veteran was shipped up to Boston from Houston at the waiver deadline in exchange for a player yet to reach the majors named Jeff Bagwell. Baggs would be named the NL's Rookie Of The Year in 1991, NL MVP in 1994 and would retire after 15 seasons with the Astros.
In 2011, the San Francisco Giants shopped pitching prospect Zack Wheeler in hopes of adding a bat to help them repeat as World Series champions. In a deal shortly before the non-waiver deadline that season, the New York Mets sent Carlos Beltran (no stranger to in-season moves) west in return for the No. 6 selection in the 2009 MLB Draft. Two seasons later, Wheeler was an up-and-coming talent in Queens while Beltran was an All-Star in St. Louis. Even with Beltran in the lineup, the Giants failed to reach the postseason in 2011. Thanks in part to some more aggressive in-season maneuvering by general manager Brian Sabean, they did reclaim the Commissioner's Trophy in 2012. New York can only hope that mere mention of Wheeler's name will one day elicit lamentations in San Francisco the way that Smoltz still does in Detroit.
From Smoltz and Biggio to Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa, here are several of the players who were dealt at the trading deadline who went on to become stars.
<strong>Traded For:</strong> At age 20, Smoltz was traded by Detroit to Atlanta for 36-year-old Doyle Alexander in August 1987. <br> <strong>Post Trade:</strong> Smoltz reached the majors in 1988, won the 1996 Cy Young award and was a nine-time All Star. He pitched 20 of his 21 MLB seasons with Atlanta before retiring in 2009.
Jay Buhner - 1988
<strong>Traded For:</strong> Buhner was just 23 when he was traded from the New York Yankees to Seattle for Ken Phelps.<br> <br> <strong>Post Trade:</strong> Buhner was an All Star, Gold Glover, and hit 300+ home runs for the Mariners.
Sammy Sosa - 1989
<strong>Traded For:</strong> At just 20 years old, the Rangers swapped Sammy Sosa (along with Wilson Alvarez and Scott Fletcher) to the White Sox for Harold Baines and Fred Manrique. <br> <strong>Post Trade:</strong> Sosa went on to hit 609 career home runs and Baines hit just 16 for Texas over the course of 2 seasons.
Jeff Bagwell - 1990
<strong>Traded For:</strong> The Red Sox shipped out minor league prospect Bagwell to Houston for journeyman reliever Larry Andersen. <br> <strong>Post Trade:</strong> Bagwell racked up over 2,300 hits, 449 HR, 1500 RBI and had a career .948 OPS with Houston. He was also the 1991 Rookie of the Year and 1994 MVP. Larry Andersen only pitched 22 innings for Boston.
Curt Schilling - 1991
<strong>Traded For:</strong> At 24, traded by the Orioles along with Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley to the Astros for Glenn Davis. <br> <strong>Post Trade:</strong> Won 216 games, pitched in 6 All Star Games, finished Top-Five for the Cy Young 4x (including twice as runner-up), and won three World Series titles.
Jason Varitek & Derek Lowe - 1997
<strong>Traded For:</strong> Both were sent to Boston from Seattle in exchange for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. <br> <strong>Post Trade:</strong> Lowe & Vartiek were cornerstones of the Red Sox 2004 championship club (Lowe was gone when Varitek won a second ring in '07). In different seasons in Boston, Lowe saved 42 games as a closer in one and then won 21 more as a starter in the other, while Varitek served as team captain from 2004-2011.
Michael Young -- 2000
<strong>Traded For:</strong> As a 23-year-old Triple-A prospect, Young was traded from Toronto to Texas for Esteban Loaiza. <br> <strong>Post Trade:</strong> Young is a career .300 hitter with 2,300 hits, 1 Gold Glove, 1 batting title, and 7 All Star berths.
Cliff Lee - 2002
<strong>Traded For:</strong> Before ever having pitched in the majors, Lee was traded by the Expos along with Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips to the Indians for Bartolo Colon & Tim Drew. <br> <strong>Post Trade:</strong> Sizemore and Phillips became All Stars and Gold Glovers in their own rights, while Lee won the 2008 Cy Young (top 5 two times more) and has made 4 All Star games.
Aramis Ramirez - 2003
<strong>Traded For:</strong> Pittsburgh gave Ramirez to the Chicago Cubs along with Kenny Lofton and cash in exchange for Bobby Hill, Jose Hernandez and Matt Bruback.<br> <br> <strong>Post Trade:</strong> Ramirez was already known as a burgeoning star in Pittsburgh, but he exploded for the Cubs. In his Chicago career he hit 239 HR for Chicago, made 2 All Star Games, and finished on an MVP ballot four different times (including twice in the top ten).
Zack Wheeler -- 2011
<strong>Traded For:</strong> As a Single-A, 21-year-old Giants prospect, Wheeler went to New York in exchange for Carlos Beltran. <br> <strong>Post Trade:</strong> Future star? Wheeler is 4-1 with a 3.55 ERA and 36 K in his debut season with the Mets.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said John Smoltz was a left-handed pitcher.