Worst Trades In MLB History By WAR

How did we calculate the worst trades in MLB history?

We used all future WAR for the players involved, even if someone played for multiple teams. We sifted through many, many trades.

We definitely checked Brock, Frank Robinson, Foster, Sosa, Ferguson Jenkins, Randy Johnson, Eckersley, Ozzie, Jimmie Foxx, Cochrane, Tris Speaker, Miguel Cabrera . . . and many more.

1. Babe Ruth for cash and a curse.

142 future WAR in exchange for 0. There are to my knowledge no other player-for-cash trades that come close to this one, or any on this list, even though in this comparison one team gets nothing in exchange for the player.

2. The Mets traded Nolan Ryan, Frank Estrada, Don Rose and Leroy Stanton for Jim Fregosi.

The Mets got: Jim Fregos: 2.8 in future WAR.

The Angels got: Nolan Ryan 78.8 (Includes minus 1.8 as a hitter).
Frank Estrada 0.0
Don Rose minus 0.7
Leroy Stanton 6.9

Net value for the Angels 83 WAR.

3. The Joe Morgan for Lee May trade.

The Reds also got Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo and Denis Menke in addition to Morgan. The Astros also got Cincinnati Reds for Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart in addition to Lee May.

Morgan: 73.5 future WAR
Armbrister: minus 0.1
Billingham: 5.4
Geronimo: 14.0
Menke: 4.1

Lee May: 11.2
Helms: 4.2
Stewart: minus 0.7

Net value for Reds: 82.2 WAR

Truth be told, this apparently didn’t look bad for the Astros at the time. In the previous three seasons, May hit 111 home runs with 302 RBIs for the Reds. The Astrodome wasn’t as power-friendly but May still hit 82 home runs with 288 RBIs in three seasons before getting traded to Baltimore.

However, Joe Morgan was a two-time MVP and five-time Gold Glove winner while Cesar Geronimo won four Gold Gloves. Their stellar defense was a key reason the Reds won three pennants and two World Series between 1972–1976.

4. Jeff Bagwell for Larry Anderson.

79.9 future WAR for 3.8

Net value for the Astros: 76.1 WAR.

5. Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields.

82.8 future WAR for 14.4

Net value for the Expos: 68.4 WAR.

6. Ryne Sandberg and Larry Bowa for Ivan De Jesus

Cubs got: Sandberg 68.0 and Bowa 1.2

The Phillies got: De Jesus 2.2

Net value for the Cubs 67.0 WAR. Easily one of our favorite worst MLB trades in history.

7. John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander

Netted the Braves 60.1 net WAR.

8. Kenny Lofton and Dave Rohde for Willie Blair and Ed Taubensee

Cleveland got: Lofton 68.4 and Dave Rohde minus 0.2. Total 68.2

Astros got: Willie Blair 3.6 and Ed Taubensee 6.0. Total 9.6

Net value for Cleveland: 58.6 WAR.

By the way, I feel very strongly that Lofton and Andruw Jones should be in the Hall of Fame. And Bobby Grich, and anybody else in the top 12 at their position in JAWS.

9. Brett Butler and Brook Jacoby [and Rick Behenna] for Len Barker.

That’s 47.2 + 15.2 = 62.4 WAR post-Braves trade for a pitcher who gave Atlanta 0.7 pitching WAR (and only had 1.0 WAR left in his career after the trade). That’s a pretty stupid trade. Barker had an outsized rep because of his perfect game.

And, the Braves were trying to bolster their starting pitching for the ’83 pennant race after winning the division in ‘82, but it completely backfired because the rumors got out that the very popular Butler was going to be one of the “players to be named later.”

10. Steve Carlton for Rick Wise

Rick Wise was a solid pitcher but in two seasons for the Cardinals, Wise went 32–28 with 3.20 ERA.

Steve Carlton played 15 years for the Phillies and went 241–161, won four Cy Young Awards, and compiled a 3.09 ERA.

Wise 20.7 pitching WAR, plus 0.7 hitting WAR: 21.4 total
Carlton 63.2 pitching, plus 4.9 hitting: 68.1 total

Net value for the Phillies: 46.7 WAR.

11. George Foster for Frank Duffy and Vern Geishert.

Legend has it that Willie Mays went apoplectic when the Giants traded George Foster, a promising 22 year old outfielder to the Reds for 2B Frank Duffy and P Vern Geishert.

Foster was late developing and didn’t hit his stride until 1975 but from 1975–1981, Foster batted over .300 four times, led the NL in RBIs three times, and led the NL in home runs twice. In 1977, Foster hit .320 with 52 HRs and 149 RBIs and was voted MVP.

Meanwhile, Duffy had just 28 ABs in San Francisco and hit .179 before getting traded to Cleveland where he hit .233 over six seasons. Vern Geishert never made it to the majors.

12. Ferguson Jenkins for Larry Jackson

For a change, the Cubs weren’t on the short end of a deal.

Hall of Famer Jenkins compiled a 167–132 record in Chicago and was a six time 20 game winner. Jackson pitched three years for the Phillies and went 41–45.

13. Dennis Eckersley for David Wilder, Brian Guinn, and Mark Leonette.

The Cubs thought Eckersley was over the hill. They traded him for three minor league players. Not one of them ever made it to the majors.

Eckersley was converted to the closer, pitched nine seasons in Oakland and compiled a record of 41–31 with 320 saves. In 1992, Eckersley was voted both MVP and Cy Young winner.

If there a worst trades in MLB history that we forgot, that really gets your GOAT? Leave us a comment below.

2 thoughts on “Worst Trades In MLB History By WAR”

  1. One of my favorite bad trades of all time is the deal that sent Glenn Davis from Houston to Baltimore for Pete Harnisch… and Steve Finley… and Curt Schilling.
    Harnisch gave the Astros 8.2 WAR before being moved to the Mets, plus they got 16.1 WAR from Finley before they moved him to the Padres, but nothing from Schilling before he was dealt to the Phillies straight up for Jason Grimsley, who spent the year at AAA before being released during spring training ’93.
    (Which, come to think of it, is a really bad deal within a really bad deal. Karma for this deal?)
    Davis, meanwhile, yielded 0.7 WAR for dem O’s across three seasons before being released, spending a year as organizational depth at AAA for the Royals after failing to make the Mets’ roster before playing in Japan for a while, hitting more homers there then he did with Baltimore.

    • Incredible haul, Paul. Completely forgot about this one. When you look at what the yield was, it is EASILY one of the all-time great robberies/bad trades. Harnisch was such a game pitcher, a durable veteran. Same with Finley, always a tough out. How bad is your coaching if you can’t get ANYTHING out of Schilling?

      Davis Never played another full season after the trade. Which was interesting because his final year in Houston he only played 93 games (though he did slash .251/22 HR/64 RBI) so he was showing the signs. As a lifelong Royals fan I think I blocked his tenure in Omaha from my mind. I wanted 1989 GD…but got a completely different version (like Howard Johnson with the Cubs).

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