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The Most Lopsided Trade of the Decade

Posted By Eric Seidman On March 3, 2009 @ 8:00 pm In Daily Graphings | 56 Comments

Last week, in discussing the minor league signings of both Adam Eaton and Bruce Chen, I mentioned that the trade sending Eaton to the Rangers in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young was arguably the most lopsided of the decade. Perhaps I was a bit too hasty in my assessment, or too eager to remind fans of the trade, because several commenters pointed out that the extremely lopsided Bartolo Colon deal in 2002 would wipe the floor with the Eaton trade. Evaluating trades is tough because it is human nature to utilize hindsight as opposed to foresight, when the rationale at the time of the trade is of equal importance. Still, when I made my comment, I was clearly evaluating the trade retrospectively. Let’s look at both of these deals.

Before getting into the details, the criteria for these evaluations needs to be crystal clear. I am only going to use Win Values for players on the teams they were traded to. So, if Eaton was traded to the Rangers and then joined the Phillies, the actual transaction analysis will see Eaton’s shorter tenure with the Rangers stacked up against Gonzalez and Young with the Padres… not the aggregate win value for each player regardless of team.

Eaton spent the 2006 season with the Rangers and the disabled list, pitching in just 65 IP with a +0.6 WAR. From 2006-2008, Chris Young sandwiched a very solid season with two slightly below average ones, amassing a total of +5.4 WAR over the three-year span. In the same window, Gonzalez proved to be very durable and productive, producing win values of +3.8, +3.2, and +3.5, for a total of +10.5 and an average of +3.5 wins/season. Put together, the valuation of this trade looks like +15.9 wins for the Padres and +0.6 for the Rangers, a difference of +15.3 wins in total and +5.1 wins/season. Does the Colon deal surpass this mark?

Update: I realize I neglected to include both Akinori Otsuka and Termel Sledge as part of the trade. With Otsuka’s +3 wins for the Rangers and Sledge’s -0.7 wins for the Padres factored in, the results shrink to +15.2 wins for the Padres and +3.6 for the Rangers, a difference of +11.6 wins.

The Colon deal in question took place halfway through the 2002 season, when the Indians sent their ace right-hander to the Expos in exchange for prospects Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips. At the time of the trade, Colon was still at his peak, pitching a boatload of innings and producing effectively in them. In that 2002 season, he was worth a total of +4.7 wins, +2.3 of which were earned in Montreal. He pitched to the same tune of +4.7 wins in 2003, although that season was spent with the White Sox, not the Expos. The Expos portion of this deal is the +2.3 wins provided by Colon following the trade.

How about the others? Well, Brandon Phillips has a solid reputation now, but he didn’t really fit into the Indians grand scheme and actually cost them -1.1 wins in his four years with the team. Cliff Lee had a tremendous 2008 season but was by no means an all-star up to that point, yet he has still managed to give the Indians +16.4 wins over his seven-year career following the trade. And Grady Sizemore… well, he’s just an amazing talent, worth +26.1 wins since his 2004 debut. Put together, Phillips, Lee, and Sizemore added +41.4 wins to the Indians. Colon added +2.3 to the Expos, resulting in a difference of +39.1 wins favoring the Indians, over two and a half times the difference in the Eaton trade.

This isn’t a perfect method by any means but it gets the job done for our own intents and purposes. So, yes, the Colon deal was vastly more lopsided. Anyone else have any trades of potentially large lopsided magnitudes to evaluate?


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