Biggest MLB trade ever?

I asked Dodgers president Stan Kasten if he could recall making a bigger trade in his 21 years as a baseball executive than the one the Dodgers pulled off today.

He could not. “I’m so old,” he joked.

Seriously, is it the biggest trade ever? Nine players were involved. The Dodgers took on about $261.8 million in payroll. Three of the nine players —Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett –are under contract beyond next season while the other major-leaguers involved, James Loney and Nick Punto, can be accurately classified as “rentals.” Fireballing right-hander Rubby De La Rosa (one of the players to be named later) is a future top-of-the-rotation-type pitcher. All of the prospects going to Boston are 25 or younger.

In 2005, the website published an article ranking the largest trades of all time. Here were the top four:

1. December 5th, 1984: The New York Yankees trade Stan Javier, Tim Birtsas, Jay Howell, Eric Plunk and Jose Rijo to the Oakland Athletics for Rickey Henderson, Bert Bradley, and cash. Yes, the A’s once sent cash to the Yankees.

The skinny: Henderson is a Hall of Famer. Four of the five players the Yankees sent to the A’s (Javier, Howell, Rijo and Plunk) played important roles in Oakland becoming one of the American League’s dominant teams over the next 10 years.

By comparison: Is Adrian Gonzalez a future Hall of Famer? Maybe. But the early returns say no, according to Bill James’ methodology, and he’s definitely not on the level of Henderson. Neither are Crawford or Beckett. But the exchange of prospects compares favorably.

2. December 5th, 1990: Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter traded by the San Diego Padres to the Toronto Blue Jays for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez.

The skinny: Alomar and Carter were in their primes, as was McGriff. Both led the Blue Jays to the 1993 World Series – their finest moment as a franchise.

By comparison: The Dodgers-Red Sox trade was bigger in sheer size. Depending on how Crawford plays when he comes back, the Dodgers could net a larger return from this trade than either the Jays or Padres in 1990.

3. November 29, 1971: The Houston Astros traded Joe Morgan, Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, and Denis Menke to the Cincinnati Reds for Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Jimmy Stewart.

The skinny: Morgan, a future Hall of Famer, became the sparkplug for the Big Red Machine for a decade. The Astros were doomed for mediocrity from this point forward (read “Ball Four” for more on this), so this trade ranks high for its utter lopsided-ness.

By comparison: We won’t know for years how lopsided the Dodgers-Red Sox trade is, or if it’s lopsided at all. But an eight-player deal is pretty big, and if the Dodgers become as dominant as their new owners would like, maybe the two trades will compare favorably down the road.

4. April 12, 1916: Tris Speaker traded by the Boston Red Sox to the Cleveland Indians for Sam Jones, Fred Thomas, and $55,000.

The skinny: A Hall of Famer (Speaker) went to Cleveland and a very good pitcher (Jones) went to Boston, which won the World Series that year and again two years later. The “Curse of the Bambino” was three years off.

By comparison: If the Dodgers win the World Series two of the next three years, maybe the Gonzalez trade is the biggest in baseball since 1916.

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About J.P. Hoornstra

J.P. Hoornstra covers the Dodgers, Angels and Major League Baseball for the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, San Bernardino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Whittier Daily News and Redlands Daily Facts. Before taking the beat in 2012, J.P. covered the NHL for four years. UCLA gave him a degree once upon a time; when he graduated on schedule, he missed getting Arnold Schwarzenegger's autograph on his diploma by five months.