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Jose Bautista and Rougned Odor could have been teammates.LM Otero/Associated Press
While much of MLB’s history has been shaped by trades that did happen, we shouldn’t underestimate the influence of trades that didn’t happen.
Heck, there are 10 examples we can think of just from the 2010s alone.
This involved digging up trade rumors that never panned out and subsequently got lost to time. Though we stopped ourselves from going full Charlie Day, we had some fun imagining what might have been if these trades had gone through.
There’s one catch, though: We limited ourselves to rumors that were public knowledge at the time. To wit, nobody outside of baseball knew that the Boston Red Sox wanted Jacob deGrom (true) or that the Atlanta Braves wanted Aaron Judge and Luis Severino (also true) until years after the fact.
We shall proceed in chronological order.
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Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
In the midst of an ugly 93-loss season in 2012, the Boston Red Sox blew up their roster in August with a massive salary dump that shipped Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Had things gone differently, Boston’s newfound financial flexibility could have led to a deal for Joe Mauer.
Though Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Red Sox passed on making a waiver claim for Mauer, Peter Gammons later noted that they inquired on him in September, October and November. However, the Minnesota Twins held firm, and Mauer stayed with them through the end of his career in 2018.
Had the Red Sox been able to acquire Mauer, they would have landed an MVP-winning backstop who was still good for .300 averages and .400 on-base percentages. But it also would have meant taking on his $23 million-per-year contract, which could have altered their plans for the 2012-13 offseason.
For instance, maybe they don’t sign Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster or Koji Uehara. As a result, maybe they don’t win the World Series in 2013.
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Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
After riding explosive offenses to the World Series in 2010 and 2011, the Texas Rangers found themselves in need of a big bat by the time the July 31 trade deadline rolled around in 2013.
As reported by Danny Knobler, then of CBS Sports and now of B/R, the Rangers saw two possible solutions on the Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. And why not? They were powerful right-handed sluggers on a team ticketed for 88 losses.
Of course, neither left the Blue Jays that summer. Encarnacion stayed with Toronto through 2016, while Bautista stuck around until the end of the 2017 season.
It’s not a reach to think that the ’13 Rangers, who ended up winning 91 games, would have made the postseason with either one of them. Encarnacion was on his way to a .904 OPS and 36 home runs. Even in a down year, Bautista still mustered an .856 OPS and 28 homers.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
After more than two decades as an also-ran, it was clear by the 2013 trade deadline that the Pittsburgh Pirates were finally contenders again.
They were actually leading the National League Central at the time. And according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, they sought to dig in their heels with a trade for one of baseball’s top sluggers: Giancarlo Stanton.
Exactly what the Pirates offered the Miami Marlins is unclear, but Biertempfel wrote that the proposed package “caught the attention of Miami’s front office.” But then-owner Jeffrey Loria didn’t want to move Stanton, so there was no deal.
The 2013 season wasn’t Stanton’s best, but adding him would have outfitted the Pirates lineup with another star-caliber slugger to go with eventual National League MVP Andrew McCutchen. As a result, the Pirates might not have had to settle for wild-card berths that year and again in 2014 and 2015.
Mind you, Stanton himself likely has no regrets about not winding up in Pittsburgh. If that had happened, there’s simply no way he would have signed a record-smashing $325 million contract in 2014.
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Mark Black/Associated Press
True to their pattern of winning it all in even years and struggling in odd years, the San Francisco Giants were having a rough time in 2015 after capturing their third World Series in five years in 2014.
In particular, their starting rotation was on the fritz. Madison Bumgarner was following his World Series heroics with another stellar season, but his staffmates were either injured or ineffective for most of ’15.
According to the late, great Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Giants came oh-so-close to solving their pitching woes courtesy of a trade for Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels. He even agreed to waive the no-trade clause in his $144 million contract.
Instead, Hamels ended up going to the Rangers the day before the trade deadline. He ultimately helped Texas wrap up an AL West title, while the Giants went just 28-32 after July and missed the playoffs.
Had the Giants completed their deal for Hamels, they might have made it to October and wouldn’t necessarily have been precluded from signing Johnny Cueto or Jeff Samardzija that winter. As such, they could have made the playoffs again in 2016, and maybe even lasted longer than the National League Division Series.
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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
To be sure, the New York Yankees didn’t necessarily need any more help for their bullpen in 2015.
It was already anchored by Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, and the unit as a whole was arguably the best in baseball through the first half of the ’15 season.
Nevertheless, the Yankees set their sights on San Diego Padres closer Craig Kimbrel ahead of the trade deadline. But according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Yankees backed off when Preller demanded speedy prospect Jorge Mateo as a centerpiece.
In the short term, missing out on Kimbrel likely cost the Yankees. They went 29-31 in the final two months of the ’15 season, resulting in a modest 87-win campaign and a loss to the upstart Houston Astros in the American League Wild Card Game.
Even still, the Yankees probably don’t regret not getting Kimbrel now. If they had him as their closer, they wouldn’t have traded for Aroldis Chapman that December. And if that Chapman trade never happens, then the one in which New York landed Gleyber Torres from the Chicago Cubs the following summer never happens.
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Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
The 2016 season was not a good one for the Milwaukee Brewers, so they had little choice but to cut their losses at the trade deadline.
By then, All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy was the best trade chip they had to offer. And nobody wanted him as badly as the Rangers, who were barely getting by with a rotating cast of characters behind the dish.
According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Brewers were initially asking for Joey Gallo. He had begun that season ranked as No. 10 overall prospect, and he had only recently been recalled to the majors after tearing through Triple-A pitching.
On the one hand, it’s a darn shame that the Brewers didn’t end up getting Gallo. He went on to slug 81 homers across the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and he evolved into a truly elite performer in an injury-shortened 2019 season.
But on the other hand, the trade the Brewers actually made with the Rangers netted them Lewis Brinson. Come January 2018, he was the centerpiece of the trade that brought Christian Yelich from Miami to Milwaukee.
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Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
The Dodgers went into the 2016 season as three-time defending NL West champs, but the division lead was out of their hands when the trade deadline arrived.
What’s more, Cy Young Award- and MVP-winning ace Clayton Kershaw was on the injured list with a herniated disc in his back. According to Sherman and Bob Nightengale of USA Today, such things caused the Dodgers to turn their attention to Chicago White Sox southpaw Chris Sale.
This was the year in which, after initially experimenting with a low-velocity approach, Sale turned the juice back on and struck out 100 batters in his final 87.2 innings. Along the way, he earned the fifth out of seven straight All-Star nods.
Alas, the Dodgers couldn’t make a deal with the White Sox. Thus did they miss out on a Sale-Kershaw duo that might have carried them to World Series triumph in 2016 and 2017.
At the very least, the Dodgers would have nixed the timeline that led to their demise in the 2018 World Series. In that one, Sale recorded the final out as a member of the Red Sox.
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Julio Cortez/Associated Press
By the 2016-17 offseason, the Detroit Tigers were clearly on their way out as a mainstay contender in the American League.
They still had a pretty good offense, as Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez, Justin Upton and Nicholas Castellanos each enjoyed strong seasons in 2016. But Detroit pitchers not named Justin Verlander or Michael Fulmer had struggled, and the team in general was getting old.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, began that winter in need of a second baseman. Per Jon Morosi, then of MLB Network, they reached out to the Tigers about Kinsler. Detroit was willing to talk, but talks went nowhere after the Tigers put in an ask for Cody Bellinger.
It’s understandable why that was a bridge too far for the Dodgers. Though Bellinger hadn’t yet made his major league debut, he was on his way to placing as Baseball america‘s No. 7 prospect for the 2017 season.
Granted, the Tigers probably would have collapsed into a 98-loss mess in ’17 even if they had secured Bellinger. But hey, at least they would have gained an MVP-caliber talent to build a future around.
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Come July 2017, the Philadelphia Phillies were ready to be done rebuilding.
Though they were on their way to a 96-loss season, some young talent was beginning to trickle in from the minors. Surely, the club’s future would look even brighter if they made a play for a young, cost-controlled star.
According to Rosenthal, Yelich was the guy the Phillies coveted the most. Indeed, they wanted him so bad that they even entertained the possibility of getting him in a package deal with Stanton, thereby helping themselves and ridding the Marlins of Stanton’s contract.
However, the Marlins were a halfway-decent team that was also up for sale. It was only later, after ownership had passed from Loria to Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman, that they started selling off assets. That included Stanton going to the Yankees and Yelich going to the Brewers.
Had the Phillies landed Yelich, the future MVP surely would have helped them to a better record than 80-82 in 2018. Likewise, the cheap contract he had at the time probably wouldn’t have prevented them from signing either Bryce Harper or McCutchen the following winter.
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Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
Just two years after winning 100 games in 2015, the St. Louis Cardinals were slipping from relevance in the NL Central by the summer of 2017.
They went into July with a losing record, in part because their offense was struggling to repeat its average of 4.8 runs per game from 2016. According to Morosi, one of the saviors they had in mind was Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson.
At the time, Donaldson was two years removed from winning the American League MVP. And while he got off to a slow start in 2017, he finished red-hot with a 1.022 OPS and 25 home runs over his last 71 games.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Donaldson played all of those games with Toronto. And St. Louis surely could have used that production. Even after turning things around with a 45-38 record over the season’s final three months, they still finished short of the playoffs.
Per Nightengale, the Cardinals made another push for Donaldson during the 2017-18 offseason. But it’s for the best that this one didn’t work out, as it would have cost the Cardinals a budding ace named Jack Flaherty.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.