Players’ View: What Is It Like to Get Traded?

Getting traded has long been a part of the game. Players move from team to team on the whims and wishes of general managers looking to make their clubs better — be it in the near term, for a pennant push, or down the road. Sometimes these deals happen during the winter months. Other times they happen in-season, most commonly at the July trade deadline. Either way — and regardless of whether the player is happy with the change of address — more than the name on the front of uniform is going to be different. To varying degrees, getting dealt impacts the day-to-day lives of players, particularly those who have families.

With this year’s deadline fast approaching, I went in search of interesting trade stories. With a broader perspective in mind, I talked not only to current players, but also to former players, a coach who managed in the minors for nine seasons, and a couple of broadcasters. All of these conversations took place last week when the Red Sox hosted the Blue Jays at Fenway Park.

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Trent Thornton, Blue Jays pitcher

On November 17, 2018, the Houston Astros traded Thornton to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Aledmys Diaz.

“I got a call from one of the front office guys with the Astros, Armando Velasco. I’d just gotten back from the [Arizona] Fall League, so I thought they were putting me on the 40-man roster. Instead, it was, ‘Hey, you were just traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.’ I almost blacked out. I kind of just said, ‘OK, thanks,’ then went in to tell my parents.

“I ended up calling [Valasco] back about five minutes later, because I hadn’t really heard anything he’d said. He was like, ‘Yeah, someone from the Blue Jays will be calling you in about 15 minutes. He’ll give you a little rundown of what’s going on.’

“About 15 minutes later, someone does call. I’m having this conversation with the guy and he’s saying, ‘We’re super excited to have you,’ blah blah blah. At the end of the conversation, I said, ‘Who are you again?’ I’d never caught his name. He goes, ‘Ross Atkins.’ I go, ‘Oh, OK.’ Then I hung up the phone.

“I called my agent to let him know about the trade, and he asked if I’d talked to anybody yet. I said, ‘Yeah, some guy named Ross Atkins.’ He said, ‘Oh, so the GM.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess I did.’ I hadn’t known who Ross Atkins was.

“I ended up hearing from a ton of people that day. I probably had 500 calls and texts. The trade was a blessing. Houston has a logjam of talent. They have a lot of good players who haven’t gotten the call yet because of all they have in the big leagues. Coming here was a great opportunity for me.”

Ben Wagner, Blue Jays broadcaster

Wagner was the play-by-play voice of Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate when the Blue Jays traded Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris to the Detroit Tigers in the July 30, 2015 David Price deal.

“I was in Syracuse when Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd were traded. This was a few days before the deadline. Daniel’s name had been floated around — Boyd’s kind of was too — and then some stuff really started to circle around overnight. It’s one of those things where you wake up and have alerts on your phone from what’s happening on the national scope. The local scope, as well. You’re like, ‘Wow, these guys could really go.’

“By happenstance, I passed Daniel Norris as I was walking through the lobby of the hotel. He kind of grinned at me. I said, kind of making a joke, ‘Hey, don’t check your mentions right now.’ He goes, ‘Already done.’ Then he hopped into the elevator, and off he went. I was like, ‘Whoa.’

“Maybe 40 minutes later, the news was out there that a deal had gone down: Norris and Boyd were going to Detroit for David Price. Later that afternoon, I got in the clubhouse and they were doing the whole routine — handshakes, hugs, saying goodbye to everybody. And little did we know, in the background of what was happening, Daniel was battling thyroid cancer. Detroit was very much aware of that. For Daniel to keep it all together was impressive. It was kind of staggering, honestly.

“The trade was the breaking news of the day, so it was the lead to our pregame show, and then the major conversation point throughout the first couple of innings. With something like that, you kind of come on the air with this sense of energy, because you’re directly connected to a big story. And now, fast forwarding four years, Matthew Boyd is back on a major-trade block. If it ends up happening, it will be a big story again.”

Jacob Waguespack, Blue Jays pitcher

On July 31, 2018, the Philadelphia Phillies traded Waguespack to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Aaron Loup.

“I got dealt at the deadline. I was in Triple-A, with Lehigh Valley, and we were playing in Buffalo. They called me in and told me I’d been traded to Toronto, so I just packed my bag and walked across the field and switched locker rooms. I was then able to get all of my belongings on the next road trip, because we played close to Lehigh Valley. I don’t have a family yet, so all I had to move was myself.

“When I got called into the manager’s office, I thought he was going to tell me when I’d be pitching next. While it was the deadline, I didn’t expect that my name would have been thrown around in trade talks. Apparently it was. I was super shocked, and basically just packed my bag. When I crossed the field… I mean, it was crazy. I didn’t know anybody on that team. I shook hands with all 30 of them.

“Two days later, I ended up pitching against my old team. I remember being super relaxed, because I knew those guys. They were hollering at me in the dugout — they were poking fun at me — so it was a cool experience. It also ended up being one of the best games I’ve ever thrown.”

Steve Lyons, Red Sox TV analyst

On June 29, 1986, the Boston Red Sox traded Lyons to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Tom Seaver.

“We were in Baltimore, at the hotel. [Red Sox Manager] John McNamara called me at one o’clock in the morning — I think Mac had had a few — and he said, ‘You’ve been traded to the White Sox; call this number in the morning.’ I’m like, OK, that’s kind of weird. I said, ‘Can we talk about this?’ He said, ‘We can talk in the morning.’ We never did talk in the morning.

“I called the traveling secretary, then flew home to Boston and repacked a suitcase. From there I headed to Anaheim, where [the White Sox] were playing. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly when I found out who I was traded for.

“The White Sox had been looking to deal Seaver during spring training. From what I’d heard, they’d asked for me, but at that time the Red Sox weren’t ready to give up on me. I believe they offered [Tony] Armas, but the White Sox didn’t want Armas. As time went on — I wasn’t playing much anyway — they figured they needed to get an established arm. People had started to say that whichever team got Seaver, the Red Sox or the Yankees, would win the World Series.

“If you get traded for a good player, you think the team that’s trading for you is going to give you a pretty good opportunity. What went wrong is that the White Sox fired Tony LaRussa right around that time. I thought I was going to play for Tony LaRussa, which I was really looking forward to, but he was gone. When I got there, it was Jim Fregosi. He quite literally didn’t know who I was.

“They played me at third base, and then John Cangelosi, who’d been in center field, got hurt. This was a couple of weeks into my tenure there. Fregosi asked me if I’d ever played centerfield before. That’s all I’d been doing in Boston before the trade. I said, ‘Yeah, I have.’ So he really didn’t know anything about me. That hurt. Eventually, I got sent back down to the minor leagues.

“When you get traded, you’re not always sure if the team that traded for you really wants you, or if the team that traded you really doesn’t want you. You don’t know. But I kept coming back here [to Boston]. Three more times, actually. Somebody must have wanted me.”

Clayton Richard, Blue Jays pitcher

On July 31, 2009, Richard was one of four players to go from the Chicago White Sox to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Jake Peavy. On July 3, 2015, his contract was purchased from the Pittsburgh Pirates by the Chicago Cubs.

“I think it’s way more difficult for the wives. We get plugged into another team and have pretty much the same daily routine; we’re just doing it with new people. Our wives have to change everything. They’re finding the places where they go in the morning, where they go in the afternoon, how they get to the field. They’re having to make new friends in a new place.

“When I got traded from the Pirates to the Cubs, it was kind of anticipated. I’d signed a minor-league deal at the beginning of the season and had an opt-out at the end of the spring, and then an upward-mobility clause at the beginning of July. If the Pirates didn’t call me up, they had to offer me to everyone else, with the team getting me having to put me on the big-league roster. I was anticipating going somewhere else as that came around.

“Chicago-to-San Diego was a surprise. Not only that, I needed to start the next day in San Diego, and had to get all of our stuff out of our apartment, in Chicago. Fortunately I’m from the Midwest, so my dad was able to help me accomplish that task. Normally it would fall on my wife’s workload, but she was out of town at the time. My dad and I ended up throwing everything into garbage bags, and into the back of a pickup truck. My wife went straight to San Diego.

“We got married after my first year in the minor leagues, and she’s followed me everywhere from there. In the minors, she’d follow the team bus from place to place. Throughout the big-league seasons, she’s always lived with me. And again, the bigger impact is on her. At the end of the day, I’m still playing baseball. She’s dealing with all the off-the-field stuff in a new place, where at first she doesn’t know anybody.”

Andy Barkett, Red Sox assistant hitting coach

Barkett was a minor league manager in the Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins, and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations prior to coming to Boston.

“The trade deadline can become a frenzy in the clubhouse, in the minor leagues. Everybody thinks it’s going to be them, although it usually ends up being the person that doesn’t think it’s going to be them. Most of the time it’s just a whole lot of to-do over not much.

“If it starts to become a thing, you might have a meeting and be like, ‘Hey, whatever is going to happen is going to happen, so stop talking about it. We’ve got games to win. Blah blah blah.’ You don’t hear much after that… unless something happens. But a lot of times, nothing does happen. Then you come in and say, ‘See, nobody wanted any of you guys. You all need to play better. Quit bitching.’

“Of course, sometimes guys actually do get traded. Then you need to explain to players what was happening. They don’t really know. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Does this organization not like me? What does this mean for my career? You need to have those conversations with these guys. They’re leaving their friends, and all they’ve known. For many of them it’s been their only organization.

“One time… in 2012 or 2013, when I was with the Marlins, we traded a guy. He wouldn’t answer his phone, so I had to go wake him up. I remember that his hotel room was about 50 degrees. For some reason he liked sleeping in the cold. He was like a bear, hibernating. Anyway, I had to wake him up and say, ‘Hey man, you just got traded. You’ve got to go.’”

Buck Martinez, Blue Jays broadcaster

On May 10, 1981, the Milwaukee Brewers traded Martinez to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Gil Kubski.

“When I was with the Brewers in 1981, we had Ted Simmons, Ned Yost, Charlie Moore, and myself, We all broke camp, so we were carrying four catchers. I heard later on that they could have had a deal with the Yankees, but didn’t want to trade me to New York. So I was there until May, but didn’t get an at-bat; I didn’t play in a game. Then I got traded to the Blue Jays.

“[Milwaukee Manager] Buck Rodgers called me into his office and said, ‘We need a spot for a pitcher we’re calling up, so we’re going to designate you for assignment.’ This was at the ballpark, in Anaheim, about half an hour before the game. I called my wife, who was at the hotel getting ready to bring my son, and herself, over to the game. I said, ‘Stay there. We’ve been let go.’

“We flew up to Sacramento, where my mom and dad were, and stayed around for 10 days, which was the DFA period. I went out for a run, and when I came back there was a bottle of champagne on the table. My wife said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been traded to Toronto.’ I went, ‘Oh my God. What am I going to do in Toronto?’ In ’81, they weren’t very good.

“That was year of the strike. At the time, the Blue Jays gave their players cars. When I got to Toronto, they said, ‘Don’t bring your car, we’ll give you a Honda.’ These were loaners to use while you were with the club. When the strike hit, they took the cars away. We’d sold our house in the offseason, so we had nowhere to go. We were stranded in Toronto until the strike got settled. I was the player rep, though, so I did go to New York to help negotiate the contract.”

Daniel Hudson, Blue Jays pitcher

On July 30, 2010, the Chicago White Sox traded Hudson, and David Holmberg, to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Edwin Jackson. On February 22, 2018, Hudson was dealt from the Pittsburgh Pirates, along with Tristan Gray, to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Corey Dickerson.

“The first time I was traded, I was just trying to get my foothold in the big leagues. It was right around this time of year, in 2010. Yeah, man, it was one of those things where I came up with the White Sox, wasn’t pitching fantastic, and they felt like they needed to get a veteran arm for the rotation for the stretch run. I got shipped out to Arizona, and ironically, the trade ended up being for Edwin Jackson.

[Author’s note: As Hudson was telling me this story, Jackson was saying goodbye to teammates; the Blue Jays had just designated him for assignment.]

“The second time I got traded was from Pittsburgh to Tampa, early in spring training. It was a little surprising, being that not a lot of trades happen at that time. I was on a guaranteed deal with the Pirates, so the Rays took on my whole salary. Even so, it ended up not working out; I got released at the end of the spring. It was one of those things where you just need to pick it up and move along.

“The first time wasn’t quite as surprising, because I was still a prospect — I was a rookie — and it was right around this time of year. It’s just one of things that happens. As far as rumors go, you try to… I wouldn’t say ignore them, because it’s impossible to ignore them. At the same time, certain teams are looking to buy, and certain teams have assets that can be useful for other teams. All you can do is try to put it out of your mind and do what you have to do that night. What ends up happening is out of your control.”

Pat Tabler, Blue Jays broadcaster

On June 12, 1981, the Chicago Cubs traded Rick Reuschel to the New York Yankees in a multi-player deal that included a player to be named later. For all intents and purposes, the PTBNL was Tabler (the transactions were complicated), who officially joined the Cubs in August. Tabler subsequently went from the Cubs to the White Sox, on January 25, 1983, in an equally-intriguing deal.

“I was with Columbus, and at the June trade deadline that year — this was 1981 — I went to the Cubs for Rick Reuschel. The Cubs said, ‘We’re going to bring you to the major leagues, but we hear that there might be a strike, so we’re going to leave you in Triple-A so you can keep playing. As soon as the strike is over, we’ll bring you up.’

“It was a long one [June 12 to August 9]. That summer, I spent the longest 50 days of my life, waiting for the strike to be over. The day after it got settled, I got called up the major leagues. Willie Hernandez and I caught a plane to Chicago, and played for the Cubs the next day.

“That was the first time I was traded, and I was really mad. My wife and I went out for lunch, and when we came back, one of my teammates — Danny Schmitz, who’s now the baseball coach at Bowling Green State University — saw me and said, ‘Did you hear the news?’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘You just got traded to the Cubs.’ I was like, ‘What?’ I couldn’t believe it. I’d worked all my way up to Triple-A with the Yankees, and now it was, ‘See you later.’ That’s what they did back then. They traded all of their prospects for veteran players.

“When I was traded in 1983, there was a rule at the time where if you lost a free agent, you could claim somebody from another team, off this list. There was this player pool, and the White Sox lost somebody. There was a rumor that they were going to take Ferguson Jenkins off the Cubs roster, but he’d just struck out his 3,000th batter, so the PR would have been really bad. The Cubs said, ‘You can’t pick him; we’ll work out a trade instead.’ Scott Fletcher, Randy Martz, Dick Tidrow, and I went to the White Sox for Steve Trout and somebody else [Warren Brusstar], so that the White Sox wouldn’t pick Ferguson Jenkins.

“Anyway, I went to spring training with the White Sox, and was with Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan, and that whole crew. Then they traded me at the end of spring training, on April 1. When they told me, I thought it was an April Fools joke. It wasn’t. They’d traded me to Cleveland.”

We hoped you liked reading Players’ View: What Is It Like to Get Traded? by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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These are all great, especially Andy Barkett’s. Too funny.