Players’ View: What It’s Like to Get Traded

Trade-deadline hysteria can lead to a dehumanization of players. In our effort to feverishly re-imagine our favorite team’s roster, all of us can be guilty of rooting to exchange this piece for that piece without considering all of the havoc that a trade can create for the people concerned.

I don’t mean to be a wet blanket. It’s fun to dream on that big acquisition that will put our teams over the top, and let’s please continue to do so.

But! We can also appreciate how difficult it must be to weather the constant speculation about your status, and then, if the trade is consummated, to then figure out how to move your life to another city — quickly.

So David Laurila and I set out to ask players about the experience. How did they find out? What were the conversations with the family like? What was the emotional roller coaster like? Thanks to the players that opened up, we can get a better sense of the human side of the trade deadline.

*****

Jeff Samardzija, Giants starting pitcher: “The first time, I watched all the rumors, and it ended up being Oakland, which wasn’t even on the radar, anywhere. The second time around I just ignored it all, and then I almost went to the White Sox and it fell through, and then a few days later it actually happened. Following for entertainment purposes is kinda fun.

“It’ll be your life again when you’re 40; until then, it’s not yours. It sucks for the living part of it. If you’re a single guy and you’re by yourself, it’s not a big deal at all. I think if you have a family and a house and a mortgage, that’s when it gets tough, and then you’re living out of a suitcase, or have a suitcase ready. I was just engaged, so it wasn’t all that crazy for me. For me the first time was tougher because it was a year and a half of rumors, and you never know how close it is. It’s better to ignore it.

“With the White Sox, we were six or seven back and making a little run, so that was tough because we didn’t even know which way the team was going.”

Drew Smyly, Rays starting pitcher: “I had just come out of a game in Detroit. I was in the locker room in like the eighth inning. I found out before the game was over. I was still in uniform. I went into that game with no idea that I was a potential trade target. Came out of it with a different team. I had to clear my locker out as the day ended.”

Dan Haren, retired pitcher: “I’ve been traded both in the offseason and at the trade deadline. Obviously, being traded at the deadline is much more difficult, especially with family. Last year, I found out while driving to the field in Miami. My wife and kids where there for the summer, so they had to fly home to California immediately. The Cubs were in Milwaukee, so there’s just no way they were going there and then dealing with finding a hotel with all the suitcases, etc.

“But for me, it was always exciting joining a new team in a trade because you know that team wants your services and values you. That said, the pressure to perform once you are traded, especially to a contender like last year, is pretty intense. Making a good first impression was always vital for me. Last year I struggled almost all of August after pitching really well from April to July, so it was tough. Part of me wasn’t surprised because I knew my peripheral numbers didn’t add up to my ERA. My FIP was higher and I was striking out fewer batters than ever and moving to a hitters’ ballpark. That was scary.

“Luckily, I turned it around and contributed in September and ended up feeling like I was ‘part of the team’ by the time the playoffs rolled around.”

Jed Lowrie, Athletics infielder: “Three trades, but all of them have been in the offseason. Helpful in the sense, it seems logistically easier than during the season. The first two trades, it wasn’t that big of a deal because we really hadn’t set up roots anywhere. The last one was a little harder because we live in Houston now. That’s where home is. We bought a house in Houston in 2012, after I signed a contract there.

“It was still a shock. We cancelled offseason plans because of the logistics of finding a place for spring training and for here in Oakland. You don’t have any say, and there are a lot of other implications. We’ve talked about [how Oakland plays as a park before] and that was a reality, too. Hitting in Houston versus hitting in Oakland is a big difference.

“All three times I heard from the GM I was with first. Boston once, Houston twice. That’s the way you’re supposed to handle it. Finding out from the media would make it even more jolting. This last time, as soon as I heard, my wife was getting text messages and phone calls. It was a photo finish, how I heard it this time.

“There are things that would you consider as a normal family: job, cost of living, extended family, all that stuff. All of that is irrelevant; you have no choice. It’s the one profession where the decisions are made for you.”

Mike Aviles, Tigers infielder: “[Going from Kansas City to Boston at the 2011 trade deadline] didn’t catch me out of the blue, because I kind of knew I was going to get traded. So I was prepared for it, although I obviously didn’t know where it would be if it happened. My teammates kind of made some fun with [the rumors]. They were like, ‘When are you leaving, Mike? Are you leaving soon?’

“I told my agent, ‘If you hear anything that’s concrete, I’d like to know, but if it’s just rumblings I don’t care too much, because there are rumors every day.’ It wasn’t nerve-wracking for me, because I knew it was either going to happen or it wasn’t, and I couldn’t influence it. I could just go out and play.

“I was in a hotel room in Cleveland when I found out. Our traveling secretary called and said to go to Ned Yost’s room. When I went over there he told me I was being traded to Boston, and good luck. I walked away kind of like, ‘Well, I just got traded from the team that drafted me, but I’m going to a great city and to one of the best teams in baseball.’ It was sad and exciting at the same time.

“This was before a game, so I had to get to the field and pack my stuff and get to the airport to meet Boston in Chicago. I got to the clubhouse probably 10-15 minutes before the first pitch was thrown. I remember getting dressed as fast as I could while guys were telling me what a good player’s manager Tito [Terry Francona] is.

“I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to many of my teammates, because it was early and I had to get to the airport. But we played against them a week or two later, so I got to see them all afterward. Another thing I did was text all of my buddies as much as I could, but then I had to put my phone away because once people find out you’re traded, they all text. Everybody wants to know what’s going on.”

Rich Hill, Athletics pitcher: “Moving is the biggest thing. We’ve been moved around and relocated because of designations or releases, or just moving from one team to another. I was traded once, in the offseason, but being moved in the season is difficult — who’s taking care of what, how are we transferring this.

“I haven’t put any thought it into this year. Except for the thought of staying here. I’m always very conscientious of where I am, and trying to do the best where I am at the moment. It’s pretty much out of your control.”

Clay Buchholz, Red Sox pitcher: “If it happens, it will probably be tougher on my wife, because we have two little girls and this is where they were born. Our oldest will be six in August and the youngest is going to be three in September. It would be a tougher adjustment for them. For me, I’d still be playing baseball somewhere. If it happens, hopefully it will be somewhere my wife will be comfortable living.

“We’ve sat down and talked with my agent about it. That’s part of the process of what’s going on. But everything is still just speculation at this point, so I have to keep coming here and doing my job. That’s the way I need to look at it.”

Daniel Mengden, Athletics pitcher: “It’s kind of like we’re a piece of meat. If anyone wants to buy us, they can buy us. I was just living in a house with some guys, no big deal. Just pack up my stuff and go. You’ll see them around.

“Total shock when it happened. I was sleeping when it happened, call woke me up at 9 am. They were like, ‘Hey, you’ve been traded, best of luck.’ I hung up the phone and was like, ‘What? Huh? What just happened?” First was negative, leaving my hometown team, kinda bummed. Talked to my agent about it, and he said it was the best thing that could happen. A’s were struggling, which was good, more opportunity, someone wanted me. It was a nice new beginning for me.”

Cameron Maybin, Tigers outfielder: “Nothing stands out about [the times he’s been traded]. I don’t really do anything but look at it like a business. You go where you go; you go where the business takes you. You play hard for whoever sees something special in you, really. That’s my mentality.

“It doesn’t impact the family too much. This is what we signed up for a long time ago. The family has gotten used to it. It’s also kind of fun to be able to see different cities and different things. I enjoy it. We live a pretty good life. As long as I have a job, I’m happy.”

Brad Ziegler, Red Sox reliever: “Going to a big-market team, there’s definitely a lot more attention when you get there. It was mentioned when I got to Arizona [from Oakland] — the local media were on it — but here in Boston there is a lot more national media paying attention to it.

“This was actually harder than the first time, because my family is bigger now than it was then. I had a lot more to consider as far as making sure they were all set while I was traveling across the country. Fans just think about it from the baseball team’s perspective — what it does to the team they follow — but there’s a whole lot more to it for the player. There’s a lot of off-the-field stuff you need to take care of.

“My stuff is actually still in transit here. It’s coming from across the country, so it’s not even going to arrive until our next road trip. Basically, what I had with me on the road in San Francisco is all I have here now. I went home for the All-Star break and got one or to more suitcases full of stuff, but the majority of it won’t be here until next week.”

Javier Lopez, Giants reliever: “I’ve been traded twice, but only once was at the deadline. The White Sox traded me from Triple-A to Boston in June, I got traded for David Riske. I got right into the big leagues, that was nice.

“Two-thousand and ten was different. Pittsburgh wasn’t as good as they are now. I was a six-year free agent. There were a couple of us there that knew that it was probably going to happen at some point. I was watching the rumors, my agent was calling me, letting me know what was going. It felt good. It was nice to be wanted. That’s always a positive thing.

“I found out in St. Louis. We’d lost the night before. Went to the field, was in uniform, just showed up, and got called into the manager’s office, and he says, “Hey, Javy,” and hands me the phone and it was Neal Huntington, the GM. And he tells me that I’d been traded and they were getting a couple prospects back. They were happy with what they got.

“I had just had my first; my daughter was just a couple of months old. When we were getting closer, it was getting tougher. My daughter was born March 19. I told her it might happen, but at the time I’d only been hearing about East Coast teams, so it wasn’t going to be as big a deal. But then sure enough, it was out west.

“They didn’t even come out until about the playoffs, because my daughter was so young. She stayed out, and I fell into a rental here at third and King and didn’t even ship my car out. Just walked to the park. It’s a little nuts. The longer I’ve been around, the less and less I try to pack every year. Just knowing that things like that might happen.

“Logistics were difficult, because I was supposed to be on one flight that night. That’s the only time I talked to [then Giants general manager Brian] Sabean, actually. I didn’t even talk to him when I got here. He welcomed me to the team and handed the phone off to someone to handle travel. So I went to the airport, got a message the flight was canceled, went back to the hotel, got another message that flight wasn’t canceled. So I spent two hours in a cab in St. Louis. You don’t really want to hang out in a cab for two hours.”

“But you get into a race, and that’s what you want. That year in Pittsburgh, if you were 30 or older, you were traded. That was a fact, that’s what happened.”

Sam Fuld, Athletics outfielder: “When I was in the Matt Garza trade… we had just moved to the Jupiter, Florida. We were pretty nomadic prior to that, but spent most of our time in New York and New Hampshire. We picked Jupiter pretty arbitrarily, so one of the first thoughts I had after speaking with Jim Hendry was, Man, we should’ve bought a house on the Gulf side of Florida! Pretty sure we would be living in St. Petersburg instead of Jupiter if I had been traded a month-and-a-half earlier.

“As a player without any options left, I kind of saw the Cubs trade coming, though once the winter meetings and holidays had passed, my thoughts were directed toward making the Cubs opening-day roster. Soon after Hendry called, Andrew Friedman did the same, and then came all the logistical phone calls: traveling secretary, clubhouse manager, athletic trainer, etc.

“I was bummed to leave behind all the friends I had made in the Cubs organization, but by and large my emotions were those of excitement and curiosity. After learning that the Rays tended to value defense and base-running more than most organizations, and after hearing from a couple former teammates what a great manager Joe Maddon was, I became more and more energized. Once I figured out that they didn’t wear green-and-purple uniforms anymore, I really felt like I had a feel for what the Rays were all about.

“My trade from Minnesota back to Oakland was also somewhat expected and brought about a ton excitement for me, but it was way more of a logistical nightmare. I had seen that the A’s had lost Craig Gentry to the disabled list, so I figured they’d be in the market for an outfielder who could play center. And given that I had played decently well with them in spring training and early on in the regular season and — that the Twins were going to be sellers at the deadline — I actually had spent a lot of time thinking about getting traded back to Oakland.

“The night of July 30, [then Twins assistant general manager] Rob Antony called me at about 1:00 AM to let me know about the trade. It was a quick, cordial conversation and after hanging up, I couldn’t believe it had actually happened. Nobody actually predicts trades, I thought to myself. Despite our fantastic experience in Minneapolis, it was pretty hard not to be pumped about going from a team destined for its fourth straight season of 90-plus losses to the best team in baseball.

“The only problem was that the Twins had scheduled our one ‘family trip’ of the season around the trade deadline. The five of us were given the very cool experience of flying on the team plane from Minneapolis to Kansas City, but unfortunately, upon being traded, we had to suddenly figure out how to get back to Minneapolis to pack up and leave. Luckily the A’s had a day off on the 31st, so I was able to accompany my wife as we drove in a rented minivan through our old stomping grounds of Des Moines and back to Minneapolis.

We decided that it just made more sense for my wife and kids to head back to Florida; school was approaching, and the thought of moving everything back out to Oakland only to have to pick up and leave a couple months later seemed incredibly daunting. So I caught the first flight out of Minneapolis to Oakland the next day and my poor wife was left with our three little children and the prospect of packing up all of our things and moving back home to Florida. It’s safe to say that I was a little more stoked about the trade than she was.”

Thanks to David Laurila for talking to Mike Aviles, Brad Ziegler, Cameron Maybin, and Clay Buchholz for this article.





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

newest oldest most voted
Mike Podhorzer
Member
Member

This is great stuff. I sometimes forget, and I’m sure many in our industry, including readers as well, that baseball players are regular human beings too. Not just statistics-producing robots that have no feelings and are totally cool with being sent across the country on a day’s notice.

Shirtless Bartolo Colon
Member

Just remember Wilmer last year. He was not the first guy I’ve seen blubber when he found out he had to go.