As the trade deadline approaches, most broadcasters are naturally discussing completed as well as possible transactions in Major League Baseball. During a game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins, the announcers had just received the news of a huge trade that had been completed.
The Orioles had traded Zack Britton to the New York Yankees, which prompted the TV analyst to criticize the deal. He complained that the Orioles, who are deeply buried in the East side of the American League, had violated some unwritten rule about never trading within your own division.
I was doubtful that such a rule existed, for any club planning to trade a player would make a deal yielding the best return. When you are wanting to do what is best for your organization, geography would not trump your own interests.
The very next day reinforced my doubts as to that so-called unwritten rule to which the announcer had alluded, for another huge inner division trade had been completed. The Tampa Bay Rays shipped starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi to the Boston Red Sox, who are currently on top in the A. L. East.
Giving the benefit of a doubt to the broadcaster, I wondered if the rule had once existed but had disappeared like complete games and sacrifice bunts from today’s state of the game. Recalling some notable transactions over the last fifty years, however, I realized that there had not been an unwritten rule that suggested teams not trade within their own divisions.
Here are eight cases since the Seventies in which well-known players were traded from one team to a rival in its own division.
San Francisco traded future Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey to a team not only in the same row in the standings, but also in the same state. The San Diego Padres acquired Stretch from the Giants way back in 1973.
Early in the next decade the Houston Astros traded All-Star outfielder Cesar Cedeno to West rival Cincinnati, which in turn sent third baseman Ray Knight from the Reds.
The year immortalized by George Orwell’s futuristic novel, 1984, saw a notable inner division trade. The Philadelphia Phillies shipped popular outfielder Garry Matthews to the Cubs, and he helped Chicago to the playoffs soon after that.
Two years later future Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter was traded by the Montreal Expos to Eastern Division rival New York, where Carter helped the Mets win the 1986 World Series Championship against the Boston Red Sox. Apparently the Expos, like the Astros and Giants before them, had been oblivious to the rule not to trade to rival clubs.
All Star slugger Carlos Delgado, less than a year removed from winning a World Series Championship with the Marlins, was sent from Florida to the New York Mets back in 2005. Three years later on July 29, 2008 the Texas Rangers traded first baseman Mark Texiera to the Angels.
In 2010 the Milwaukee Brewers swapped All Star center fielder Jim Edmonds to N. L. Central rival Cincinnati, who felt Edmonds would help the Reds reach the postseason for the first time since the end of the twentieth century. Again, if such a rule existed, it continued to be ignored by most clubs.
In a more recent transaction the Minnesota Twins in 2011 agreed to send designated hitter Jim Thome to the Cleveland Indians, the club with which he started his illustrious baseball career. Thome was contemplating retirement, and he wanted to end his playing days as a member of the Tribe.