Experts look back at best NL deals

Best deals for NL clubs

As the Winter Meetings approached, MLB.com club reporters asked experts on their clubs -- some GMs, some historians, others who just know the organization -- about the best deals their clubs have made, using the beginning of divisional play in 1969 as a benchmark.

Here are the moves that stand out in the National League:


NL East
ATL | FLA | NYM | PHI | WAS

AL East
BAL | BOS | NYY | TB | TOR

NL Central
CHC | CIN | HOU | MIL | PIT | STL

AL Central
CWS | CLE | DET | KC | MIN

NL West
ARI | COL | LAD | SD | SF

AL West
LAA | OAK | SEA | TEX

NL EAST

ATLANTA BRAVES
Trade: 1B Fred McGriff for OF Melvin Nieves, RHP Donnie Elliott and Minor Leaguer Vince Moore, July 18, 1993.

Free Agent: RHP Greg Maddux, Dec. 9, 1992.

The deal for McGriff came at a time when the Padres were unloading salary, and the Braves definitely got the best deal of the bunch. While Nieves did not become the player the Padres hoped and Elliott's greatest contribution was teaching Trevor Hoffman his changeup, McGriff was the powerful center and steady hand at first for the Braves' World Series teams in the '90s. Maddux, meanwhile, is considered by many to be the best free-agent signing ever. His five-year, $28 million contract took the Braves to the next level.

FLORIDA MARLINS
Trade: SS Hanley Ramirez , LHP Anibal Sanchez, RHP Jesus Delgado, RHP Harvey Garcia for RHP Josh Beckett, 3B Mike Lowell and RHP Guillermo Mota, Nov. 24, 2005.

Free Agent: 1B Carlos Delgado, Jan. 26, 2005.

The trade to acquire Ramirez, who has gone on to become not only the Marlins' marquee player but one of the game's most exciting performers, came as part of a run of salary-slashing moves two years after their World Series season. With Sanchez throwing in a no-hitter, Ramirez's mere presence as the Marlins head to a new stadium makes that trade a winner. That same day Ramirez arrived, Delgado left after just one season with 33 homers and 115 RBIs, before being dealt to the Mets for Mike Jacobs, Grant Psomas and Yusmeiro Petit.

NEW YORK METS
Trade: 1B Keith Hernandez from St. Louis for RHP Neil Allen and RHP Rick Ownbey, June 15, 1983.

Free Agent: 3B Robin Ventura, Dec. 1, 1998.

The Mets have traded for the likes of Gary Carter, Kevin McReynolds, Mike Piazza, Carlos Delgado and Johan Santana over the years. But the Hernandez deal stands up as one of the great lopsided exchanges of all time, with Hernandez winning six of his Gold Gloves with the Mets and becoming an annual MVP candidate. His importance to the Mets' run leading up to and including the 1986 World Series cannot be overstated. As for free agents, Ventura provided balance in the lineup and in the infield with his left-handed protection for Piazza and his Gold Glove defense, providing one of the keys to their run to the 2000 World Series.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Trade: RHP Brad Lidge, INF Eric Bruntlett from Houston for OF Michael Bourn, RHP Geoff Geary and Minor Leaguer Mike Costanzo, Nov. 7, 2007.

Free Agent: 1B Jim Thome, Dec. 6, 2002.

Lidge went 48-for-48 in save opportunities in 2008 to help the Phillies win the World Series, and despite his 2009 struggles, that certainly fit the bill as an impact trade. While Pete Rose's signing before the 1979 season certainly brought a key ingredient to the 1980 World Series team, the signing of Thome put the Phillies back where they needed to be. "It put us back on the map," current Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He clearly was the best offensive player available that year. We were kind of on the cusp with our young players, coming a little bit closer to being a championship-caliber club."

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Trade: RHP Pedro Martinez from Los Angeles Dodgers for 2B Delino DeShields, Nov. 19, 1993.

Free Agent: Hector Carrasco, Feb. 3, 2005.

It was with the Expos that Pedro became Pedro, and this deal looked like s steal for Montreal as he emerged as one of the game's most dominant pitchers. He had four outstanding years there, capping it off with a 1997 Cy Young season that included a 1.91 ERA and 13 complete games. The Expos/Nationals have always been much bigger on drafts and trades, so the free-agent signing of note is a recent one: Carrasco had a 2.04 ERA in 64 games in 2005, his first in Washington.

NL CENTRAL

CHICAGO CUBS
Trade: 2B Ryne Sandberg and SS Larry Bowa from Philadelphia for SS Ivan DeJesus, Jan. 27, 1982.

Free Agent: Andre Dawson, March 9, 1987.

The headline on the Chicago Tribune that day was "DeJesus traded for Bowa, rookie." The article described Sandberg as "an untested Minor-Leaguer." Sandberg just won the first of nine Gold Gloves in '83, won MVP in '84, was a 10-time All-Star and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. Not bad at all, and that doesn't even count having veteran star Bowa starting at short for three-plus years. Wow. With Dawson's Hall of Fame candidacy rising, the story has re-emerged about how Dawson was so eager to get out of Montreal that he gave Cubs GM Dallas Green a fill-in-the-blank contract, and they settled on $500,000. Dawson went on to win the NL MVP, leading the league with 49 homers and 137 RBIs -- despite the Cubs' last-place finish that year.

CINCINNATI REDS
Trade: 2B Joe Morgan, OF Cesar Geronimo, RHP Jack Billingham, OF Ed Armbrister and INF Denis Menke from Houston for 1B Lee May, INF Tommy Helms and UTIL Jimmy Stewart, Nov. 29, 1971.

Free Agent: Francisco Cordero, Nov. 28, 2007.

The fact that Joe Morgan won back-to-back NL MVPs and was the arm-pumping catalyst at second base for the Big Red Machine makes this an all-time winner, even with the talent going the other way. But with Geronimo -- the center fielder for the dynasty -- as a throw-in and the rest of the haul, this one's even more huge for the Reds. Free agency is a little less of their forte, so picking up a closer that has been strong for the past two seasons gets a mention here.

HOUSTON ASTROS
Trade: 1B Jeff Bagwellfrom Boston for RHP Larry Andersen, Aug. 30, 1990.

Free Agent: Nolan Ryan, Nov. 19, 1979.

There isn't a close second in Astros annals to picking up an All-Star first baseman and one of the most feared right-handed hitters of his era for a setup reliever. It goes down as one of the all-timers, all due respect to Andersen, a fine reliever at that time and a fine Phillies announcer now. But Bagwell became a Houston icon, plain and simple. Speaking of icons, Ryan's second of three memorable deals landed him close to his Alvin, Texas, home. And he truly put Houston on the MLB map, baseball's first million-dollar deal giving him the edge over later signings Rogers Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Ryan wound up spending one-third of his 27-year career in Houston and helped the Astros to the NL West title in 1980 and 1986.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Trade: RHP Rollie Fingers, RHP Pete Vuckovich and C Ted Simmons from St. Louis for OF Sixto Lezcano, OF David Green, RHP Lary Sorenson and LHP Dave LaPoint, Dec. 12, 1980.

Free Agent: Larry Hisle, Nov. 17, 1977.

The Brewers got the American League's next two Cy Young Award winners in Hall of Famer Fingers ('81) and Vuckovich ('82), plus a star catcher in Simmons. The trade propelled the Brewers to their first-ever postseason appearance in the strike-shortened 1981 season, and to the World Series in 1982 where they lost, ironically, to the Cardinals. The Brewers have so rarely been involved in major free-agent deals. But an early signing was key: Hisle hit 34 homers and had 115 RBIs in his first season in Milwaukee and finished third in AL MVP balloting while making his second straight All-Star Game. His arrival marked the beginning of Milwaukee's five-year run as the AL's winningest team, as the Brewers went from 67 wins in 1977 to 93 wins in 1978. Hisle's career was derailed after that season by injuries, but it remains a symbolic move of the team's rise from expansion club to contender.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Trade: OF Andy Van Slyke, C Mike LaValliere, and RHP Mike Dunne from St. Louis for C Tony Pena, April 1, 1987.

Free Agent: OF Reggie Sanders, March 10, 2003.

Van Slyke spent the next eight seasons with the Pirates and won five Gold Gloves and appeared in three All-Star Games. He was an offensive force on the Pittsburgh teams that made a run to the 1991 and 1992 NLCS, hitting .283 with 117 home runs and 564 RBIs in 1,057 games. LaValliere hit .300 and won a Gold Glove as the team's starting catcher in 1987 and was with the team through the 1992 season. The Pirates have been on the other end of free agency quite a bit over the years, but bringing in Reggie Sanders was a good move. He had arguably the best season of his 17-year career with the Pirates in 2003, hitting .285 with 31 homers and 87 RBIs.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Trade: RHP Adam Wainwright, RHP Jason Marquis and LHP Ray King from Atlanta for OF J.D. Drew and IF Eli Marrero, Dec. 13, 2003.

Free Agent: RHP Chris Carpenter, Dec. 2, 2003.

The Cardinals are held back from claiming one of baseball's best trades based on the timeframe established for this report, having acquired Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock from the Cubs in 1964 in what's regarded as one of the most lopsided deals ever. But picking up a young Cy Young-caliber pitcher along with two pieces of their recent championship past makes this deal stand up on its own just fine. And the Carpenter signing while he was still recovering from reconstructive surgery was nothing short of prescient, setting up a Cy Young season and another that was very close.

NL WEST

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Trade: OF Luiz Gonzalez and cash from Detroit for OF Karim Garcia, Dec. 28, 1998.

Free Agent: Randy Johnson, Dec. 10, 1998.

Getting Gonzalez out of Detroit, where he really didn't feel comfortable his first year as a big-time free agent acquisition, and bringing him to Arizona turned out to be a powerful combination, as Gonzo went for 57 homers and got the game-winning hit in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Johnson, meanwhile, joined with Curt Schilling for one of the greatest 1-2 punches in decades, winning four Cy Young Awards in the process. And it all happened in one month, December 1998.

COLORADO ROCKIES
Trade: OF Dante Bichette from Milwaukee for OF Kevin Reimer, Nov. 17, 1992.

Free Agent: Larry Walker, April 8, 1995.

Two members of the Blake Street Bombers make up the Rockies' best deals. The Bichette deal was made on the day of the expansion draft. Bichette's career was languishing, but Don Baylor had worked with him in Milwaukee and really thought that with a little more time he could make Bichette an All-Star -- he did. Reimer, who'd been selected from the Rangers in the expansion draft, appeared in 125 games for the Brewers in 1993, and that was the end of his big league career. Walker brought a big-time presence at the plate and in right field for the Rockies. He was impressed the first day he ever played at Mile High Stadium when he was playing for the Expos when they lost to the Rockies in the first-ever game in Denver, and he never forgot it. Rockies fans never forgot him after his 10-year stay that included three batting titles, a home-run title, and an MVP season in 1997 in which he led the league with 49 homers.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Trade: OF Manny Ramirez from Boston in three-way trade with Pittsburgh for INF Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris, July 31, 2008.

Free Agent: Kirk Gibson, Jan. 29, 1988.

Granted, the long-term impact of getting Andre Ethier from the A's in a Milton Bradley trade might eclipse the Ramirez deal. But from a pure change-the-game standpoint, getting Ramirez without having to give up the likes of Ethier or any other of the Dodgers' coveted core players was golden in 2008. Maybe not as much in 2009, but few trades in recent history have energized a team the way the Ramirez deal did the Dodgers. And as for impact, what else can be said about the epic 1988 World Series hero except, "I can't believe what I just saw!" Gibson won the MVP during the regular season and willed the Dodgers to a world title on one leg, who could do better?

SAN DIEGO PADRES
Trade: 3B Ken Caminiti, OF Steve Finley, 1B Roberto Petagine, SS Andujar Cedeno, RHP Brian Williams and Sean Fesh from Houston for OF Derek Bell, OF Phil Plantier, SS Ricky Gutierrez, INF Craig Shipley, RHP Doug Brocail and LHP Pedro A. Martinez, Dec. 28, 1994.

Free Agent: Steve Garvey, Dec. 21, 1982.

The blockbuster Padres-Astros trade, as the story goes, was finalized over Christmas dinner between Tal Smith of the Astros and Randy Smith of the Padres, father and son baseball men. What it did, in the middle of a work stoppage, was transform the Padres into instant contenders. Caminiti won the 1996 MVP with the Padres advancing to the playoffs, and he won three Gold Gloves in rivaling Tony Gwynn in popularity among Padres fans, unbelievable as that may seem. Finley was right there with him, winning Gold Gloves and also helping the Padres to the 1998 World Series. It was Garvey who propelled the Padres to their first World Series in 1984 with his famous Game 4 homer to the opposite field against the Cubs, sending the series to a decisive Game 5. Garvey's trip south from LA gave the Padres a new identity, and it soon became a winning one.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Trade: 2B Jeff Kent, INF Jose Vizcaino, RHP Julian Tavarez and RHP Joe Roa from Cleveland for 3B Matt Williams and OF Trenidad Hubbard, Nov. 13, 1996.

Free Agent: OF Barry Bonds, Dec. 8, 1992.

Ah, Kent and Bonds, together again. There are few trades in which you can deal away a marquee player and come away with an MVP and potential Hall of Famer, but that's what the Giants did when they got Kent out of the trade for Williams. The 2000 MVP was much more than Bonds' cohort in the middle of the Giants' lineup, he helped redefine second base as a position at which power and production could be found. As for Bonds, his signing with the Giants did much more than just shake up baseball in San Francisco for the next 15 seasons, it very well might stand as the best in history, all things considered. The home runs, the trip to the World Series, the six of his seven MVP awards all say one thing: Bonds going home to San Francisco stands as one of baseball's biggest moves.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This article was written with information provided by MLB.com reporters covering National League clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.