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When Superstars Go To Cali…

Is there something to learn about trades to California that makes the Betts trade stop hurting?

Mookie Betts by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

When Superstars Go To Cali…

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Is there something to learn about trades to California that makes the Betts trade stop hurting


On Monday, February 10th, 2020 Mookie Betts, the 27-year-old right fielder for the Boston Red Sox, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A few things of note here:

  • Betts had finished in the top 10 in MVP voting for the last four years, winning in 2018 and finishing 2nd in 2016.
  • Betts is a four-time All Star/Silver Slugger/Gold Glover and according to Baseball Reference has a career WAR (Wins Above Replacement player) of 42. Mo Vaughn played for 12 seasons, won an MVP in 1995 and has a career WAR of 27. The discrepancy is highly motivated by Betts’ defensive superiority to Vaughn, but the main takeaway is Betts is really good.
  • Betts was the best player on the 2018 World Series Champions.
  • A baseball player’s prime (i.e., their best years) are typically between 26-29, so Betts’ future would still require shades.

I am a Red Sox fan and let me just say trading the best positional player I have ever seen on my favorite team was not something I preferred.

I am going to ignore the financial ramifications/motivations that have been discussed with this trade and just simply focus on the fact that seeing the best player on your favorite team traded when he’s about to enter his best years is a super kick in the plums.

To help cope with what I and other Sox fans are facing, I searched for things to maybe make it seem not so bad. Jayson Tatum’s ascendance into being a top 15 NBA player is fun. The Bruins having the most points in the league is neat. The Patriots being the gold standard of winning in team sports over the past 20 years, that’s still amazing, but there are other best player issues there we can ignore right now.

Comparing this trade to others in baseball history? Yeah, kinda tough to ignore a major transaction in 1919.

So, I looked elsewhere and that’s what I want to share here. If we remove baseball, what can other sports trades involving superstars in their prime being traded to California tell us? Will it make Sox fans feel any better? Well, let’s see.

Also, I realize I have really made this a niche exercise that could be interpreted as stacking the deck so I feel better, but how about you cut me a break? If this doesn’t work my next step is trying to become one of those people who are into crystals and making sure my chakra is aligned.

For this, I looked at trades involving players in their prime and evaluated:

  • The superstar’s performance before/after the trade
  • The performance of the trade’s return on the superstar’s former team
  • The performance of the team trading the superstar for the five years after the trade

Let’s go

Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings


  • Wayne Gretzky (27yo), Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, 1st Round Picks in 1989 (traded to NJ), 1991 (Martin Rucinsky) and 1993 (Nick Stajduhar)

Gretzky before the trade (9 Seasons):

  • 9 All Star Selections
  • 8 Hart Trophies
  • 7 Ross Trophies
  • 5 Pearson Trophies
  • 2 Conn Smythe Awards
  • 4 Stanley Cup Championships

Gretzky after the trade (12 Seasons):

  • 7 All Star Selections
  • 1 Hart Trophy
  • 3 Ross Trophies
  • 1 Stanley Cup Finals Appearance

Edmonton’s return:

  • Jimmy Carson – 49 Goals/51 Assists/100 Points in one season then traded to Detroit for 4 players
  • Martin Gelinas – 120 points in 258 games
  • Martin Rucinsky – Traded for Ron Tugnutt (All-Time NHL name)
  • Nick Stajduhar – No Hockey Reference page

Edmonton after the trade:

  • 88-89 – Lost in 1st round (to Gretzky’s Kings)
  • 89-90 – Win Stanley Cup
  • 90-91 – Lose Western Conference Finals
  • 91-92 – Lose Western Conference Finals
  • 92-93 – Miss playoffs

In some ways it is unfair to Gretzky to compare his pre and post trade performance because when he was on Edmonton he was too good. Just an unfair human being on the ice. Having said that, his performance in terms of yearly hardware takes a considerable dip and he never wins another cup (after 4 with Edmonton).

For Edmonton, the return is solid where they almost replaced Gretzky’s prior year production with Carson. But then Carson demands a trade the next year.

The wheels could have fallen apart here but Edmonton turned Carson into four players, two of which were legitimate assets for the Cup contenders the team would be for the next few years, including the 1990 Champs.

Now this is something I can work with! I’m not saying Betts is on the level of Edmonton Gretzky, but it’s still good to see these things can happen, and your team doesn’t just automatically become a laughingstock. And I think there are parallels where the Oilers and Red Sox still had/have a solid core of talent that any recovery from this trade might not take long.

Things are looking up!

Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders


  • Randy Moss (28yo) for Napoleon Harris, 2005 1st Round Pick (Troy Williamson) and 2005 7th Round Pick (Adrian Ward)

Moss before the trade (7 Seasons):

  • Rookie of the Year
  • 5 Pro Bowl Selections
  • 3 All Pro Selections
  • 4 Playoffs Appearances (2 NCFCCGs)

Moss after the trade (7 Seasons):

  • 1 Pro Bowl Selection
  • 1 All Pro Selection
  • 1 All-Time Record (Single Season TD Receptions, 23)
  • 3 Playoff Appearances (2 Super Bowls)

Minnesota’s return:

  • Napoloen Harris – 29 games, 17 starts, 84 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 FF, 3 INT
  • Troy Williamson – 39 games, 22 starts, 79 receptions, 1,067 receiving yards, 3 TD
  • Adrian Ward – No Football Reference page

Minnesota after trade:

  • 2005 – Miss playoffs
  • 2006 – Miss playoffs
  • 2007 – Miss playoffs
  • 2008 – Lose in Wild Card Round
  • 2009 – Lose in NFCCG

Moss’ post-Vikings career success is really about his 3+ seasons with the Patriots, so this trade is a failure for Oakland. And while he was uncanny in 2007 there’s still a case to be made that Minnesota got out at the right time. Although they didn’t learn that since they traded FOR Moss in 2010.

Minnesota receiving 2 half starters is okay and were Super Bowl contenders by Year 5 Post-Moss, so that’s not bad.

You’d like a little more for the type of talent Moss was when he left Oakland, but still this isn’t soul-crushing for the Vikings. We might be okay here!

Dwight Howard to the LA Lakers


  • Dwight Howard (26yo) to the Lakers, Aaron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, 2013 2nd round pick (Romero Osby), 2014 1st Round Pick (Dario Saric) and 2018 1st round pick (traded back to PHI, Landry Shamet)
    • There were other teams/players involved but you and I don’t have that kind of time. I still haven’t seen “1917” yet!

Howard before the trade (8 Seasons):

  • 6 All Star Selections
  • 3x Defensive Player of the Year
  • 6 All NBA Teams
  • 5 All Defensive Teams
  • 5 Playoffs Appearances (1 Finals Appearance, 1 ECF Appearance)

Howard after the trade (7+ Seasons):

  • 2 All Star Selections
  • 2 All NBA Teams
  • 5 Playoffs Appearances (1 WCF Appearance)

Orlando’s return:

  • Nikola Vucevic – 8+ seasons, 17.5 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), 1 All Star Selection
  • Aaron Afflalo – 2 season, 0.7 VORP
  • Al Harrington – 10 games, -0.1 VORP
  • Romero Osby – Never plays for Orlando
  • Dario Saric – Traded in package for Elfrid Payton
  • Maurice Harkless – 3 seasons, 1.3 VORP

Orlando after the trade:

  • 12-13 – Miss the playoffs
  • 13-14 – Miss the playoffs
  • 14-15 – Miss the playoffs
  • 15-16 – Miss the playoffs
  • 16-17 – Miss the playoffs

Ok…so on one hand Howard is an MVP caliber guy on Orlando and does not come to close that level after the trade. His team’s postseason success is pretty much the same, but he’s also seen as somewhat toxic in the later stages of his career. From July 2016 to August 2019, he’s on 6 teams. This is atypical for great players.

The return is okay. Getting Vucevic is a huge win, especially where Dwight going back and forth on his desire to be traded likely didn’t help Orlando with negotiations. However, Saric only turning into Elfrid Payton is tough. And while it’s great Vucevic is a solid, borderline All Star, the Magic missed the playoffs six straight seasons after being a top team in the East with Dwight.

It’s great to not think of this as losing Shaq 2.0 for the Magic, but what was left behind for team performance is difficult to ignore. I would not be thrilled for this to be comparable to the result of the Betts deal, thank you.

Quick side note, Andrew Bynum was the main piece leaving the Lakers in this deal and he would later be the focus of one of my favorite NBA stories. This Woj article says in Bynum’s final practice with the Cavaliers, he just shot the ball every time he touched it. No matter where he was on the court. And as the story is written it seems like this had to happen at least a couple of times and from some sizeable distances.

Now if you are not a basketball fan and have somehow read this far, let me put this scenario in real world context. Imagine you’re in a meeting with 9 other people and whenever you ask one of your colleagues, let’s call him “Ted”, a question, he spits directly in your face. And after the first time this happens it’s not like someone says, “Ugh, what the hell, Ted?! Get out of here!” but instead Ted is allowed to stay and does this to almost everyone in the room before finally getting the boot. The NBA rules.

Ok, so we are through three superstar trades and the results are at least mildly encouraging. I can’t guarantee Part II will feel the same, but I didn’t do this because it’d be easy.

I did this because I’m the (87th) best (at The Turf).

See you for Part II soon.

Terry is from Massachusetts and is a passionate fan of the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins. He also will admit he only pays attention to Syracuse basketball when they're good. If there's a Twitter trade rumor even remotely associated with one of his teams, he's likely fallen for it. Finally, he believes 100% that if the Celtics had beaten the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals they would have swept the Thunder in the Finals.

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