Top Five Worst Rental Trades Since 2020

Trading for rentals is almost always a losing battle for MLB clubs, unless they win it all. Here are some of the worst rental trades in recent memory.

MESA, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 25: Pete Crow-Armstrong of the Chicago Cubs exits the field of play during a training game as part of the 2024 Chicago Cubs Spring Training at Sloan Park on February 25, 2024 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images)

Oh, the trade deadline. An opportunity for your favorite team to acquire that missing piece that, without a doubt, will put your team into World Series contention. Sure, trade that prospect, he’s not going to pan out anyway, right?

Well, that’s not always how it works out. A calculated risk, that can be worth the reward, but is often not. Jorge Soler and Joc Pederson were great rentals for Atlanta. Hell, the Braves got a ring out of it. However, sometimes these deals go south.

We combed through recent history and pulled the top five worst trades that were made for a rental since the 2020 season. These are moves that looked great at the deadline, but proved to be catastrophic for the team who acquired the rental. Let’s take a look.

Oakland Athletics Trade for Starling Marte

The Cost: 5.5 years of LHP Jesus Luzardo to the Miami Marlins

At the time of this trade Jesus Luzardo had fallen out of favor in Oakland. A young lefty who showed flashes struggled out of the gate in 2021 and was ultimately moved to the bullpen.

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While it’s not exactly the “A’s way” to make a move like this, they needed another outfield bat to make a push to the post season.

I’ll give them credit, Marte worked out well for them. He slashed .316/.359/.466 and stole 25 bags, but the A’s fell short and Marte hit free agency. The Marlins, who made an improbable run the year prior, landed a young starter with years of control. Fast forward a couple of years and Luzardo will bring back a significant return, if and when he is traded.

New York Mets Land Javier Baez (and Trevor Williams)

The Cost: Top-100 Prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong

Looking back at this trade, you have to remember that the New York Mets were in first place at the time of the deal, and as far as return, it was actually pretty solid production in vacuum.

With Francisco Lindor on the IL, the Mets traded for Javier Baez, where he filled the gap for a few weeks before shifting over to second for the rest of the year. The slick-fielding, World Series Champion brought added offense to New York slashing .299/.371/.515 with nine home runs in 47 games. However, the Mets only won nine games in August and 11 in September leading to another disappointing season.

The kicker of the deal was acquiring Trevor Williams, who was technically not a rental.

Williams filled a swing-man role for the Mets in 2021, and then played a nice role on a Mets team that won 101 games in 2022. Across the one and half seasons with the Mets, Williams pitched to a 3.17 ERA across 122 innings pitched.

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Still, when we remember this trade in the future, nobody is going to think about Williams. They are going to think about Baez for Pete Crow-Armstrong.

As for the Cubs, they bought PCA at the right time, as he was sidelined due to a season-ending shoulder injury that needed surgery. He returned to the field in 2022, and by the end of 2023, he was already up with the big league club.

Once in the Cubs organization, PCA shot up top 100 list. While he’s struggled in his brief stint in the Majors, there’s no doubt he’s a talented player and a steep price to pay for a rental. Especially since both teams watched the playoffs from home.

St. Louis Cardinals Trade for 37-year-old Jon Lester

The Cost: 4.5 years of Lane Thomas to the Nationals

There’s few things the Cardinals love more than veteran pitchers who are near or at the end of their careers. In a somewhat half-enthusiastic deadline, the Cardinals made a couple of mediocre trades to round out the team, without much of an impact move.

The worst deal they made was acquiring Jon Lester, who was working on a 5.06 ERA in 16 starts with the Washington Nationals. Now Lester did pitch a bit better in his 12 games in St. Louis, where he had a 4.36 ERA and posted a 4-1 record. Still, the fact that he hung them up after the season really tells all.

Meanwhile the Nationals capitalized in a big way. With the Cardinals having a glut of outfielders at the time, they chose to send Lane Thomas over in the deal. In parts of three season in 2019, 2020 and 2021, Thomas had struggled to a .172/.289/.336 slash line in 84 games.

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Once removed from the crowded outfield in St. Louis, and given the freedom to play everyday, Thomas quickly flourished into an above average regular and lefty masher. He hit .270/.364/.489, with seven home runs and 27 RBIs in 45 games down the stretch.

Ever since then, Thomas has been a consistently solid player, who posted a career-year in 2023 where he hit 28 home runs, scored 101 runs, and drove in 86 with 20 stolen bases.

Even if he is not a piece of their long term future, which he still could be, the Nationals can move him and bring back an impactful or prospect-heavy return.

Los Angeles Angels Make the Worst Trade Ever

Trade For: RHP Lucas Giolito, RHP Reynaldo Lopez

The Cost: Top-100 Prospect Edgar Quero and Pitching Prospect Ky Bush

What the Angels did was completely reckless, but somewhat admirable. Knowing that Shohei Ohtani was likely on his way out, the franchise starving for success went all in. They knew the best chance to keep Ohtani would be to win, and even if he left, at least they had a shot at a making a memory.

However, we know how this story ends. Everything went south, quickly, and their newly acquired players were on different teams soon after. They acquired Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez from the White Sox to bolster their rotation and bullpen with both in the midst of fairly strong years.

Not only did they not get the wanted production out of both rentals, they moved Edgar Quero, a catcher and top 100 prospect, and a interesting arm in Ky Bush for, well, nothing.

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Giolito struggled as he recorded a 6.89 ERA in six starts with the Angels prior to being placed on waivers just a month after the trade. He was supposed to stabilize the rotation, but the Angels went into a tailspin following the deal and fell out of contention swiftly. Lopez was not as bad, but was also placed on waivers when the Halos fell out of the playoff race.

On the flip side, Edgar Quero is now Just Baseball’s 66th-ranked prospect and the 21-year-old catcher has been excellent in Double-A this season. He has a .804 OPS with 12 home runs and appears to be the future of the catching position in Chicago. Ky Bush, while possessing less upside, has shoved to the tune of a 2.12 ERA in Birmingham as well.

The Angels desperate attempt to keep Ohtani satisfied backfired in a big way and they lost a prospect who easily would be their top asset today in addition to a solid arm.

Los Angeles Dodgers Add Struggling Veteran Arms

Trade For: RHP Joe Kelly, RHP Lance Lynn

The Cost: RHP Nick Nastrini, RHP Jordan Leasure

The Dodgers just needed Joe Kelly back didn’t they? The idea that he could find his old magic wasn’t far-fetched. Sure, Lynn pitched well enough to be in a rotation but was still fairly underwhelming. Kelly was great, but we are talking about 10 innings. In reality, these two didn’t make much of a difference for the Dodgers in 2023.

As for the White Sox, they did well on this trade. They were able to get back two arms who debuted this season and while it hasn’t been excellent for them, they’re still valued within the organization.

Nick Nastrini is a top-10 prospect in the Sox system with some upside as a starter or potentially high-end reliever if he can’t improve upon his command. He’s struggled this season, but there’s plenty of reason to believe in a bounce back.

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Jordan Leasure has been a solid addition the the bullpen and should be back in Chicago in the near future as they manage his workload in his rookie season.

The White Sox had no purpose for Lynn or Kelly and were able to net two pitching prospects who figure to be part of the future in Chicago. The Dodgers on the other hand have plenty of impressive prospects so the loss of those two prospects doesn’t hurt all that much, but they certainly didn’t get the best value back in return.