Shortly after Indians pitcher Corey Kluber won the AL Cy Young Award last week, New York Times writer Tyler Kepner made Twitter do a double take by pointing out that the seeds of Kluber’s Cleveland victory were sown when the 28-year-old starter was still in nursery school:
Eddie Taubensee’s 1991 Indians finished seventh (and last) in the AL East, which tells us he played for the franchise so long ago that there were only two divisions per league (and 26 teams in total). Since then, the Indians have gone from terrible to great to bad to good to bad and lately, aided by Kluber, back to pretty good again. Through all the ups and downs, the legacy of the 22-year-old Taubensee’s 26-game, rookie-season stint survived. Reading Kepner’s tweet is like turning on Ancient Aliens and discovering that today’s technological society, which we’d assumed had evolved organically, actually had a helping hand from E.T. Except that the tweet is based in fact.
That taste of a trade tree left Grantland contributor Rany Jazayerli wanting more:
In the Kauffman Stadium press box minutes after Salvador Perez popped out to end the World Series, I looked into Rany’s eyes and saw the unspeakable suffering1 there. To distract him from still-painful flashbacks to Mike Jirschele’s stop sign, if only for a few moments, I’ve attempted to answer his question by finding the roster spot with the longest lineage on each team.
Or possibly food poisoning.
There are two ways in which a player can be considered a direct roster descendant of a previous player from the same team: He can be a product of the same linked sequence of trades, like Kluber and Taubensee, or he can come from a combination of trades and compensation/supplemental draft picks awarded to his team after one of his athletic ancestors signed elsewhere as a free agent.2 To find transaction chains of both types, I’ve traced the background of every player who’s currently on a major league team’s 40-man roster, relying on the depth charts at RosterResource and the transaction records at Baseball-Reference.com for research.
Under previous collective bargaining agreements, teams that offered arbitration to a player who both met certain performance standards and left via free agency would receive either a compensation pick (the signing team’s highest non-protected pick), a supplemental pick (a selection in the “sandwich” round between the first and second rounds), or both, depending on the free agent’s production over the past two seasons.
As it turns out, Kluber’s tree actually goes back much further than Taubensee, but it still isn’t baseball’s longest. I’ve listed each team’s oldest roster spot below in reverse chronological order, with the earliest origins listed last. That means you can skip to the end to see which roster spot extends furthest into the past, but I’d recommend going in order instead of snatching the single cookie. I’ve included some sequences that rely on compensation/supplemental picks, but for the purists who prefer trade-only chains, I’ve also noted lengthy examples of those wherever applicable. The text contains the bare bones of each sequence,3 beginning with the date on which the team acquired the player who started the chain, but to see all of the players involved, you can click on the expandable images, courtesy of David Kaleida, who developed this method of displaying “trade trees” in graphical form at his site 6-4-3 Putout.
30. Reds: 8/23/02
Only players on the 40-man roster are listed (in bold) at the end of each sequence.
(Ryan Hanigan → David Holmberg)
No other club’s longest transaction line terminates so quickly, but these are going to get better soon. Like Alien: Isolation, we’re starting slow and boring to build suspense.
29. Giants: 6/4/02
It would’ve been fun to find out that Brian Sabean had unknowingly laid the groundwork for the Giants’ three-titles-in-five-years quasi-dynasty with an obscure move that snowballed into a “one red paperclip”–style sequence featuring William VanLandingham, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, and Emmanuel Burriss and miraculously leading to Madison Bumgarner. Instead, I found out that drafting Cain and keeping him is as crazy and convoluted as Giants roster-spot origin stories come. Well, works for them.
28. Mariners: 11/30/00
(Ichiro Suzuki → Danny Farquhar)
Farquhar is a useful setup arm, but however far into the future this sequence extends, it probably peaked early.
27. Cubs: 7/2/00
(Robinson Chirinos → Matt Garza → Justin Grimm/Mike Olt/Neil Ramirez)
Rangers GM Jon Daniels is already on record as fearing that he’ll regret the Garza deal, but here’s a hook for you: There’s a Rangers trade mentioned later in this list that Daniels has admitted to liking even less.
26. Braves: 6/5/00
(Adam LaRoche → Mike Gonzalez → Todd Cunningham)
Cunningham is a Triple-A center fielder who’s on the 40-man roster and got a cup of coffee with Atlanta in 2013. Martin Prado (drafted in 2001) to Justin Upton/Chris Johnson is the longest Braves chain that ends in players whose backstories I don’t have to explain. The Braves’ recent drafts have been fruitful, so they haven’t had to look outside the organization as often as most teams.
T-25. Royals: 6/2/99
(Mike MacDougal → Dan Cortes → Yuniesky Betancourt → Lorenzo Cain/Alcides Escobar)
You might point out that Betancourt wasn’t the only player the Royals traded in the deal that brought back Cain and Escobar, and that there was also a little-known throw-in named Zack Greinke whom the Royals included to sweeten the offer because the Brewers got cold feet about trading their whole farm system for Yuni. To which I’d respond: If you want to make Greinke the star of this story, you can’t start this sequence until 2002.
T-25. Orioles: 6/2/99
(Erik Bedard → Adam Jones/Chris Tillman)
In retrospect, this is one of the most lopsided trades in recent years, and every season tips the scale more toward the Orioles’ end. The Mariners got four mostly meaningless wins above replacement out of Bedard, while the four major leaguers the Orioles received in return, led by Jones and Tillman, have totaled almost 35 wins and helped Baltimore to a pair of playoff appearances.
23. Angels: 9/24/98
(Francisco Rodriguez → Garrett Richards/Randal Grichuk → David Freese/Fernando Salas)
The Angels are the kings of extracting talent from compensation/supplemental picks. Not only did they get Grichuk and Richards from Rodriguez, but they got Mike Trout from the Yankees’ comp pick for Mark Teixeira in the same draft, plus Cam Bedrosian from losing John Lackey the following year. Hat tip to Casey Kotchman (drafted in 2001), whose presence made the Teixeira trade possible.
22. Yankees: 6/2/98
(Alfonso Soriano → Alex Rodriguez)
The Yankees constantly sign free agents and surrender draft picks, so there’s no sequence for anyone on their 40-man that goes back more than two moves. Fortunately, even after all the retirement tours, there’s at least one beloved, long-tenured Yankees legend left.
21. Tigers: 11/1/97
(Fernando Rodney → Chance Ruffin → Doug Fister → Robbie Ray/Ian Krol)
Mike Rabelo → Miguel Cabrera mounted a challenge but fell a few years short, so this one goes to a series of moves that ends with everyone’s favorite Dave Dombrowski deal. The Curtis Granderson → Austin Jackson → David Price chain can’t compete yet, but it’s off to a promising start.
T-20. Phillies: 6/4/96
Just … Jimmy Rollins. That’s it. The Phillies are the only team other than the Giants whose longest line begins and ends with a player who’s still on their roster. And the Phillies’ second-longest line begins and ends with Chase Utley, whom they drafted in 2000. For years, the Phillies have been unwilling to envision a future without their veterans; now, they’ve also managed to erase from their roster any record that a Rollins-free era ever existed.
T-20. Rangers: 6/4/96
(Warren Morris → Esteban Loaiza → Michael Young → Lisalverto Bonilla/Josh Lindblom → Michael Choice)
Surprisingly, the winner isn’t the 2001 Teixeira trade that yielded Elvis Andrus, Pedro Feliz, and Matt Harrison, among others. It just wouldn’t be a real Rangers trade chain without Young, who asked to be traded multiple times and eventually got his wish.
T-20. Pirates: 6/4/96
(Rob Mackowiak → Damaso Marte → Jose Tabata)
If you’re a Pirates fan who’s embarrassed to tell people at parties about Tabata, you can class up your past by tracing Josh Harrison back to John Grabow’s 1997 selection instead.
17. Rays: 3/4/96
(Victor Zambrano → Scott Kazmir → Alex Torres → Logan Forsythe/Brad Boxberger)
Did you remember to mark the 10th anniversary of the Zambrano-Kazmir trade? Jim Duquette didn’t.
16. Diamondbacks: 11/8/95
(Greg Aquino → Dana Eveland → Dan Haren → Tyler Skaggs → Mark Trumbo)
The Diamondbacks didn’t play their inaugural game until March 31, 1998, but there they were, signing 16-year-olds almost two and a half years before first pitch. No wonder those go-getters became the fastest expansion team to win a division and a World Series. Signing Aquino must have been one of the franchise’s first official transactions; in the 1995 transaction logs, it’s the only one attributed to “ARI (NL).” Credit Aquino for entrusting his career to a team that existed only on paper, with no ballpark, no manager, and no minor league teams.
15. White Sox: 2/8/94
(Carlos Lee → Luis Vizcaino → Javier Vazquez → Tyler Flowers)
Flowers’s career minor league on-base percentage was .391. With the White Sox, his OBP is .287. The majors are a harsh mistress.
14. Athletics: 7/17/93
(Miguel Tejada → Huston Street → Matt Holliday → Shane Peterson)
Peterson, a first baseman who spent the season in Triple-A, got a brief major league look in 2013 and is still on the 40-man roster. The A’s had the least homegrown roster in the majors this year, though, so there were plenty of other sequences that came close: Trying to trace the crisscrossing paths of Billy Beane’s many trades is impossible without leaving your walls looking like they were decorated by John Nash, Rust Cohle, and Carrie Mathison. Mark Mulder leads to four members of the 40-man; three have ties to Nick Swisher; one owes his saves to Barry Zito; and two (Josh Reddick and Raul Alcantara) go all the way back to Ben Grieve.
T-13. Cardinals: 6/3/93
(Eli Marrero → Adam Wainwright)
I was rooting for the Adam Kennedy → Jim Edmonds → David Freese → Peter Bourjos sequence, but that one started in ’97, and arbitrary rules are arbitrary rules. Also of note: Michael Wacha came from a comp pick that the Cardinals got from the Angels for Albert Pujols, one of many millions of reasons why St. Louis isn’t too broken up about being outbid for Pujols by Arte Moreno.
T-13. Brewers: 6/3/93
(Mark Loretta → Keith Ginter → Nelson Cruz → Francisco Cordero → Jake Odorizzi → Zack Greinke → Jean Segura/Johnny Hellweg)
Finally, Greinke gets the spotlight.
T-13. Rockies: 6/3/93
(Jamey Wright → Jeff Cirillo → Brian Fuentes → Rex Brothers)
The Rockies are the only expansion team on the list whose longest line doesn’t extend past the franchise’s first game, but that probably doesn’t explain why they’ve been the least successful of the four.
10. Blue Jays: 7/9/92
(Kelvim Escobar → Adam Lind → Marco Estrada)
The Roy Halladay line that leads to Kyle Drabek, Josh Thole, and R.A. Dickey is the sentimental favorite, but Escobar beat Halladay to the Blue Jays by three years.
9. Marlins: 6/1/92
(Charles Johnson → Mike Piazza → Ed Yarnall → Mike Lowell → Hanley Ramirez → Nathan Eovaldi)
This is one of the most star-studded trade trees on the list. If you’re a big Rob Brantly fan with some time to kill, you can connect him to the ’92 draft, too.
8. Nationals/Expos: 11/13/89
(Alex Pacheco → Chris Widger → Terrmel Sledge → Alfonso Soriano → Jordan Zimmermann)
The Expos live on not only in Grantland colleague Jonah Keri’s heart, but also in the origin story of Zimmermann’s roster spot.
7. Twins: 6/5/89
(Chuck Knoblauch → Brian Buchanan → Jason Bartlett → Delmon Young → Lester Oliveros and Knoblauch → Cristian Guzman → Brian Duensing)
You might have expected A.J. Pierzynski → Francisco Liriano → Eduardo Escobar, but Knoblauch beats both that and the two-step Eddie Guardado → Glen Perkins tag team.
6. Dodgers: 6/1/88
(Mike Piazza → Gary Sheffield → Andrew Brown → Milton Bradley → Andre Ethier)
Another star-studded trade sequence, and the second lengthy one of which Piazza is a part.
5. Astros: 6/2/87
(Darryl Kile → Brad Lidge → Michael Bourn → Brett Oberholtzer)
The Astros offloaded all of their veterans in recent years, some of whom brought back young players who’ve earned spots on the 40-man. As a result, there are many young Stros with ties to Houston luminaries: Robbie Grossman comes from Wandy Rodriguez (drafted 1999); Chris Carter from Lance Berkman (1997); and Jonathan Villar and Hank Conger from Roy Oswalt (1996). Only Oberholtzer’s spot dates back to the ’80s, though. There’s also a weird one: The Astros drafted Michael Foltynewicz in 2010 with a compensation pick from the Tigers for free agent Jose Valverde, whom the Diamondbacks had traded to Houston for (among others) Chad Qualls. Foltynewicz and Qualls are now teammates, which is like Marty being Lorraine’s date to the dance.
4. Red Sox: 6/16/86
(Ken Ryan → Heathcliff Slocumb → Derek Lowe → Craig Hansen → Jason Bay → Brandon Workman/Anthony Ranaudo)
If you’d prefer a Pedro-flavored sequence, you can trace Clay Buchholz (2005 supplemental pick after Pedro’s departure) back to 1989 draftee Randy Brown. The longest trades-only line is of more recent vintage: Brock Holt and Allen Webster have their roots in the 2000 Hanley Ramirez signing.
3. Padres: 6/3/85
(Greg Harris → Andy Ashby → Adam Eaton → Adrian Gonzalez → Anthony Rizzo → Andrew Cashner)
Getting Gonzalez, Chris Young, and Terrmel Sledge from the Rangers for Eaton, Akinori Otsuka, and Billy Killian was one of Kevin Towers’s smartest moves (and, by his own admission, one of Jon Daniels’s worst). Thanks to Cashner, that swap is still paying dividends four years after San Diego dealt Gonzalez to Boston — and almost three decades after the Padres drafted Harris, setting the scene for this five-trade sequence.
2. Indians: 6/7/77
(Jerry Dybzinski → Pat Tabler → Bud Black → Alex Sanchez → Willie Blair → Kenny Lofton → David Justice → Jake Westbrook → Corey Kluber)
As seen on Twitter — but even longer. Cleveland’s trade tree actually goes back to 1977, when the Indians drafted Jerry Dybzinski — then made four trades from that starting point before they got to the Lofton deal.
1. Mets: 6/6/67
(Jon Matlack → Tom Grieve→ Pete Falcone→ Stan Jefferson→ Kevin McReynolds→ Bret Saberhagen→ Arnold Gooch→ Roger Cedeno → Mike Hampton → David Wright)
The Mets, man. Always finishing in first. I’m not sure what my favorite thing about this sequence is: that it goes back a decade further than the next-longest line; that it involves the Mets, who had Hampton for one year, benefiting from the notorious eight-year, $121 million contract (baseball’s biggest at the time) that yielded almost nothing for the Rockies from either Hampton or the players they eventually traded him for; or that it culminates with Wright, who will likely end the line but might also end up in Cooperstown. Or maybe it’s that the sequence started prior to the Divisional Era, more than three years before the oldest active major leaguer was born.
The Mets are rich in roster-spot origin stories, if not capital. It’s possible to track Wright back to Terry Leach’s 1980 signing through a separate line, and the team’s longest transaction chain that consists only of trades would also rank high: Tim Bogar → Luis Lopez → Bill Pulsipher → Lenny Harris → Jeromy Burnitz → Victor Diaz → Mike Nickeas → Travis d’Arnaud (or Nickeas → John Buck → Dilson Herrera/Vic Black). The Herrera-Black branch belongs to an eight-trade tree planted when the Mets drafted Bogar in 1987.
Transaction trees for each team are easily accessible via the widget below, which also includes links to the full-size images:
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An earlier version of this file listed the Indians tree as beginning with Taubensee, and the Mets tree as beginning with Leach. We learned after publication, however, that the Kluber tree actually begins with Dybzinski, and the Mets tree begins with Matlack (as is now noted above). Updates have been made to this article to reflect the corrections.