On Thursday, MLB Trade Rumors ran an interesting post about the most-traded players in MLB. They were looking at the current field, not all of history, so the exercise only included anyone who appeared in the majors in 2019. And they were only interested in trades, not other types of transactions like waiver claims or free agent signings.
The top of the list ended up being a familiar name to Oakland A’s fans: pitcher Jesse Chavez. He’s been dealt eight times in his career, edging out a pair of runners-up at seven trades each — outfielder Cameron Maybin, and another former Athletics pitcher in Edwin Jackson, who himself holds the all-time record for playing with the most different teams. Yet another former A’s pitcher, Tyler Clippard, is tied for fourth place with six trades.
As for Chavez, he was already halfway toward his career total before he even arrived in Oakland eight years ago. Most of his trades came when he was a young prospect with intriguing stuff, as he was promising enough to be worth taking a chance on but not so hot as to be indispensable. Here’s a look at his journey.
When: July 2006
From: Rangers to Pirates
For: Kip Wells
Chavez was drafted by the Rangers in 2002 in the 42nd round, which is such a late round that they don’t even have it anymore — these days it cuts off after 40. By ‘06 he’d reached Triple-A, at age 22, and that was enough for him to draw attention as a trade chip.
The 2006 Rangers were only mediocre in July, hovering around .500, but they were still within a few games of the division lead at the trade deadline. They used Chavez to net Kip Wells, a veteran starter for their rotation. Wells was a 29-year-old former 1st-round pick with some past success on his resume, but he was on the decline and was never effective again after this point. He made two starts for Texas in August and threw eight innings, then departed as a free agent at year’s end. Meanwhile, the Rangers never made a push in the standings and finished 13 games behind the division-winning A’s.
When: Nov 2009
From: Pirates to Rays
For: Akinori Iwamura
Chavez spent the next three years in Pittsburgh’s organization, and he made his MLB debut in 2008. He got knocked around in that first experience, but he then spent all of 2009 in the Pirates bullpen and held his own, with a league-average 4.01 ERA.
After that season, he was sent to the Rays for Akinori Iwamura, who had been one of the earlier players to make the move from Japan to the U.S. At the time Iwamura was billed as a solid all-around infielder — he had an average bat buoyed by a good OBP, and decent defense at second base, all adding up to a couple of WAR per year. However, he fell off a cliff in Pittsburgh, was released in September, and caught on with the A’s for 10 final games that year to wrap up his MLB career at age 31.
When: Dec 2009
From: Rays to Braves
For: Rafael Soriano
Chavez didn’t stick around in Tampa Bay for long. Just over a month later, the Rays saw an opportunity they couldn’t pass up to nab a star reliever. The Braves had planned to move on from free agent closer Rafael Soriano, but instead he surprised them by accepting their offer of salary arbitration (like a precursor to the modern-day qualifying offer). Rather than pay his relatively high salary in addition to the pricey free agents they’d already brought in, they flipped him to another team who had a need for him.
It worked out nicely for the Rays. Soriano led the league with 45 saves (in 48 tries), posted a 1.73 ERA, and made the All-Star team, helping the team to a division title and earning downballot votes for both Cy Young and MVP. On top of all that, when he left via free agency the next winter he netted the Rays two high draft picks as compensation, though neither pick panned out.
When: July 2010
From: Braves to Royals
For: Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth (traded w/ Gregor Blanco and Tim Collins)
Chavez spent all of 2010 in the majors, but got knocked around pretty hard. In July, the contending Braves traded for a couple veteran rentals from the last-place Royals, and once more Chavez was used as the currency in exchange for win-now help.
It didn’t really work out for anyone involved. Ankiel hit poorly the rest of the way and Farnsworth posted a high ERA in the bullpen, and then both left as free agents at the end of the year. The Braves lost their division lead in September, settled for the Wild Card, and then lost in the first round of the playoffs. Chavez was bad for Kansas City the rest of that season, then spent most of 2011 in the minors and pitched only four games in the bigs, then was designated for assignment that winter. The prize of the deal for the Royals turned out to be Collins, who spent a few good years in their bullpen.
When: Aug 2012
From: Blue Jays to A’s
Chavez was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays, but that transaction doesn’t register on this list of trades. He pitched a few times for the Blue Jays and got lit up, but the A’s saw something in him and picked him up in a quiet late-season transaction. Oakland was in the midst of a surprise run toward contention, but this was a move to stash a depth lotto ticket for the future, not a win-now addition. Baseball-Reference lists it as the right-hander being “purchased,” but I guess it counts as being traded for cash considerations?
Of course, Chavez flourished in Oakland, finally panning out after a decade in the pros. In 2013, at age 29, he put up a solid season as the long man out of the bullpen, and then the next year he stepped up into the rotation. He spent 2014-15 as a reliable starter/swingman, and over the three years combined he threw 360 innings of league-average ball.
When: Nov 2015
From: A’s to Blue Jays
For: Liam Hendriks
By the end of 2015, the A’s had moved from contending to rebuilding, and Chavez was entering his last season of club control. Rather than squander his value on a losing team, they cashed in by sending him back to the Blue Jays. In exchange they got Liam Hendriks, who was coming off a great year after converting from starting to relief. It was generally seen as a shrewd move by Oakland, who scored several years of an extremely promising reliever for just one year of Chavez.
Indeed, it worked out great for the A’s. Hendriks went through a few years of injuries and inconsistency, but he finally paid off in 2019 with a massive breakout season. The performance earned him an All-Star berth, and along the way he set the A’s franchise record for strikeouts by a reliever (124). As for Chavez, he was decent for the Blue Jays in 2015, but then in August of that year ...
When: Aug 2016
From: Blue Jays to Dodgers
For: Mike Bolsinger
... he was traded again, to Los Angeles. The Jays and Dodgers were both contending, but the Jays had made other pitching upgrades that forced out Chavez, and the Dodgers had a need for him. Fortunate had come full circle, and he was now the useful veteran being traded to a winning team for a lesser-known name, instead of the other way around.
He pitched reasonably well for the Dodgers, but didn’t appear in the playoffs for them in their run to the NLCS. Meanwhile, Bolsinger threw only 11 games for the Blue Jays the next year and never appeared in the majors again. In his final appearance in 2017 he got shelled in Houston, in the thick of the Astros’ since-revealed trash-can cheating days, and he’s now suing the team for prematurely ending his career.
When: July 2018
From: Rangers to Cubs
For: Tyler Thomas
Chavez finally reached free agency for the first time after 2016, at age 33. He signed with the Angels and spent 2017 as a replacement-level starter, then became a free agent again. This time he signed with the Rangers, and out of nowhere put up the best season of his career.
By mid-July, Chavez was having a strong enough year for the last-place Rangers that the contending Cubs came calling. In Chicago he absolutely dominated (1.15 ERA, 2.39 FIP, 39 ip, 42 Ks, 5 BB, 26 hits), and for the season overall he boasted a 2.55 ERA in nearly 100 frames. The Cubs lost their division lead on the final day but still made the Wild Card Game, and there Chavez was rewarded with his first postseason appearance — he threw a scoreless 7th inning against the Rockies, in a game Colorado eventually won in extras.
In order to acquire Chavez, the Cubs gave up Tyler Thomas, a promising low-minors pitching prospect. However, Thomas missed almost all of 2019 to injury.
Chavez hit free agency again after 2018 and returned to the Rangers, this time on a two-year deal. He was a solid swingman in 2019, grading out as slightly above-average, and he’s still under contract with Texas today. He’ll turn 37 in August.
It’s been quite a ride. Chavez has been the long-term future prospect being swapped for a more established veteran, and he’s been the win-now role player sent to help a contender midseason, but one way or other he’s maintained enough value that teams have consistently sought his services for nearly 20 years. He’s been dealt for two eventual All-Star closers in Liam Hendriks and Rafael Soriano, plus other quality big leaguers including Rick Ankiel, Kyle Farnsworth, Kip Wells, and Akinori Iwamura, as well as Mike Bolsinger. Overall he’s played for nine clubs, spanning his eight trades, one waiver claim, and three free agent signings.
And it’s not over yet. He’s pitched better than ever the last two years, and he’s now an expiring contract on a team that could become sellers at some point. Chavez is already the most-traded player in MLB, and it’s possible he could even extend his lead before he someday hangs up his spikes.