Professional sports teams use trades to improve their roster and prepare for the future — whether by trading a few key players to push an above-average squad to become a championship contender, or by loading up on draft picks to set the franchise up for future success.
Ideally, both teams involved in the trade have done enough research and planning that each side is improved by the swap. But this is not always the case. Throughout sports history, there have been dozens of notable cases in which teams traded away a future star and received almost no value in return.
Perhaps the most famous trade in sports history occurred a century ago, when the Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to their rivals, the New York Yankees, for $100,000. Ruth proved to be worth much more than that, becoming one of the greatest players of all time with the Yankees. After the trade, the Red Sox failed to win a World Series for 86 years in what was known as The Curse of the Bambino.
Since that time, player scouting has improved and athletes have more control over their careers with the advent of free agency, so lopsided trades have become more rare. Still, from time to time, franchises completely miss the mark, dealing away a future star or giving up draft picks to acquire an unproductive player.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed famous trades in American sports history, using the Sports Reference family of sites, to determine the most lopsided trades in sports history.
It takes a long time to determine how a trade worked out. Only once all the players involved have completed their careers is it possible to fully determine the impact of the trade on each franchise. The most recent trade on this list occurred in 2013 between the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics, when the Nets sent five players and four first-round picks to Boston in exchange for aging stars Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry, as well as another player and two picks. Though the impact of these picks on the Celtics is still being borne out, we can safely say the Nets made a mess of the trade because all of the players they received were well past their prime. The Celtics, in turn, used some of those first-round picks in a trade to get Kyrie Irving.
Trades were selected based on how much a team incorrectly evaluated the potential production of a player they traded away or traded for. The overall value a player added was determined based on the number of productive years he had with his franchise, as well as statistics and honors such as All-star and Pro Bowl appearances.