In the end, one could argue the Dave Roberts trade in 2004 ended up being one of the most impactful deals in baseball history. But at the time, the move was a minor one that took a backseat to a much bigger blockbuster.
Roberts, responsible for arguably the most famous stolen base of all time, was acquired by the Boston Red Sox from the Los Angeles Dodgers right before the 2004 trade deadline. The veteran outfielder was a fine player down the stretch but he cemented his place in history with a series-changing stolen base in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees.
Former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who orchestrated the deal with the Dodgers, was working on a few other things at the time of the deal. As the deadline rapidly approached, Epstein was putting the finishing touches on a complicated and controversial trade to send Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs.
Epstein recently laid out the entire process in a fascinating text exchange with ESPN’s Buster Olney that Olney shared on his most recent podcast episode.
“So we were in the middle of Nomar madness, working the four-team negotiations trying to decide whether to pull the trigger on a trade of such importance,” Epstein said in a text read by Olney on the podcast. “Meanwhile, we had made an internal vow we were always going to be thorough in our pursuit of a piece that could help us win one game down the stretch and that meant looking for a speed guy that could be a base-running threat.
” … On (July 29) or so, I asked (then-intern) Zack Scott to put together a list of the best potentially available plus-base stealers, guys who could steal a base even when it was obvious they were going. Dave was on the top of the list, but the Dodgers told us they would only move him if they were able to acquire another outfielder they were pursuing. ”
So, with Roberts on the Red Sox’s radar, another domino needed to fall. That happened when Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta acquired outfielder Steve Finley from Arizona, making Roberts expendable.
“With the Nomar stuff hitting the fan as the deadline ticked closer on the afternoon of the 31st,” Epstein continued, “we saw the Dodgers traded for Steve Finley. We called a few minutes before the deadline. Just minutes before the deadline and they said they’d move Dave because they were worried about not having a role for him.
“They gave us four names, and one of them was the guy we basically considered a non-prospect: Henri Stanley, then a Pawtucket Red Sox outfielder and now a player agent. We made the deal one-for-one a few minutes before the deadline and right before the Nomar madness hit hyper-speed.”
The Red Sox completed the day by trading Garciaparra to the Cubs in a four-team deal that ultimately landed the Sox a much-needed defensive upgrade at shortstop and first base in the form of Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, respectively.
Not a bad day’s work for Epstein and the Red Sox, as all three proved invaluable down the stretch and into the playoffs.