Now that we are approaching the MLB trade deadline, I would like to ask some questions about unusual trades. The first is about three team trades.

Suppose a manager of team A goes to the manager of team B and says, I want Y from you and I'm willing to offer X. If they agree that X and Y are equivalent, and that a trade would benefit both sides, the deal is done.

But suppose the manager of Team B says, "I think that X is equivalent to Y, but that's not really what I want. But I think Team C will accept X in trade for Z, and Z is what I really want for Y." Then there is a possible three way trade if team C is really is willing to trade Z for X.

Is this how a three way trade gets done? Or are there other means/mechanisms?

  • Related question in regards to basketball (NBA): sports.stackexchange.com/questions/1181/…
    – user527
    Jul 21, 2014 at 15:00
  • @edmastermind29: I'd say that the dynamics of a four team trade are "different" (and far more complicated) than a three team trade. Think the difference between three SQUARED and four squared.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 21, 2014 at 15:02
  • 3 SQUARED and 4 squared are still fundamentally done the same (multiply the number by itself). I think it's no different here: it just adds another team into the mix, which increases the complexity of understanding the trade.
    – user527
    Jul 21, 2014 at 16:04

1 Answer 1


Three team trades are complicated, but they are done. Here's essentially how this goes down. We'll identify three teams here, team A, team B and team C. Team A and B are the primaries in the trade, team C will be our intermediary.

  • Team A is in playoff contention, they desperately need a closer. But don't have the right players to pull off the trade directly with team B, but has players who are desirable to team C.
  • Team B is out of contention, has a closer on an expiring contract, they don't want anyone in team A's system enough to trade their closer, but have had their eye on a couple of guys in Team C's system.

  • Team C is usually out of contention as well, but can sometimes be in contention (it doesn't usually benefit a contending team to do this, but an out of contention team can do well in a trade like this).

So team A will send their players who weren't the right mix for team B to team C, and team C will send their players to team B, who will send the closer to team A.

A recently revealed potential scenario actually has some interesting details and insights into this. The author there gets into the details, but it amounts to this:

  • Tampa wants young, good positional talent for David Price
  • Seattle doesn't have any, but has some decent young pitching
  • Chicago has young near ML ready positional talent and needs young pitching

A deal like this that has Seattle sending young pitching to Chicago, Chicago sending young positional talent to Tampa and Tampa sending Price to Seattle could workout. However, it requires that all sides, especially the intermediary thinking they are getting a good deal. This is largely why these deals don't happen. If a team doesn't have the players to get a deal done directly, it's very difficult to convince a third party that to give up their prospects (or ML talent in some cases) for players who weren't good enough for the 2 parties to swap directly.

  • 1
    Ok, it seems like the "trick" is to find an appropriate intermediary "Team C" to complete the trade.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 21, 2014 at 19:03
  • 1
    @TomAu That's pretty much it. For something like this to work, all the teams have to feel good about it, so Team C has to get something they like out of it. In the Cubs example I linked, there is no one (or even 2-3 pitchers) in Seattle's system that would cause them to drop in as an intermediary in that deal, giving up any of their top hitting prospects (Baez/Bryant/Alcantara/Almora/etc)
    – wax eagle
    Jul 21, 2014 at 19:07

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