The buzz of trade season usually revolves around the anticipation of what big or surprising names any given team will pick up. In recent years, the Dodgers have grown accustomed to landing some of the biggest prizes on the non-waiver market, such as Yu Darvish and Manny Machado. Before that, they made a transformative splash when they got Manny Ramirez in a three-team trade in 2008.
15 years ago today, however, the biggest news for the Dodgers wasn’t getting a marquee player, but rather trading one away. In a move that earned widespread derision from the fanbase, Los Angeles traded star catcher Paul Lo Duca (along with Juan Encarnacion and Guillermo Mota) to the Florida Marlins for Hee-seop Choi, Brad Penny and minor league pitching prospect Billy Murphy.
Given Lo Duca’s track record as a Dodger, the outrage at his sudden departure made sense. For years, he had steadily carved out a rock solid stature behind the plate that seemed to guarantee him as the next legend in the rich Dodger catching lineage. It was a success that didn’t come easy, grinding out years in the minors throughout the ‘90s and a languid start to his major league career.
But after a breakout season in 2001, Lo Duca solidified himself as an elite player. In 2002, he was second only to Jason Kendall in strikeout infrequency. In 2003, he had a 25-game hitting streak, one of the longest in franchise history. He was an All-Star in 2003 and 2004. Such stellar play earned him comparisons to previous Italian-American Dodger catching greats Mike Scioscia and Mike Piazza.
Ironically, Lo Duca would come to resemble Piazza more by being dealt to the Marlins, after roughly the same amount of time in a Dodger uniform as well. To complete the Piazza mirror image, Lo Duca would eventually be traded to the New York Mets. In the 2006 NLDS, he (aided by fellow former Dodgers Shawn Green and Jose Valentin) burned his former team in one of the weirdest postseason moments you’ll ever see.
15 years later, the Lo Duca trade remains a head-scratcher. Given it was done by Paul DePodesta, a disciple of Billy Beane, it seemed like a somewhat forced attempt at bringing Moneyball to the Dodgers. Luckily, it didn’t keep the Dodgers from winning their first division title since 1988 in October, and Penny would emerge as the leader of the rotation by 2006. Moreover, the team would welcome Russell Martin behind the plate in 2006 as well, ensuring the franchise’s tradition of superior catcher continued right away.