What is "a player to be named later"?

You used to hear this a lot years ago and I never knew what it meant. A team would get an unknown player in a trade. Did this mean that the team got to pick any player it wanted within a limit of time? Why do we not hear about this anymore?

It just means that the trade has not been completely finalized. And no, it does not mean that team 2 can pick any player it wanted from team 1. Usually the details are not publicized, but the player that’s moved to team 2 will depend on conditions such as how well the other traded players have performed, what are the later needs of team 2, etc. Basically, there was no need to consummate the trade at the initial time of the trade and both parties are agreeable to that.

It still happens, quite a bit. Usually the way it works is the team giving up the player will give a list of possibilities to the team getting the player. The team gaining the player has a set amount of time to pick one of the players on the list.

Carrie Muskat just answered this question for the Cubs Mailbag section of their website.

And I seem to recall at least one occasion in the early-mid 1980s involving the Cincinnati Reds, in which a player was traded for a player-to-be-named later and, in the end, the guy ended up being traded for himself!

In the same cited Cubs mailbag, it says:

Then, there’s the case of Harry Chiti. In 1962, Chiti was traded by the New York Mets to the Cleveland Indians for a PTBNL, and the teams could not agree on a final deal within the six-month time frame. The PTBNL ended up being Chiti. The Mets traded him back to Cleveland for himself.

Of course this may have happened more than once and teh Reds could have been involved.

It definitely happened more than once. I would not have been aware of the instance way back in 1962.

I hate to let facts get in the way of a good tale, but the Cubs PR person is retelling an apocryphal story. Chiti was not traded to the Mets for a PTBNL. His contract was sold outright – that’s according to contemporary reports in the Chicago and NY papers. He was later demoted to the Mets minor league affiliate in Jacksonville, and when he balked on the re-assignment, the Mets sold his contract back to the Cubs.

There are a half-dozen players who are frequently identified as players who were traded for themselves as the player to be named later. Most often, these stories are just flat out wrong. There are many ways for a player to go from one team and back to another in the same season, and usually that’s what happened. Among the players mis-identified as having been their own PTBNL are Jimmy Anderson (2004), Rob Ducey (2000), Mark Ross (1985-6), Wayne Nordhagen (1982), and Vic Power (1964).

The one legitimate case that I am aware of is Dickie Noles, who was traded from the Cubs to the Tigers on 9/22/87 for a PTBNL. He pitched in four games for the Tigers, who were locked in a tight pennant race with the Blue Jays. They won six of their last eight games – including a sweep of the Jays in Detroit on the season’s final weekend – to claim the flag. Noles did not pitch in the playoffs and was sent back to the Cubs on 10/23/1987. The NY Times reported: “he was returned to Chicago after the two clubs failed to agree on which player the Tigers were to send to the Cubs, according to the Tigers’ general manager Bill Lajoie.” Curiously, after getting Noles back, the Cubs simply released him.

Nordhagen’s case has always been the one that interested me the most. He was traded four times in 1982, with the last three deals coming within a ten-day span. Toronto traded him to Philadelphia on June 5 for Dick Davis. A day later, the Phillies sent Nordhagen to Pittsburgh for Bill Robinson. On June 15, the Jays traded Davis to Pittsburgh and got Nordhagen back.

According to this page it’s Indians Mets but you’re right it’s a sale

You’re right… I stand corrected. Chiti was in the minors when the Mets purchased his contract.