16 years ago, the Cubs traded a future MVP with World Series hopes on their mind

Chicago acquired Oakland right-hander Rich Harden in response to the rival Brewers landing CC Sabathia from Cleveland.
Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers
Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers / Jonathan Daniel/GettyImages

As we wait to see which lane Jed Hoyer and the Chicago Cubs wind up in at the 2024 trade deadline, let's look back to the summer of 2008, when Jim Hendry swung a trade for one of the best starting pitchers available in hopes of ending a 100-year World Series drought.

The trade, which brought Oakland Athletics right-hander Rich Harden and fellow pitcher Chad Gaudin to Chicago, saw the Cubs send a package of Matt Murton, Sean Gallagher, Eric Patterson and Josh Donaldson to the A's in return. Nobody expected it at the time, but as we all know now, one of those players wound up becoming a future MVP.

At the time of the move, the Cubs held the best record in the National League at 54-36 with a 3 1/2 game lead over St. Louis and a four-game edge over Milwaukee in the division. Chicago sent a record eight players to the Midsummer Classic that year and Cubs fans felt like their century of waiting could be nearing an end.

Of course, that's not how things played out. Despite brilliance from Harden down the stretch (1.77 ERA in 12 starts) and an NL-best 97 victories, for the second straight year, the Cubs were swept in the Division Series, this time at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The right-hander never again re-captured that dominant form and threw his last pitch in the big leagues just three years later at the age of 29.

Josh Donaldson went on to be one of the best players of the next decade

Meanwhile, Donaldson made his big league debut in 2010 and after transitioning to third base in 2011, returned to the A's in 2012 as a solid, yet unspectacular contributor. That next season, though, everything started to click for the former first-rounder, when he finished fourth in AL MVP voting after putting up a 145 OPS+ with 174 hits, including 25 home runs, and 93 RBI.

Things only got better for the power-hitting infielder from there. In his final season in Oakland, he earned his first career All-Star Selection. Of course, the following offseason, Billy Beane sent Donaldson to Toronto in a trade that shaped Blue Jays history.

In 2015, Donaldson went on an absolute tear en route to MVP honors, leading the Jays to their first AL East crown since 1993. He led the league in runs (122), RBI (123) and total bases (352), also bringing home another All-Star nod and a Silver Slugger. He was an offensive powerhouse again in 2016, and in 2018, Toronto sent him to Cleveland for future Cubs reliever Julian Merryweather, who was the PTBNL in the deal.

In the latter years of his career, Donaldson bounced around, occasionally re-emerging as a potent threat at the plate. He played for Atlanta, Minnesota and in the Bronx before finishing his career in Milwaukee - a kind of full-circle moment given he was first traded by the Cubs in a move meant to hold the Brewers at bay in 2008.

Nobody knew what the future held for Donaldson back then. A trio of All-Star selections, two Silver Sluggers and an MVP - not to mention some pretty impressive postseason runs with Toronto. The Cubs needed that big arm and they got it. But in the end, it didn't matter - and what they gave up wound up being far more valuable than what they got from Rich Harden.