"The team that gets the best player wins the trade” is a sports adage meaning that trading for quality ("the best player") is better than trading for quantity (several good players). This adage has some qualifications; “the best player” is often a high-priced older veteran who has just a few quality years left, while the quantity traded for usually involves younger, cheaper, unproven players. Teams also have salary cap considerations and, often, “the best player” (the high-priced older veteran) demands a trade to a winning team, not a rebuilding team. Determining what team “wins” a trade is a subjective consideration that might take years to determine.
“The adage that says whoever got the best player, wins the trade” was cited in print in 1993. It’s not known who originated the adage or in what sport it was first used—although 1990s citations were in hockey articles.
Google Groups: rec.sport.hockey
Ranger’s and Keenen
Richard J Coyle
Lindros Trade - Again (Re: FLYERS era beginning)
The adage that says whoever got the best player, wins the trade, only applies when a reasonable number of players changed hands. This may or may not have occurred here, with this deal.
Google News Archive
27 January 1994, Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette, “Nordiques In Search Of Character: Quebec trades talent for ‘grinders’ in bid to improve chemistry” by Dave Molinari, pg. D-1, cols. 5-6:
If the adage that the team receiving the best player wins the trade were true without qualification, the Blues pulled off a heist of biblical proportions, but there is more to it than that.
Google Groups: alt.sports.hockey.nhl.mtl-canadiens
They say the team that gets the best player wins the trade and I think that will still be true for the Canadiens here.
Google Groups: alt.sports.hockey.nhl.tor-mapleleafs
Don’t forget the old adage. He who gets the best player, wins the trade.
Real-Life Applications of Statistical Analysis Actually Used by Major League Teams...and Other Stories
By Doug Decatur
Skokie, IL: ACTA Sports
Thus, we can make two general conclusions: (1) never trade quality for quantity; and (2) the team receiving the “best player” in a trade is the team that usually “wins” the trade.
The old adage is the winner of a trade is the team that gets the best player. Therefore Calgary wins the deal. #flames #Habs #cammalleri
12:19 AM - 13 Jan 2012
@BenjaminBerry3 You know who wins an NBA trade? The team that gets the best player. #Rockets clear-cut winners in that deal.
11:24 AM - 28 Oct 2012
31 December 2013, Winnipeg (Manitoba) Free Press, “Penguins want Jet Fuel” by Gary Lawless, pg. D2, col. 3:
However, if the “whoever gets the best player wins the trade,” maxim is used as the prism through which to view such a deal, Pittsburgh wins at every turn.
SLC Dunk (Utah Jazz blog)
The Downbeat #1397 - The Steve Novak Trade, young guards, and who will be rookie of the year
By AllThatAmar @AllThatAmar on Jul 5 2014, 9:56a
The old adage is that the team that gets the best player won the trade. In this regard, it’s clear that the Jazz won