Michael Young -- thriving in Texas after looking like a sure bet to be traded by the Rangers this offseason -- may be today's primary player in the game of "What if?" but he is hardly unique when it comes to starring in baseball's reverse twist on "It's a Wonderful Life." You know, the holiday classic in which Jimmy Stewart's character gets a peek into how the world would've spun had he not been born into it. In the baseball spin, how different would the present be had past deals -- requested, discussed or simply earnestly proposed -- gone through? That premise, frankly, could involve virtually anyone who ever played the game. At some point, just about every name passes through the rumor mill.
So the game's history is replete with near-deals that inspired the adage, "Sometimes, the best deals are the ones not made." We simply look at five other active individuals who were yanked off the end of the gangplank and are still headlining for their original clubs. 1. Tim Lincecum, Giants Oh, yes. The Giants once were very tempted to deal Lincecum, even after he'd already brought his freakish talents to the Majors. In 2007, he'd broken in by going 7-5 with a 4.00 ERA in 24 starts. But San Francisco needed an offensive makeover after finishing in the National League West cellar in Barry Bonds' farewell season. So Giants general manager Brian Sabean targeted Alex Rios, the 26-year-old outfielder coming off a season with the Blue Jays in which he batted .297 with 24 homers and 85 RBIs. With hours to go in the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., Sabean remained undecided. "It's still alive," Sabean was telling reporters about dealing the pitcher, whom MLB.com Giants beat reporter Chris Haft at the time presciently characterized as "a 23-year-old with Cy Young Award-winning talent." It was soon laid to rest. Five days later, the Giants instead signed free-agent outfielder Aaron Rowand for five years and $60 million. Five months later, the Blue Jays signed Rios to a seven-year, $70 million extension they would regret 14 months later, when they let him go to the White Sox on waivers. And Lincecum did earn the next two NL Cy Young Awards. 2. Mariano Rivera, Yankees You've got to retreat a few years for this one, of course. After the 1995 season, the Yankees' top priority was upgrading their rotation, and the 25-year-old Panamanian was their recurring lure in trying to catch David Wells. Wells had gone from Detroit to Cincinnati at the Trade Deadline as pennant insurance for the Reds, who indeed made it to the postseason with the veteran left-hander. New York GM Gene Michael considered acquiring him for Rivera, who still didn't have a defined role and had broken in that season by going 5-3, with a ghastly ERA of 5.51 in 19 games, 10 of them starts. Michael himself wasn't too keen even on that exchange -- and owner George Steinbrenner stepped in and tried to tempt Cincinnati general manager Jim Bowden by offering Rivera and Jorge Posada, a 24-year-old who had caught one inning for the Yankees that season. Bowden had payroll issues, and he instead swapped Wells to Baltimore in December for a pair of youngsters. Five months later, Rivera nailed the first of his record 572 saves. Posada is a five-time All-Star. Wells, who did eventually make it to the Bronx, retired four years ago. 3. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox In 2009, Boston desperately wanted to reinforce its season-long pursuit of the Yankees by adding a top-of-the-line starter. Two of the very best were ostensibly available -- Toronto's Roy Halladay and Seattle's Felix Hernandez. Red Sox GM Theo Epstein made pitches for both with creative packages, both headlined by Buchholz, who had debuted with a second-start no-hitter two years earlier but at the time was in the Minors, trying to reinvigorate his career from a 2-9, 6.75 ERA debacle in 2008. The Blue Jays and Mariners both resisted the packages, which also included fireballer Daniel Bard. That December, Toronto dealt Halladay to Philadelphia. The following month, Seattle signed Hernandez to a five-year, $78 million extension. Neither close call ranks as a "What were we thinking?" moment, of course, unlike many others. Halladay and Hernandez have continued to do quite well, obviously. But so have Buchholz, 27-14 since with a lot of American League Cy Young Award support in 2010, and Bard, a key setup man for Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. 4. Ozzie Guillen, White Sox The Florida Marlins, not yet committed to promoting Edwin Rodriguez from interim to regular manager, insinuated an offseason interest in Guillen, who was only two-thirds through a three-year contract. Fine, said Chicago club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, but the price for talking to him will be a player; we'll take Mike Stanton. That pretty much ended it right there, keeping Guillen from becoming the third manager traded for a player. In 1976, the Pirates dealt catcher Manny Sanguillen to Oakland for Chuck Tanner; in 2002, the Mariners let Lou Piniella out of his contract so he could go manage his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays in return for outfielder Randy Winn, although Seattle also included Minor League infielder Antonio Perez to make the deal more legit. 5. Colby Rasmus, Cardinals The outfielder may not have really meant his trade request of late last season -- he himself has since essentially retracted it -- but, frustrated by his playing time and by his relationship with manager Tony La Russa, at the time he clearly would not have minded a move. St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak didn't budge, and now Rasmus helps set up the Majors' top scoring offense. He is tied for the team lead with 27 runs scored, and has been the one driven in for 22 percent of the 81 RBIs totaled by Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman.