Somehow, though, the Seattle Mariners have largely escaped ridicule for trading Big Papi.
"It was one of the worst trades ever made," said Mike Goff, who managed Ortiz for the Mariners' Single-A affiliate in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1996. "But it was something they wanted to do."
Back then, the Mariners had a loaded big league roster, led by Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson and 20-year-old Alex Rodriguez. They were trying to win a close wild-card race and believed they needed an upgrade over third baseman Russ Davis. On Aug. 29, 1996, they agreed to send a minor leaguer to the Twins after the season in exchange for veteran Dave Hollins.
"I got a call with about a month or so to go in the season, maybe a little bit longer, and the phone call was, 'Who are the untradeables on your club?'" Goff recalled. "I'll never forget that phone call as long as I live. I said, 'Well, I've got two.'"
Goff advised the Mariners to hold on to Greg Wooten, a 6-foot-7 right-hander from Eugene, Oregon, who had been drafted in the third round in 1995 and was in the middle of going 15-5 with a 3.19 ERA in 27 starts over two Single-A levels.
But Goff also hailed David Arias, a 20-year-old first baseman who wouldn't stop using his mother's maiden name until a year later, when he began going by David Ortiz.
"We come off the field and my phone is ringing. I look at my pitching coach, and I think we both had the same bad gut feeling at that time. I pick the phone up, and I'm not going to mention who was on the other end, but the phone call was, 'Don't let Arias leave the club.' I'm like, 'Don't tell me he was the played to be named later,' and they said, 'Yes, he was.' And I lost it. I'm going to be honest with you, I lost it." Mike Goff, David Ortiz's minor-league manager in 1996, on the trade that sent Big Papi -- then David Arias -- to the Twins for Dave Hollins
"I'll never forget them asking me, 'You wouldn't trade Arias for anybody?'" Goff said. "I go, 'No, I wouldn't trade him for anybody.' That conversation ends, and we make the trade for Dave Hollins. We didn't know who the player to be named later was."
Ortiz finished the 1996 season batting .322 with 18 home runs and a .901 OPS. He led Wisconsin to the Midwest League playoffs, losing in the championship series to West Michigan.
"If I would have played one more year in the minor league system for them, I would've been the No. 1 prospect in the organization," Ortiz said. "I killed [in '96]. But I don't know. They traded me."
Goff found out that Ortiz was headed to the Twins after the final game of the season. Ortiz, who hadn't been traded before or since, admitted he "had no clue what was happening" when Goff informed him.
"We come off the field, and my phone is ringing. I look at my pitching coach, and I think we both had the same bad gut feeling at that time," Goff said. "I pick the phone up, and I'm not going to mention who was on the other end, but the phone call was, 'Don't let Arias leave the club.' I'm like, 'Don't tell me he was the played to be named later,' and they said, 'Yes, he was.' And I lost it. I'm going to be honest with you, I lost it.
"I had to call Davey in and tell him he's been traded. It was like telling my son that he got traded. He didn't want to go because he had built such a special bond with the kids on that team and had the biggest year of his life and the fear of the unknown. Next day, of course, everybody went their separate ways. He flew back to the Dominican, and the next thing I know, he's in a Twins uniform, which was hard to accept. But that's the reality of the business."
Indeed, Ortiz flew through the Twins' farm system in 1997, playing at three levels before getting called up to the big leagues late in the season. He spent parts of six seasons in Minnesota before eventually winding up with the Boston Red Sox, morphing into one of the all-time greatest sluggers and a member of the 500-homer club.
"If I would have played one more year in the minor-league system for [the Mariners], I would've been the No. 1 prospect in the organization. I killed [in 1996]. But I don't know. They traded me." David Ortiz
The Mariners, who will honor Ortiz with a pregame ceremony Wednesday night at Safeco Field to mark his final regular-season trip to Seattle, missed the playoffs in 1996, though it was hardly Hollins' fault. He batted .351 with 3 home runs and 25 RBIs in 30 games before leaving Seattle as a free agent and signing with the Anaheim Angels.
Looking back, Goff suspects the Twins got a good recommendation on Ortiz from Dan Rohn, who managed their Midwest League team in Fort Wayne in 1996. Regardless, he can only imagine how the Mariners' history might be different if they had kept Ortiz.
"At that time, we had a loaded major league club. I'm sure that's what they were looking at," Goff said. "They thought this kid was four, five years away, which in reality, I thought he was two years away. And you saw that with the way he came through the Twins' system. But that was the story of how Davey ended up in a Twins uniform."
A story that has gone largely forgotten over the years.