The ultimate case of the player traded for himself occurred on November 18, 1980. The New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners had agreed on a trade that would send OF Brad Gulden and $150,000 to the Mariners for 2B Larry Milbourne and a player to be named later. Gulden would go 3-16 for the Mariners to start the season and by May 18th, there was still no player to be named sent to the Yankees to complete the trade. On that day, it was announced that Gulden was going back to the Yankees as the PTBNL. Using the old algebra expression where you take the same number off both sides of the equation, the trade went from being Brad Gulden and $150,000 to the Mariners for Brad Gulden and Larry Milbourne to Milbourne for $150,000.
There was also John McDonald, the popular utility infielder who was known for being a great glove. After spending parts of five big league seasons with the Indians, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later. That player became RHP Tom Mastny. After playing in 37 games for the Jays, hitting .290, he was dealt to the Detroit Tigers for a PTBNL and remained there for the rest of the season. After the season, McDonald was dealt back to Toronto, completing the trade from earlier in the season. McDonald would have a very long MLB career as a utility infielder and was part of the 2013 Red Sox team that won the World Series, even though he was not on the postseason roster.
The Gulden and McDonald deals were legitimately examples of players being traded for themselves. The Noles deal is fishy- and to send a player that is a free agent back to a team so he can file for free agency doesn't make sense. Neither does the Harry Chiti story. Chiti made his MLB debut with the Cubs as a 17 year old in 1950 and had parts of three seasons in the big leagues before his 20th birthday. He went into the military, missing the next two years and spent the next two seasons with the Cubs. After missing the 1957 season, he hooked on with the Kansas City Athletics for almost three years and after a couple cups of coffee with the Detroit Tigers, he became property of the Cleveland Indians.
Late in April, it was announced that Chiti had been purchased by the New York Mets from the Indians. The then 29 year old got into 15 games and had 41 ABs, hitting under .200. Chiti was returned on June 15th, following the previous purchase. It is understood that things like this did not happen before, but to say that Harry Chiti was traded for himself is not really true. The truth is, it was like a person made a retail purchase of something they wanted. They used it, but were not happy with it. Or they simply no longer wanted the product. Harry Chiti was given back to the Indians like a customer returns a purchased product they were not happy with, or did not want. He was not traded for himself. Neither was Dickie Noles.