Sunday, July 14, 2013

To trade prospects or not to trade prospects?

By Jeff

How much fun is it to talk Major League Baseball trades when the Pittsburgh Pirates are not selling off half their team, but are actually buyers in July? Well, I'm having fun at least.

With the deadline a few weeks away, there is a lot of speculation about what the Pirates are going to do. Former Reds and Expos/Nationals general manager said he thought the Buccos should part with two of their top 10 prospects for Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox.

Whether it is for players like Rios or Ramirez, or others, the question is when/do you move your top prospects for proven talent, or do you make smaller moves that don't really affect the farm's best?

I honestly don't know where I fall, because history is mixed on the topic. There are times I am all for moving unproven players, who may never amount to anything in the big leagues, for those who have shown they can play in the majors. But then again, when you cheer for a small-market team, you have to build through prospects, who can be controlled by the team for a long time at a reasonable price. But then we flip back to the sell the farm side of things and the idea that one way to use talented prospects is to move them for already developed players.

It seems like an endless debate that both sides could argue. So here are some example of deals where top prospects were moved and how their careers have gone.

  • Milwaukee Brewers trade for CC Sabathia 

Back in 2008, the Milwaukee Brewers were on pace to make the postseason for the first time in 26 years. They needed some pitching help and sold the farm to bring in Sabathia. The Brewers ended up moving Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson.

Sabathia was incredible for the Brewers down the stretch, posting an ERA below 2 and pitching seven complete games in 17 starts. LaPorta was the centerpiece for Cleveland's end of the deal, but he has not panned out for the Indians. He is now 28 and still in the minors. When given a shot in the Majors, he has failed to hit higher than .254. Jackson hasn't pitched in the majors since 2009 and was terrible when he was given a shot. Bryson has yet to appear in the majors and it doesn't look as if he ever will make an impact in the show.

The fat power propelled the Brewers to the playoffs...
...and then signed a fat contract with the Yankees.
 The only player from the deal who has contributed to the Indians is Brantley. He is by no means a star, but he has been an everyday contributor for the past two seasons and has a respectable .275 average.

Sure, Sabathia left the Brewers after 2008 for the New York Yankees, but looking at the players involved, it's hard to imagine the Brewers wouldn't make this trade again in a heartbeat.

  • Indians ship Cliff Lee to Philadelphia, Phillies unload Lee to Mariners, Mariners send Lee to Rangers
Hard to believe a guy like Lee was moved three times within a year, but he was back in. Every team that got Lee received a great pitcher. He performed like an ace in all three places. The return for him in all three places hasn't been so great.

Cleveland - The Indians received Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson and Jason Knapp for Lee in 2009. Donald has been nothing more than a utility infielder with little impact and hasn't played with the Indians in 2013 at age 28. Carrasco has a career ERA of 5.47, including 9.10 in 2013, in 39 starts since 2009. Marson, a catcher has been terrible (.219 career average, five homers). Knapp is only 22 and hasn't played above Single A. He may turn into something, but it's hard to tell at this point.

Hmmm. I'm thinking the Indians might want this one back.
 Philadelphia - This was an absurd, nine-player, trade that involved four teams before the 2010 season. The Phillies got Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays, who won a Cy Young and pitched a no-hitter for the Phils. He got hurt last year, but he was a top five pitcher in the league for 2010 and 2011. The Phils also got Phillipe Aumont, Tyson Gilles and Juan Ramirez from the Mariners. Aumont has been an OK reliever for the Phils the past two years, but nothing special. Gilles is 24 and just moved up to AAA this year where he is batting .208. Ramirez made his debut in the majors this season. He's off to a decent start with 2.57 ERA in seven innings.

Seattle - Seeing their 2010 season fall apart despite Lee's great season, the Mariners traded Lee to the Texas Rangers for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson. It hasn't worked out so well for the Mariners. The supposed centerpiece of the deal, Smoak, has been a mediocre player for the Mariners. The power prospect has yet to hit more than 19 homers and can't hit for average to save his life. Beavan has 43 starts with the M's, but has been moved the bullpen and his ERA has ballooned to 6.13 this season. Lueke made 25 appearances for the team in 2010 before being shipped to the Tampa Bay Rays for John Jaso. The utility infielder Lawson has done squat and was actually sent down to AA this year.

Are you seeing a trend with Lee? He has been traded on three separate occasions for prospects, and not a single one of said prospects has lived up to projections at the Major League level. He is another example, or three, of how paying for a known commodity with prospects is a good move.

  • Blue Jays trade Halladay
In the same move that saw the Phillies send Lee to Seattle, the Blue Jays started a rebuild by trading the ace of their rotation and face of the franchise to the Phillies. In return they received Kyle Drabek, Travis d'Arnaud and Brett Wallace. We already covered how Halladay has been mostly a great success for the Phillies, but now it's time to see what the Jays got in return.

Toronto expected to replace their ace with a future ace in the form of Kyle Drabek. Too bad Drabek struggled with command every time the Jays called him up and then underwent Tommy John surgery last season. Drabek never showed signs of being a reliable fifth starter, let alone an ace before the injury. Now he has two major surgeries on his resume and has career reliever written all over him.

Who knew acquiring a potential Hall of Famer could be so easy?
 The other two players never made it to the big club. d'Arnaud was a part of the deal that brought the Jays R.A. Dickey this past winter (Not looking good for the Jays) and Wallace was sent to Houston for speedster Anthony Gose. Neither Gose nor Wallace have lived up the the expectations, but Gose is only 22.

Once again, the team dealing for the star is the winner, while the team collecting prospects is seeing poor results from the prospects acquired.

  • Manny to Dodger, Bay to Sox, crap to Pirates
Ouch. This one still stings for Pirates fans. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Pirates made one of the biggest trade deadline deals of all time. It saw former World Series MVP and one of the greatest pure hitters of all time, Manny Ramirez, finally wear out his welcome in Boston and get moved to the Dodgers. In return, the Red Sox received Jason Bay from the Pirates, who received Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen from Boston and Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris from the Dodgers.


The two teams that received the veteran stars won big time in the deal, while the Pirates go practically nothing from three of the four prospects they got back in return.

Ramirez had one of the greatest stretches that I've ever seen in baseball once he got to LA. In 53 regular season games that year he had 17 home runs and a slash line of .396/.489/.743. On top of that, Ramirez hit over .500 in eight playoff games that fall. He never came close to replicating those numbers for the Dodgers in the next season and a half, but considering what they gave up to get him, I would say it worked out for them.

The Red Sox got a great player in Bay as well. He finished 2008 strong and had a great postseason that year with Boston. That momentum carried over into 2009, in which Bay had a career high 36 home runs and 119 RBIs.

How did those prospects for the Pirates do? I think this sums it up.

The big get for the Pirates was supposed to be LaRoche, a power-hitting third baseman. The only problem is he had no power with the Pirates. Hell, he couldn't hit at all for the Pirates. In 301 games with the Pirates, the "power-hitting" LaRoche hit 19 home runs for the Buccos. He showed some promise in 2009, but then came crashing down to earth in 2010. He's had four plate appearances in the majors since the start of the 2012 season...

Thanks for nothing, Andy.
 Moss was an outfielder who was supposed to be another power-hitter. Again, the power never developed for the Pirates. In reality, the Pirates received damaged goods. Moss never seemed fully healthy with the Buccos and only hit 13 home runs combined in 2008 and 2009 for the team. After 27 plate appearances in 2010, the Pirates designated Moss for assignment. Eventually Moss made it back to the majors with the Oakland A's in 2012.

Hansen was terrible in 21 appearances for the Pirates. He was hurt a lot and is currently out of baseball.

If there was a positive to take from this trade on the Pirates' side of things, it is that Morris is actually still with the team and contributing. He is a part of one of the best bullpen's in baseball and doing pretty well. But come on. When you move a 30-homer guy like Bay, you expect to say you got back more than 32 home runs and a decent bullpen arm, right?

  • Boston acquires Beckett and Lowell from Marlins
Finally! A deal where the prospects actually panned out!

After the 2005 season, the Florida Marlins had their regularly scheduled fire sale. They sent Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota to the Red Sox for prospects Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia.

Beckett was terrible in 2006, but rebounded to win 20 games in 2007 and have a phenomenal postseason that saw the Red Sox win the World Series. He had another few bad seasons mixed in with excellent ones until he was traded last year at the deadline. Despite the rocky finish, I think the Sox are happy in the World Series he helped them win and the three All-Star appearances Beckett made in his time there.

Lowell hit 80 home runs between 2006 and 2010 and hit .352 with two home runs and 15 RBIs during Boston's 2007 World Series run.

Mota was just a throw-in and never pitched an inning for the Sox.

Down in Florida, the Marlins got a player in Ramirez who was one of the game's best players between 2006 and 2010. In that time, Ramirez hit 124 home runs, stole 196 bases, scored 562 runs and never hit below .292. Can you think of a more dynamic player in that time frame than Ramirez? Sure, his fielding hurt the club at times, but his offense more than made up for it.

Han-Ram was unstoppable
until he became a diva
The other successful piece for the Marlins was Sanchez. He some rough years in 2007 and 2008, but had an ERA below four for the rest of his career in Florida/Miami before being traded to Detroit around the deadline in 2012.
The other two prospects acquired in the deal did nothing for the Marlins. Delgado made all of two appearances for the team and hasn't pitched in the majors since 2008. Garcia made eight appearances in 2007 and hasn't sniffed the majors since.

  • Rangers ship Teixeira to Braves
Mark Teixeira has arguably been one of the best first basemen in baseball since he made is debut with the Texas Rangers in 2003. Unfortunately, that was the time when the Rangers had absolutely no pitching and couldn't make the playoffs. He was also a Scott Boras client and due for a huge raise, so the Rangers sent him to the Atlanta Braves in 2007 for prospects in Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Neftali Perez and Beau Jones.

This is a trade where it definitely worked out better for the team receiving the prospects. While Teixeira played extremely well for the Braves, he had 37 home runs, 134 RBIs and a WAR (I threw that in for Mike) of 6.1 in 157 games for the Braves between 2007 and 2008. The only problem was the rest of the Braves stunk. The team failed to make the playoffs in 2007 and were doing terrible in 2008, which led to them sending Tex to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at the deadline that year. Considering the Braves got a AA pitcher who was not regarded as a top prospect and Casey Kotchman for Tex, I think it's safe to say getting Tex never paid off for the Braves.

Teixeira, center, waving to the 27 fans
attending a Braves game.
On the flip side, the Rangers got three guys who have been big-time contributors for their ball club.

Andrus has been the everyday shortstop for the Rangers since 2009 and has 142 stolen bases for his career to go along with a .271 average and solid defense.

Perez had three incredible years out of the bullpen between 2009 and 2011, two of which were as a closer where he recorded a combined 72 saves. The Rangers moved him into the rotation in 2012, and he was having a great season until he suffered and injury and needed Tommy John surgery. He has a career ERA of 2.67 and 8.8 K/9.

Harrison got off to a rocky start in Texas, but was arguably the team's best pitcher in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Both years he had a sub-3.40 ERA, pitched more than 185 innings and had a combined WAR of 10.1.

The other two prospects in the deal didn't do much for the Rangers. Saltalamacchia, while a lot of fun to say and try to spell without Googling, never turned into the elite catcher he was supposed to. From 2007 and 2010 he hit all of 19 home runs. And that is playing half his games in one of the most home-run friendly parks in the bigs.

Jones is 26 and no longer in the Rangers' organization. He is looking like a career minor-leaguer.

Wow. This post turned into quite a monster. I think what it shows is if a team has an opportunity to add a star or two to their team at the cost of prospects, no matter how highly regarded they are, they should pull the trigger. If they would only get average or a little above average players for said top prospects, then I think the team should hold off.


  1. I'd much rather hang onto the top tier prospects because losing one of those will just cripple your franchise for years. A lot of those were pretty good example, but with the caveat that the elite prospects don't get traded anymore.

    Here's the top prospect lists for 2009 I just pulled up from Baseball America.
    1. Matt Wieters, Orioles
    2. David Price, Rays
    3. Colby Rasmus, Cards
    4. Tommy Hanson, Braves
    5. Jason Heyward, Braves
    6. Travis Snider, Blue Jays
    7. Brett Anderson, As
    8. Cameron Maybin, Marlins
    9. Madison Bumgardner, Giants
    10. Neftali Feliz, Rangers
    11. Trevor Cahill, As
    12. Pedro Alvarez, Pirates
    13. Mike Moustakas, Royals
    14. Buster Posey, Giants
    15. Dexter Fowler, Rockies
    16. Mike Stanton, Marlins
    17. Lars Anderson, Red Sox
    18. Logan Morrison, Marlins
    19. Alcides Escobar, Brewers
    20. Gordon Beckham, White Sox

    Basically the couple guys traded on this list were prospects that tanked (Hanson, Snider). Alcides Escobar was part of the Greinke trade and would've ended up hurting the Brewers if they didn't luck out with Segura. And for this trade, you can argue Segura is already a steal.

    Even backing off the elite prospects, where would the Pirates be if they ended up trading Marte for Hunter Pence, which was heavily rumored? If you want smaller prospects than that, when Rich Harden was traded to the Cubs, the As got back Josh Donaldson who you could argue is one of the top 5 3B today.

    Smaller than that, Robbie Grossman was an ok prospect on a hot streak that got the Pirates Wandy Rodriguez, which was a steal. Pirates were trading from a position of strength and a guy that didn't have a huge ceiling, so it was a great move. If they were to trade Polanco for an outfielder, I'd be upset because he would likely be up this time next year. And for Kingham, he literally has one of the top 5-10 curveballs in all of the minors and we'll need a starter soon if AJ leaves/retires, and if Wandy is gone as well. If a trade is there, it needs to be made, trading a Tyler Glasnow or an Alex Dickerson would make me feel better

    1. Love the list. Good find. Yes, top prospects are not moved as often as they once were. Teams cherish their prospects more than ever. I guess what I'm asking is if that is wise? Looking at the list provided, yeah only a handful of the guys have been traded (You forgot Cahill, Maybin, Rasmus, Lars Anderson and maybe the Rangers didn't trade Perez, but he was traded by the Braves as a high-end prospect) but I'd say more than half of that list have not lived up to expectations and maybe the teams that drafted them would have been better trading them if they could go back in time, rather than clinging to them.

      1. Matt Wieters, Orioles - He hasn't been the stud everyone thought he'd be, but he's a top 10 catcher in the league. Doubtful O's would move him
      2. David Price, Rays - He's an ace and awesome. No way Rays move him.
      3. Colby Rasmus, Cards - Traded to the Jays for Edwin Jackson. He was being compared to Grady Sizemore (when Sizemore was healthy) as a potential 30/30 guy and a future star. Still waiting. He can't hit for average, is an average defender and the speed has never shown up.
      4. Tommy Hanson, Braves - You said it, he hasn't panned out.
      5. Jason Heyward, Braves - Showed last year and rookie year he is capable of a big seasons, but his 2011 was a terrible year and he's having another one in 2013.
      6. Travis Snider, Blue Jays - Already covered
      7. Brett Anderson, As - His WAR has gone down every year since his rookie campaign, but he's still a pretty good pitcher WHEN healthy. He's only pitched 259.2 innings combined over the past four seasons.
      8. Cameron Maybin, Marlins - Had a few decent years in San Diego, but has a career slash line of .248/.311/.370. He's only played in more than 100 games a season twice.
      9. Madison Bumgardner, Giants - Stud. One of the top pitchers in the NL and a proven playoff performer
      10. Neftali Feliz, Rangers - Already covered in the post. When healthy he has been great
      11. Trevor Cahill, As - Effective and durable innings eater but nowhere close to being an ace.
      12. Pedro Alvarez, Pirates - Seems to be putting it together at the plate and on the field. He is the most legit power threat the Buccos have had since Bay.
      13. Mike Moustakas, Royals - Still young but hasn't done anything for the Royals. The 20 homers last year were a pleasant surprise, but he has regressed quite a bit this year (WAR of -.2)
      14. Buster Posey, Giants - Stud and MVP. This is what Wieters was supposed to be...
      15. Dexter Fowler, Rockies - He's a nice player and when healthy has done a nice job of setting the table fro Cargo and Tulo. Not a player you build around though. He averages a little more than eight homers a season but hasn't shown the speed expected from him since 2009 (27 steals).
      16. Mike Stanton, Marlins - Having an off-year, but he's angry and has no protection. Potential to hit 30-40 home runs for next 7-10 years.
      17. Lars Anderson, Red Sox - Was traded and can't even hit in the minors at age 25. Looks like a long shot to ever contribute to MLB club.
      18. Logan Morrison, Marlins - In 302 games he has a WAR of .8
      19. Alcides Escobar, Brewers - Put a nice season together last year, but like most of the guys on this list, he's been a disappointment and not someone you could build around. He also has terrible plate discipline, striking out three to four times more often than he takes a walk.
      20. Gordon Beckham, White Sox - Average player in just about ever way.

      I have a hard time believing losing anyone but Wieters, Price, Bumgarner, Stanton and Posey would have had a negative effect on any of their teams, let alone "crippling".

    2. Sorry for the delay, life got in the way. Greg essentially nailed what I would have said, so just go off of that. When I say crippling, I am referring to a small market team that can't hide an awful trade by overpaying for a free agent to fill a hole. Should've been more clear. I suck.

  2. Here's video evidence of how filthy Kingham's curveball is, and he's only in AA.

  3. One thing that sticks out in my mind is that I think a blue chip prospect for the Pirates is more heavily coveted/protected than it is for the Yankees or Red Sox. The going rate for a stud pitcher is too high for the Pirates, so they have to develop their own if they ever want to have one. That's why Cole, Taillon, and Kingham are so important to them. Take for instance the Beckett trade. Giving up Hanley and Anibal Sanchez for a year of Beckett would be a very aggressive move for the Pirates since we wouldn't have a chance to lock up Beckett like the Red Sox did.

    A lot of people are talking about the Pirates window being now and they need to make a splash move. I couldn't disagree more. I feel like if you trade Taillon/Kingham/Polanco, you're closing the window on yourself and making the time now. If you stand pat or make small moves then your window is another five years or so since you control your core (Cutch, Alvarez, Walker, Marte, Locke, Cole, Taillon) for a while.

    One thing I learned from the Pens failure this past spring is that since there are so many random variables that go into winning a championship, if you only give yourself one shot, you're likely to be very disappointed. You need to set yourself up to be a contender year in and year out and that consistency will translate to championships more times than not.