Was a trade any good, and how it relates to evaluating Bavasi

DMZ · March 18, 2007 at 7:21 pm · Filed Under General baseball, Mariners 

The Foppert release provides a good opportunity to talk about something that frequently comes up in discussions here as an object of contention. When evaluating a trade, there are, to horribly oversimplify, two schools of thought.

1) Each trade should be evaluated on what’s known at the time. If a trade turns out much better than expected, or much worse, that shouldn’t affect our opinion of the trade.
2) Each trade should be evaluated on the results of the trade. If a trade looks like it’s an amazing rip-off, even if at the time everyone acknowledges it as such, but the victim turns out the winner due to unforseen circumstances, the victim’s still the victor.

Obviously, in practice it doesn’t work out that way. Members of the first camp are willing to concede that results are why you make trades, and members of the second camp might well admit that you make the best deal you can and then it’s a bit of a crapshoot.

Generally speaking, I’m almost always in the “time of trade” camp. The example I always cite is “if I walk into the Bellagio, find a roulette table and bet everything I own on number 23 and win, was that a good move?”

People who say yes because it turned out regardless of the odds I received are crazy.
People who say that there are situations where it makes sense – I need to raise money in five minutes to pay for a million-dollar medical procedure, for instance – make sense.

If the Mariners traded Ichiro tomorrow for a can of Sprite, and next week Ichiro tore his hamstring while the can of Sprite turned out to be delicious, that wouldn’t make that trade any better.

There’s a whole other dimension to this, though. The way we evaluate “how a trade looked at the time” means that we’re making a best guess based on all kinds of factors we know, without having knowledge of other factors the teams involved do know, and situations out of the GM’s hands. As Bavasi put it when talking about having to move Guillen and others for nothing when he took the job, “There were a lot of people who were just tired of these guys.” It’s the same as when a GM is well-aware that when they’re ordered to sign a particularly popular player to a new deal that it’s too much money for too long. They’re dinged for the signing, in the same way they’re dinged for releasing a player for off-field reasons.

Evaluating based on what we knew at the time fails in another important way. Teams like the A’s believe that by being smarter in their player evaluation than other teams, they can win what appears to be an even swap. So they want to make many even swaps. If that was true, the “at the time” evaluation would fail: we’d say “Wow, looks like Beane’s making a ton of trades that are okay… and they sure do end up good down the road. I guess he’s an okay trader, based on what we know at the time.”

And the same thing if the reverse was true, and he was being fleeced every time. “Sure looks like he’s making a ton of decent trades… even if they all fall apart a year later.”

“At the time” evaluation’s clearly a lot more reasonable, but it’s also obvious that the results-based can show us something much more valuable, if we’re smart about it.

Take the Braves. For a long time, the Braves ran up an almost unblemished record of giving up pitching prospects in trades that turned into dogs. Every trade, it would look like they might even have given up too much, and those guys would turn to dust. It starts to look suspect: that they knew so much that they gave up pitchers where they knew the perceived value far exceeded the actual value.

And this is where I think the people grinding an axe about the M’s trades in the last… uh, forever… have a good point. As much as we can say that the Garcia-for-Reed trade looked great at the time (and we did, you can look it up), or they got good value dumping guys off left and right during the last three seasons, the total of everything they’ve received in trade is Mike Morse, Jeremy Reed, and Jon Huber. As a group of trades, you’ve got to look at that and wince.

I still think that given the circumstances he was working under, Bavasi got great value for Garcia. And I don’t think there was a lot of value to be milked out of the other guys he shipped off, and he did a fine job there, too.

And I’m going to pretend that this off-season didn’t happen, because I’ll just start yelling and that’ll stop reasonable argument.

There’s no evidence that we should be hopeful that they’ve got a particularly fine eye for spotting hidden talent in other organizations, that they’re picking the “live arm” to get back that has an above-average chance to turn into something interesting, or insisting on getting the unremarkable prospect the owning team secretly covets.

As the team must, even without talking about it even among themselves, be tossing over scenarios where Ichiro’s traded, there’s reason to hope, because they’ve seemed to do well when pressed into these situations, and to worry, as the record of results has not been impressive.

Comments

36 Responses to “Was a trade any good, and how it relates to evaluating Bavasi”

  1. terry on March 18th, 2007 7:29 pm

    The Garcia and Winn trades are water under the bridge..the important thing is that we’ve got Horam and Vidro now….

  2. Oly Rainiers Fan on March 18th, 2007 7:45 pm

    I’ve been one of the habitual ‘contenders’ when discussing trade results comes up on this site, so thanks for the thread.

    Clearly as fans we’re never privy to knowing everything at the time, or even later (though we find out more as time goes on and sometimes, things that make no sense at the time start to make at least a little sense later).

    Down the road, when you look and say ‘man, as it turned out, we got nothing for that’, well that’s the time that you have to ask the question… if making a trade is based on knowledge you have at the time, which is (you’re right) the exact same circumstances Billy Beane or any other GM has to operate under… you gotta ask how your organization is gathering their info at the time and if there’s something fundamentally flawed with it. The organization has to evaluate their trades later, in aggregate, to assess their knowledge gathering and decision-making process.

    are they asking the right questions, or the right people? are they looking too far ahead, or not far enough? are they taking their own farm system into consideration too much, or not enough? and not only are they amassing the right information, but are they able to recognize what it’s telling them when they’re looking straight at it.

    I don’t have the answers to any of the above, but more importantly, I’m not convinced the Ms front office even asks themselves the questions above, to try and figure out if there’s any pattern that’s discernible, any little tweak they could make here or there. I get the impression they’re just trapped in the ‘at the time’ and then later, they just say ‘well, okay, that was a one-off’ if it didn’t work out.

  3. DMZ on March 18th, 2007 7:54 pm

    Very much so. One of the things I admire about the A’s is that you have to give them a lot of credit for that. They may be arrogant, wrong, or whatever, but yeah, they’re an organization willing to go back and say “we’re getting consistently jobbed on trades for mid-level pitchers, what are we doing wrong?” and then again, and again, even if the answer’s “we’re not that good at evaluating mid-level pitchers and we need to find out why.”

    The M’s — and you can see this in their public statements — do just what you’re talking about. Scott Spiezio? Huge personal problems, no way we could have seen that coming. And so on, and so forth. They’re never stopping to think “should we reconsider the approach that led us to signing him?” much less “should we reconsider hiring for leadership if we can’t consistently measure it?”

  4. Thom Jimsen on March 18th, 2007 8:10 pm

    I don’t think the M’s ever admitted they blew the Carlos Guillen deal, did they? Did Bavasi ever mea culpa at a USS Mariner event?

  5. Oly Rainiers Fan on March 18th, 2007 8:17 pm

    It’s gotta be about more than admitting they blew it though. It’s like when someone apologizes to you, it’s got to be more than just the words – they have to understand and really ‘get’ why an apology was necessary AND understand that with the apology comes a responsibility to change their behavior so they don’t go do the same damn thing again to you or somebody else. If those 2 things don’t happen, the apology isn’t worth the air they breathed while saying it.

    So even if Bavasi or whoever said ‘yup, blew that trade’, they need to examine WHY they blew the trade, and take some sort of action not to blow future trades (or, at least not for exactly the same reason).

  6. msb on March 18th, 2007 8:32 pm

    #4– oh, Bavasi has, in print & in person.

    “”That is a decision we had to make, to go in that direction with Carlos,” Bavasi said. “Given the opportunity to make that decision again, we’d probably make a different decision. That comes with the benefit of hindsight.”"

  7. oNeiRiC232 on March 18th, 2007 8:58 pm

    Seeing the success rate of prospects acquired by trade (versus those homegrown) on a per organization, per GM basis would be a pretty fascinating little exercise. I wish I had the time for it.

  8. mpriest13 on March 18th, 2007 10:02 pm

    They’re never stopping to think “should we reconsider the approach that led us to signing him?” much less “should we reconsider hiring for leadership if we can’t consistently measure it?”

    How do you know they haven’t done that?

  9. JI on March 18th, 2007 10:09 pm

    If the Mariners traded Ichiro tomorrow for a can of Sprite, and next week Ichiro tore his hamstring while the can of Sprite turned out to be delicious, that wouldn’t make that trade any better.

    Hee! That one’s a keeper.

  10. Sports on a Schtick on March 18th, 2007 10:18 pm

    Let’s hope Bavasi never obeys his thirst.

  11. kentroyals5 on March 18th, 2007 10:44 pm

    so..hypothetically..what would the M’s be looking for if they must trade Ichiro? More pitching?

  12. Evan on March 18th, 2007 11:06 pm

    I’m a “time of trade” guy, too, but I’m willing to concede that moves that looked bad but turned out well might be something worth giing someone some credit for, but usually only if they’ve given me some reason to think so.

    Look at Ibanez. I didn’t like the Ibanez signing at the time, and the team defended the signing by referring to how well suited Ibanez was to Safeco. And he is, but we didn’t know that at the time, so we were wrong and the team was right.

    But sometimes we have no reason to believe that the team had any reason to expect the positive outcomes that occurred, so in those cases I’m not willing to concede it was a good decision.

  13. DMZ on March 18th, 2007 11:07 pm

    This is not an Ichiro trade post. It’s about how we go about evaluate trades.

  14. Typical Idiot Fan on March 18th, 2007 11:10 pm

    In fact, add it to the faq or link it on the left.

  15. kentroyals5 on March 18th, 2007 11:13 pm

    Sorry to misinterpret…just thought it wasn’t too far off topic to ask

  16. mln on March 18th, 2007 11:50 pm

    If the Mariners traded Ichiro tomorrow for a can of Sprite, and next week Ichiro tore his hamstring while the can of Sprite turned out to be delicious, that wouldn’t make that trade any better.

    This may be the true. However, if the Mariners traded Ichiro tomorrow for a can of Sprite, a bag of veggie chips, and a roast beef sandwich with sauteed onions, mushrooms, and Dijon mustard all on a sesame roll, the deal would look significantly better.

  17. Spanky on March 19th, 2007 6:56 am

    Reading your comments made me question: What was the last “successful” trade for the Mariners (defining successful as receiving player/s that contributed on the major league level at or above the value of the player sent out)? I keep going back to the late 90′s…but there’s got to be SOMETHING since then…right? I mean, that was a decade ago now! If so, doesn’t that say something about this organization?

    I know there is the analysis done for Win Shares Values for trades…but has there been an undertaking to rank teams by values of their trades and who is consistantly good at getting value out of trades?

  18. Ralph on March 19th, 2007 7:18 am

    I guess you “time of trade” guys really loved the Hollins deal then.

  19. Ralph on March 19th, 2007 7:21 am

    And hated the Phelps trade.

  20. Dave on March 19th, 2007 7:59 am

    What was the last “successful” trade for the Mariners…

    Dave Hansen for Jon Huber.

  21. Dave on March 19th, 2007 8:00 am

    I guess you “time of trade” guys really loved the Hollins deal then. And hated the Phelps trade.

    Umm, no, because “time of trade” does not equal “ignorant of minor leaguers”. But thanks for playing.

  22. msb on March 19th, 2007 8:23 am

    and for future reference, apparently there have been calls about Broussard….

  23. leetinsleyfanclub on March 19th, 2007 8:31 am

    In my opinion the time of the trade is a time for the fans and media to evaluate a trade. The actual down-the-road result is the time for the organization to evaluate the trade. GM’s aren’t fired for making trades; they’re fired because the trades turn out to be ineffective. That’s baseball (or any sport for that matter). People are ultimately judged on results. Fair or not, that’s the deal and always has been.

  24. Tek Jansen on March 19th, 2007 8:43 am

    Does the De la Cruz for Carvajal trade have a chance of turning out in the M’s favor? The Baseball America Prospect Handboook has a few positive things to say about De la Cruz, who will open up in AA this year.

  25. Oly Rainiers Fan on March 19th, 2007 9:12 am

    Who has done work on this? Like, any articles or attempts at defining the quality of a trade? Anybody? You’d have to set out parameters for degrees of success (i.e., helped the big club this year, brought in minor leaguers that went on to help the big club directly within x years, brought in minor leaguers that were later key parts of a trade that then helped the big club, etc.) Truly, I don’t remember seeing any articles of this type (but I don’t get around the baseball sites as much as I used to).

  26. Evan on March 19th, 2007 10:09 am

    In my opinion the time of the trade is a time for the fans and media to evaluate a trade. The actual down-the-road result is the time for the organization to evaluate the trade. GM’s aren’t fired for making trades; they’re fired because the trades turn out to be ineffective. That’s baseball (or any sport for that matter). People are ultimately judged on results. Fair or not, that’s the deal and always has been.

    But it’s a lousy way to evaluate staff. You can’t penalise people for things of which they could not have been aware. It’s completely unreasonable.

  27. ConorGlassey on March 19th, 2007 11:41 am

    OlyFan –
    This is about as close as I could find to what you might be looking for…

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-best-and-worst-teams-of-the-trade/

  28. Steve T on March 19th, 2007 12:36 pm

    The “Ichiro trade” angle can be a valuable addition to this thread if you ask the question correctly. It should not be “who should we trade Ichiro for?” but “How would you decide if that’s a good idea?” If the question is “should we trade Ichiro for pitching?” you’re probably looking in the wrong direction. State the question as “what is value?”

    One time when it is perfectly obvious that “time of trade” is the only possible way to evaluate a trade is before it’s happened. Which is what really matters. There is no hindsight, no do-overs in baseball. It’s true: the Garcia trade has turned out to be crap. But Bavasi didn’t know that in 2004. If you’re evaluating his RESULTS, that’s one thing; but if you’re evaluating his SKILL, that’s another.

    It’s definitely not a question of “choose one”.

    Bavasi has had terrible results from trades. His skills probably tilt a bit more the other way, as some of the trades were at the time defensible. Still not a good record, but not as abysmal as the results.

    I think the Mariners have a huge deficit in evaluating talent. Being able to tell whether an Ichiro or a Griffey or an A-Rod or a Felix is a good player isn’t very hard; it’s separating out the wheat from the chaff at more normal levels of skill, and foreseeing how that skill is going to play out over the next few years that is hard, and that the Mariners can’t do. There are lots of examples: Spiezio, Everett, Bloomquist.

    They’ve had a lot of bad luck, too, but there’s luck everywhere, and every team has to deal with guys who just didn’t pan out. It comes down to evaluating talent. Can you do it? The Mariners as an organization cannot. This can be broken down further into specific skills they can’t recognize, emphases they have that are less valuable than they think they are, issues of career peaks and lengths, the whole concept of probability, what statistics are useful for evaluating the past, which are valuable for predicting the future, etc.

    I’m still a little surprised they can even get fleeced by a guy like Bowden, but I guess that’s just the parable of the blind squirrel in action.

  29. gwangung on March 19th, 2007 1:07 pm

    One time when it is perfectly obvious that “time of trade” is the only possible way to evaluate a trade is before it’s happened. Which is what really matters. There is no hindsight, no do-overs in baseball. It’s true: the Garcia trade has turned out to be crap. But Bavasi didn’t know that in 2004. If you’re evaluating his RESULTS, that’s one thing; but if you’re evaluating his SKILL, that’s another.

    It’s definitely not a question of “choose one”.

    Bavasi has had terrible results from trades. His skills probably tilt a bit more the other way, as some of the trades were at the time defensible. Still not a good record, but not as abysmal as the results.

    What I think people are missing is that the results of the trade reflects on the ORGANIZATION, not the General Manager. Garbage In means Garbage Out, and if Bavasi is getting crap input and player evaluation (something that ALL GMs do), then naturally his trades are going to turn out badly.

    Some of this may have to do with his philosophy and long term strategy (high risk/high reward, promoting aggresively); much certainly has to do with the entire organization not having the skills to evaluate players as well as the rest of the league.

    Bavasi has his flaws (glaring at times), but they are overshadowed by the flaws existing in the rest of the organization, in my opinon.

    And, unfortunately, the organization flaws will probably remain long after Bavasi is gone.

  30. jimbob on March 19th, 2007 3:22 pm

    The A’s don’t care if some guy’s picture is painted on their stadium or is french kissing their mascot in a mindless marketing campaign — they’ll whack him if he doesn’t perform. M’s personnel moves are marketing decisions. I hope this is a last pathetic attempt to justify Bavasi’s trading savvy in terms of building a winning team.

  31. DMZ on March 19th, 2007 3:32 pm

    What’s a last, pathetic attempt to justify Bavasi’s trading savvy?

  32. MKT on March 19th, 2007 4:08 pm

    #9.

    If the Mariners traded Ichiro tomorrow for a can of Sprite, and next week Ichiro tore his hamstring while the can of Sprite turned out to be delicious, that wouldn’t make that trade any better.

    Hee! That one’s a keeper.

    Yes, that was an excellent post on the general — but not universal — superiority of looking at trades “at the time” instead of after the fact, i.e. the “results of the trade”. Summed up the pros and cons real well.

    If you’re taking economics or finance or operations research classes, this is an excellent example of the difference between looking at any decision made under uncertainty “ex ante” vs “ex post”. I.e. this applies to a huge range of phenomena, not just baseball trades. Decisions have to be made “ex ante” (before the fact); the results are not known until “ex post” (after the fact).

  33. Oly Rainiers Fan on March 19th, 2007 5:08 pm

    20/21 (Dave): So what would be your criteria for picking ‘Dave Hansen for Jon Huber’ as the last successful trade? Huber hasn’t really contributed at the major league level yet, though admittedly Hansen wasn’t either (lack of use, age, whatever). Are you still using an element of projection with regard to Huber?

    27 (Conor): Thanks, if I hadn’t spent much of my day off work performing work (with work still to go) I’d have read it already. But I bookmarked it and have high hopes for 9pm or so.

    29 (gwangung) and 30 (jimbob): gwangung is dead on that it’s bigger than Bill. But Bill IS the point guy. I didn’t interpret DMZ’s original post as any kind of attempt to validate Bavasi, though trades do have to weigh in somehow on how he gets evaluated for his performance. I mean, if you break down a GMs job duties, player evaluation/acquisition/retention with the ultimate goal being to produce that winning/championship team has to be his main deal – and the approach that he takes with regard to trades, drafts, promotions in the farm, releases, re-signs, etc. are all highly relevant. (Like, if he had competent bosses, they could say something like ‘Bill, you’re doing a heckuva job on X, but we need you to look at and possibly refine your approach to trades. If you do so, we think you can increase your (and therefore our) performance remarkably.’) I couldn’t fill in the X because, well, there’s been some recent eval work (I think on prospect insider) that suggests Fontaine’s drafts haven’t worked out all that well, so I didn’t really know what to pick for the ‘hey Bill, you’re really good at…’ part).

  34. Tek Jansen on March 19th, 2007 6:40 pm

    #33 — In a brief stint last year, Huber was very effective. He is, at worst, a cheap replacement level relief pitcher who might be capable of being better than replacement level. Hansen was done the moment the M’s traded him, if not before then. The trade was a victory for the M’s. A small victory, but victory nonetheless.

  35. Oly Rainiers Fan on March 19th, 2007 7:50 pm

    34: I remembered the brief stint, but I guess I was reaching for clarification/discussion on how to qualify ‘contribution’? Does it take a minimum # of games, etc….

  36. MickeyZ on March 20th, 2007 8:49 pm

    As much as we can say that the Garcia-for-Reed trade looked great at the time (and we did, you can look it up), or they got good value dumping guys off left and right during the last three seasons, the total of everything they’ve received in trade is Mike Morse, Jeremy Reed, and Jon Huber. As a group of trades, you’ve got to look at that and wince.

    I have a teensy nitpick- I think that when a guy gets released you can’t just cross him off your list of what we got. We did get a couple years of Foppert for example, they just didn’t amount to anything.

    I say this only because I once saw someone trying to argue that we didn’t get anything for Langston because Randy Johnson left the team. All you ever trade is years of one guy’s service for years of another guy’s service. No one is immortal, not even Gilgamesh, uh Gil Meche.

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