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