Letting Ichiro Leave For Nothing

Dave · June 20, 2007 at 10:05 am · Filed Under Mariners 

As we’ve talked about before, there is a large contingent of Mariner fans that want to see Ichiro get traded in July. With the team falling out of contention (yep, I’m pretty much ready to throw in the towel), I expect these people to get louder as the next month and a half progresses. The rallying cry of the Trade Ichiro brigade is that he’s going to leave at the end of the season and the M’s cannot risk letting their superstar center fielder walk out the door without getting anything in return.

I’d done some research on the issue of trade deadline deals a few years ago, but with the issue being relevant to the Mariners right now, I decided to update the data and look at the decisions made by organizations in similar situations over the past seven years. I found 34 players that I deemed to be in comparable situations to what the Mariners and Ichiro now face. These players were all all-star talents in the midst of a highly productive season, were free agents at the end of the year, and were unlikely to re-sign with the club they were on at the time, and would be classified as Type A Free Agents for compensation purposes, meaning that the organization would get two high draft choices if the player left via free agency.

This gives us a tangible, real basis for what rent-a-player all-stars command in trade, as well as giving us a breakdown of whether the teams who traded their stars fared better than the teams who let their stars walk away at seasons end.

As it turns out, 16 of the 34 stars were traded, and 18 were retained, only to leave at the end of the year for greener pastures, giving us a pretty even comparison across the board. Here is the list of stars who were sent packing.

Stars Traded Date Of Trade Players Received
Carlos Lee 7/28/2006 Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, and Francisco Cordero
Carlos Beltran 6/24/2004 John Buck, Mark Teahen, and Mike Wood
Freddy Garcia 6/27/2004 Jeremy Reed, Miguel Olivo, and Mike Morse
Shannon Stewart 7/16/2003 Bobby Kielty and Dave Gassner
Aramis Ramirez 7/23/2003 Jose Hernandez, Matt Bruback, and Bobby Hill
Jose Guillen 7/30/2003 Aaron Harang, Joe Valentine, and Jeff Bruksch
Sidney Ponson 7/31/2003 Kurt Ainsworth, Damian Moss, and Ryan Hannaman
Bartolo Colon 6/27/2002 Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, and Grady Sizemore
Ray Durham 7/25/2002 Jon Adkins
Kenny Lofton 7/27/2002 Felix Diaz and Ryan Meaux
Scott Rolen 7/29/2002 Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin, and Bud Smith
Jermaine Dye 7/25/2001 Todd Belitz, Mario Encarnacion, and Jose Ortiz
Matt Lawton 7/30/2001 Rick Reed
Jason Schmidt 7/30/2001 Armando Rios and John Vander Wal
Dave Justice 6/29/2000 Ricky Ledee, Jake Westbrook, and Zach Day
Denny Neagle 7/12/2000 Ed Yarnall, Jackson Melian, and Drew Henson

None of these guys are a perfect comparison for Ichiro, but they were all highly coveted players who were significant contributors to their teams. Scott Rolen and Carlos Beltran were two of the best young players in the game at the time of their trades, so while they’re the most comparable players in on field value, they were also a decade younger than Ichiro is, which had a significant impact on their trade value. Kenny Lofton, Shannon Stewart, and Ray Durham are the closest matches to Ichiro in terms of offensive skillset, but none of them were as good as Ichiro is today. Carlos Lee, Jermaine Dye, Jose Guillen, and Dave Justice were middle-of-the-order sluggers, which are generally valued higher than leadoff guys by most major league clubs. And then, of course, Freddy Garcia, Sidney Ponson, Bartolo Colon, Jason Schmidt, and Denny Neagle were all pitchers.

So there’s not one guy on this list that you can point to and say “see, that’s an Ichiro type player, and that’s what he’ll bring in return”. You have to look at the list as a whole. So, when we do that, what do we see?

Of the 16 trades, three resulted in obvious net gains for the team who received some young prospects in return. The Indians reloaded with the Bartolo Colon deal, the Royals got a pair of productive hitters for Carlos Beltran, and the Reds got Aaron Harang in the Jose Guillen trade.

3 times, out of 16, you can look back and say that the team that traded it’s all-star away clearly improved the future of the franchise. And, to boot, there’s a giant asterisk next to the Colon trade, as it was made by a franchise that was literally making moves trying to keep themselves in existance – no one was sure the Expos would even be a franchise beyond 2002, and Omar Minaya and his staff were simply trying to save baseball in Montreal, or at the very least, go out with a bang. The circumstances that caused the Indians to receive a king’s ransom for Colon aren’t in play this year, and probably won’t be ever again.

There are a few other trades in there that have worked out okay for the trading team. Jake Westbrook has been a solid pitcher, and getting him for a few months of Dave Justice was a good move for the Indians. The Brewers are pretty happy with Francisco Cordero this year, although I’d argue that they’d have been better off just offering Lee arbitration and picking up the two draft picks, rather than settling for Role Player Soup from Texas.

But, the other 11 deals… there’s not much to show for the loss of a star player. It’s a collection of busted prospects and mediocre role players. Out of the 41 players received in return for the 16 traded all-stars, two have turned into all-stars (Grady Sizemore and Aaron Harang), several more are good everyday players or mid-rotation starters (Mark Teahen, John Buck, Brandon Phillips, Placido Polanco, Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook), and the other 33 aren’t in baseball anymore or have little to no value.

Over the last seven years, the prospects coming back for rental players have had a 1 in 20 chance of turning into an all-star, a 1 in 5 chance of being a solid player, and a 4 in 5 chance of flaming out

How about the teams who decided to play out the string, let their free-agents-to-be stick around through the end of the year, and then collect a couple of draft picks after they walked during the winter?

Free Agents Compensation
A. Soriano 31st and 67th picks in 2007 draft (Smoker, Zimmerman)
Jason Giambi 24th and 35th picks in 2002 draft (Blanton, Brown)
J. Isringhausen 30th and 37th picks in 2002 draft (Fritz, Obenchain)
Johnny Damon 16th and 39th picks in 2002 draft (Swisher, Teahen)
Miguel Tejada 40th and 49th picks in 2004 draft (Street, Rogers)
Manny Ramirez 17th and 35th picks in 2001 draft (Denham, Martin)
Alex Rodriguez 36th and 49th picks in 2001 draft (Garciaparra, Rivera)
Mike Hampton 18th and 38th picks in 2001 draft (Heilman, Wright)
Mike Mussina 19th and 31st picks in 2001 draft (Fontenot, Bass)
Chan Ho Park 31st and 51st picks in 2002 draft (Miller, Hammes)
Juan Gonzalez 33rd and 82nd picks in 2002 draft (Whitney, Cooper)
Jim Thome 18th and 31st picks in 2003 draft (Snyder, Miller)
Jeff Kent 22nd and 33rd picks in 2003 draft (Aardsma, Whitaker)
Tom Glavine 35th and 79th picks in 2003 draft (Atilano, Stevens)
Mike Remlinger 36th and 43rd picks in 2003 draft (Salty, Reyes)
Andy Pettitte 23rd and 37th picks in 2004 draft (Hughes, Poterson)
Keith Foulke 24th and 36th picks in 2004 draft (Powell, Putnam)
Bartolo Colon 34th and 53rd picks in 2004 draft (Lumsden, Whisler)
Carlos Lee 17th and 35th picks in 2007 draft (Beaven, Borbon)
Carlos Beltran 38th and 89th picks in 2005 draft (Iorg, Manzella)
Ray Durham 26th and 33rd picks in 2003 draft (Snyder, Quintanilla)

You’ll see a few duplicate names on here, as Carlos Beltran, Carlos Lee, and Ray Durham were all traded to a club as a rental player, who got the benefit of the compensation picks after the player left as a free agent. Tip of the hat to Billy Beane for the Ray Durham coup in 2003, when he picked up two months of Ray Durham for non-prospect Jon Adkins, then offered Durham arbitration at the end of the year and got two of the top 33 picks in the 2003 draft for losing Durham two months later.

Anyways, as you can see, there have been a lot of teams who have decided to simply hang onto their free agents to be and sort it all out in the winter. The A’s, especially, have eschewed mid-season dealing. How has it worked out?

Of the 42 compensation selections on the list, three have become all-stars – David Wright, Nick Swisher, and Huston Street. Several more have become solid contributors – Joe Blanton, Mark Teahen, David Aardsma, and Aaron Heilman. And, a few others have become the elite prospects in baseball today – Philip Hughes, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Adam Miller, while JoJo Reyes is just a good pitching prospect instead of an elite one, and ’07 draft picks Beaven, Borbon, Smoker, and Zimmerman are far too young to determine their value at this point.

27 of the picks could be labeled as busts, even though a couple still have a shot to turn into major league role players down the road. Three have been big successes, four have been good enough, and three others are among the most valuable young players in the game today, while we’ll have to wait a few years to figure out the fate of the other four.

Recent history shows us the compensation picks are returning better value to the teams than the prospects teams have acquired by moving their free-agents-to-be. Yes, if you trade Ichiro, you might Grady Sizemore, but you might also get Drew Henson. If you let him walk, you might get Rene Rivera (ugh, that draft sucked), but you might also get David Wright. The odds are about the same either way.

Now, this isn’t a completely thorough cost/benefit analysis. By trading for prospects, you’re not incurring the costs of signing the players, as you are with compensation picks, so the financial outlay is several million dollars higher by going with the draft picks. The payoffs are going to happen a year or two later by taking the draft picks versus taking the prospects in most cases.

But, the evidence is clear – the expected return by trading an all-star in the last year of his contract is not any higher than the expected return of letting that player walk at the end of the season and collecting two draft picks as compensation. The Trade Ichiro brigade are living on a false premise. The organization will not be any better off by dealing Ichiro in July than they would be if he left in October of his own free will.

When you factor in the added value of still having Ichiro on the team in August and September, the exclusive two week negotiating window that the team would have with him at the end of the season, and the actual chance (no matter how slim you think it is) that he might re-sign with the team, and the best path is astoundingly clear.

The ideal scenario is keeping him around, but even if you think he’s going to leave, you still shouldn’t trade Ichiro. It’s just not worth it.


162 Responses to “Letting Ichiro Leave For Nothing”

  1. Chris Miller on June 20th, 2007 6:49 pm

    Dont be surprised if he does get $24 mil per from someone, if he plays like he has so far this year, he’s worth that.

  2. Chris Miller on June 20th, 2007 6:54 pm

    If he keeps playing the way he is, and puts up another super campaign like he did in 04, all while playing gold glove CF, man he could end up with a lot larger contract than is currently expected.

  3. jullberg on June 20th, 2007 7:06 pm

    This is certainly interesting. At first glimpse I was very much willing to jump ship, changing from a “TRADE ICHIRO” to a “KEEP ICHIRO”. The success of compensation picks is something I assumed was much lower than what this shows. Then I noticed that out of the seven guys who are contributors at the major league level right now, 6 of those seven were drafted by the Mets or the A’s. Even if you include the elite prospects, the rate of success for teams that are not the A’s or Mets is pretty darn low. If a guy like Beane or Minaya were running our team, I would have no problem trying to retain Ichiro and getting the picks if we couldn’t resign him, however I think that either way we are screwed. As long as Bavasi is GM, I have no faith in either option because he will either trade away for guys who won’t succeed, or he’ll draft guys who won’t succeed. Either way I think we are screwed. So instead of becoming a huge bandwagoner for either camp, my new bandwagon is the “FIRE BAVASI” wagon. Let’s get a GM with a brain and then we can talk about Ichiro being traded or not.

  4. Oly Rainiers Fan on June 20th, 2007 7:33 pm

    Didn’t Ichiro already turn down 3 years/50 mill? This possible factoid is lodged in my brain and I can’t remember how it got there.

    Also, while it is interesting work (the initial post), it’s also highly subjective to other influences. whenever you’re talking about player development (which you are, when you’re talking about draft picks, because they don’t go straight to the majors but need time to develop), you’re introducing variables.

    In either a trade or draft scenario, you’re relying on your organization’s ability to accurately assess talent. But in a draft scenario, you’re also relying on your organization’s ability to successfully develop that talent.

  5. Oly Rainiers Fan on June 20th, 2007 7:37 pm

    As an addendum to above post, we have poster children. If Morrow never becomes a legit starter, which is what was allegedly the intention when drafting him, it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have were he drafted by, oh, the Giants, who chose a different strategy of player development for Lincecum.

    Also, while Jones has responded well to being aggressively promoted through the minors, Clement has stalled, and Tui actually may have suffered from that philosophy. Drafted players (and international signings) are highly dependent on the player development philosophies of their drafting/signing team. The As are on the list for ‘let the free agent walk’ a lot, but they also have a VERY good farm system that’s good at pumping out players with skill sets that the parent club wants (like good .OBP). Does that not skew the data?

  6. NTNgod on June 20th, 2007 7:55 pm

    The Brewers are pretty happy with Francisco Cordero this year, although I’d argue that they’d have been better off just offering Lee arbitration and picking up the two draft picks, rather than settling for Role Player Soup from Texas.

    Most likely, the Brewers will have traded away a half-season of Lee and two 2007 picks, in exchange for a season and a half of Cordero and two 2008 picks.

  7. Tim on June 20th, 2007 8:48 pm


    I’m not sure I buy this analysis. The conclusions you reach are based on a very small sample size. Most of the results of these trades could be just as well attributed to luck. I don’t think you can look at the outcomes to deterimine if the trade was good or not…or help make a decision on if the Mariners should trade Ichiro.

    The real measure is what type of prospect you are getting versus the compensation picks. If you can get a top 100-150 prospect for Ichiro, what is the likelihood of this type of player over the years to become an impact player? On the flip side, what is the liklihood a 30 or 40 pick will turn into an impact player? I have no idea what the results of said analysis would be, but I think this approach would be much superior than looking at such a small sample. Thoughts?

  8. BLYKMYK44 on June 20th, 2007 9:24 pm

    So…does that mean that the reverse argument would work out as well? We should trade our prospects to try and get as many of the star players as possible??

  9. Typical Idiot Fan on June 20th, 2007 11:43 pm

    I find it fascinating that Mariner fans don’t use Alex Rodriguez for justification for trading Ichiro Suzuki. The NET compensation for Alex as of today is Rene Rivera. Period. (for the unenlightened, Garciaparra was claimed off waivers by Philly)

    For the unenlightened, that draft was done by incompetant idiots. Also, he was a big contribution to our making the postseason that year. You don’t trade away hall of fame talent when you’re in contention. That’s just stupid.

  10. joser on June 21st, 2007 1:02 am

    Something that struck me while watching the Pirates play the M’s tonight: the Pirates have no stars. None.

    The M’s have Ichiro. Before that they had ARod, and before that Griffey, and Johnson (and there was Buhner and always Edgar too, of course). Before that, it was the 80s, and the Mariners looked like today’s Pirates. No stars, nobody special. And nobody watched. If the M’s let Ichiro go, who is the M’s? Ibanez? Please. If their multi-hit wonder goes off to greener pastures, and without a star-to-be waiting in the minors, this team is the 80s M’s again. The team that turned me off baseball for a decade.

  11. hw1933 on June 21st, 2007 9:29 am

    To follow up on NTN’s comment the Brewer bullpen at the time of the trade was in complete meltdown. Derrick Turnbow had imploded beyond belief and literally EVERY reliever was suffering from a combination of gopherballitis and walkatosis. Feel free to wander through the game logs in 2006 and see the myriad of ways the Crew was losing games thanks to train wreck of a bullpen. Melvin needed somebody to try and bring some order to a chaotic situation. he GM was trying to salvage the 2006 season not to compete for the division that season but to at least get enough calm for the team to see who might help them in 2007. The bullpen disaster was a total distraction to the team-building exercise. That Cordero has actually excelled long-term (if a year is long-term) is a legit bonus. And I think anyone has to agree that the Brewers are a team looking to win “now” versus 3 years from now. Cordero appears to be helping that effort. So while I disagreed with the trade at the time I understood it.

    Also, wasn’t there talk about the compensatory draft picks going away? I thought Melvin mentioned that as an element of the trade when interviewed. Though I could be wrong about the timing…….

  12. DAMellen on June 21st, 2007 11:45 pm

    Not to say I didn’t like this article. This is actually by far the most compelling argument to keep Ichiro that I’ve heard this season, but I think you left out an important detail. Most draft picks are still going to be a long way from being major league ready. Double and Triple A players are going to be more like a year or two away. I think that’s another reason Ichiro should go.

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