Letting Ichiro Leave For Nothing
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?
|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.