MLB Teams Are Learning

Dave · July 29, 2008 at 9:32 am · Filed Under Mariners 

As we head up to the trade deadline, we’re seeing a shift from what has taken place in years past. Yesterday, the Braves put all-star first baseman Mark Teixeira on the block, and the collective response from MLB was to yawn. Manny Ramirez was made available over the weekend, and no one cared. The M’s are trying to create a bidding war for Jarrod Washburn, but they can’t find anyone besides the Yankees who have much interest.

This isn’t a coincidence. Multiple GMs are being quoted publicly as saying they’ve never seen prospects being valued this highly before, and that teams simply aren’t willing to give up the kind of young talent they used to in order to acquire a veteran at the deadline. Why?

MLB GMs are getting smarter, and they’re learning from recent history. Look back at the big trades made in the last year, both in season and off season.

Arizona mortgages the farm for Dan Haren, he pitches well, their team regresses anyway.
New York acquires Johan Santana, he pitches well, their team struggles regardless
Mariners acquire Erik Bedard, season goes in the toilet
Tigers acquire Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, team underachieves
Braves acquire Mark Teixeira, are pretty much the same with him as before
Red Sox acquire Eric Gagne, he stinks

In all those deals, the team giving up significant prospects has not seen the results they were hoping for on a team wide basis. It’s not always the new acquisition’s fault (Haren’s been awesome), but one player on a 25 man roster just doesn’t make as much of a difference as most people think.

It’s taken them awhile, but the clubs themselves are finally figuring out how valuable young players are, and not buying into the “go for broke” hype anymore. Even the recent deals for C.C. Sabathia and Rich Harden were a big step back in terms of prospects received from what similar players were commanding several years ago, and more in line with what teams should be giving up for a deadline acquisition.

Slowly but surely, teams are realizing the truth – prospects aren’t some willy nilly lottery ticket that should be cashed in at the first chance to acquire a player you’ve actually heard of. Good teams build from within, and while there are trades that make sense for both teams, the crazy “my kingdom for a horse” type deals have seen their last days.


85 Responses to “MLB Teams Are Learning”

  1. greenwood ave on July 29th, 2008 12:45 pm

    At what point then do prospects become overvalued or inefficient?

  2. gwangung on July 29th, 2008 12:47 pm

    If the Mariners are commanding such a high price for Washburn, that probably means that they haven’t learned their lesson. They probably think that the reason the Bedard trade was stupid is that Bedard is a whimp and that it is all his fault.

    But then again, it might just be that HowChuck put handcuffs on Pelekoudas and won’t let him trade anybody for anything less thatn a king’s ransom.

    I don’t think it’s just HowChuck….it may be more, and larger parts of the organization, with more mid and upper level management thinking Washburn is more valuable than he is.

  3. Jeff Nye on July 29th, 2008 1:04 pm

    Jeez Jeff, did I really misspell “Mariners”? And you delete me for that despite negotiating the potentially more tricky “Longoria”?

    This is the only moderation discussion that I’m going to have in this comment thread, but I didn’t delete your comment. I didn’t even read it. For some odd reason, whenever someone gets angry about their comment being deleted, they assume it was me!

    But disputing moderation decisions in-thread isn’t going to generate any sympathy for your cause; send the authors an email if you think it should’ve been handled differently.

    (this assumes you are being serious; if you’re making a joke I apologize, not doing so well at reading tone today)

  4. heyoka on July 29th, 2008 1:14 pm

    It is unfortunate for us in the Northwest that the M’s are one of the last teams to learn their lesson, while the A’s took advantage just prior to this renaissance.

    I think it sometimes make sense to give up long term goals for short term gain, ala the BoSox/Marlins deal. But I agree with the sentiment that there was a general imbalance before.

    Since the Mariners already committed to the old way, what should they do? They’ve still got a year of Bedard and Beltre left. Ichiro isn’t getting any younger. Restocking the farm could take a while.

  5. msb on July 29th, 2008 1:44 pm

    Beltre is something akin to an unpaid coach and guidance counselor for the younger guys in the clubhouse like Betancourt and Lopez.

    this was in default of Carlos Garcia leaving last year; Garcia was apparently the self-appointed butt-kicker & mentor, and as their infield coach had some leverage. I doubt Beltre has much leverage beyond the respect other players have for him ….

  6. Griffey IsMySurrogateDad on July 29th, 2008 1:48 pm

    Monument to Baseball Efficiency vs Bill Bavasi

    Result? Everybody Loses

    Somebody please tell me there’s hope on the horizon…

  7. joser on July 29th, 2008 1:57 pm

    At what point then do prospects become overvalued or inefficient?

    This is actually a really interesting question, and I think the answer is: Never, at least as long as the structural imbalances created by the service time and league minimum/maximum salary rules remain in place. If the MLBPA ever gets those thrown out, so that everybody is a free agent from the start, we could eventually see the young guys getting overpaid compared to the old guys, but I doubt that’s going to happen — it’s the old guys who run the MLBPA, after all. (I’d personally like to see Charlie Finley’s idea of all contracts lasting no longer than one year — not because it’s necessarily a good idea, but just because I think it would be an interesting experiment. Would suck for fans who grow attached to players, of course.)

    I think we’ll see what the orginizations new (or unchanged) philoshophy is by who they hire as a GM.

    I’m actually starting to bet that they’re going to hire Pat Gillick to replace Armstrong (who will move up or aside), and he’ll then turn around and hire one of the Usual Suspects as GM.

    (Aside: Did you know the Firefox browser has a built-in spellchecker that would’ve caught both misspellings in that sentence? I’m a lousy speller, and it saves me all the time.)

  8. Evan on July 29th, 2008 2:51 pm

    If anyone doubts this, compare the C.C. Sabathia trade with the Bartolo Colon trade. The prospects Montreal gave up to get Colon would buy an entire team now.

  9. Jim_H on July 29th, 2008 2:59 pm

    As much as this trend is going to kill the M’s this trading deadline and off season, overall, it’s a good trend for baseball.

    I approve.

  10. Borat4President on July 29th, 2008 3:08 pm

    ummm..or not. Kotchman for Tex deal just about done according to ESPN.

  11. cdowley on July 29th, 2008 3:16 pm

    Seems to be confirmed, Kotchman and a minor league pitcher (one who’s pretty borderline at that, at least to my knowledge) for Tex.

    Great, this means that now he’ll cream us the rest of the year, and the FO will see that as a reason for him to play here…

  12. walkie83 on July 29th, 2008 3:16 pm

    “Mark Teixeira on the block, and the collective response from MLB was to yawn.”

    Hardly… it looks like the Braves got a really good return for him.

    Maybe you should wait to post columns like this until after the trade deadline passes…

  13. currcoug on July 29th, 2008 3:17 pm
  14. hincandenza on July 29th, 2008 3:18 pm

    Seth in #42 notes in reference to Mets bloggers demanding a trade for Manny that “The teams may be learning, but the bloggers aren’t…“, however Manny is a terrible example for this. The Mets would be foolish to trade for him… only because they are already 3rd in the league in offense, and Manny is a subpar defender that would increase their runs allowed. Besides, there is zero chance the Sox would trade Manny; they have a good shot at the playoffs this year, and the top 6 of their lineup is probably the best in baseball. They will let him walk in November with little compensation if it means they don’t hurt their chances this year.

    But the idea of trading for a rent-a-player is not some ill-conceived “conventional wisdom” that teams have finally wised up to. I think it’s more a case that the competitiveness of the field has lessened the value of the rent-a-player in the last 13 years. With three divisions and the Wild Card, and thus more chances to get in, there are right now still more than half the teams in the majors with a reasonable “one good streak away” chance at making the playoffs, i.e. 7 or so games back in their division or the WC. This kind of parity will severely dampen the fire sale/urgent buy mentality, unlike a two division/LCS only format where the playoff hunt is pretty much over for most teams by the trade deadline.

    The Sabathia trade is looking like a winner for the Brewers right now; he’s been giving them insanely good, innings-eating starts from day one. The Brewers haven’t seen the playoffs since 1982; now, they are poised to be the wild-card or even division winner. Most teams realize that the playoffs are not a guarantee. If you get close, and have a real and legitimate- not just mathematical- chance at the postseason you need to take it; another solid chance might be a few years away. But there’s more parity in the game than in the two-division format, and as such teams know they could be in the playoff hunt sooner rather than later. That is what is making the prospects seem more valuable than before.

    The 2007 WS was easily worth giving up even a Hanley Ramirez type player for a top notch third baseman and true #1 starter, although obviously Boston would love to still have Ramirez in at short, their only weak position in the field. The Red Sox don’t make too many deals that deplete the farm system for a quick fix, and when they do it seems to pay off.

    The Mariners mistake is in doing “stretch run” deals… in November… every single year.

  15. JJD on July 29th, 2008 3:21 pm

    Hardly… it looks like the Braves got a really good return for him.

    I thought the point of Dave’s post was that teams aren’t trading a handful of prospects for one guy. The Angels traded a starter and a prospect for a better starter. Doesn’t that kind of validate was Dave was saying?

  16. currcoug on July 29th, 2008 3:23 pm

    My guess is that the Angels will try to ink Teixeira to a long-term deal.

  17. walkie83 on July 29th, 2008 3:27 pm

    Kotchman is under team control through 2011. He is also only 25 years old. Yes, he is a starter .. but still has an upside(kind of like a what a prospect is, huh?). I don’t know much about Stephen Marek other than the fact that I’ve seen reports of him being one of the better prospects in the Angels’ farm system… and that he seems to strike out a lot of guys in relief.

  18. msb on July 29th, 2008 3:27 pm

    FWIW, Rosenthal earlier today was saying they’d do the deal with Kotchman + if the trade was Tex +

  19. msb on July 29th, 2008 3:29 pm

    and his update, pointing out that if they lose Tex, they have two draft picks and Kendry Morales in the wings.

  20. walkie83 on July 29th, 2008 3:32 pm

    I feel bad for Casey Kotchman… it must suck to go from a winner to a loser…

  21. JJD on July 29th, 2008 3:47 pm

    Kotchman is under team control through 2011. He is also only 25 years old. Yes, he is a starter .. but still has an upside(kind of like a what a prospect is, huh?).

    Teixeira is only *28*. He has a career OPS+ of 132. Yes, the contract is going to be a bear, but obviously if they want to the Angels can afford it. They gave up a 25-year old starter at the same position (whose career OPS+ is 101) and a pitching prospect. I’m still not sure how you could argue this is even close to the Haren or Bedard packages, or any other” multiple prospects for one guy” type of deal..

    while there are trades that make sense for both teams, the crazy “my kingdom for a horse” type deals have seen their last days

    This is definitely NOT a “kingdom for a horse” type of deal.

  22. walkie83 on July 29th, 2008 4:01 pm

    When did I argue that this is close to the Haren or Bedard packages? All I said was the Braves got a pretty good return for someone that they were not going to resign. Also, the prospect that they would have got if they lost him to free agency probably wouldn’t have come close to what they got in this trade.

    Should the Angels have done this? Sure! If I were them I’d certainly do it. They are in great shape to win the World Series now.

    However, if I were the Braves, would I be happy? Absolutely!

    I just commented on the one line where Dave said “the Braves put all-star first baseman Mark Teixeira on the block, and the collective response from MLB was to yawn” because that is not true. As for the other thing I said.. we are still 2 days away from the trading deadline. Who knows what will actually happen. Sure, maybe it is not the same as it was a few years ago .. as far as the prospects that people were willing to trade. I just think the Braves got good value for a player they would not be able to keep .. and that this post was a little premature because we haven’t seen what deadline deals will actually be made.

  23. JJD on July 29th, 2008 4:12 pm

    If you had elaborated like you just did in your first post, I probably wouldn’t even have commented. But that you ended it with this.

    Maybe you should wait to post columns like this until after the trade deadline passes…

    I thought that was pretty snarky, so if it wasn’t meant so, then sorry, my Bavasi.

  24. Mike Snow on July 29th, 2008 4:14 pm

    The Braves traded five players, including their top prospects, to get Teixeira. When dealing him away, they got back only two players (one decent big leaguer and one middling prospect).

    The Mariners traded five players for Erik Bedard, and I’d say the value they gave up was close to what the Braves traded for Teixeira. When the Mariners trade Bedard, they will get back…

  25. Breadbaker on July 29th, 2008 4:26 pm

    74: Hopefully two draft picks.

  26. joser on July 29th, 2008 4:31 pm

    I have to assume the Braves see something in Merek, and they have a pretty good track record at evaluating pitching (and maximizing what they have), because he’s what is supposed to make up the difference in talent between Kotchman and Teixeira (or between Kotchman and two draft picks).

    (And you should probably just ignore walkie83, just as you would any other troll with an agenda)

  27. spar123 on July 29th, 2008 4:33 pm

    yet another one called by these guys… no worries though – all us bloggers are, and the guys who take the time to run the sites, are just posters who voice their opinion only – we aren’t much smarter at all than any other poster on any site at any given time – no matter what some may think of themselves.

  28. PADJ on July 29th, 2008 5:05 pm

    Not that you should believe everything you hear from Rosenthal…

    Two teams that inquired about Mariners reliever J.J. Putz were told that he would not be traded. But others say that Putz indeed is available, along with every player on the M’s roster except for right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, right-hander Felix Hernandez, catcher Kenji Johjima and reliever Brandon Morrow.

    Granted that quote is pretty convoluted, but Kenji is “not available”?

  29. msb on July 29th, 2008 6:24 pm

    “Mark Teixeira on the block, and the collective response from MLB was to yawn.”

    and Olney points out on ESPN that the Angels weren’t really looking to get into the Tex sweepstakes until the Braves price dropped dramatically when they realized not many teams were interested….

  30. Mike Snow on July 29th, 2008 6:25 pm

    Kenji being “not available” in trade makes sense in the same way that Kenji’s extension does.

  31. Dave on July 29th, 2008 6:37 pm

    The Braves pick up three years of arbitration eligible Kotchman (a good, not great player who will no longer be cheap) in exchange for the best hitter on the market. If you can’t see how that’s a huge step back from what teams were paying a year or two ago, I don’t know what to say.

  32. msb on July 29th, 2008 7:45 pm

    Not that you should believe everything you hear from Rosenthal…

    nope. or, rather, yup.

  33. Goose on July 29th, 2008 8:57 pm

    I’d say the Dbacks have done a decent job of building within despite selling most of the farm for Haren(who they are in talks with on an extension right now).

    Out of the current 25 man roster 14 are home grown, and 10 of those are 26 or younger. They’re also going to have at least 3, with possibly as many as 7, of the first 75 picks or so in the next draft. So I they could potentially rebuild the system rather quickly.

  34. greenwood ave on July 29th, 2008 10:26 pm

    57 (joser):

    Thanks for the reply…it’s a question I’ve been wrestling with. I disagree with your assertion though. Whilst prospects and players with limited service time are definitely undervalued (at least by Bavasi and his ilk), I do think there comes a point when the value of trading for a guy like Teixeira does outweigh the costs in prospects. Part of the equation is really hard to figure because for every Colon or Slocumb trade, there are many, many other trades of much hyped 21 year olds who really have a good chance of turning 30 rather than turning into even bench players. And while this is obvious, what value can be placed on Triunfel or Balentien or Aumont, dollar wise?

    It seems to me that if the pendulum is swinging in the direction of favoring prospects, then there should be a point where prospects are in fact overvalued, almost by definition. Where that point is or how to calculate it, I have no idea.

  35. Dave on July 29th, 2008 11:47 pm

    You basically just have to figure out the risks involved in that prospect developing and weigh that against the benefit that would be received if the player does develop.

    So, let’s say there’s a 20% chance that Carlos Triunfel turns into CARLOS TRIUNFEL, a .300/.350/.500 second baseman. If you figure that having that guy under contract for six years at below market rates is worth (and I’m making this figure up) $70 million compared to what he’d cost on the free market, than Triunfel’s value is 20% of $70 million, or $14 million.

    Now, this is obviously a ridiculously overstated example, because I’m only presenting two possibilities (he’s awesome or he has no value at all) and ignoring everything in between, while in actuality, there are many more shades of gray. But the process is the same – you figure out what the aggregate value opportunity of a prospect is, then divide the risks, and you get a net present value.

    There’s certainly a point where it could swing too far in favor of prospects. We’re not there, though.

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