Trading Your Way to Success

marc w · November 14, 2016 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

So since last we spoke of Brazilian fireballers and AFL data, a lot has happened. Free agency is now in full swing, with the Braves already landing two starters in RA Dickey and Bartolo Colon. There’s been…other news as well. I’m not going to talk about any of that today, as I’ve a well-earned anti-topicality reputation, and now’s no time to start getting timely. The news brings us some interesting musing on the free agency market, but I’d like to talk about trades – which is nice, because the M’s recently made another one.

The real impetus of this post was an image – a picture of Mike Montgomery and the Cubs celebrating their Game 7 win, an event you probably heard about. I think it was this one*, and I think it came from a retweet from new Lookout Landing co-editor and Montgomery fan Kate Preusser, but there are a bunch of them; this happens when you get the save in Game 7 of the World Series, breaking a 108-year Series drought. Mike Montgomery, recent trade acquisition (with M’s, for Dan Vogelbach), replaced Carl Edwards Jr., less-recent trade acquisition (with Texas, for Matt Garze), who replaced Aroldis Chapman, most-recent trade acquisition (with Yankees, for Gleyber Torres+), in a game started by Kyle Hendricks, least-recent trade acquisition (with Texas, for Ryan Dempster).

Everyone knows that the Cubs had been in a rebuild, and that they drafted well in recent years, giving them key contributors Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber, among others. What stood out to me, though, was the sheer volume of traded players on that team. Jake Arrieta was acquired in a deal so minor it involved the actual Steve Clevenger. Addison Russell came over in a blockbuster, with the Cubs shipping two starters (including Jeff Samardzija) to Oakland. Anthony Rizzo swapped for Andrew Cashner, etc. Sure, sure, as a team with plenty of resources, they didn’t need to rely *solely* on this draft-and-trade philosophy; Jon Lester was a big free agent signing, along with Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist. But the volume and importance of the trades seemed somewhat remarkable, and so in the wake of that win, I tweeted this:

Was that off-handed comment even close to being right? Does it matter? This is just some observations and not a real study or anything, but the initial answers are 1) kind of, but it depends and 2) no, none of this matters, but it’s nice to think about championships sometimes.

I took a look at the 10 most recent Series winners, going from the 2007 Red Sox through the 2016 Cubs, and then broke out the WAR they got from players acquired in trade. I then broke that out by pitchers and position players. I used bWAR for this, since they have some handy tables on traded players. The average Series winner over the past 10 years got 7.36 WAR from traded-for players, while this year’s Cubbies got 22.2 – nearly triple the 10-year rolling average. Not bad. But this is way too simplistic you say, snatching away a tiny, harmless moment of joy from me: isn’t this 10-year look going to heavily, heavily overweight the Giants teams that somewhat bizarrely had essentially no contributions from traded players? Yes, I suppose you’re right, you pedant, but if you think I’m going to pull the numbers from every WS winner, you’re insane. Fine, continues this irritating-yet-undeniably-on-to-something know-it-all, but at least show the WS *losers,* as then you might pick up on trade-crazy teams like the Rangers. To get rid of this pest and this equally-annoying writing device, I did the same for the WS *losers* from 2007-2016. The Series *losers* averaged 15.3 WAR from traded players, with this year’s Cleveland Indians notching 21.4 WAR from traded players (thanks Corey Kluber). The Cubs got a ton of value from traded players, but so did the Indians, and neither was all THAT far out of step with previous Series teams.**

The Giants clearly were a team that got by with savvy free agent pick-ups and a truly remarkable player development team. The first Giants Series winning team (2010) had all of 3.5 WAR from traded players. Their 2012 winners were up to 8 thanks to Melky Cabrera. By 2014, Hunter Pence was a key factor, but they were still at only 6 WAR from traded players. Joining them in the trades-are-overrated camp were the Phillies of 2008-09, who had 5.2 WAR *combined* in their two NL championship years. Their opponents in 2009, the Yankees, had only 1.4, so the combined traded-player WAR total of the AL and NL champs in 2009 was just 2.8. The Cardinals had very little, too, and even the Mets last year, who famously rode Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard to the NL title, only came in at 7.7. So the Cubs have been quite remarkable for a *National* league team, but much less stunning than several recent AL teams.

Why have recent AL teams gotten so much more WAR from traded players? Fully 5 of the past 10 AL champs have at least 20 WAR from traded players, headlined by the team with the most in this 10-year look, the 2011 Texas Rangers. The Rangers have long had a a formidable talent pipeline; they’re a team that’s done a lot of work in Latin America, but they’ve also drafted fairly well. Still, these data reflect the fact that Jon Daniels and the Rangers make a *lot* of deals. Hell, we’ve already mentioned that the Cubs got some vital components of their Series winning teams by trading with Texas. The Rangers were, in many ways, the anti-Giants (or, perhaps better, the anti-Phillies) – they developed young talent and then traded it away for whatever they needed. They developed Edinson Volquez then swapped him for Josh Hamilton. They acquired Mark Texeira, then swapped him for Elvis Andrus, Neftali Felix and Matt Harrison. It’s still their MO – need a lift? Trade for Cliff Lee, or Cole Hamels, or Matt Garza, or Ryan Dempster, etc. In part, this is the benefit of a deep farm system; you always have the ability to make a deal if you want to. But it also allows them to avoid the problems that come with being TOO focused on free agency or player development. The Phillies have had a hard time since their homegrown core turned brittle and bad, and they’re now rebuilding through some big trades after a front-office shake-up.

The Rangers and Cubs are notable in that their WAR was acquired through multiple deals, many of them minor. The Tigers of 2012 and, to an extent, the Royals of 2014-15 are the opposite: they had a decent amount of production from traded players, but it came from a couple of big blockbusters. The Tigers 23.1 WAR in 2012 was in large part the product of the franchise-changing trade that sent Miguel Cabrera to Detroit for Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller. Not only that, but the Tigers swapped Edwin Jackson for Max Scherzer, so they had huge contributors on both sides of the ball. The Royals made the series in 2014 thanks to two huge trades: their swap of Zack Greinke to Milwaukee that netted them Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, and the much-discussed swap of Wil Myers for Wade Davis and James Shields. By 2015, Shields had moved on, and so nearly all of their trade value came from Cain, though Ben Zobrist – acquired at the deadline from Oakland – helped as well.

The Cubs experience stands out because so many of their deals turned out favorably. Turning a clearly busted prospect in Jake Arrieta into an ace? Buying low on Anthony Rizzo and watch him go from average-ish to superstar? Tweaking Dexter Fowler’s positioning and watching him go from overrated player to all-around asset? That’s got less to do with a front office’s *approach* and much more to do with its *skill*. The Rangers traded just as often, if not more so, at every level – from waiver claim swap to blockbuster – and have a history littered with both wins and losses. That trade for Rule 5 pick Josh Hamilton? Huge, as was the Teixeira trade. Losing Kyle Hendricks to Chicago, or Chris Davis to Baltimore, or even Edwards in exchange for Garza, who’d put up negative WAR in 2013 hurt. That’s not to say their approach is wrong; the Rangers won two pennants and are *still* a threat in the AL West thanks to their high-frequency trading strategies.

What have we learned here? Not quite sure, but we’ve confirmed that the Cubs had a much larger-than-average share of their production come from trades. Texas is almost addicted to swaps, which has entailed suffering through some oops moments, but may help their resilience and budgetary flexibility (NOT signing Josh Hamilton helped there, too). The recent Giants and Cardinals teams were remarkably good at developing home-grown players, which lessened the need for trades. There are clearly multiple pathways to success in the league, but in the end, player development is a key part of any of these strategies. You can lean almost entirely on player development, like the Giants did (Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, etc.), OR you can turn low-key trade throw-ins into superstars like the Cubs (Arrieta, Hendricks). You can get more value out of hyped prospects like Addison Russell, and you can take players with some MLB experience to the next level, like Wade Davis or Anthony Rizzo. Ultimately, everything in baseball gets easier when player development works. The M’s saw some hopeful signs in that department this year; let’s hope they build on them.

* I’ve thought about the most iconic moment from a recent Mariner is – that is, what’s some event or image that’s indelibly imprinted on sports fans that centered on a Mariner? The Double, yes, Felix’s perfecto, ehhhhh – there are things that mean the world to US, but that suffer due to the fact that the M’s have never won an AL title, let alone a series. I was thinking that this image, of Mike Montgomery as the final pitcher in the final inning of the Cubs 108-year drought would have to be it. While it was an unremarkable performance from Monty, it was highly, highly leveraged. In fact, it was a rare example of a “Golden Pitch” – a term invented by SABR member Wade Kapszukiewicz for a pitch that could produce two different World Series winners. An out, and the pitcher’s team would win the Series. A HR, and the batter’s team would win. Only a few series in history come down to situations like this (the 2014 Series had some, too). This displaces Dave Henderson’s heroics in Game 5 of the ALCS of 1986. Henderson, who’d been acquired a few months earlier in exchange for Mike Trujillo and Rey Quinones, came in late in the game and ended up hitting a go-ahead HR with 2 outs in the 9th, with the Sox down 3-1 in the series against the best closer in the AL. To top it off, Henderson knocked in the winning run in the 10th (after the Angels tied it in the bottom of the 9th). That was amazing, and I remember being so happy for him – this was M’s fandom in the dark days of the 80s: hoping to see your favorites do well in the playoffs after being traded away/signed by bigger clubs. Randy Johnson has plenty of qualifying moments, like his Series MVP-win in 2001, but they occurred quite a ways after leaving Seattle. He nearly single-handedly carried Houston to the playoffs after the trade in 1998, but Houston couldn’t hit, giving him 2 losses despite an ERA under 2. Any others come to mind?

** The Cubs didn’t have as much total WAR from traded players as the ’11 Rangers, but they’re the only team in this (small) sample to get at least 10 bWAR from both pitchers and position players.


7 Responses to “Trading Your Way to Success”

  1. maqman on November 15th, 2016 1:40 am

    Given that GM Jerry is an active trader, with probably an average level of success, he will need their new development program to provide him with the chips to deal with. The developmental process seems to be in place to do this in coming years. There is however the need to draft talent suitable for development. His first year’s draft has looked pretty decent, including Kyle Lewis, Eric Filia, Donnie Walton and Nick Zammarelli among others showing well. If they can supplement the draft with judicious international selections we should be set fair for the future.

  2. sexymarinersfan on November 15th, 2016 4:58 pm

    I saw that J.D. Martinez was on the trading block for Detroit. Rumor has it that San Fran was talking a possible trade. I think one of the biggest trade chips that we have is Tyler O’Neill. Would this be the right move to make a run for the postseason? Or is Martinez even worth it?

  3. Notfromboise on November 20th, 2016 6:53 am

    Martinez has been a .900 OPS guy in the Tiger lineup in the 3 years since coming over from Houston. Not a great fielder, but 29. A heckuva lot better than anyone we’d put in RF.

    The asking price might be a bit high, but he’d be an obvious upgrade in right field. I imagine Dipoto is going to start making some noise soon, since out of Martin/Smith/Guti/et al no one is really signed long term or (more importantly) really part of the team’s long term plans.

    Martin is a friends-with-benefits kinda stopgap until our affiliates can provide with better… Who has a chance to stick if he keeps showing signs of promise (and flashes of Mike Cameron) in center..

    Guti is guti, and no ones long term plans.. Smith is a a bit long in the tooth, etc..

    I viewed 2016 as a kind of ‘rollover’ season, where Dipoto threw around some short term contracts and spackle and pasted some holes with the idea of 2017 bringing a more permanent look.. or at least a cleared look at more permanent solutions. Dae Ho Lee could be our starting 1B in 2017 or not on the roster by the time 2017 rolls around.. *a lot* of this is playing with house money. We have flexibility to pursue better options, and the roster spots and cash to reward those who performed in the transitional 2016, too.

  4. mrakbaseball on November 20th, 2016 8:28 pm

    With the addition of Valencia, Dae-Ho Lee’s return doesn’t make any sense.

  5. bluemoonking on November 21st, 2016 10:47 am

    What about signing Shohei Otani? He can pitch and hit. At 22 years old, you get young real quick and you could have another Ichiro…

    Trading for add-on pieces is great. Make a real splash… Go all in before another club does. He will pay for himself.

  6. stevemotivateir on November 21st, 2016 7:00 pm

    ^He hasn’t and won’t be posted any time soon.

  7. stevemotivateir on November 21st, 2016 7:07 pm

    Hey Marc, first of all, thanks for your continued effort. Lot of great stuff in your last few posts.

    Second, I’m curious what kind of moves you believe would make the most sense now. I think most people would agree that Cozart is a perfect fit, but what about the outfield and a lefty for the pen that can actually hold runners?

    Thanks again!

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