Monday, June 26, 2006

Gotta Wear Shades


An article in the New York Times today highlighted the Yankees #1 pitching prospect, Phillip Hughes. The article talked about him being untouchable, meaning that the Yankees would not include him in a trade regardless of the offer. I've already touched on this subject but I wanted to revisit this today. The Mets traded away Scott Kazmir to the Devil Rays two seasons ago for Victor Zambrano, a pitcher they thought could help them win immediately. That trade has turned out very badly for the Mets, as Kazmir looks like he could develop into a #1 starter, if he's not there already and Zambrano was inconsistent and now is on the shelf with an arm injury. That kind of trade makes GM's nervous to trade prospects. The problem however is not the prospects, it's what you get back in the deal.

The Mets traded Nolan Ryan for Jim Fergosi and lived to regret it. The Cubs traded Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio who went 7-19 over two seasons and have never lived that trade down. The Red Sox traded away Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen who pitched 22 innings for the Sox, posted no won lost record and saved one game. The Red Sox also traded away Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson to Baltimore for Mike Boddicker, who did go 39-19 in two and a half seasons with the Sox, but certainly did not make up for losing two productive players. The Tigers traded 178 wins and a 154 saves in John Smoltz to the Braves for 29-29 record over 3 years from Doyle Alexander.

The trades that have gone bad are remembered much more than the trades that worked out. Writers are quick to point out that the Yankees traded Fred McGriff for Dale Murray, but they aren't so quick to point out that they traded Homer Bush, Lloyd Graeme and David Wells for Roger Clemens or the afore mentioned Marty Janzen for David Cone. Mistakes are easy to point out and they make for good press, but the truth is that trades for prospects are seldom going to come back to haunt you. Baseball is probably the hardest major sport to predict success based on your track record from lower leagues. High school players are constantly being drafted by major league teams, but for every Derek Jeter, there are 10 Brien Taylors.

It's the steals and mistakes that make the headlines, but they are by far the minority in these types of deals. In the mid nineties the Mets had three pitchers who they were going to build their entire team around. Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson and Jason Isringhausen. They were all deemed untouchable by the Mets. There wasn't a player who they would have traded them for. Offering Randy Johnson still wouldn't have gotten the Mets to part with those players. Unfortunately, they all ending up having significant arm problems, missed seasons of work and the Mets got less than 10 major league wins out of the three of them combined. Isringhausen has gone on to rack up more than 200 saves as a closer with other teams, but Wilson and Pulshipher have had less than stellar careers and at this point are out of baseball. It just goes to show you that potential does not necessarily equate to success.

Do I think teams should regularly trade away every top prospect in their organization? Of course not, but if the opportunity comes along to make a trade that will benefit your team and the cost is one of the your prized minor leaguers, the truth is that more often than not, that risk is worth it. A lot more often than not. Hindsight makes everyone a genius. How could the Yankess possibly have traded Willie McGee for Bob Sykes? How could they have traded Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps? They made those trades because they thought those players could help them win. They were wrong, but as I said, the truth is that the majority of trades have not turned out to be disasters. Maybe that says something about the quality of Yankees minor league system of late, or maybe its just really hard to be a quality major league player. So few can do it that if you have the chance to trade for someone who has proven that he can do it, for the most part it makes sense to make that deal.

I hope that the Yankees don't trade Phillip Hughes. It's been a while since the farm system has produced a quality arm (Pettite, Rivera), but if the right deal comes along, I'm certainly willing to roll the dice. And hopefully Cashman is too.

By the way, this is the 100th post on this site. I want to thank all five of my loyal readers. I don't know you all by name, but I appreciate you coming back to read my ramblings on a regular basis. And I'm also hoping that a couple of my fellow site "contributors" will start contributing just a little more.

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