Monday, December 2, 2013

Trade Talk Involving Prospects ?

   When the Blue Jays acquired R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle without giving up anyone from the major league roster, we were as giddy as the 2 1/2 million fans who went through the turnstiles at the Rogers Centre this season, in anticipation of playoff glory.
   Such was not the case, however, and not only did the Blue Jays not get anywhere close to the post-season, but several of the prospects they gave up in the above deals gave life and hope to their new organizations.  The Mets were buoyed by the acquisition of Noah Syndergaard, who cracked both the Florida State and Eastern League top 10 prospect lists, and started for the American side at the Future Stars game, played at Citi Field during the All-Star break. Catcher Travis d'Arnaud, the Jays top prospect prior to the trade, made his MLB debut late in the season, and while he didn't set the world on fire, he and Syndergaard helped soften the loss of Matt Harvey for Mets fans.
   And the agony for Jays fans doesn't end there.  Outfielder Jake Marisnick made his debut for the Marlins, and Justin Nicolino made the top 10 Florida State League top prospects list as well, and was promoted to AA.
  With rumours abounding that the Jays were considering moving more prospects for Cubs starter Jeff Smardzija, it begs the question of whether or not trading prospects is a good idea.  The answer, of course, depends on the contending status of the team willing to trade them.  The Jays thought that they were on the cusp on contending last fall, and were just a few pieces away from a title.  In that case, improving your roster for players not on your 40 man makes sense.  Prospects, after all, are just that, and the players the Jays dealt away (with the exception of d'Arnaud) didn't fit with the slim window for winning the club was faced with.
And prospects don't always pan out.  Here's a list of Baseball America's minor league players of the year since 2000:
 
2000Jon Rauch, rhp, Winston-Salem/Birmingham (White Sox)
2001Josh Beckett, rhp, Brevard County/Portland (Marlins)
2002Rocco Baldelli, of, Bakersfield/Orlando/Durham (Devil Rays)
2003Joe Mauer, c, Fort Myers/New Britain (Twins)
2004Jeff Francis, lhp, Tulsa/Colorado Springs (Rockies)
2005Delmon Young, of, Montgomery/Durham (Devil Rays)
2006Alex Gordon, 3b, Wichita (Royals)
2007Jay Bruce, of, Sarasota/Chattanooga/Louisville (Reds)
2008Matt Wieters, c, Frederick/Bowie (Orioles)
2009Jason Heyward, of, Myrtle Beach/Mississippi/Gwinnett (Braves)
2010Jeremy Hellickson, rhp, Durham/Charlotte (Rays)
2011Mike Trout, of, Arkansas (Angels)
2012Wil Myers, of, Northwest Arkansas/Omaha (Royals)

  While that's a decent group of players, you can't call any of them other than Trout franchise players. 
 Dealing prospects, then, does make sense.  In the right situation.  The risk, of course, is that the players you deal for don't bring about the expected results, and/or the prospects dealt develop faster (or better) than had been thought.  To get quality, you have to give up quality.  Which is why we don't think dealing any of the Jays top prospects for Smardzija is wise.  We're not sure the return is worth it. David Price is the other name attracting a lot of attention in the rumour mill, but Tampa would likely demand several top prospects, and given his recent injury history, we're not sure that's good value, either.  Dealing prospects also can cause problems in the parent club runs into injury troubles, or if a player on the big club struggles.  Nicolino and Syndergaard may not have helped in either of these regards, but Marisnick and d'Arnaud certainly would've.
   There do appear to be two types of trades involving prospects.  There's the to-get-quality-you-have-to-give-up-quality type, as in the Dickey trade.  High-end talents from the system are given up to get a proven, first division major leaguer.  Then there's the quantity type of deal, where a team gives up a flock of minor leaguers, few of whom have high ceilings, but the team acquiring them is in development mode, and is selling off assets that don't fit into their long range plans.  That would be the case the the J.A. Happ deal the Jays made with Houston last year. The Blue Jays also pretty much emptied their farm system in the last half of 2012, in the deals with the Mets, Marlins, and Astros.  They weakened it from both a quality and quantity perspective.  Fortunately, their appears to be a wealth of arms close to making their full season debuts next season, so the system is on the upswing.  To support those players, however, you need to have a solid core of both position player and prospects and quality org guys.   While development takes priority over winning in the minors, you don't want your prized prospects to be on a team that loses twice as many games as they win.
  So, is the time right for the Jays to deal prospects, either from a quality or a quantity viewpoint ?  In our opinion, no.  While the system is on the rise again, it's too early to deal top talent like Sanchez, Stroman, or Davis (especially for someone like Smardzija).  And dealing talent from outside of the top 10 really would weaken the organization.  Most of those players would be toiling at the lower levels of the system, and after the success of Vancouver and Bluefield this year, the club on the next rung of the ladder, Lansing, is poised to have a breakout, prospect-laden season.
 How does the club improve, then?  By pursuing under-valued free agents, and by using some of their bullpen depth at the major league level to acquire an end of the rotation starter, and by hoping for a return to form for Dickey and Brandon Morrow, and that one or both of Sean Nolin or Marcus Stroman make significant contributions to the pitching staff.
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