Grading the Trade Deadline: Part 1
- Updated: August 9, 2011
This year’s crop of deadline deals was widely expected to be one of the weakest trading markets in recent history, and in many ways, it was. So many teams in dire need of a shortstop or catcher simply couldn’t find suitable ones on the market, and teams looking to make big additions were met with astronomical prices in terms of dollars and prospects, a result of the bidding war caused by the lack of solid options on the market. In the end, several big names will be trying to propel their new employers to the playoffs and beyond. However, some of these players’ new teams will eventually look back at the huge prospect haul they gave up for a rental on a more established player with chagrin, as several of the minor leaguers moved will likely develop into contributing big-leaguers or even stars. So, which teams took good risks in an effort to put themselves over the top, and which mortgaged the future too heavily for their present returns to exceed the potential they gave up?
I’ll be taking a somewhat subjective look, then putting the trades under the lens of Victor Wang’s prospect value research to see how teams fared using a more objective method. Wang’s research values prospects based on their status in Baseball America’s top 100 and John Sickels’ prospect ratings, and though it’s not perfect, it’s the best method we have for determining prospect values. I’ll be using 3-year WAR average values for major leaguers, and projecting that over the course of the remainder of their contract, and assuming the standard 40/60/80 progression for arbitration cases. I’ve projected them to continue to accumulate WAR for 2011 at the same rate that they have so far this year, and used a fairly standard rate of $5M/WAR. There’s a lot of educated guessing involved here, but it’s a quick and dirty way to get a sense for the values of the players dealt heading up to the deadline.
The Braves added the leadoff presence and solid defense they were hoping Schafer would provide as he continued his development. Bourn is arbitration-eligible for the final time after this year, so the Braves have the CF position covered for the next two seasons.
The Astros won’t be making any waves before Bourn hits free agency, so even though this haul isn’t nearly as impressive as some of the other prospect bounties thrown around as the deadline approached, GM Ed Wade simply needed to get something of value in return for Bourn. He did, as they picked up several young players with the potential to be solid contributors to the next good Astros club.
The Money Math:
Bourn: $4.4 this year ($1.5M remaining), projecting $6M for arbitration 3 next year. 1.5 WAR projected for this year, 4.9 for next year comes out to $24.5M projected surplus value.
Undisclosed amount of cash
Schafer: $23.4M based on his 2009 BA prospect ranking, no WAR in nearly half of two years at the major league level, although he’s been much better this year than last. Gonna split the difference and say he ends up at something like $10M surplus value.
Oberholtzer: Grade C+ pitcher, 22 or younger: $2.1M surplus value
Clemens: Grade C+ pitcher, 23 or older: $1.5M surplus value
Abreu: Grade C pitcher, 23 or older: 1.5M surplus value.
Assuming Schafer continues to improve and does become a 2-3 WAR guy in Houston, the Braves receive a total of $9.5M more than the Astros in surplus value. Subtract the money they sent over, and it gets closer. Consider that 6 WAR over the next two years is much more valuable to the Braves than it is to the Astros, and that the prospects are much more valuable to Houston, and I think this looks like a win-win.
This is a decisive win-now move by GM Brian Sabean, but given that the Giants have a rather large window of contention with their impressive stable of young arms, giving up an integral piece of the future may backfire. On the day they acquired Beltran, the Giants’ playoff odds were 97.9%, according to Baseball Prospectus. Though acquiring Beltran certainly could have been the move necessary to put the Giants over the top and allow them to repeat as NL West champs, they likely would have won the division without Beltran. The only question then becomes how much Beltran increases the Giants’ odds of making another deep playoff run. Basically, if the Giants don’t repeat as World Series Champs, Beltran likely won’t have added anything substantive to the team. Since the playoffs are essentially a crapshoot, they paid a lot for a guy who can only help them for one playoff race.
In Wheeler, the Mets added a legitimate top prospect to go along with Matt Harvey, the team’s other promising arm. Since Beltran’s contract contained a clause that forbid his team from offering arbitration after this season, if the Mets had kept Beltran they would have lost him with no compensation, so he needed to get moved at the deadline. The Mets also tossed in some cash to pay Beltran’s contract, but GM Sandy Alderson moved an aging outfielder and a pending free agent on a non-contending team for a possible future ace. Something tells me in three years we’ll all be calling this the “Wheeler Trade.”
The Money Math:
Beltran: 2 WAR, $6.5M
$4M, to pay most of Beltran’s salary.
Wheeler: Top 26-50 pitching prospect (35 in BA midseason update): $15.9M surplus value
Again, these are two teams with different goals, and Beltran’s 2 WAR in the remaining half of this season is more valuable to the Giants than the bigger numbers Wheeler will likely put up in the future. However, with the Giants’ surplus value sitting at $7.5M and the Mets projected at $11.9M (Wheeler minus the cash sent over), this looks like a win for Alderson. As is usually the case with trades involving pitching prospects, if Wheeler pans out, it’s a coup for the Mets, whereas if he flames out, the Giants have upgraded their lineup at minimal cost.
The Phillies needed to upgrade their lineup, and paid a huge price to do so. In Pence, the Phillies pick up a replacement for the scuffling Domonic Brown/ Ben Francisco platoon that had held down the right field position since the offseason departure of Jayson Werth. Pence is essentially a better, cheaper, younger version of Werth, providing the bat that ultimately moves the Phillies from being a strong contender for the NL Pennant to being the odds-on favorite. Pence will be Phillies property until 2014, as he’ll go to arbitration twice more as a Super Two.
Tough to imagine the Stros getting much more in return for Pence. Singleton, a first baseman, is an all-bat masher, while Cosart is a hard-throwing starter with some control issues but undeniable stuff. They’re two very good prospects, but both come with a lot of risk. If both or either reach their considerable potential, this trade could be a huge part of the way back to contention for the Astros. If neither do, it’s a great pickup for the Phillies, getting a sure thing for a couple prospects who could struggle to produce in the majors. I’m guessing that the Astros do end up getting some value back in this trade, and the Phillies lock down the right field position for the foreseeable future. With the Phillies’ window of contention slowly shrinking as their rotation ages and the Astros’ perhaps a few years from opening up, this trade looks like it could be a positive for both sides.
The Money Math:
Pence: $6.9M this year ($2.3M remaining), projecting $9.2M next year, $11.5M for 2013. Projecting 1.5 WAR this year, 3.9 WAR next two years. Projecting $24M in surplus value.
Cosart: Top 26-50 pitching prospect (43 in BA midseason update): $15.9M surplus value
Singleton: Top 26-50 hitting prospect (41 in BA midseason update): $23.4M surplus value
Zeid: Grade C pitcher, 23 or older: $1.5M surplus value
This is a huge haul for the Astros, as they’re receiving a projected $16.8M in extra value from this deal. If Cosart and Singleton develop into productive major leaguers, this trade could lay the foundation for the next Astros playoff run. However, the Phillies needed to add a bat to their lineup, and although they may have been forced to overpay to do it, Pence certainly fits right into their short-term contention plan.