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On Trades and Prospects

Not all trades involving Prospects are created equal. How has Ruben Amaro done overall?


The Phillies recently completed two trades involving prospects. I kind of like one and I kind of dislike the other. I certainly think both are better than some past trades Ruben has made, so I've decided to look back at Ruben's trade history, good and bad.

Trade 1:

Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco acquired for Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson

Sure, in retrospect this one looks mighty good, but at the time Carrasco was the Phillies top pitching prospect (on many lists he was tops overall for the team) and Marson the top catching prospect. Obviously there's no point in arguing Lee, he's been fantastic both times (more on that later). Carrasco's still a young Starter (25) with mid-rotation potential. He doesn't walk many guys and he has a rather high % of Ground Balls. Marson's become a solid backup Catcher. Jason Donald is a fringe backup. He kind of stinks defensively and he doesn't hit often enough or with enough power to make up for it. Sadly, Knapp's career appears to have come to an end. Guy just couldn't stay healthy. He was the wild card of the trade and he didn't pan out.

At the end I would call this is a pretty even/fair trade. The Indians knew they had to trade their Ace and their return of a mid rotation starter and backup catcher is better than many teams in the same situation have made out. The Phillies meanwhile, got an Ace who helped get them to World Series #2 of the Charlie Manuel era. Ruben traded some useful players, but none that the Phillies have badly needed since the trade. At the time Carrasco was generally listed as the #1 prospect in the system, with Marson a bit further down the top 10 and Donald (in retrospect somewhat unbelievably) listed in most top 20's.

Trade 2:

Roy Halladay for Travis D'Arnaud, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor (then flipped for Brett Wallace with Oakland)

This one's tougher than the Lee trade, for me. In the Lee trade we gave up a few competent future major leaguers and a wild card for one of the 20 best starters in baseball. For Halladay we gave up a Pitcher again ranked pre-season as the top prospect in the system, a Catcher ranked in the top 10 and an outfielder (in retrospect somewhat unbelievably) ranked in the top 6 or 7 prospects in the system. In return the Phillies got arguably one of the 5-10 best pitchers in baseball. What makes this trade tough in retrospect is that D'Arnaud looks really, really special. He's, at worst, the second best Catching prospect in all baseball (I could see a solid argument to rank him above Mike Zunino, who's the closest competition). Drabek has struggled with injuries and has been really quite awful the last 2 seasons when healthy. Ruben definitely sold high on him. Drabek's still young and could turn into a mid rotation starter, but he's more likely destined to end up in a bullpen or back in AAA. Taylor's been unexpectedly awful. At this point he'll be 27 in a few days and is probably a AAAA OF. Maybe his ceiling is to be Mayberry, but he was clearly sold high as well.

This trade worked out pretty well for both sides. I hate to not have D'Arnaud, but getting Halladay for him certainly helps the medicine go down on that one. Supposedly Alex Ant the Blue Jays GM pretty much demanded D'Arnaud. Shrewd move, since he's clearly the best part of this trade for the Jays. Still, at the time this was 3 Top 10 prospects, and that can look like a steep price in the short term.

Trade 3:

Cliff Lee for Phillipe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez, Tyson Gillies

Man, did Ruben get killed for this one at the time. There was much gnashing of teeth about how Ruben could have gotten more, plus Cliff was beloved for his recent World Series performance. In retrospect this trade is looking fairly good. Aumont is a possible Closer of the future/high leverage reliever and looks pretty special. Gillies may be the CF of the future, provided he can stay healthy and play consistently. Ramirez isn't looking very good, but 2 out of 3 ain't bad. This trade also seems less bad because the Phillies resigned Cliff Lee (this is like one of those abusive relationships they make Lifetime movies out of. Er, or so my wife tells me.). But whether the trade itself was a good idea or not isn't my point, I'm focused on the prospects and this was 3 top 15 prospects from Seattle. Seattle had a good farm, so this wasn't the 3 everyone hoped for, but that isn't a bad return for 1 season of an Ace Starter without kicking any cash in.

Trade 4:

Roy Oswalt for J.A. Happ, Jonathan Villar and Anthony Gose (traded for Brett Wallace with Toronto)

Happ was 2009's version of Tyler Cloyd or Kyle Kendrick. A pretty low level prospect he suddenly made the Majors and proved serviceable/lucky (.266 BABIP). This made him tradeable in 2009 and 2010 at the height of his value. He's a perfectly fine #5 starter and a team could do worse than Happ. Maybe that's damning with faint praise, but it's more than most Pitching prospects ever amount to. Villar's a Short Stop prospect without much of a glove. He does have some promise with the bat and his plate discipline is okayish. He's young so there's time to improve, but I'd expect him to be in Houston in 2013 and he could stick as a regular. Gose is, perhaps, the more painful one here. Gose is far from a sure thing, but he's seen steady improvement to his BB rate, he's one of the fastest prospects in baseball and is a threat to steal, plus he has enough power potential that he could be an above average Center Fielder and maybe even cut it in a Corner spot.

At the time of the trade both Gose and Villar were borderline top 10 prospects. This is the sneaky trade no one talks much about, where the WIP crowd assumed we fleeced Ed Wade (Wade fleeced himself actually by trading the best of the 3 players for Wallace). This was really a pretty solid trade by both sides, the Phillies gave up two lottery tickets* and a serviceable starter. Sometimes lottery tickets go bust, sometimes they hit the jackpot, it looks possible that both lottery tickets may pay out in this trade.

*What makes them lottery tickets? I consider any player in A+ or below who is considered a prospect a lottery ticket. Tons of players cruise through A ball, but never get beyond the jump to AA. Even guys who look like superstars in A+ can flame out against the more advanced pitchers and hitters they start facing in Double-A.

Trade 5:

Hunter Pence for Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton and a PTBNL (who was, maddeningly, a top 10 prospect named Domingo Santana)

Well, it was Rube's first time including a PTBNL, so maybe he just misunderstood that the phrase typically means 2 things:

A: We're going to send you some dreck journeyman who will never get above AAA, but, hey, every roster needs players. Like Dignan said in Bottle Rocket "I'm mean yeah, the Landscape company's just a front for the mob, but they still need guys to actually do the work."

B: A player drafted in the prior year's draft and 1 year hasn't passed since the signing. In others we agree to trade you prospect A, but per league rules he can't be traded until August X, so we'll just label him PTBNL for now.

Santana was neither of these. In fairness to Ruben, Santana was a wild card and I'm not in the least bit angry he was included in a trade. I'm upset he was included as a PTBNL and I'm upset because this trade already seemed like a severe overpay for an average Outfielder. We were already giving up two top 5 prospects. Cosart was the top Pitcher in the system and on many lists going into the 2011 season he was the #1 prospect in the system (hmm, I'm seeing a bit of a trend here). Cosart doesn't look like an inning eater, Ace type. Frankly he looks like Oswalt, just a few inches taller, but the same slim build. It's possible Cosart could still end up a really good #2 starter in the Majors, but more likely he'll be a high leverage reliever of some sort. If Cosart was the #2 Phillies prospect on any lists it was Singleton he was listed behind (Mostly, May has always had his fans as well, more on that later.) Technically I suppose Singleton was also a lottery ticket, but he was almost guaranteed to pay out. I always thought of Singleton's floor as being a John Olerud type (okayish power, decent defense, really good OBP, excellent plate discipline) and his ceiling being maybe closer to Adrian Gonzalez (same as the Olerud type, but with more power). That's a damned good player either way and alone would be worth what Pence was. Singleton was seen as expendable because he's blocked by Howard, who is signed through the end of the Malia Obama presidency.

My god this is a seriously frustrating trade. Awful, just awful. This is only slightly better than Moore's boner last week. I didn't even get into Santana's potential ceiling. This trade has no redeeming values. Or does it....

Trade 6:

Tommy Joseph, Seth Rosin and Nate Schier that guy we just non-tendered for Hunter Pence

Seth Rosin's a reliever and there's some potential there, but he's been old for every level.... OMG I love Tommy Joseph. For one thing that name makes him sound like a 50's do-wop singer, like he was signed to Decca "Tommy Joseph and the Backstops" or something like that. Then there's the Caught Stealing rate (nearly 40%, which is damned good for a Minor League Catcher). Plus good plate discipline, nice power potential, a reputation as a really good leader. He's not D'Arnaud, but he could be an average to above average major league catcher. Not a bad return, in and of itself, for an average right fielder.

Trade 7:

Josh Lindblom, Ethan Martin and a PTBNL (Stefan Jarrin) for Shane Victorino

See, Rube, that's how you do the whole PTBNL thing. Lindblom, meh, whatever. Ethan Martin stands a half decent chance of making this trade worthwhile on his own. Ace potential if he can find the plate consistently. He also made May expendable since they're roughly the same quality of prospect. Martin has a higher ceiling, but the same control issues that might eventually send him to the 'pen. Figuring how rough a season Shane was having and his contract only had a couple months left, this is a damned good return by Ruben actually.

Trade 8:

Ben Revere for Vance Worley and Trevor May

Okay, Vance Worley is the Happ of this trade and May is the Carrasco/Cosart/Drabek. I'm focusing on prospects, so just a few words about Worley. He was a lightly regarded pitching prospect; I don't recall ever seeing him on a top 10 list, frankly he didn't even really scratch top 20 lists much as a prospect. Whether or not he sticks as a starter is debatable and I'll leave that up to other posts. DJ Hey Beef, on the other hand, I'm happy to discuss. I think May could still become a mid-rotation starter in a few years. He had bad luck with the long ball this year (nearly 20% HR/FB rate) and was wildly inconsistent. When he was on, May was among the best starters in the minors, absolutely dominating. When he was off, he was capital-A Awful. His mechanics are all over the place and his control comes and goes at random. Tall pitchers often struggle with control and get it down later in their career. Those that don't become Aumont (that's not damning with faint praise either as I think highly of Aumont as a reliever). That's what made May expendable in a trade (especially with Martin and Biddle and Morgan around).

I don't like Ben Revere as a player, but he is cost controlled and at worst should be a serviceable bridge to Gillies or whomever may be next in line for Center. This trade feels like a very, very slight overpay to me, mostly because, in my opinion, we're selling low on May. Perhaps Amaro felt May would really get exposed next year and force a move to the 'pen. In that case, I suppose this isn't a bad trade.

Trade 9:

Michael Young for Josh Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla

Michael Young isn't all that great. He's awful on Defense and offensively he probably isn't good enough to outweigh the runs he'll give up defensively. That said, the options at 3rd suck (no offense to Kevin Frandsen) and Young can be used as a DH here and there in Interleague games with Frandsen, Galvis, Juan Samuel or whoever playing 3rd in his place. That is fodder for many other posts. Here, was the trade of Bonilla fair value? Well, Bonilla's a damned fine relief prospect (and frankly wasn't a half bad starting prospect either) who walks a few too many guys, but isn't prone to long balls and struck out a ton of guys. He's in the same group as DeFratus and Aumont as potential closers. That's valuable, to an extent. Having one of those guys is excellent. Having 3 of them gets, perhaps a bit redundant and likely just sticks one of them in Lehigh to get experience. The Phils have a bizarrely high number of competent bullpen prospects and RAJ has yet to trade a player from AA or higher who went anywhere else and had significant success, so maybe it's too early to say he didn't get this one right too.

The bigger question is value. Lindblom is a decent enough reliever who the team probably sold low on, but he alone wouldn't be a fair swap for Young. Young relievers just aren't valuable trade chips, so to get a roughly 2 WAR player it was going to take someone else. Obviously I would have preferred a more borderline guy like Savery, Schwimer or Diekman, but it also could have been much more than a Double-A reliever with a highish walk rate to work on too. Bonilla may have just squeaked into the bottom of my top 10 this year, but he was more likely to be in the 13-17 range.

All considered, where would the Phillies be if they hadn't moved these players? Hard to say. Maybe another Free Agent is signed or another trade is made instead, but there are only 3 players in all those trades I would want back at this point, if given the opportunity. However if asked to chose between the player acquired and the prospect lost, that number drops to 2. That's not a terrible rate of success for Ruben, and the 2011 and 2012 draft classes look like we may even soon be able to forget those 3 players we wish we still had. So few prospects ever pan out from the levels below Double-A (and frankly even those above AA), that sometimes it's worth gambling for a part that can help now. It's a tough way to live, which I think Ruben may have learned from the Pence deal. But small, smart deals combined with the rare blockbuster seems, to me, like a sound philosophy.

It's also important to remember that it can be real easy to freak out about having traded 3 top 10 prospects, and think "Omigod we traded the farm, there's no future! Come take us Mayans!", but it's rarely that straightforward. It's all about the chance that prospect has of panning out. Guys far from AA, who knows what they will do once there. Guys in Double-A, it's likely the club has a read on what they are and feel they're replaceable. The errors have mostly come from trading guys in High-A who were killing it (d'Arnaud, Singleton and Santana), but even those guys had some big red flags. Sometimes the bear eats you.