David Price will be a big name on the trade market this off-season. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game, and has two years remaining. If you want the comfort of two years of an established major league pitcher, you can’t do much worse than him. The Pirates certainly could use a top pitcher like Price. But it will cost you. It will cost a lot in prospects, like starting with Gregory Polanco. Although you can trade prospects away and just replace them with big name free agents, right? Like Shin-Soo Choo on a huge deal. After all, the Pirates are contenders now.
Have we learned nothing from recent history?
A year ago, the Tampa Bay Rays traded James Shields to the Kansas City Royals. In return they got a huge haul in prospects, including AL Rookie of the Year candidate Wil Myers. The Rays will have Myers for six more years, and the Royals will have Shields for one more year. The Rays made the playoffs without Shields. The Royals missed the playoffs with Shields.
The Texas Rangers traded for Matt Garza mid-season. They dealt a top 50 hitting prospect and three Grade B pitchers for two months of Garza. That move was supposed to ensure that they made the playoffs. Instead, they missed the playoffs entirely, losing a tiebreaker to the Rays.
The Blue Jays traded for R.A. Dickey last off-season, sending top prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard to the Mets. Toronto finished last in the AL East, and Syndergaard will be a top 50 prospect, while d’Arnaud is still held in high esteem and barely has prospect eligibility.
Toronto also traded for Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes earlier last off-season, sending away Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Marisnick, and others to the Marlins. Neither team did anything, but the Marlins spent a lot less, and they have a future with the guys mentioned above.
I’m not saying that these types of trades never work. But these types of trades usually lead to the same result. People hype them up because they come with the comfort of a guaranteed upgrade. The Toronto Blue Jays were supposed to win the AL East this year because they added a ton of names who made a lot of money. Nevermind that those names and salaries lost with Miami and New York. The Kansas City Royals traded a chance for success over more than half a decade for a chance at success over the next two seasons. The Rangers traded away future pieces for a boost of two months.
And now we’re about to head into an off-season where the Pittsburgh Pirates have a loaded farm system, and people will be looking to trade those prospects away as quickly as possible to get a “guaranteed upgrade”.
I say this all the time, and it’s fitting again: what would the Rays do?
We know the answer. This off-season they’re probably going to trade David Price. They’re going to do that, just like they traded James Shields last year. Just like they traded Matt Garza the year before. Yet this is a team that has won 90+ games in five of the last six seasons.
So maybe the question is: how did the Rays do this? How do they keep winning at such an amazing pace, even though they trade away top pitchers each year? How is it that those pitchers are going to make other teams a winner, but the Rays are the only team that keep winning? OK, that’s three questions.
The simple answer? The Rays stayed the course.
In 2008 they broke out and turned into a contender. That same season they had a loaded farm system, and had the chance to trade for Jason Bay or Xavier Nady. The Rays in 2008 were like the Pirates this year — if there was a player they really wanted, then they had the prospects to get that player. And here is who they ended up getting that year: Gabe Gross.
Yes, Gabe Gross was their only in-season addition. They added him in February. They didn’t trade for Jason Bay or Xavier Nady. They watched Bay go to Boston and Nady go to the Yankees. Then the Rays went on to win 97 games and the AL East over Boston and New York.
That process continued. The Rays relied on their farm system. They also made the occasional shrewd trade or free agent signing. And they didn’t lock up their players well into free agency. Sure, Evan Longoria is the exception, but most players are shipped out for more prospects to keep the cycle going.
Matt Garza gets traded. He gets replaced by Jeremy Hellickson the following season, and Hellickson puts up a 2.95 ERA in 29 starts.
James Shields gets traded. He gets replaced by Chris Archer, who had a 3.22 ERA in 23 starts. Archer came over for Garza.
And when David Price gets traded, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets replaced by Jake Odorizzi. Who was acquired for Shields.
See the process?
In 2008-2009, the Rays were just starting to compete. They had a talented farm system, which was pretty much meaningless in terms of MLB wins. A talented farm system either translates to future wins, or immediate wins if you trade players away. Usually there are more future wins than there are present wins in those trades. So if you can afford to hold onto your prospects and win without trading them away, you’re going to benefit in the long run.
That’s a tough sell though. Every trade of prospects for established players is met with instant analysis that the team trading for the established players made a great move. Go back to the Blue Jays. I was shocked that they got so much praise for picking up all of the players who lost the previous year in Miami. Why did anyone expect this to be different? No one was looking at it that way. They were only looking at names and salaries. It would have been way too easy for the Rays to sell out in 2008-09 in the same manner. They could have traded away Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, or anyone else who is contributing today. They would have received praise. We now know that nothing would have changed, since they still won 90+ games almost every year following the 2008 season.
Basically, they would have been trading away their future to add unnecessary comfort in the short-term.
The Pirates are now in the early stages of the same process. They broke out in 2013 and made the playoffs. They have roughly the same team going into 2014. They have a loaded farm system, with more players on the way. It’s not going to be comfortable, but the best thing to do would be to stay the course. Don’t trade those prospects. Don’t go for David Price, or Giancarlo Stanton, or whoever else would cost a ton in prospects and bring the false notion that they are the key to winning. Don’t even sign aging players like Shin-Soo Choo. Have you seen the success rates for free agents over 30?
Stay the course. Bring up Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco next year. Bring up Alen Hanson and maybe Tyler Glasnow in 2015. After that you’ve got Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, Reese McGuire, Luis Heredia, and others in future years beyond the 2015 season. Not to mention anyone you might get back in trades by following the same process the Rays followed when they dealt Garza and Shields.
In the beginning this course won’t sound as appealing as trading for a big name, or signing a guy who is starting the downward trend of his career. But in the long run, this course will lead to a team that is successful year after year. It will lead to a team that doesn’t know the term “window” when talking about an ability to be competitive. It will lead to other teams and other team blogs asking “what would the Pirates do?”
Hopefully the Pirates won’t trade for David Price. That would involve being on the opposite side of what the Rays are doing. The Rays are the most successful small market team in baseball. Any time you’re on the opposite side of what they’re doing, you’re on the wrong side. Stay the course.
Links and Notes
**Last year was my first year doing First Pitch each night. One thing I learned over the off-season was that it was impossible to do a First Pitch each night. For one, First Pitch has always been my opinion on subjects. Or it’s me writing about something on the site, or an experience I had. Basically, it’s my spot during the season to do whatever I want and talk about whatever I want. The problem with the off-season is that almost every article I write is in the same tone as First Pitch. The off-season preview today was like writing a First Pitch article. If I didn’t see so many “David Price” and “Elvis Andrus” comments, I wouldn’t have had anything for tonight. Then there’s the other factor: the Prospect Guide. That’s a three month process, and I lost a few weeks covering the playoffs. It’s hard writing that and coming up with new articles each night, especially when some nights there’s nothing to talk about at all.
My goal on this site is to have at least one article per day. That was a goal I set in 2009, and there have been maybe 5-10 days since then where the site had zero content on a given day over the off-season. But last year I found it was better to cut back on the First Pitch articles over the off-season. I’ll be doing the same this year. I hope to have 3-4 articles per week, but that will all depend on the subjects I have to write about. I’ll probably start back up full time around mid-November, when the Rule 5 rosters are set and the off-season starts kicking off.
As for now, I’ll be skipping First Pitch this weekend, as I’ll be making my way back home for the first time in over two weeks. I’ve still got a few articles planned for the weekend, including another free agent themed article tomorrow. Plus, we’ve got the nightly AFL recaps, and winter league coverage starting up. So this concludes your content update.