As I looked around at the reactions toward the Angels’ trade for Huston Street, I noticed a lot of people commenting about how the deal was a good one for Los Angeles. This is a team that didn’t have a farm system, and traded the few prospects they had remaining for a relief pitcher who is making $10 M over the next year and a half. And I’d have to agree that this deal was a good one for the Angels.
The Angels don’t need prospects. They have the luxury of being able to throw a large amount of money at any problem they have, thus allowing them to make a move like this. They signed Albert Pujols to a ten year deal that pays him an average of $24 M a year. Pujols immediately started to see a decline with his offense. The next year they signed Josh Hamilton to a five year deal that pays him an average of $25 M a year. Once again, they saw an instant decline. That didn’t stop them from making future moves, including the recent trade for Street. And they don’t really need the prospects they dealt, as they have the money to sign Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar to extensions, which they’ve already done.
Prospects are meaningless to the Angels, with the exception of the elite like Mike Trout. If they have a need, they can spend money or deal prospects to fill that need. In this case, they needed a reliever, so they traded prospects they won’t miss. It’s like playing fantasy baseball, where you don’t have to worry about the financials and the business side of the game, and the only concern is focusing on winning that year.
That’s how the other half lives. MLB’s other side of the economic coin features small market teams that have to look at the exact same trade in a much different manner. Dealing that much in prospects for a reliever is a horrible move for a small market team. If it was for a player who could bring more value, then it might be worthwhile. But then you’ve got to focus on the prospects you’re dealing, and how that might impact you for the long-term. Basically you have to look at the deal like real baseball, and focus both on short-term and long-term needs.
The Pirates have been building up their farm system for several years now. They’re to the point that they have a top farm system that has graduated top 20 prospects to the majors in each of the last three years, and looks to continue that trend each year over the next few years. Aside from just the top guys, they’ve graduated other prospects who have played key roles, and have plenty of other prospects who could do the same in the upcoming seasons. The lower levels are featuring the next wave of talent, with the possibility of replacing some of the current players on the roster.
We’re to the point where the Pirates could afford to deal some prospects in the right kind of deal. I don’t believe they should be dealing their top prospects, which mostly consists of the guys who project to be impact players. I also don’t think they should be dealing anything of value for bullpen help, bench help, or anything else that can be acquired without dealing something of value. But that still leaves open the possibility of upgrading in other areas, without trading anything you’d miss from the system.
The key is dealing from a position of strength, and dealing players who don’t fit into your long-term plans. The easiest example to give would be the starting rotation.
Gerrit Cole is under control through the 2019 season. Charlie Morton is under control through the 2017 season. Jeff Locke is under control through the 2018 season. The Pirates project to add Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham by mid-season next year. Tyler Glasnow should arrive by mid-season 2016. They’ll have Brandon Cumpton under control for at least six more seasons after this year, and Vance Worley for up to four more years. Not everyone will work out, but the best-case 2016 rotation would include Cole, Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham, and one of Locke or Morton.
You look at that rotation, then you look at someone like Adrian Sampson, who is having a breakout season in Altoona. Sampson could very well arrive in the majors by the middle of the 2015 season. However, it’s hard to see where he would fit in a future rotation. The same could go for Worley or Cumpton. Maybe those guys would have a place in the rotation for the first half of 2015, but after that, rotation spots would be harder to come by.
Sampson is a prime example of a trade chip the Pirates could deal, without missing anything in the long-term. He’s improving his prospect stock, and he’s got a future as a MLB starter. But the Pirates are loaded with starting pitching prospects who have a higher upside, which means they probably won’t even have a rotation spot for Sampson. They could deal him, watch him go on to be a MLB starter for someone else, and the only concern they would have is whether the guy they got in return was worth dealing a trade chip away.
The outfield is another area where the Pirates have a good situation and the ability to deal prospects away. I wouldn’t deal Austin Meadows or Josh Bell, as Meadows could be a long-term replacement for one of the current outfielders, and Bell could be a candidate for first base. But someone like Harold Ramirez would be in the exact same situation as Sampson. He’s not going to break into the starting lineup with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco around. He ranks behind Meadows and Bell, so he wouldn’t be the top guy to take over if one of those guys sees their career go down, or leaves Pittsburgh. He’s another guy who the Pirates could deal, and only have to worry about whether they got the right person in return. You could also add Mel Rojas and Andrew Lambo to this list, although if Ike Davis continues to struggle, Lambo could be a good replacement option.
The disclaimer here is that the Pirates aren’t getting the big names on the trade market with this type of approach. You’re not getting David Price by dealing these types of prospects. You could still get a decent player that could help your team. The Pirates have already made deals like this. They traded Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens, and Colton Cain for Wandy Rodriguez a few years ago. They’re not missing those three prospects, and the only downside to that deal is that Rodriguez might not have been the best way to spend those prospects.
Last year there were two deals that saw a similar approach. Justin Morneau was acquired for Alex Presley and Duke Welker (who was later re-acquired for Kris Johnson). The Pirates aren’t missing Presley or Johnson, although it’s unfortunate that Morneau saved all of his power for Colorado this year. They dealt Dilson Herrera and Vic Black for Marlon Byrd. They won’t miss Black, although Herrera could be a guy they’ll miss. He made the jump to Double-A this year, and currently has a .935 OPS in 103 at-bats at the level at the age of 20. The Pirates have some middle infield options, such as Alen Hanson and JaCoby Jones, but Herrera’s value to the team in the long-term might have been bigger than Byrd’s value in the short-term (and I don’t consider Herrera a future shortstop, even though he’s played there with the Mets).
The Pirates can’t totally be like the Angels and other big market teams. They need to be conservative when it comes to dealing prospects, and can’t just go all in on one season with no regard for the future. They do have a strong enough system, and enough talent at certain positions in the majors that they could trade talented players without having to worry about losing future production from their MLB team. That would put them in a good position to land a middle tier player on the trade market.
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