I was talking with Kevin Creagh the other day about the Justin Upton and Carlos Quentin rumors. Kevin mentioned a few players that it would probably cost for each guy. Keeping with my “what would the Rays do” line of thinking, I mentioned that I wouldn’t deal any of the players mentioned (some of the names included Willy Garcia, Nick Kingham, or the Indianapolis left-handers).
Kevin’s response was something I’ve heard a few times over the last few days: you’ve got to give talent to get talent.
Of course that theory only works if you’re actually looking to get talent by giving up talent.
As I’ve mentioned many times over the last week, I don’t think the Pirates should approach the idea of giving up prospects lightly. They’re a small market team, and prospects have a huge value to them. This isn’t a new theory. It’s the same thing I said last year. The ideal trade for the Pirates involves them giving up cash, rather than prospects.
All of this got me thinking about untouchable prospects. The Pirates say that no one is untouchable. But let’s be honest, there are some players that would be extremely difficult to trade. As an example, Gerrit Cole has the upside of a number one starter. He’s on pace to be in the majors a year from now. At that point he would be under team control through the 2019 season. By comparison, his trade value right now is about $26 M, which means the Pirates would have to come up with an additional $20 M in prospects to get a guy like Justin Upton for three and a half years.
That move wouldn’t make much sense for the Pirates. They’d be getting a superstar, but they’d be giving up a guy who looks like a superstar in the making, and who would be under team control for six and a half years, all while being much more affordable. Say what you want about prospects being far from a guarantee, but that’s the game the Pirates have to play.
On that same note, the Pirates can’t afford to deal guys who are close to the majors. They’re looking for help not only to compete in 2012, but to continue to compete in the coming years. The Indianapolis left-handers, for example, are extremely valuable to the Pirates. There’s three number 3-5 starters under control for six years. Yet every trade discussion that comes up, you usually hear one of these guys sent away, and most of the time it’s for a guy who would only be here two months.
It makes sense if you’re looking at the short-term. But look down the line a year or two. Erik Bedard and Kevin Correia are gone at the end of the year. A.J. Burnett and Jeff Karstens are gone after 2013. The only guys you could project for the 2014 rotation are James McDonald, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton, assuming he’s still around. You’re going to need those Indianapolis left-handers, especially when you consider that teams need more than five starters over the course of a season.
It might make sense to trade one of those guys in the right deal. But all three are major league ready right now, which means it wouldn’t make sense to deal them for a rental.
Then there’s lower level prospects. Lower level guys are tricky. Their values are mostly fueled by talent and upside, but when the numbers match, you start to dream on their potential. The prime example this year is Alen Hanson. A guy like Hanson should be untouchable not only because of his numbers, but because he has a chance at sticking at shortstop. The Pirates don’t have a long term answer at shortstop, so they can’t afford to deal the best looking option right now.
But what about someone who hasn’t broken out this year? Hanson is getting all of the attention, and showing up on top 50 prospect lists. But what about a guy like Willy Garcia? Garcia is hitting for power, with ten homers in 304 at-bats this year, and a .135 ISO at the age of 19 in the South Atlantic League. But his overall line is .250/.300/.385. Right now, Garcia is more potential than numbers. But as we’ve seen with Hanson, that can change very quickly. There is such a thing as selling low with prospects, and dealing a guy before he has a shot to break out and start realizing his potential is selling low. The last thing a team wants to do is deal a guy with upside, then watch him put it together the next year and become a top prospect.
Of course, not all players put it together. That’s the risk with young players, and with players in the lower levels. Considering the needs of the system (offense), and considering how many resources the Pirates have focused on adding pitching in the last several drafts, I’d be more inclined to deal one of the younger pitchers than one of the younger hitters.
I agree that no player should be untouchable in the right deal. But if you’re like me, and you feel that small market teams need to build through prospects, rather than selling prospects away for short-term upgrades, then you’re going to have a harder time finding that “right deal”.
Links and Notes
**The National League won the All-Star Game 8-0.