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selling-the-farm-trading-pitching-prospects-wisely | January | 2008 Articles

2008 Archives

Selling the Farm -- Trading Pitching Prospects Wisely

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It's been an interesting offseason: we've lost Ron Mahay and Andruw Jones to free agency, signed Tom Glavine, and traded Edgar Renteria, Jose Ascanio, Oscar Villarreal, Joey Devine, Jamie Richmond, Willy Aybar, and Chase Fontaine, and received Jair Jurrjens, Gorkys Hernandez, Will Ohman, Omar Infante, Josh Anderson, Mark Kotsay (and the aforementioned $5 mill), and Jeff Ridgway. When you trade away that many guys, you want to be sure you get value, but you also want to be sure you're not giving up too much. You don't exactly want to root for them to fail, but you don't want them to get too good. Fortunately, an analysis of the Braves' trades in the past 10 years shows that the Braves have been remarkably good in not letting the good ones get away. I made a study of the trades the Braves made since 1998, excluding deals this offseason and the Teixeira trade, to see how the pitching prospects traded by the Braves fared afterwards. I defined as a prospect any pitcher under 30 who had logged fewer than 50 IP at the major league level. It turns out the Braves had pretty good instincts. Over the past decade, the Braves traded for 27 major leaguers, marginal and star-level, from J.D. Drew to B.J. Surhoff, from Tim Hudson to aging retread tours for Rudy Seanez and Kent Mercker. In the minor deals, they gave up minor prospects, but even still, almost none of the pitching prospects traded have had any success in the bigs. In those trades, the Braves gave up 30 pitching prospects. Only 15 of the 30 made it to the majors after the Braves let them go, only 8 pitched more than 100 innings in the majors, and only 5 of those had a career ERA+ over 90. Of those who are still in the minors, only Dan Meyer and Bubba Nelson have a realistic shot of putting it all back together. Adam Wainwright looks like the only star in the bunch, though Zach Miner had a nice year last year (with mediocre components); the other three competents are Matt Belisle, Jose Capellan, and Chad Fox, who's out of baseball. Perhaps the most important thing to remember when you're dealing with pitching prospects is Rob Neyer's invaluable acronym TINSTAAPP: There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. They are too inherently unreliable, too prone to injury, or a thousand other things that could prevent them from reaching their potential. Still, out of 30 pitching prospects traded by the Braves from 1998 to the 2006-2007 offseason, only 5 ever turned into useful major leaguers. It's worth re-evaluating this offseason's trades with that in mind, and applying it both to Joey Devine and to Jair Jurrjens. Both have the talent to become stars; neither has the track record to make it a sure thing. Until then, we'll just have to hold our breath and wait.
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