Thursday, January 31, 2008

Comparing the offers

There are a lot of disappointed sports talk show fans out there as a result of the Santana trade. The question is - did the Twins take the best deal. Obviously, if high-profile prospects is the measure then no. But I don't think that is the measure.

All prospect evaluations face the same dilemma - ceiling versus certainty. When ranking a prospect's value how much weight do you put on their eventual potential as big leaguers and how much weight do you place on the likelihood they will ever reach that potential. Players who are certain major league players are no longer prospects. The jump from AAA to the big leagues is huge and even guys labeled "can't miss" sometimes do. So there is uncertainty with any prospect, but that doesn't mean the risk is the same.

The other part of that delemma is that the further a player is from the majors, the wider the range of his potential. What this means is that there are a lot more "potential hall-of-famers" in A ball than there are at AAA. As players move up the development ladder their real potential becomes a lot clearer.

The flip side of that, is that the more realized a player's potential, the more expensive he becomes in trade. Teams don't knowingly trade away the next Willie Mays. The Twins grabbed future stars like Liriano and Santana by recognizing their potential and then having them develop. You can say they got lucky. But the reality is that they recognized the potential. We tend to forget the players where that potential was recognized but never realized. Prospects are a numbers game. If you have enough of them, you will "get lucky" occasionally. But if you have prospects whose upside is mediocre major leaguer, even when you get lucky they won't really help you win any World Series..

So how did the rumored trades compare:

Yankees: Hughes, Cabrera, Tabata

Red Sox: Ellsbury, Lowrie, Masterston

Red Sox: Lester, Crisp, Lowrie

Mets: Gomez, Humber, Mulvey, Guerra

Lets start with the center fielders: Gomez, Cabrera, Crisp and Ellsbury.

Cabrera, Crisp and Ellsbury are all clearly more major league ready than Gomez. Cabrera and Crisp would be placeholders in center field for the Twins. Good players, but ones that would not really be the core of a championship team and would likely get shoved aside at some point the way Crisp already has been by Ellsbury in Boston. Of the two prospects, Ellsbury is clearly furthest along but he doesn't have Gomez speed, arm or defense. Nor does it look like he has Gomez power potential. What he does have is a much more advanced approach at the plate. He is also two years older than Gomez.

Hughes, Lester, Humber, Masterson, Mulvey

Hughes is clearly the top dog here. A potential ace and likely number two starter, he was the centerpiece of the Yankees offer. Lester is also a top pitching prospect who is close to being ready in the big leagues. The other pitchers included in the trades are all mid-range prospects with varying pedigrees. Humber, who was the third player taken in the 2004 draft, is probably the most intriguing since he is coming back from Tommy John surgery. If he fully recovers and shows the stuff that made him a high draft choice he could equal Hughes or Lester. Mulvey and Masterson appear to be mid-rotation option. Part of the numbers game for Twins rotation spots that includes a lot of other Twins prospects who are close to the majors.

Lowrie -
None of the other deals really had anyone comparable to Lowrie. And that may be just as well. The reports are that he isn't an everyday shortstop, he may not be a second baseman either and his bat may not be enough to make him a third baseman. But it is that bat, and his potential for versatility, that makes him valuable. Lowrie is the sort of player that could be valuable to a team like the Twins that often seems to need a guy to hold down a spot until a better prospect is ready. And is a solid bat on the bench the rest of the time.

Guerra - Guerra is a high-upside, big risk young pitching prospect. He could be the next Francisco Liriano, he could be the next Scott Tyler. The odds, as always with A-ball pitching prospects, are better for the latter. But Guerra's upside makes him the sort of player that can make a good trade great. The deals with the Red Sox and Yankees do not seem to include this kind of raw talent.

There is a lot of speculation about what deals were really still on the table when the Twins reached their agreement with the Mets. But I think if you look at the players they got, this trade is a classic Twins deal. Heavy on potential rather than immediate help. And for a small market team that is really the only way you win championships. You don't do it by letting other teams do your player development. You have to stockpile guys who have talent and then develop it.

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