As the MLB trade deadline passes without a major splash, a growing trend is becoming clearer than ever: clubs are placing very high value on unproven young talent.
While marquee names like Cliff Lee, Jeff Samardzija and Hunter Pence were mentioned in trade discussions, they were not moved because teams found the asking prices too high.
Take Phillies starter Cliff Lee for example. The Boston Red Sox were in desperate need of a front end starting pitcher with the return of ace Clay Buchholz now believed to be somewhere in late August or early September. The Phillies were willing to part ways with Lee, who is 10-4 with a 3.05 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, but reportedly sought top Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts in return. All indications are that Bogaerts is the real deal at shortstop.
Yesterday FOX’s Ken Rosenthal wrote a piece criticising the Red Sox’ unwillingness to flip Bogaerts for Lee. He compared the potential move to the 2005 trade that netted starter Josh Beckett in exchange for then top prospect Hanley Ramirez. Beckett went on to pitch lights out for the Sox and dominated the 2007 postseason on the way to a World Series Championship.
However, the Red Sox now look smart for not dealing their best shortstop prospect.
Last night they traded their second-best young shortstop, Jose Iglesias, in a three-team deal that brought them former White Sox starter Jake Peavy. Peavy (4.28 ERA and 1.14 WHIP) is no Lee, but the gap between the two is smaller than the difference between Iglesias and Bogaerts.
The numbers behind the trade expose the inflated prospects market. Iglesias is a defensive whiz, but has never hit for a lick before batting an incredibly lucky .330 in 63 big league games this season. In four minor league seasons, Iglesias was a .257 hitter with six home runs. Bogaerts is a .296 hitter with 53 homers in four minor league seasons. On top of that Bogaerts is 20, while Iglesias is 23.
Faced with two options, Bogaerts for Lee or Iglesias for Peavy, the Red Sox chose to keep the better prospect. ESPN’s Buster Olney recently wrote about baseball’s prospect infatuation, quoting baseball executives who talked about the overvaluation of unproven talent.
The Red Sox acquired a proven, big-time arm in Peavy (a rare commodity) for a weak-hitting, rangy middle infielder (those guys are dime-a-dozen).
Baseball management has changed dramatically since Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” days. But Beane’s edge was in exposing gaps in market value, wherever they may be, not simply in acquiring cheap talent with high on-base percentages.
It wasn’t long ago that teams were willing to move multiple prospects in return for major arms, and there are several great examples were the team selling the farm came out on the better end of the deal.
Whenever teams return to making such moves not only will they likely continue to come out winners, they will be giving up less.
All of this benefits big market teams with the available payroll to take on big contracts. As teams continue to overvalue prospects, look for the baseball’s titans to pull off more trade deadline coups like their Peavy for Iglesias.
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