The complex issue of trading prospects

In the on and off saga of Ryan Dempster's possible trade to Atlanta, a common complain has popped up among Braves fans: why trade a prospect like Randall Delgado for a two month rental like Dempster, especially if he doesn't re-sign with the team? Delgado has the potential to be a top of the line ace! We *can't* possibly trade him! Well….to get something, you have to give something. If the Braves went to the Cubs and offered a 25-year old A-ball pitcher who has an ERA of 5.00, Jed Hoyer wouldn't even let Frank Wren finish his sentence before he hung up on him. The common misconception among fans is that a prospect is a sure thing. In fact, a prospect is really just a lottery ticket, and while there's a chance you can hit on him and have an ace, there's even more of a chance that you could bust out.

Delmon Young was the #1 overall pick in the 2003 draft by the Rays. He was swapped from Tampa Bay to Minnesota after the 2007 season in a package that included Matt Garza (along with other players going to Minnesota as well). Young was a top three prospect in baseball in every year from 2004 to 2007. He was the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up. He'll be 27 in September, has a .742 career OPS, and just 81 career homers. Remember: he was a top three prospect in baseball for FOUR STRAIGHT SEASONS. 

Remember when the Marlins traded Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers in a deal reminiscent of yesterday's Anibal Sanchez trade? Two of the players going back to Florida in the deal were Cameron Maybin (#6 prospect in baseball at the time of the deal) and Andrew Miller (#10). Two top ten prospects…hell, two former top ten picks in the draft. Maybin had a .714 OPS in 144 games over three years with the Marlins before they traded him to the Padres for a pair of relievers (and still just has a .683 OPS for his career, mind you), while Miller had a 5.89 ERA in 220 innings over three seasons with the Marlins before they traded him to the Red Sox for a reliever who's never pitched in a game in Miami. Miller has a career 5.60 ERA, and is currently working out of the bullpen.

How about that Johan Santana trade, when the Twins grudgingly accepted the "best offer" from the Mets? Deolis Guerra, the 19-year old steal of the trade and the #35 prospect in baseball…hasn't pitched in the majors. He's still only 23, but four years later…he's the only player of the four that went to Minnesota still in the organization. Maybe the Orioles dealing Erik Bedard to the Mariners, and the only one of the five players going back to Baltimore in the deal to blossom into a regular is Adam Jones…who just turned into a superstar this year. The other top prospect in the deal was Chris Tillman, who hasn't been able to stick in the majors for four years now.

A couple more examples, just to prove my point. In the CC Sabathia trade from Cleveland to Milwaukee, the only regular of the four players the Indians got is Michael Brantley, who has a .704 OPS and was never a top 100 prospect. Matt LaPorta, the stud of the deal, has a .697 OPS and is now 27. Maybe you want to look at the Jason Bay/Manny Ramirez deal, where the Pirates got four prospects, including a top 30 guy in Andy LaRoche, that did absolutely nothing for them. Or maybe you want to check out the Javier Vazquez trade from Chicago to Atlanta, which Braves fans similarly freaked out about, where the White Sox essentially got a pair of players that haven't gotten to the majors, a backup catcher, and a utility infielder. How about we look at the numerous trades involving Brett Wallace, who can't even start for the Astros these days? What about Cliff Lee going from Cleveland to Philly, and the two pitchers the Indians got back both dealing with injuries for a substantial part of the last three years?

At the same time, the inverse is true. For example, the A's getting Brett Anderson from the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren trade, or those same A's picking up Gio Gonzalez from the White Sox for Nick Swisher. If you take it back a little bit, Adam Wainwright is an ace for the Cardinals after being dealt from the Braves, but JD Drew at least killed it for the Braves. I'll scream it from the rooftops as loud as I can: THEY. ARE. PROSPECTS. They're prospects for a reason. If you gave a fan a choice of keeping a prospect and him possibly developing into a star, or trading that prospect to acquire a veteran and winning the World Series….you'd be crazy if you didn't take the ring. Flags fly forever.

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About Joe Lucia

I'm the managing editor of Awful Announcing and the news editor of The Comeback. I also made The Outside Corner a thing for six seasons.