Applying the Guttridge-Wang trade model to this year’s deadline trades (Part 2)by Adam Guttridge
August 10, 2009
So, thanks to a link from MLB Trade Rumors, part one received a great deal of response. Many (though certainly not all) of those responses can be descirbed as somewhere between constructive criticism and "what kind of idiot are you?"
I'm not upset a bit by those who view the model with a grain (or boulder) of skepticism; I'll be the first to admit that this model is not yet in its final stage. To say nothing of the WAR projections (which, as I mentioned in part one, were chosen for the fact that they're publicly available moreso than their merit), the process of conforming the theoretical to the actual has some tweaking left to be done. However, I firmly believe that the broader concept of the model is not only valid, but represents an advance in our ability to evaluate the merits of trades.
In the interests of continuity, part two is being presented using the exact same version of the model as part one. However, based at least partially on the feedback, I'd like to spend a moment discussing possible tweaks I'd consider making to the model.
The most common complaint I received is that the model overvalues prospects. Based on the evaluations of the deadline deals presented here (which have come out overwhelmingly negative), this may seem to have some merit. As a counterpoint, however, I hold firm to the belief that teams trading for veterans at the deadline usually overpay. The best players in the game—the 15 most valuable hitters, the 15 most valuable pitchers—collectively average somewhere around five wins above replacement level over the course of a full season (and rarely end up displacing someone who is truly of replacement level value).
Two very important piecies of information need to be presented along with that: (1) Players within that category are rarely traded at the deadline (for this deadline, that's Matt Holliday and Cliff Lee) (2) Even when they are traded , over 60 percent of the season has already passed. The majority of deadline deals add around one win or less to a team's expected total for the remainder of the season. That's not trivial—every projected win counts. But whether or not a team makes the playoffs is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, decided by a larger margin than a typical deadline deal can provide. So are deadline deals irrelevant? Not at all. It's just rarely worth it to give up a whole lot of potential future value.
That said, there are two changes I'd consider making, along with their pros and cons. The first change would be to cap the amount of value a team can receive in prospects. As I mentioned in the comments, the model currently has no constraint for roster space, thus it would theoretically make sense to trade a player worth $6 million in surplus value for six players worth $1 million values. This can and should be addressed. However, when you're talking about a trade involving multiple prospects, the prospects don't all arrive at the majors at the same time. You're usually talking about a 23-year-old in Double-A, a 21-year-old in High-A, and an 18-year-old in Low-A. So there isn't necessarily a significant roster constraint issue when it comes to how their value will be realized in MLB. Additionally, their surplus value still retains it's full value in terms of trading capital. So if a team received $20 million surplus value worth of prospects, I have trouble on a logical level just arbitrarily knocking that down to $15 million or something, because it's not what they received, and there is always the possibility of making more trades.
The second change I'd make is identifying a "replacement level" for prospects, at which surplus value is zero. The Indians received Connor Graham from the Rockies for Rafael Betancourt, and he may be exactly the type of guy I'm describing. He's got a lot going for himself; a low-mid-90s fastball, a great groundball rate, a healthy strikeout rate, a relatively high draft position (fifth round), and general hugeness (6-foot-7, 235 pounds).
However, he's also got significant control issues, and was in High-A four months short of his 24th birthday. Connor Graham has an outside chance of being very valuable, a moderate chance of being moderately valuable, and a good chance of having no significant value. If you ranked the top 125 pitching prospects in the game, he would not be amongst them. From part one, the only prospect I may slide into this category would be Adam Russell. However, if we choose to accept their baseline surplus value as zero, it would stand to reason that we also scale back the value of some of the prospects who are not considered top-100 talents. From part one, this would mean Dexter Carter, Brian Price, Nick Hagadone, and Jason Knapp. This would perhaps make an average difference of roughly $2 million for each one of those players.
The major problem here is that some of these guys (notably Knapp and Hagadone) would be on the top-100 list if it were republished today; they're guys who were somewhat beneath the radar until having banner seasons so far in '09. But perhaps this is a fair penalty, as someone relatively new on the scene is inherently more risky. At least this method does avoid the issues of artificially subtracting value that exist with the 'quantity limiter' idea, and perhaps we can be comfortable just subjectively slotting whether or not somebody is one of the 250 or so best prospects in the game (or whatever number we end up being comfortable with).
Okay, onto the deals.
Matt Holliday from Oakland to St. Louis for Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortenson and Shane Peterson
One other thing that deserves mention: by saying the Cardinals "lost" or gave up $4.35 million of surplus value, that is the present value of a loss to be "paid" over the six to eight years that it will take the prospects in this deal to realize their pre-free agency value. $4.35 million is not a huge figure, and furthermore, Peterson and Mortenson are pretty much examples of the "replacement-level prospect" described above.
In other words, I love this deal for the Cardinals. If anybody should be mortgaging big future chips for a deadline run, it's them, and Holliday is the type of player who really makes a large difference to your playoff odds.
Sure, Wallace is a blue chip prospect; Baseball America him the 40th-best prospect in the game, and that may be selling him well short. Losing him is assuaged significantly by the fact that if Holliday walks, St. Louis will have two additional draft picks before the second round in 2010. Besides, you weren't going to get Matt Holliday for a bag of balls.
Furthermore, I could absolutely see Holliday deciding to stay in St. Louis. He may be a Boras client, but he's a poster boy for the heartland; he's from Oklahoma and is a married man who probably doesn't want to raise his two young sons in New York City. And he loves playing in the National League. Unless Atlanta has the bucks to make a play for him (which I find unlikely), I'm not sure there's a destination Holliday would prefer to St. Louis.
I've scouted Shane Peterson. While he's had quite a nice year for himself thus far, he's not a guy who is very deep in terms of either tools or projection. And the production, while quite strong, has not been so overwhelming that it's really worth getting excited over. Mortenson's largest qualification is that he's never been totally shelled, but he's never shown the least bit of excellence either.
Freddy Sanchez to the Giants for Tim Alderson
The evaluation of this deals hinges on one's perception from Alderson, who I slipped into the 50-75 prospect range despite his preseason Baseball America ranking of 46th based on reports that his stuff has been slipping. However, he's still 20 years old and is a well-above-average starter in Double-A—that's a rare commodity.
The Giants needed to do something to bolster their anemic offense, and Sanchez will help somewhat. But their downside is pretty large here; not only with Alderson, but if Sanchez gets the other 180 or so plate appearances he needs to reach 650, his 2010 option for $10 million vests automatically. (And barring injury, it will—otherwise, why was he acquired?). That's a pretty steep price, and if the 2008 or 2005 version of Sanchez shows up next year—an increasing possibility as he creeps higher into his 30s—it's a big 'ole stinker.
That's quite a generous 2010 projection for Sanchez, and quite a conservative overall projection for Alderson. I'll grant that the Giants had to do something. But they paid pretty dearly in terms of risk for quite a lukewarm upside.
In fact, let's use what I described as the most valuable aspects of this model—the ability to evaluate ranges of outcomes—to see how bad things might turn out for the Giants. Let's say Alderson becomes basically a solid no. 2 starter, and Sanchez next year plays like he did in '08 after his option vests.
Yikes. Quite a doozy for San Francisco. Of course, that's a bad (though certainly not worst case) scenario for the Giants. But the reason I don't like this deal is that the opposite is not a real possibility. In other words, the best thing they could hope for is that they get a couple months of an okay-but-not-great second baseman and increase their playoff odds very slightly, and Alderson never turns out. Lots of potential for downside, not so much for upside.
Orlando Cabrera to the Twins from the A's for Tyler Landendorf
The A's traded Cabrera, Holliday, and $500,000 for Brett Wallace and three guys who could be generously labeled 'projects' without very large upside. I really don't like this deadline for them.
"Type A" is in quotes there, and knocked down in value from $7 million to $2 million, because Cabrera's contract states the club agrees not to offer him arbitration. So the only way the Twins get comp picks here is if Cabrera signs before December 1, which is pretty unlikely.
It's probably not nearly as dramatic a move as Twins fans would have liked to see, and Cabrera is indeed quite unlikely to be any sort of game-changer for the Twins playoff hopes. But he helps a bit, and it's a move that was a no-brainer to make.
Nick Johnson to the Marlins from the Nationals for Aaron Tompson
Nick Johnson should formally add the words "if healthy" to his birth name, because they're always used there anyway. That projection assumes Johnson is as likely to finish out the year healthy as he has been for the past three years, so it's ugly. The Marlins did very well here, though the Nats are paying the salary, and Aaron Thompson is a big-time project. Their upside is pretty large, especially considering that he's effectively taking the at-bats of Bonifacio. The Marlins could wind up with around a two-win (and salary-free) deadline upgrade here. Teams usually give up two of their top five prospects for that.
Jarrod Washburn to Detroit from Seattle for Luke French and Mauricio Robles
Hmmm. I'd like to write this off for the Tigers as one of those 'had to do something' moves, and maybe I can.
A lot of that depends on Luke French. Until this season, French was a guy who got by on control and home run prevention (despite lacking a very strong groundball rate). He had abysmal strikeout rates until seemingly figuring out how to miss a bat in '09. He's still quite a low-upside guy, and I'm not concerned the Tigers will seriously regret his loss. It's more that I'm wondering if the Tigers actually made an upgrade here.
"But wait... Jarrod Washburn is amongst the league leaders in ERA!" Yes, but in reality, he's still exactly what he's been the last two seasons: a fifth starter. The right combination of extreme BABIP luck, a flukish dip in home run rate, and Safeco Field can do wonders for anyone. The Tigers aren't fools, and certainly gave some consideration to these issues. But I think the shiny ERA and recognizable name still helped foster the notion that they might actually be getting a meaningful shot in the arm here. They're not.
French, Robles (who seems pretty high upside, even if he's a long ways off), and a relatively hefty salary addition are a lot to give up for six runs (which may be a pretty generous estimate).