Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Point Of Making Trades; Something Not Right With The Phillies

  • Trades are a means, not an end:
For competent teams, making a trade is not an end in and of itself. There has to be a point
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to making a trade and that point is to get better. I've been going back and forth with Joe at Statistician Magician as to whether the Royals should have traded Ron Mahay at the trading deadline for prospects. The impetus of Joe's blog appeared to be Rob Neyer saying that the Royals hanging onto Mahay was "indefensible" during a live chat on ESPN. (And I know some reaction to this will be: Ron Mahay? Who cares about Ron Mahay?; but the player isn't important in the argument.)
There's an idea that making trades of veterans for young prospects is always the way to go and there should be no deviation in that plan. Billy Beane and his maneuverings are the template for making such moves, but people aren't putting what Beane does into proper
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perspective. The idea that Beane makes trades just for the sake of making them is ludicrous. Beane's focus is making his organization better and more efficient. He traded Dan Haren at his highest value and extracted a huge chunk of the Diamonbacks fertile farm system in the process; he traded Rich Harden because he knew that Harden was
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always one pitch away from an extended period on the disabled list and Beane struck while the Cubs were panicking to retaliate for the Brewers acquisition of C.C. Sabathia. Beane has yet to trade Huston Street because there are concerns about his health and his performance hasn't been very good; trust me when I say that once Street proves his worth and maximizes his value, he'll be traded too. There's no panic in Billy Beane because he doesn't have to dump salary because he rarely signs a player to an unwieldy contract to begin with.
What would be the purpose of trading a lefty specialist like Mahay other than to dump his relatively reasonable and short-term contract? Mahay's been having an excellent year and the Royals signed him to a two-year deal. Maximizing his value isn't a valid argument either because he's a lefty and will have a job as long as he wants one, has a functioning left arm and still has a pulse. And what were the Royals expected to get for Mahay? He's got another year on his contract and no matter how well or poorly he pitches next season, the return then
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and now will be pretty much the same unless someone makes a stupid offer. If that offer (a Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell-type) were to come, then Mahay would have been traded.
The Royals aren't that bad this year either; if they get better next year to possibly contend, they'll be in the market for...a lefty reliever. If Royals GM Dayton Moore puts Mahay on waivers now and a team like the Red Sox claims him, here's how an imaginary conversation between Moore and Theo Epstein might go:

Epstein: So, what do you want for him?
Moore: I need a shortstop, a starting pitcher or an outfielder who can hit and run a bit.
Epstein: Names some names.
Moore: How about Jed Lowrie?
Epstein: No. You can have Julio Lugo. (Eyes closed in prayer, please, please, please...)
Moore: Uh, no. How about Justin Masterson or Clay Buchholz?
Epstein: No.
Moore: Jacoby Ellsbury?
Epstein: No.

Then they'd get down to the moderate prospects from the Red Sox minor league system until one or two players that Moore would consider. After consulting with scouts on the moderate prospects, sanity might prevail and Moore would look at the prospects (maybe an outfielder with occasional power and a wild pitcher with a big fastball) and say, "I could get the same thing if I trade Mahay next year; why do it now?" and he'd be right.
Another thing to look at for the Royals is that they're going to win 75-78 or so games this year with their youngsters; if they bring in a shortstop like Orlando Cabrera; an outfielder first baseman with some
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pop like Kevin Millar or Aubrey Huff; a starting pitcher like A.J. Burnett or Chris Young; and some reasonably priced pieces, they could win 84-90 games next year if things break right, and they'll be contending for a playoff spot. It's not very likely, but it's possible. Would trading Mahay for some moderate prospects who might or might not be in the majors in 2011 facilitate a quicker improvement when they'd get the same thing next year if they trade him then?
Making trades to appease critics is not the way to run an organization, especially one that has been so bad for so long as the Royals have; they're on the right track and trying to copy Billy Beane without being Billy Beane has been tried and failed before; an executive can only run his team his way, not the way critics like Neyer with only vague (or non-existent) plans suggest.
  • Something's out-of-whack with the Phillies:
Just as there was always an air of impending doom with the Mets for much of 2007 even as they maintained their division lead and stumbled their way through the last two-thirds of the
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season and eventually collapsed allowing the Phillies to catch and overtake them, there's a similar vibe with this year's Phillies that something is just not right. This has nothing to do with the face-to-face jawing session that Brett Myers and manager Charlie Manuel exchanged after Myers was removed from the game (that stuff's no big deal), but that the team as a whole looks short. From the struggles of Ryan Howard as he heads for 200 strikeouts; Chase Utley's slowdown from his blazing start; Jimmy Rollins's fall to earth after his MVP season; or the weak back-end of the starting rotation or desperation moves made by GM Pat Gillick that are gutting the farm system----there's something off with the team.
The Mets on the other hand, have been an opportunistic, feel-good story since Jerry
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Manuel took over as manager for Willie Randolph. They're battling their way through both injury and adversity and getting surprising contributions from their much-decried farm system and scrapheap pickups. Just as the Phillies had the positive feeling about them even as they fell what appeared to be hopelessly behind in 2007, the Mets have a similar positive feeling now and with the way Gillick is going for broke this year, the Phillies had better hope for a better result than that of the 2007 Mets because they may not be back in this position for quite a while.

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