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Winning Teams Don’t Trade Prospects, They Get Them

July 27, 2011
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I wrote an MLB Trade Deadline primer a couple of days ago to prep Tribe fans for what may come.

Sure there are guys out there I’d like on the Tribe (Rasmus, Pence), but the fact remains that trading the future for a quick fix in the present is rarely a great move. Sometimes it works out, like when a team can get one of the 3 best pitchers in the MLB for a potential #3 starter and a back-up catcher (see: Cliff Lee for Carlos Carrasco & Lou Marson). Usually it doesn’t.

Mark Shapiro’s history as a wheeler and dealer is a testament to this maxim:Β Over the last 10 years, Shapiro has pulled off a mind boggling feat- regularly fielding good teams with no money and no drafting skills.

Consider this- until they called up Chisenhall, the Tribe was the only team in the MLB without a player in the starting line-up who came up through the farm system. Now they have two with the late addition of Jason Kipnis. It’s still shocking that prior to that, Fausto, Tomlin, Sipp, Rafael Perez, and Vinny Pestano were the only home grown talent playing for the team.

Though, I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising given Shapiro’s draft record. Who were the Tribe’s first picks from 99-07? Will Hartley, Corey Smith, Dan Denham, Jeremy Guthrie, Michael Aubrey, Jeremy Sowers, Trevor Crowe, David Huff, and Beau Mills.

Huff is, at this moment, pitching really well: (12:51PM) 3 IP, 3K, 0H. But, let’s be honest, no one is excited about the prospect of him being an anchor in the rotation.

Guthrie is a big name on the trade market, but he didn’t get good until years later (he was 27), with the Baltimore Orioles.

So let’s look at a timeline of Shapiro gems that kept the team competitive during this drafting dearth:

  • 2006: Eduardo Perez (who hit.195 with 1 homer for the Mariners) for a minor league SS who was hitting .236/.323/.360 as a 20 year old in AAA. Asdrubal Cabrera is now perhaps the best-hitting shortstop in the American League and made his first All-Star team. He is also single-handedly responsible for at least 5 Tribe wins…
  • 2006: Not happy with 1 former Indian platoon first baseman, the Mariners sent Shin Shoo-Choo for Ben Broussard, who hit .238 with 8 homers for the Mariners. Choo dominated AAA ball and was considered a top prospect. It is still unclear how this trade happened.
  • 2008: Shapiro sent “Classy” Casey “America” Blake to the LA Dodgers for Carlos Santana. Blake was a consistent bat at 3B for several years, but this is another trade no one is exactly sure how happened. Carlos Santana was considered one of the best catching prospects in baseball (Matt Weiters might have been his only competition) and while the Dodgers clearly loved Russell Martin, this was a huge under-sell. While Santana’s career batting average is just .236, he has already drawn 102 walks and hit 21 homers this season, and most scouts think the best is yet to come.

So, as you can see, 1/3rd of the Tribe’s line-up, in fact, the Tribe’s best 3 players, were acquired for a pittance and were not groomed in house. Still, it gets better; long before these gems, Shapiro took advantage of a desperate Omar Minaya who was then running the Expos to cap off a beautiful 2002:

  • 2002: Bartolo Colon for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, and Grady Sizemore. All three have been named All Stars. Two years ago Grady was considered the best young OF in the game. The Tribe gave up on Phillips but he has been nothing but consistant and productive for the Reds. Cliff Lee is… well… I miss him.
  • 2002: Einar Diez and Ryan Dreese for Travis Hafner. Hafner has had a tough couple years, but remember, from 2004-2007 he was one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He had his own home run section. And now, he is getting back, hittingΒ 314/.408/.508 as DH.

The team created through these moves came within a game of the World Series in 2007. In fact, I still don’t understand how they didn’t win a title that year.

Everyone knows the story: soon after they had to liquidate that team. And, Shapiro didn’t do a terrible job.

  • 2008: CC Sabathia for Matt Laporta and Michael Brantley. While neither has become an All Star yet, both are starting for the young Indians and both still have tremendous upside.
  • 2009: Victor Marinez was shipped to Boston for Justin Masterson, the team’s current Ace who looks neigh unhittable, and two good pitching prospects: Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price. While the town loved VMart, there was no money for him and Shapiro brought back talent to fuel the Tribe’s future.
  • 2009: Cliff Lee for Carlos Carrasco and Lou Marson. I still hate we got so little in this deal. But, I do pray Carrasco proves me wrong and turns into a gem for someone we could never have signed anyway.
  • 2009: Mark Derosa for Chris Perez. “Pure Rage” is money in the 9th. Is Mark Derosa even still playing?

There is a history of Tribe teams snagging players cheap to fuel eras of greatness. In the 90s, a couple Trades help make the Indians the best team of the decade:

  • Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga were received in return for Joe Carter.
  • Kenny Lofton came from Houston for Eddie Taubensee.
  • Felix Fermin and Reggie Jefferson netter them SS Omar Vizquel.

Still, those guys were the pieces that elevated a core group of home grown talent to a near Championship level of performance. Albert Bell, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome all came through the system. That doesn’t even mention talent traded elsewhere: Sean Casey, Richie Sexson, Brian Giles, and CC Sabathia amongst others.

Luckily, it looks like the Tribe’s drafting woes are ending. Chisenhall, White, and Kipnis have all already quickly progressed through the minors to potentially contribute in the Tribe’s next run as a contender.

And do, herein lies the lesson: It is very dangerous indeed to mortgage your team’s best talent for ‘proven players’ to provide immediate help.

Is Pence awesome? Yes. So was Bartolo Colon in 2002. Do we dare give up Pomeranz, Kipnis, and LeVon Washington and watch them turn into Lee, Phillips, and Sizemore?

Is it worth it to grab Jeff Francouer for ‘cheap’… say, Cord Phelps? Just to see Phelps blossom into an Asdrubal Carbera?

Hindsight is 20/20. I know. And not every trade turns out as well as the Tribe’s trades of the early 2000s. But, the point remains. It’s dangerous to move talent.

I’m not against it completely. In fact, I think it’s silly to overvalue potential talent and undervalue proven production, but I think it’s important to realistically assess the situation. Will one of these trades bring us a title in the next year or two? Probably not, so let’s tread carefully at this deadline.

Finally, I am hearing Colby Rasmus for Edwin Jackson. That is ridiculous. A theftΒ that will go down in history alongside of these Shapiro feats. I pray the Tribe still has some time and craftiness to jump in here and make another reasonable offer for the kid. That way we could add the steal to our list and not have to suffer from it year in and year out as we surrender victories to a Rasmus lead White Sox.

ROLL TRIBE

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    August 1, 2011 12:39 am

    This is basically a re-written article from Grantland. Good job.

    • August 1, 2011 2:57 pm

      Link? Unless Simmons/Klosterman wrote it, I can assure you I didn’t read it.

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