Why Midseason Blockbusters Don't Work in MLB
Every year, a few really big names get traded. The trades rarely work out well for the team acquiring the big star. The Dodgers and Angels worked out two of the best superstar trades in recent history last year by acquiring Manny Ramirez and Mark Teixeira for relatively little.
The Angels traded starting first baseman Casey Kotchman and a decent minor league pitcher for the soon to be free agent Teixeira in order to help them win a World Series last year.
Unfortunately for them, they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Boston Red Sox and Teixeira signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees.
The Angels, however, were confident that if the All-Star first baseman left, then Cuban prospect Kendry Morales could take over. Morales has proven to not only be an upgrade over Kotchman, and an adequate replacement for Teixiera, but actually one of the Angels' best players.
In hindsight, the Angels traded a decent starting first baseman and decent pitching prospect for half a season of All-Star play at first, as well as a first round and supplementary pick in the draft and a first baseman who appears to be a special talent.
The Dodgers also performed admirably in their trade for Manny Ramirez. They traded Andy LaRoche, who had been overtaken by Blake DeWitt as Los Angeles' premier third base prospect and an average pitching prospect for one of the greatest right handed hitters of all time.
There was very little risk for LA with the small payment for Manny and the fact that the slugger was in a contract year. In the end, though, the trade only worked out this well for the Dodgers because no one else wanted him.
Los Angeles wasn't going to get into a bidding war.
The trade would have been somewhat of a success even if they had lost Ramirez, as he helped improve their other hitters and salvaged a poor season to get the Dodgers into the second round of the playoffs.
These trades are very much the exception. Unless your team is the Red Sox, Yankees or possibly the Cardinals, it is usually a very bad idea to make a blockbuster midseason trade...and an even worse idea if it is for a star pitcher.
The first reason for this is that your team will almost always overpay in prospects, and even Major League talent. An example of this are trade offers reportedly from the Blue Jays to the Dodgers and Angels this year for Roy Halladay.
Toronto reportedly wanted from the Angels top prospect Brandon Wood, emerging star short stop Erick Aybar, one of the Angels best starting pitchers in Jered Weaver of Jeff Saunders, and top pitching prospects.
While Roy Halladay is a top level pitcher, he also has the right to demand a trade at season's end, if he is traded now, putting pressure on the Angels to give him a long, rich extension.
This, coupled with the free agency of John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero, would spell trouble for the Angels, even if they didn't lose one of their best infielders and one of their best infield prospects. It could end up costing them two very good starters for one great starter.
The Dodgers were reportedly offered a deal of Cliff Lee for under-performing first baseman Loney, some top prospects, and either Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw.
Dodgers bloggers at Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness responded to this rumor pretty quickly, and have some good evidence that not only is that too high a price, but that both Billingsley and Kershaw have pitched better than Lee this year.
The second reason is that your team can't afford it.
Unless you are the Yankees or Red Sox, who have almost unlimited war chests and can outbid almost all comers, the chances of your team holding onto that star free agent after your half season rental are virtually nil. Just ask the Brewers or Angels.
The final major reason is that it is just not worth it.
A lot of people won't agree with me here, I'm sure, but the fact is that every year there are two or three blockbuster trades designed to help the team win the World Series "this year," and who usually leave after the season.
Every year just one team wins the World Series, and it is often not one of those teams which acquired a top star for a while. That's one out of three or zero out of three.
Not good odds.
Many fans will feel that it's worth it for a shot at the Series, but the truth is, it doesn't make a team much more likely to win in that year. That means that if you're a team like the Yankees or Red Sox who can be fairly assured of keeping that player long term, and signing top quality players to make up for the loss of prospects, you can benefit.
If you're not one of those teams, you're probably reducing your chance of winning a World Series by trading away players who could be the core of a contender for years to come.
The Dodgers, Angels, and Rays have used their prospects well in recent years. The result?
The Angels are perennially contenders without breaking the bank. The Rays went to the World Series over Boston and have one of the best players in baseball in Evan Longoria. The Dodgers have built the best team in the majors this year, largely without Manny Ramirez.
The world champion Phillies, meanwhile, made a trade for a good but not great player in Joe Blanton, who helped them win the World Series.
In short, it just doesn't pay off to make a blockbuster trade, unless the odds are significantly in your favor, either because you're giving very little to the other team or because the players you give are expendable.
In addition to all that, it's just bad value. Prospects and young starters are generally on very low salaries, whereas the stars who are traded are paid very highly. Teams can almost end up paying the same amount for half a season for a star player as for a few years of young players and prospects. This was another positive aspect of the Ramirez trade—the Dodgers didn't even pay his salary last year.
Looking at the baseball landscape, there is a reason that star players get traded—their team would rather have the good players and top prospects than the one star player.
The Angels were often criticized earlier this decade for not making big midseason trades, but they won a World Series that way.
Two of their most important players that year? "Mr. Angel," Garret Anderson and rookie pitcher John Lackey. When they did make a blockbuster trade, they made it on their own terms, and came away better than they were before, even while losing Teixeira.
There is a reason that the Angels were ranked the number one franchise in sports by ESPN the Magazine this year, and usually come out near the top—their product off the field is good, but what has really made them a premier franchise is their on the field product.
They are consistently first or second in their division, and are perennial contenders who aren't afraid to make big signings. The reason they are consistently good, however, is that they value their prospects, and put them off limits before most other teams, ahead of mercenaries and rentals.
It is this focus on prospects which has allowed an Angels team which tragically lost one of its best young pitchers, and has had injuries to the rest of the rotation and both Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter, to remain in first place in the AL West and remain one of the best teams in baseball.
Their depth is phenomenal. Maybe the league should take note.
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