As the "Roy Halladay sweepstakes" drag on, the question about whether to deal four or five top prospects for one player keeps coming up. The Phillies in particular seem to be playing hokey-pokey with J.A. Happ.
Is it a good idea to trade top notch prospects for a potential Hall of Famer? Well, I decided to look at history to see what it can tell us.
Obviously, it is rare that a former Cy Young winner gets dealt, but it has happened often enough to give us a track record: (note that I did not include 'rent-a-player' deadline deals).
1989: The Twins trade Frank Viola to the New York Mets for Rick Aguilera, David West, Kevin Tapani, Tim Drummond and Jack Savage.
Mets: Viola went 38-33 in 2 1/2 years with the Mets, winning 20 games in '90 but the Mets didn't make the playoffs in his time there.
Twins: Aguilera collected 275 saves over eight seasons with the Twins, with 3 All-Star appearances
Tapani was a solid ML pitcher, going 75-73 in six seasons with the Twins
The others didn't amount to much, but the Twins got a top of the rotation starter and a closer out of the deal.
Advantage - Prospects
1991: The Mets tried again to nail down an ace by sending Gregg Jefferies, Kevin McReynolds, and Keith Miller to the Royals for Bret Saberhagen
Mets: Saberhagen went 29-22 in 3 1/2 injury plagued years with the Mets
Royals: Jefferies played just one year with the Royals before being dumped for nothing.
McReynolds hit .246 with 24 HR's in two seasons.
Miller played parts of four seasons with the Royals, none of them really productive.
Advantage: Prospects (only because Saberhagen was one of the highest paid players in baseball in his unproductive time with the Mets).
1995: The Royals trade David Cone to the Blue Jays for Chris Stynes, David Sinnes, and Tony Medranno. The Jays then flip Cone at the trading deadline to the Yankees for Marty Janzen, Jason Jarvis, and Mike Gordon.
Yankees: Cone went 18-8, 3.57 ERA in '95, winning 54 games over 5 1/2 seasons with the Yankees, four ending in championships.
Interestingly, NONE of the six prospects that went to the Royals and Jays became even decent major leaguers. Stynes had one decent year with the Reds, but that was it.
Advantage: Cy Young Pitcher
1997: The Expos trade Pedro Martinez, a 25-year-old Cy Young Award Winner, to the Red Sox for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas
Boston: Martinez: 117-37 in seven seasons with the Sox.
Montreal: Pavano went 24-37 with an ERA over 5 in 4 1/2 years with the Expos.
Armas had a slightly better career ERA of 4.37, mostly with the Expos.
Advantage: Huge Advantage for the Cy Young Pitcher. The age of Martinez when the deal was made really should be looked at as the key reason for the success of the deal.
2005: The Diamondbacks deal Randy Johnson to the Yankees for Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, and Dionnar Navarro.
Yankees: Johnson went a disappointing 34-19, 4.5 ERA in two seasons with the Yankees.
DBacks: Vazquez spent one season with the DBacks, going 11-15, with a 4.42 ERA, before being dealt for Chris Young, who has been up and down for Arizona, and El Duque. Navarro would have been a good pick-up, but the DBacks dealt him for a washed up Shawn Green.
Advantage: Prospects. Considering the Yankees lost both playoff series that Johnson pitched, and he had a 6.92 ERA for them, I would give the advantage to the DBacks for spinning Vazquez off for a top prospect.
2008: The Twins deal Johan Santana to the Mets for Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, Deolis Gurrera and Phillip Humber.
Mets: Santana has been a little bit of a disappointment so far, going just 27-15 in his time with the Mets.
Twins: Gomez has been the only one to produce so far. Humber was DFA'd, Mulvey has spent a brief time in the major league bullpen, and Guerrera has struggled in the minors.
Advantage: Too early to tell. I would expect the Twins to come out ahead on this, simply because Santana seems to already be on the downside of his career, and the Mets are committed to pay him $98 million beyond 2009.
So what does history tell us? The Martinez deal aside (how often do 25-year-old Cy Young winners go on the market?), trading a bevy of prospects for a veteran pitcher is a very shaky proposition. The deal the Mets made for the 27-year-old Saberhagen should have been a no-brainer, but he got hurt.
You never know when a pitcher is going to go down, and you also never really know which top prospect is going to develop (remember that David West was the key player in the Viola deal, not Aguilera or Tapani).
When you can acquire a top pitcher for one or two prospects, then it probably is a good deal. But when you give up four or five young players for that one arm, you're probably going to end up on the short end of the stick.
Teams looking to acquire the 32-year-old Halladay should be wary of meeting that large of a price tag.