It’s Not All About Yu: Trading up.
When news broke Saturday afternoon that San Diego had managed to move Mat Latos to the Reds for righthander Edinson Volquez, first baseman Yonder Alonso, catcher Yasmani Grandal, and righthander Brad Boxberger, the dozens of emails I immediately got predictably looked very much like the ones earlier this month triggered by reports of what Oakland demanded from Miami in exchange for Gio Gonzalez and what the White Sox told the Yankees it would take to get John Danks:
What would an equivalent package from the Rangers look like?
I don’t like reaching for comps like that – even though it’s an exercise that Padres GM Josh Byrnes was theoretically engaging in as he surveyed his options leading up to the Latos trade – but if you’re one of those who sent me a question along those lines, there’s two reasons I might not have answered.
First, matching players up like that isn’t apples to apples. (Texas has nothing close to a Grandal equivalent at catcher – and the Reds would have been asked to put a shortstop in the deal if they had one like Jurickson Profar.) A deal with Texas would have looked different, no matter how hard you try to lay an Alexi Ogando, Mitch Moreland, Mike Olt, and Neil Ramirez (or Tanner Scheppers) transparency over the Cincinnati foursome.
Second, if you’re going to bundle Ogando, Moreland, Olt, and Ramirez together in one deal, you’re not going to do it for Mat Latos. The Marlins aren’t going to trade Mike Stanton, probably not even if Felix Hernandez changed his name to “Gio Gonzalez,” and if the Yankees ever deal Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos together, they’re going to target someone more valuable than Danks.
We talked about this back on July 19, in a report titled “Asset allocation” that ended with this: “When cash is the cost, the question is whether you’re willing to give it up to get the deal done. With the outlay of prospects, though, the analysis goes further, as you have to ask yourself whether you’re willing to give it up now.”
If you’re Texas, you just don’t go to that level for Matos. And if you’re San Diego, a package of Ramirez, Matt West, and Tomas Telis – arguably a fair offer in a vacuum – doesn’t come close to getting it done, considering that haul that the Reds put on the table.
Let’s say Chicago, asking New York for Montero and Banuelos, tells Texas that one season of Danks will cost only Profar and Martin Perez. The Rangers respond with an offer of Luke Jackson, Leury Garcia, and Ryan Strausborger. In unison, Williams tells Jon Daniels to wish Robyn a Happy New Year while JD sends similar wishes Jessica’s way.
Yes, Williams (Danks) and Billy Beane (Gonzalez) and Theo Epstein (Matt Garza) and Andrew Friedman (everyone but Matt Moore) have to be thrilled with what Byrnes flipped Latos for yesterday. But that doesn’t mean teams have to pay their price for their starting pitchers. Just as Texas could have offered C.J. Wilson the financial package the Angels offered him but opted not to, the Rangers don’t have to trade Derek Holland, Profar, David Perez, and Jorge Alfaro for James Shields just because that’s what it might cost to stay in the game.
And here’s the bigger point: Texas could trade Matt Harrison, Ramirez, Moreland, Leonys Martin, and Jordan Akins to the Cubs for Garza and Sean Marshall and survive it both at the big league level and on the farm. They could.
But maybe you too saw that MLB Network roundtable discussion a day or two ago when the analysts speculated that Seattle (not positioned to win in the next couple years) and Tampa Bay (with its tremendous rotation depth) could conceivably take calls on Hernandez and David Price, just to see what they might be able to get in this market that’s full of pitching-hungry contenders but almost totally void of frontline options. Hernandez in particular is probably worth what the Reds gave up yesterday plus what the Padres gave up. For three years of the King, Profar would presumably have to be in play.
Check out what San Diego managed to do yesterday, and ask yourself if Jack Zduriencik and Andrew Friedman’s instant reaction could have been anything other than to wonder what they might be able to turn King Felix and Price into right now, with the current landscape being what it is.
And it’s another reason why this Yu Darvish thing is so intriguing. Maybe he’s Price, maybe he’s Latos, maybe he’s Volquez or Chan Ho Park. But he won’t cost prospects or draft picks, and the way this trade market has developed, while Darvish is going to cost a ton of dollars, he won’t cost a ton of young players.
(If you weren’t on Twitter yesterday afternoon, Franz Lidz of Sports Illustrated reported that the prevailing bid for the right to negotiate with Darvish apparently exceeds the $51.1 million that Boston paid Daisuke Matsuzaka’s Seibu Lions in 2006 . . . and with a stack of stories speculating that Toronto was thought to have prevailed with a bid between $40 million and $50 million . . . then perhaps someone else actually submitted the high bid.)
But back to the part about paying a fortune in prospects.
If the Rangers traded Ogando, Moreland, Olt, and Ramirez for Latos (something they never would have done), would they have been better in 2012? Most likely. Would they have survived at the infield corners the next however-many years without Moreland and Olt? Sure. Is there enough pitching depth on the way that the pipeline would have withstood the loss of Neil Ramirez, especially if the big league rotation were strengthened in the meantime? Yes.
But if the Latos-Gonzalez-Danks-Garza market is joined by Hernandez or Price now, or Clayton Kershaw or Josh Johnson or Tim Lincecum or Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels or Matt Cain either seven or 12 months later, where would Texas be if Olt and Ramirez and more had already been moved for someone like Latos, or Perez and more were shipped to Chicago for one year of Danks, or Leonys Martin was put in a deal for a starter who wouldn’t come to camp as a lock to get the Opening Day nod ahead of Colby Lewis or Holland?
(By the way, it’s too soon to see how this will play out, but going forward, theoretically, there could be fewer impact players traded in July and more traded in the winter a year before they would reach free agency, because teams will no longer get draft pick compensation for players they own for less than a full season. In other words, if the White Sox trade Danks now, or if Milwaukee trades Greinke now, or if San Francisco trades Cain now, their new teams would have the right to premium draft picks if they were to lose the pitcher a year from now. But if those pitchers are not traded until this summer, there would be no future draft picks attached to them. Therefore, you might expect that the teams owning those players could get better offers for them now than they can anticipate in July – though that could be offset by the added urgency of the trade deadline market. Hard to say right now, but it’s surely part of the trade talks going on right now.)
I’ve found myself getting into a “patience” talk with a lot of you in the last few weeks, mostly due to the Rangers’ relative silence so far this winter while the Angels in particular have loaded up, in their rotation and in their bullpen and at first base and at catcher. It’s early. (Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli, remember, were January acquisitions.) And lots of market jams will begin to free up once all but one team is eliminated Tuesday in the Darvish chase.
But a whole different kind of patience is called for here, as we discussed back on July 19 – the importance of taking extreme care with those single-use commodities like Perez and Olt and Alfaro, because once you put them in a deal for a very good big league starting pitcher, you’ve lost the chance to package them later in a championship-level trade for a transcendent one.
Better to wait for that deal that has other teams’ fans asking what their equivalent package would have been – and coming up empty.