SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Major League teams and parospect hounds have valued prospects more and more over the last two decades, particularly as the price of free agents have skyrocketed. Never has it been more imperative, especially for mid- and small-market teams. to build around cheap, productive, homegrown talent.
But have teams begun to overvalue prospects? To see a team trade a top 10 overall prospect like the Royals did, sending Wil Myers to acquire borderline ace James Shields, is extremely rare. There’s been only a handful of top 10 overall prospects to be traded over the last decade.
But if you examine this study , which I have cited here before, you wonder why more prospects are not flipped. You wonder if the Pirates really ought to consider being buyers, and not buyers in an insignificant way, like trading for a fifth-starter or middle reliever at the deadline, but in a big way.
Blig like in a Cliff Lee-like, ace-like way.
According to the study of Baseball America’s top 100 list from 1990-2003, 77.4% of its pitching prospects were busts, and 62.9% of its position players failed to become useful major league players.
And even if you examine the elite, top 10 overall prospects 59.2% of pitchers busted over that time period, while position players fared better, busting at a 37.4 percent rate.
(Those numbers suggest the Pirates should build around position players early in the draft – see: Machado, Manny though the Catch 22 is the Pirates are not going anywhere without top-of-the-rotation starters … but that’s a blog for another day)
So if the odds suggest Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole are more likely to fail to live up to expectations than to be successful, should they be made available for a current significant asset like the Phillies’ Cliff Lee, who will likley remain a much-discussed player as the trade deadline approaches?
Teams shopping for starters at the trade deadline appear likely to find a limited supply of attractive arms, says ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (Insider subscription required). TwoCubs pitchers headline the developing market, with Scott Feldman shaping up as the surprise top option at the moment. (Matt Garza, of course, will begin his potential audition on Tuesday.) In addition to several other well-documented trade candidates inRicky Nolasco of the Marlins and the Astros‘ Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell, Olney pegs the Padres‘ Jason Marquis and Edinson Volquez as likely available. Meanwhile,Bartolo Colon of the Athletics and Cliff Lee of the Phillies could also be dealt, writes Olney, with the A’s having other internal options and the Phils still weighing how to proceed with their excellent (but expensive) 35-year-old co-ace.
With a limited pool of arms likely available this season (though I think David Price could join the mix), and with an ace as the asset most likely to make a major impact in a playoff push, let’s use Lee-for-Taillon as our theoretical experiment.
The price to acquire aces is high. Remember when Ubaldo Jiminez was still viewed as a top-of-the-rotation arm? He cost Cleveland their Drew Pomeranz – fifth overall pick in 2010 – and Alex White, their 2009 first rounder. Shields cost Tampa Myers and Jake Odorizzi. If the Pirates call the Phillies – this is pure speculation – I would think the conversation begins with Cole or Taillon.
*The Pirates desperately need to change their perception end their 20-year losing streak. They are off to their best start since 1992. Adding a significant piece like Lee, could make their start sustainable. It’s hard to place a value on what a playoff series would mean for the city and the organization. I imagine PNC Park would be a madhouse.
*A Lee-Burnett-Rodriguez-Liriano-(No. 5 spot: Cole/Locke/Morton/McDonald) rotation would be one of the best in the National League, and the Pirates would have a rare amount of starting pitching depth. A rotation like that would give the Pirates a chance to win a playoff series or two.
*Lee would not be a one-year rental. He’s under contract for two more years, with an option, and has shown few signs of slowing down even at 34. If Burnett and/or Rodriguez leave he could be a staff anchor for two more years, and perhaps be a positive influence on young arms like Cole and Locke.
*A winning season certainly wouldn’t hurt job security for those in the organization.
*The Pirates have a lot of right-handed pitching depth: Luis Heredia, Tyler Glasnow, etc. It’s a potential surplus from which to trade.
*Using the above study assumes Baseball America and Major League teams have not improved at evaluating prospects over the last 20 years. I would think they have to a degree.
*Any player 30+ is subject to a decline in performance. Particularly, a workhorse pitcher. Look at how quickly Roy Halladay declined. Matt Cain has lost a tick of stuff this year. Jiminez has fallen apart. That risk is real and potentially devastating.
*Even if Taillon only has a 45 percent chance of hitting, that is still a decent rate for an incredibly valuable property : a young, cost-controlled ace, under team control for at least six seasons. The Mets aren’t trading Matt Harvey for anybody, the Cardinals aren’t trading Shelby Miller. The Pirates have a chance to have a 1-2 impact duo.
*The Pirates might not need more pitching, what they might really need is another bat.
Here’s where I come down: even with the inherent risk of pitching prospects, I’d only trade elite talents like Cole and Taillon for a similar elite talent on the younger side of 30. If teams are talking Price and Hamels, that’s interesting. But even Lee, as good as he is, any one north of 30 and even 33 carries too much risk for my liking.
Such trades are so rare to begin with that this is most likely just a theoretical exercise but it’s still an interesting one to discuss.
Taillon for Lee: would you do it?