Ranking prospects is one of the highlights of the offseason for many. However, how are these rankings put together? How do you decide between the top ten pick and the Cuban import? Brandon Magee explains how prospect values work in practice.
In the first four parts of our series on prospect punditry, we looked at the various ways that pundits and teams look at and value prospects. Knowing that the traditional prospect ranking system done by most pundits is not utilized by front offices, can we find a better way to look at prospects in trades? Is there a better way to consolidate all the knowledge we do have to better understand why the teams consummated the trades that they did? In our final part of the series, we will look at two trades from this offseason, not to determine a winner or loser but to determine why the trade was made.
Boston Red Sox trade prospects to San Diego Padres for Craig Kimbrel
While we at SoSH have examined the Craig Kimbrel trade in a number of ways previously, it is a quintessential trade of an established player for prospects and can stand another look. Let’s review the particulars:
Padres send to Red Sox : RHP Craig Kimbrel
What do the Red Sox gain?
The Red Sox acquired a relief pitcher, a pitcher who over his six-year major league career has averaged only 68 games and 67 innings pitched per season. Various advanced metrics, such as WAR, show that relief pitchers, even elite relief pitchers, are not particularly valuable. However, while the theory that any pitcher can close a game out still gets bandied about in some circles as absolute truth, the Red Sox saw multiple times over the past few seasons that not all relievers can succeed in the titular closer role with Junichi Tazawa failing multiple times. While some may look at Tazawa as the exception to the rule, baseball clubs tend to favor certainty.
Kimbrel is clearly one of the elite closers in baseball, leading the national league in saves in his first four full seasons, earning top nine placement in the NL Cy Young voting in each of those years. Over his six seasons in the major, he has put up an ERA of 1.63, an ERA+ of 233, a FIP of 1.72, a WHIP of 0.93, and has struck out 14.5 batters every nine innings. Kimbrel, along with fellow newcomer Carson Smith, will solidify a bullpen that utilized a bevy of mediocrities and no-names in 2015.
What do the Padres lose?
They lose Kimbrel and his three-year contract, averaging a little over $12 million a season. However, one season after bringing in Kimbrel, Derek Norris, Justin Upton, Melvin Upton, Matt Kemp, and James Shields in a massive reorganizational shift… and going 74-88, the Padres are again shuffling the decks. A relatively expensive bullpen piece is not particularly valuable to a team that is in restructure mode.
What do the Padres gain?
San Diego gains intriguing potential. Baseball-America placed Javier Guerra and Manuel Margot as the top two prospects in the Padres system with Logan Allen slotting in at eighth. Margot made it to AA Portland at 20-years old this season, Guerra demonstrated a potential power bat as a 19-year old in Greenville, and Allen debuted with dominance in the Gulf Coast League. However, their high ranking in the Padres system shows how decimated the system was after the 2014 trades. It is highly unlikely Guerra or Margot make an appearance with San Diego in 2016… and may not make an appearance in 2017 either. Allen is a pitcher in short season ball and is far from the majors at this point.
The closest player to the majors is Carlos Asuaje, who has shown positional flexibility and had an All-Star season for AA Portland in 2015. Of the four prospects traded, he may be the only one who could make the jump to the majors in the upcoming season.
What do the Red Sox lose?
In Part Four of our series, we discussed a bit of the positional dilemma the Sox currently face with their top prospects. While both Guerra and Margot are very good prospects, they are both blocked by both major league players AND higher ranking minor league prospects. Guerra, a shortstop by trade, is blocked in the majors by youngster Xander Bogaerts. In the minors, both second baseman Yoan Moncada and third baseman Rafael Devers are generally ranked as better prospects than Javier. Margot is blocked in the Majors by Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. and has been overtaken in the minor league hierarchy by Andrew Benintendi.
Underscoring the depth of the Red Sox compared to the Padres, Guerra and Margot would have slotted in, at best, as 5th and 6th. Carlos Asuaje projects to be a utility infielder, but was behind both Marco Hernandez and Deven Marrero in the minors. And while Logan Allen had a fine first season in the GCL, his debut was certainly overshadowed by that of Anderson Espinoza.
The Red Sox surrendered four fine prospects. They lost depth. However, it was depth that they could afford to lose.
Atlanta Braves trade Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte
Unlike the Red Sox trade discussed above, this trade is a little bit more complex to completely unravel, with prospects going both ways. Let’s look at all the particulars:
Arizona receives from Atlanta: RHP Shelby Miller and LHP Gabe Speier
Atlanta receives from Arizona: SS Dansby Swanson, OF Ender Inciarte, and RHP Aaron Blair
What does Arizona gain?
The Diamondbacks gain a relatively young workhorse in Shelby Miller, who increased his innings to over 200 last season in just his third full season in the majors. Despite leading the league with 17 inexplicable losses, Miller had his best season via ERA (3.02), FIP (3.45) and ERA+ (124), while increasing his strikeouts and decreasing his walks and home runs allowed. At 25-years old, Arizona gains a pitcher entering his prime seasons and still under arbitration control. Along with newly signed Zack Greinke, Miller adds a powerful top duo to the Diamondbacks starting rotation.
Gabe Speier is a young left-handed pitcher that has pitched all of 77 innings in his three seasons in the minors. A 19th round prep pick by the Red Sox in 2013, Speier is the proverbial lottery ticket: decent stats, left-handed, 20-years old. But with only a single season in full-season ball, he is far from the bright lights of the majors.
What does Atlanta lose?
Much like San Diego, Atlanta is in rearranging mode. And if Atlanta can lose 95 games with Shelby Miller leading the rotation, they can certainly do so without him. The Braves’ eyes are on Cobb County and 2017.
Speier, meanwhile, was a Brave in name only, having been traded to Atlanta from the Detroit Tigers in the Cameron Maybin trade two weeks earlier.
What do the Braves Gain?
Ender Inciarte is a two-year outfield starter for the Diamondbacks, putting up a line of .303/.338/.408 with 38 extra-base hits in 2015. At 25-years old, Inciarte is still not eligible for arbitration and will not be a free agent until 2021. Inciarte has shown defensive flexibility in the outfield, playing primarily in centerfield in 2014 but playing more games in left and right field in 2015. Inciarte will likely take the place of the more expensive Cameron Maybin.
On the prospect side, the first pick of the 2015 draft, Dansby Swanson, is the obvious prize. Swanson hit .289/.394/.482 in his first 22 professional games. As a college draft pick, Swanson should rise quickly through the system. With the Braves trading away Andrelton Simmons, the shortstop position will have a caretaker in Erick Aybar for 2016 with Swanson potentially moving into that position in 2017.
Aaron Blair was no afterthought, however. Rated as one of the top 50 prospects coming into the season by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, Blair went 13-5 with 2.92 ERA between AA Mobile and AAA Reno. Blair will certainly be in the conversation to replace Miller when the 2016 season begins.
What do the Diamondbacks lose?
Losing Inciarte gives Yasmany Tomas a permanent home in the outfield, somewhat of a necessity given his large salary. Arizona was also able to keep their two superior hitting outfielders in A.J.Pollock and David Peralta.
Dansby Swanson, on the other hand, is a substantial loss. Incumbent shortstop Nick Ahmed batted .226/.275/.359 for the Diamondbacks in 2015. 29-year old Danny Worth was the primary shortstop for the AAA affiliate. 22-year old Jack Reinheimer was the primary SS in AA Mobile, after being traded to Arizona from the Seattle Mariners. Reinheimer batted .270/.342/.363 in his tour of the Southern League in 2015, but does not have the pedigree of Swanson.
As we can see by breaking down both trades, all the teams involved had reasons for the trades. For the Red Sox and Diamondbacks, they were looking to improve their major league teams with as close to a sure thing as a pitcher gets. They were willing to give up good prospects… but prospects that were largely replaceable in their depth chart. San Diego and Atlanta were both looking to shed salary and load up on prospects, with the 2016 major league team not being the primary concern.