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Can the Twins restock via trades?

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There has been much banter about whom the Twins might trade, and what they might get in return, if and when they decide to give up on the season and become "sellers" at the trade deadline in July. Folks seem to expect that several prospects can be obtained for the most prized of the Twins' trading chips, thus restocking the minors and/or bringing major-league ready talent to the parent club, particularly on the pitching side.

So I got curious what kind of return teams actually get, historically, when they trade someone valuable. The other day, I put out a posting with the question of what good trades came to mind - ones at the high end like Teixeira that brought a good nucleus. (Thanx and a tip o' the baseball cap to daan4786, boom boom, cdog, coach j, gunnarthor, and jtrinaldi for their nominations.) I wound up with 17 trades to look at.

A few opening comments. I am not trying to judge who "won" these trades; each one was viewed at the time as a gamble on young talent in exchange for a known quantity (to whatever extent value can be known in baseball). I decided to use Wins Above Replacement (WAR), as found on the baseball-reference.com site - I need a metric that attempts to place a value on batters and pitchers alike, combining offensive and defensive contributions, and it's not my purpose here to defend WAR itself - if you don't like WAR, feel free to construct your own study. Finally, this is not a comprehensive study of "trades in general" - I was purposely looking for trades that brought a lot in return, again because of the presumption in some places that the Twins can restock with a few astute trades, so I colored the discussion from the outset by holding up the Teixeira trade as a benchmark.

For each veteran listed, I present the return that was obtained (either a number of prospects, or a specific name when it was one-for one), the age of the most recent season (or mid-season) of stats when the trade took place, the date of the trade (to distinguish between off-season trades and deadline trades when the in-season WAR reflects only a partial season), and then three WAR values: of the current or most recent season, of the previous season (in a few cases marked by asterisks I give some benefit of the doubt by reverting to two seasons previous, when the previous season was marred by injury or otherwise didn't seem representative of what a GM would be looking at), and finally a career total WAR up to the time the trade occurred to give a sense of the total body of work by the given age. Again, my purpose is not to bother looking after the trade is completed; the clock stops when the trade is made.

Here they are, sorted in order of the age of the veteran player:

Mat Latos for 4 prospects
Age: 23 Dec 17 WAR: 1.5 Prev WAR: 3.0 Career WAR: 4.4
Gio Gonzalez for 4 prospects
Age: 25 Dec 23 WAR: 3.9 Prev WAR: 3.6 Career WAR: 5.8
A.J. Pierzynski for 3 pitchers
Age: 26 Nov 14 WAR: 4.2 Prev WAR: 2.1 Career WAR: 8.6
Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos
Age: 26 Jul 29 WAR: 0.3 Prev WAR: -1.2 Career WAR: 3.9
Zack Greinke for 4 prospects
Age: 26 Dec 19 WAR: 3.2 Prev WAR: 10.1 Career WAR: 24.8
Mark Teixeira for 5 prospects
Age: 27 Jul 31 WAR: 2.5 Prev WAR: 4.2 Career WAR: 22.3
CC Sabathia for 4 prospects
Age: 27 Jul 7 WAR: 1.7 Prev WAR: 6.0 Career WAR: 25.7
Chuck Knoblauch for 4 prospects
Age: 28 Feb 6 WAR: 6.5 Prev WAR: 8.4 Career WAR: 36.3
Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir
Age: 28 Jul 30 WAR: 1.7 Prev WAR: 2.4 Career WAR: 4.4
Shaun Marcum for Brett Lawrie
Age: 28 Dec 6 WAR: 3.8 Prev WAR: 2.7* Career WAR: 9.1
Hunter Pence for 4 prospects
Age: 28 Jul 29 WAR: 3.2 Prev WAR: 2.8 Career WAR: 17.3
Matt Holliday for 2 prospects and 1 established reliever
Age: 28 Nov 10 WAR: 5.6 Prev WAR: 5.8 Career WAR: 17.5
Michael Bourn for 4 prospects
Age: 28 Jul 31 WAR: 2.1 Prev WAR: 5.3 Career WAR: 13.0
Frank Viola for 5 prospects
Age: 29 Jul 31 WAR: 3.1 Prev WAR: 7.4 Career WAR: 25.0
Casey Blake for Carlos Santana
Age: 34 Jul 26 WAR: 1.6 Prev WAR: 2.4 Career WAR: 14.8
Carlos Beltran for Wheeler
Age: 34 Jul 28 WAR: 3.5 Prev WAR: 3.5* Career WAR: 58.7
Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz
Age: 36 Aug 12 WAR: 2.0 Prev WAR: 1.7 Career WAR: 24.8

Capps and Zambrano and Marcum jump out as having the thinnest "resume" at their respective ages; a single (but very good) prospect was fetched in return for them; their all being pitchers suggests what GMs are thinking when they trade away prospects. Latos and Gonzalez were very very young, so their Career WAR can be excused as their recent two years' WAR were very attractive ("only" WAR of 1.5 from a 23 year old? sign me up!). Michael Bourn is a bit shaky in this grouping, with his main attraction apparently being his previous stellar year. The older guys, Blake and Beltran and Alexander, each snagged a single (but again very good) prospect.

OK, so now what? Well, I picked ten current Twins player that seem to be the subject of trade discussion in the TwinsDaily forums. Again, I sort them in order of age:

Danny Valencia
Age: 27 Jun 12 WAR:-1.1 Prev WAR: 1.9* Career WAR: 0.2
Alexi Casilla
Age: 27 Jun 12 WAR: 0.5 Prev WAR: 1.3 Career WAR: 1.2
Francisco Liriano
Age: 28 Jun 12 WAR:-0.9 Prev WAR: 4.0* Career WAR: 8.0
Denard Span
Age: 28 Jun 12 WAR: 1.7 Prev WAR: 2.3 Career WAR: 13.4
Joe Mauer
Age: 29 Jun 12 WAR: 1.0 Prev WAR: 5.5* Career WAR: 33.9
Nick Blackburn
Age: 30 Jun 12 WAR:-1.0 Prev WAR: 0.5 Career WAR: 3.6
Justin Morneau
Age: 31 Jun 12 WAR: 0.2 Prev WAR: 4.6* Career WAR: 18.5
Ryan Doumit
Age: 31 Jun 12 WAR:-0.1 Prev WAR: 1.0 Career WAR: 7.1
Josh Willingham
Age: 33 Jun 12 WAR: 2.0 Prev WAR: 2.1 Career WAR: 14.8
Carl Pavano
Age: 36 Jun 12 WAR:-0.8 Prev WAR: 1.8 Career WAR: 14.9

And now, I look for matches between the Twins list versus the historical list, guided to great extent by age.

Valencia, Casilla, Blackburn, Doumit: None of these guys remotely resemble any of these historical trades, not even for a single good prospect. They just don't have the track record. It's possible that a trade for a prospect could occur, but it won't be a Smoltz or a Kazmir.

Liriano, Pavano: Nobody in the list of trades had a bad current WAR, where the trade was made based on hopes of a rebound to past performance. It's hard to forecast getting a genuine prospect in return for either pitcher, sorry to say.

Willingham: Kind of matches up with Casey Blake, who netted one good position player, moreso than Beltran who brought a pitcher. We love JWillie, but his offense so far is a little out of line with his track record while his defense is a known minus, and I don't see GMs valuing him as highly as Beltran for a pennant push.

Morneau: I was surprised that his current WAR remains so low, due to the below-par batting average. Again, we love him, but I suspect the WAR reflects a little more faithfully how other GMs will factor in the potential for a full rebound to his MVP season versus the risk of injury. If his current WAR were higher he might be a good match for a Hunter Pence or Michael Bourn kind of trade, and I don't see his salary being an obstacle. But as it is, I just don't know.

Mauer: Again the current WAR does not reflect what he could contribute if he bounces back a bit more. Maybe WAR isn't so good a proxy for what another GM might think of Mauer in a trade; but then WAR doesn't reflect the high-end salary Mauer commands, either. Tough to find a match in the first list - Knoblauch had established a really stellar resume by about that age, but his two most current seasons far eclipse what Mauer has (though I give Joe the benefit of the doubt with that asterisk). Again, I don't see a haul like in the first list, if Mauer was traded.

Span: Finally, the trading chip most talked about here. Where's the match? Unfortunately, Zambrano looks like the closest one to me (Zambrano came up late, accounting for a relatively low career WAR), even though he's a pitcher, suggesting that only one stud prospect could be obtained for him. Span is valuable, indeed, but relative to other center fielders he's just about average, and the list of trades doesn't suggest how you would do more than close one hole (say in the starting rotation) while opening the hole in CF (which you might hope to cover with Revere). To get more, Span would need to be perceived as much better than average among center fielders.

Well, I came out of this small study with basically the same view as I came in with, that even "backing up the truck" to dispose of current players would not re-stock the system like one would hope. The design of the study was shaped by my expectation, no doubt, so maybe I've overlooked some area of hope. But right now, I don't see how Terry Ryan will be able to do better than tit-for-tat trades, that bring individual young talent at the expense of current abilities; there just is nobody on the roster like Teixeira and Knoblauch and Viola in their primes. Pavano was supposed to be our Doyle Alexander to use to snare a young talent, but it doesn't look like it's going to work out.

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Updated 06-12-2012 at 02:47 PM by ashburyjohn

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  1. mike wants wins's Avatar
    Is the WAR of the player, or the players returned? Because isn't that part of the question, how much WAR did you give up to get what WAR in return? Also, if your team as currently constructed utterly stinks, but you think you have 2-4 starters in the minors ready in, say, 2015, wouldn't you want to trade your current players and get 1-4 more guys that will be ready in 2015?

    It can be done, but it's hard to do well.
  2. ashburyjohn's Avatar
    > Is the WAR of the player, or the players returned?

    Of the veteran player only. Unless I made typos.

    > Because isn't that part of the question, how much WAR did you give up to get what WAR in return?

    It's part of "a" question, I guess. But my purpose here was more modest: to try and line up current Twins assets to assets that have been used in big trades from the past. In the case of several of these trades, it's too soon to know the WAR gotten in return anyway (or also how much WAR was ultimately traded away in future years' production).

    Again, I wasn't trying to assess the success of the trades; it's certainly an interesting question to wonder how much is received in return for a player with a certain profile of WAR numbers past and present, but when trading for prospects you don't know for sure what you'll get anyway, and looking after-the-fact at WAR is almost exactly the opposite of what I wanted to do, which is to look at the trades from the perspective of the moment they were transacted. You need something other than WAR (of the later years) to measure what a prospect's value was thought *at the time* to be.

    Not every player in a 5-player package is a blue-chipper, but in the trades listed, the packages weren't typically just one stud with 4 fillers. So, it seemed enough to just group these trades generally, looking for a pattern of what was being traded away. And the pattern I think I see is that the Twins have absolutely no one on the roster who is likely to pull more than a single can't-miss prospect, paired maybe with a second good but unproven player. And IMO trading at that rate of speed means treading water, with a sub-.500 club, indefinitely.

    That doesn't mean no trades are possible, or in the Twins' interest. But I'm convinced more than before that trading alone isn't going to restock the system in one stroke. Maybe I'm setting up a straw man argument here that no one was actually arguing to be the case.

    > Also, if your team as currently constructed utterly stinks, but you think you have 2-4 starters in the minors ready in, say, 2015, wouldn't you want to trade your current players and get 1-4 more guys that will be ready in 2015? It can be done, but it's hard to do well.

    It's true, a strategy of trading veterans for prospects is quite a lot more complicated than just backing up the truck and loading the merchandise. My aim here was much humbler, to assess how big of a truck might be needed. Looks like a U-Haul trailer is enough.
  3. mike wants wins's Avatar
    Got it, thanks. It's a good analysis of WAR and what you can get in terms of prospects. Thanks for writing it.
  4. ashburyjohn's Avatar
    It's only a start to what would be a more solid analysis (say, looking a little harder for trades of lesser magnitude that still brought 2 or more legitimate prospects), but points in the direction that I think is a true conclusion, namely that we're looking at a summer of one-for-one trades of any significant talent that may have various spare parts included for any of a number of reasons.

    Shoot! I forgot a trade candidate, even though he stares me right in the face in the first list of trades:

    Matt Capps
    Age: 28 Jun 12 WAR: 0.6 Prev WAR: 0.8 Career WAR: 6.2

    These numbers don't stack up any better to the list of big-time trading chips than the rest of the Twins' candidates (and it's not as if WAR is systematically prejudiced against closers, since Nathan regularly had seasonal WAR in the 2-3 range and Rivera goes even higher). What we need is a trading partner who'll do a swap similar to the Ramos deal; can we get Bill Smith planted as a mole in some team's organization?
    Updated 06-13-2012 at 11:35 AM by ashburyjohn
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