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July 29, 2014

Notes About Baseball

The Logistics of Human Trading

by Rocco DeMaro


In The Room

Odds are you've never been traded.

I've certainly never been traded. I don't know anyone in my personal life who's been traded.

It occurs to me that getting traded isn't a thing that happens very often to humans. Swiss cake rolls at the lunch table, sure. Securities in the stock market, of course. But humans in this day and age? Kind of rare.

It must be weird to get traded. And it must be especially weird to get traded midway though a baseball season.

Imagine getting shipped out to a rival company in a different city in the middle of a workweek; here on Tuesday, there on Thursday. The business would remain the same, but the people, the rules, the culture... it's all different. What a bizarre thing to happen to someone.

With the non-waiver trading deadline fast approaching, I felt we should spend some time this week talking with humans who've been traded. See what it's like.

Drew Butera fits the bill. The Dodgers catcher was swapped at the deadline last season for a PTBNL (that eventually turned into Miguel Sulbaran).

"It's an experience, that's for sure," Butera said, hands on hips and with a nod of his head. "Packing up all your stuff midseason; for me last year, it was going cross-country. It's about getting to know the new organization, how they go about their things, the style of baseball they like to play and getting to know your new teammates."

"We had a day game," Butera began, recounting the day he'd been dealt. "We were back at the hotel and I was getting ready to walk outside to get some dinner with some of the guys. I literally walked outside the door and got a call from Terry Ryan, the GM of the Twins. He told me I'd been traded to the Dodgers and that I was gonna get a call from someone in the Dodgers organization. As soon as I hung up, I got a call from the Dodgers saying, 'Congratulations, happy to have you, you're going to report to Albuquerque and get to know the staff down there. Play hard and have fun.'"

"It was definitely a unique experience; a little shocking at first, but I knew Dee Gordon. He's from my hometown and we'd worked out together a little bit in the offseason, so it was nice having him there, being able to talk to him while getting to know the other guys."

I've always been curious about trading logistics. The moving of so many things, the arrangement of life's mundane, operational details. How does that work within MLB?

"I was on the road when it happened, so I had most of my stuff with me. The rest—I had some friends I was living with in Rochester ship it home, so it worked out well. I guess it'd be different for someone with a family who had to pack up their stuff, their wife's stuff, their kid's stuff. But for me, I'm not married, I don't have a kid, so it was a really easy transition."

Charlie Culberson's situation was a bit more complicated.

"My wife was seven months pregnant at the time."

Yikes. A year before Butera got his call, Culberson, now a utilityman for the Rockies, received his.

"I was with the Giants organization for five years. I was playing and got pulled out of the game. I didn't know what was happening. My manager at Triple-A Fresno told me, 'Hey, you're done,' and that I needed to call my GM. It was in the second inning, I think. I made the call from the clubhouse and the GM (Brian Sabean) said, 'I've got some news for you—we've traded you.'"

"The first thing that went through my mind was, 'What about my family?' My wife, my (in utero) daughter. And then I heard it was to the Rockies and that I was headed to Triple-A Colorado Springs. The funny thing was, that next day Fresno was flying to Colorado Springs to play them. But they (the Rockies) told me, you know, 'Just take your time.' We had a car out there in California, so the next day we packed up our apartment and started driving—1,200 miles. Got there a day later."

Wait. So he and his seven-months-pregnant wife packed up their entire apartment in 12 hours?

"Yep. That night and the next day. You do what you gotta do. We packed everything up and hit the road."

They say that moving is one of the most stressful things a person goes through in their life. So to condense that entire process into a 12-hour sprint with a very pregnant wife... that must've been an experience.

"It was an experience."

I told you!

A bit later, we'll get to Culberson’s Stress Rating (SR). I've asked our subjects this week to rate their trade-related stress a scale of 1-10. But before we get to that, a bit more fun with logistics. Like, how would one find a place to live after such a jarring relocation? Does the club handle that?

"You don't expect too much when you get traded and the Rockies did a really good job taking care of us (reimbursement of moving expenses, travel expenses, allowing Culberson to get to Colorado Springs on his own time). It started things off on a really good foot with the Rockies."

But as far as finding a place goes...

"You know, honestly we had to do everything on our own. We got there and they put us up in a hotel for a few nights—I think that's all they're really obligated to do for us—and I had to kind of go out on my own to find a place to live."

"That was a little change as well, because once you get traded, you gotta do what the new team says. That's your employer. Gotta go with the flow. I just wanted to find a nice, safe place for my wife to stay; she was big and pregnant, so I wanted to make her comfortable."

So what kind of place did they find?

"We actually found an extended-stay place. It was a studio apartment. We found that on our own through some friends. It was a little different, especially being at the end of July. The Triple-A season was only a month longer, so it was almost like a nightly deal. But it was kind of a grown up thing you needed to do. Wasn't really expecting it, but that's baseball and that's part of it."

If Butera represents the easiest situation from which to be traded and Culberson the hardest, Brandon League might be in the middle. He was dealt from Seattle to the Dodgers around the same time as Culberson—the 2012 deadline.

I introduced Brandon League in my voice recorder as a hard-throwing reliever; he was quick to correct me.

"Formerly hard-throwing reliever."

Having been traded twice at the major-league level, I asked him for some pro tips. What's the move upon learning you've been dealt?

"I guess you call your wife if you have one and say, 'We gotta move'. Or they have to move."

A mischievous, knowing laughing here from Brandon... the laugh of a man who had already made about a million bucks in the majors before being dealt the first time and nearly 10 million by the second time. The implication: he didn't really have to worry about getting from point A to B, or packing all of his worldly belongings into an automobile.

"They have to move all of the stuff. You're on a flight the next morning. If you've got kids and more than two suitcases, you're not gonna fit that on the plane."

"I packed one suitcase, enough to last a week. My wife packed everything else."

How long did that take her?

"I don't know, I wasn't there!" More laughter now. He packed a suitcase. She packed a family and a household.

"She packed up everything herself with three kids and was there the next day. She's amazing."

What about his quest to find a residence? How do established big leaguers handle it?

"It's tough because you're near the deadline so you have, what, two months left (in the season)? Maybe playoffs? It tough to find something long term, which is what most nice places want (in terms of commitment). So you're pretty much stuck in an apartment or something downtown, paying a month-to-month lease."

While the Leagues, like our other profilees, were forced to do some short-term renting, it sounds like his SR will be awfully low.

"2. I don't really stress much. That's my wife's job."

As for Butera: "It really wasn't stressful at all. I'd say maybe a 3. The only stress I had was getting my stuff in Rochester back home (to Florida). That was just about it. I think it'd be more if I had a family, if I had kids or something. Usually when you get traded, it's to a team that wants you, so you're excited about that."

We'll leave it to Culberson to round off our look into human trading: "High. Closer to 10. It really was, especially playing with one organization for five years to start my career. You never really think about that—you don't think about trades. It was different, a different feeling to know that you're done with that one team and you're now part of a new team, a new organization. You gotta get up and get goin'."

Outliers

Reminder: I'm soliciting reader-based selections for inclusion in Outliers, so if there's a guy who's notable at... something... and you think he deserves a spot in the column, hit me up on the Twitter.

It's about time we addressed Clayton Kershaw, as the young man has been doing some maniacal outlying.

The Dodgers lefty leads the league in walks per nine innings (1.2), strikeouts per nine innings (11.3), WHIP (.810), FIP (1.72), ERA (1.76), ERA+ (202), FRA (2.43) and despite starting eight fewer games than the league leaders (22) he leads the league in complete games, with four.

Even better: Batters facing Kershaw have posted a .192 TAv so far in 2014, which is to say Kershaw turns every batter, on average, into the league's worst hitter, and by a lot. The league's lowest-qualifying TAv (min. 325 PAs) belongs to Zack Cozart, at .212.

If we drop the TAv qualifying mark by more than a third, to 200 PA, the league's worst performer is Jedd Gyorko at .195; we still haven't hit .192.

That is insane.

Since June 14, 2011, Kershaw's ERA sits at 1.98. That covers his last 101 starts. He's approaching turn-of-the-century-Pedro Martinez territory, which is basically maximum Outlying.

I have little more to add, other than he's probably the second-best left handed pitcher I've ever seen. I'm 36 years old, so there's been Randy Johnson and now there's Kershaw. So there's that.

Rocco DeMaro is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rocco's other articles. You can contact Rocco by clicking here

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