April 8, 1999
Do Top Prospects Get Traded?
What are Herk Robinson's chances?
As a Royals fan, these days I am quite interested in whether Royals GM Herk Robinson can turn aging and expensive players like Kevin Appier and Jeff King into high quality young talent useful to the team as it rebuilds. That's why I was particularly intrigued by the questions Rany Jazayerli asked Robinson about the team's pursuit of top-notch minor leaguers. In the interview, Robinson surprisingly claimed "(t)eams now put a premium on all their top prospects, and few teams are able to give up the talent it would take to get players like that [1970s Royals John Mayberry, Hal McRae, Amos Otis, Larry Gura, and Freddie Patek obtained from other teams] today. You just can't get it done anymore."
Reading that, I thought that the accuracy of this assertion can be checked. I've looked at prospect lists from the past four seasons and determined which top-ranked young players were traded (omitting those who were already significant major league players when they were dealt--like 1995-96 #5 Brian Hunter, #7 Charles Johnson, and #11 Armando Benitez). Below, these lists are presented. I also very briefly discuss the overall quality of these traded players and discuss the implications for the Royals.
As I looked at the lists, I also paid special attention to the teams sending players away. After all, the most important question is whether the organizations said to be interested in Appier and King are willing to deal young players. Based on press reports, that apparently means Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Houston, St. Louis and Texas. Also, since Rany mentioned D'Angelo Jimenez in his interview, I looked for the Yankees too.
A few notes about the lists:
The 1995-96 Baseball America Top 100 prospect list included these players who were subsequently traded over the following seasons:
2. OF R. Rivera NYY to SD H. Irabu 12. P B. Pulsipher NYM to MIL M. Kinkade 18. P D. Hermanson SD to FLA/MON Q. Veras 26. OF R. Cedeno LA to NYM R. Hundley 29. OF M. Newfield SEA to SD A. Benes 32. OF M. Tucker KC to ATL J. Dye 33. P J. Silva TOR to PIT O. Merced/C. Garcia 35. OF A. Ochoa BAL to NYM B. Bonilla 36. P F. Rodriguez BOS to MIN R. Aguilera 38. C P. Konerko LA to CIN J. Shaw P. Konerko CIN to CHX M. Cameron 42. P J. Schmidt ATL to PIT D. Neagle 43. OF T. Beamon PIT to SD M. Smith 45. P J. Haynes BAL to OAK G. Berroa 52. OF B. Abreu HOU/TAM to PHI ** K. Stocker 53. P J. Wasdin OAK to BOS J. Canseco 55. P J. Acevedo COL to NYM B. Saberhagen 59. 3B P. Nevin HOU to DET M. Henneman 60. C R. Casanova SD to DET (for prospects) 62. P R. Villone SEA to SD A. Benes 65. IF H. Bocachica MON to LA (for prospects) 68. OF C. Goodwin BAL to CIn D. Wells 69. P M. Kroon SD to CIN (for a prospect) 74. P J. Granger KC to PIT J. King/J. Bell 78. 3B R. Davis NYY to SEA T. Martinez 79. P M. Drews NYY to DET C. Fielder 81. 1B D. Lee SD to FLA K. Brown 83. OF P. Watkins CIN to FLA (for a prospect) 87. P CJ Nitkowski CIN to DET D. Wells 88. OF J. Dye ATL to KC M. Tucker/K. Lockhart 92. IF D. Relaford SEA to PHI D. Hollins
This is an interesting list: it includes a few players who are now established (Abreu, Acevedo, Davis, Hermanson, and Schmidt), some very promising young players (Cedeno, Haynes, Konerko, Lee, Rivera, and Silva) and some apparent busts (Goodwin, Granger, and Newfield).
As I expected, there are players here from some of the key teams: Atlanta, Boston and Houston. Predictably, there are also several Yankees. Actually, the list is dominated by so-called "big market" playoff-bound teams sending away some of their best prospects. Arguably, it is much easier to obtain the "second tier" guys (numbers 40 to 100) than the very top ones--but some of the lower rated players turn out to be more highly regarded prospects on future lists, meaning their perceived value was higher when they were actually traded.
The 1996-97 Baseball America Top 100 prospect list included these players who were traded:
3. OF R. Rivera NYY to SD H. Irabu 11. P J. Schmidt ATL to PIT D. Neagle 12. P M. Drews NYY to DET C. Fielder 23. OF J. Cruz SEA to TOR M. Timlin 29. OF B. Abreu HOU/TAM to PHI ** K. Stocker 30. OF J. Dye ATL to KC M. Tucker/K. Lockhart 38. P J. Haynes BAL to OAK G. Berroa 41. 1B D. Lee SD to FLA K. Brown 42. 1B P. Konerko LA to CIN J. Shaw P. Konerko CIN to CHX M. Cameron 43. OF A. Ochoa BAL to NYM B. Bonilla 51. C J. Varitek SEA to BOS H. Slocumb 53. P D. Hermanson SD to FLA/MON Q. Veras 73. IF H. Bocachica MON to LA (for prospects) 74. IF C. Guillen HOU to SEA R. Johnson 84. P J. Wasdin OAK to BOS J. Canseco 86. P D. Graves CLE to CIN J. Smiley 89. IF D. Relaford SEA to PHI D. Hollins 92. 3B G. Alvarez AZ to DET ** T. Fryman 94. OF P. Wilson NYM to FLA M. Piazza 98. OF T. Beamon PIT to SD M. Smith
Again, this is an interesting list, and it includes quite a few repeats from the previous list. Cruz and Graves are the notable additions, though Guillen, Varitek and Wasdin are potentially valuable players too. Atlanta, Cleveland, and New York are all represented here. The list is shorter, in part, because it is more recent. This could mean that teams are more willing to part with prospects after they have had them around for a few years (and are disappointed by their development), or it could mean that other teams are interested in prospects after they advance through the system. In the case of pitchers, this might mean demonstrating continued good health.
I could not readily find the 1997-98 Baseball America Top 100 prospects list, so I substituted their Top 10 lists for the various leagues. The Double-A/Triple-A lists included, obviously, 60 players from six leagues. These players were traded:
AAA 1. P C. Pavano BOS to MON P. Martinez 1. 3B P. Konerko LA to CIN J. Shaw P. Konerko CIN to CHX M. Cameron 2. OF Jo.Cruz SEA to TOR M. Timlin/P. Spoljaric 4. SS D. Jackson CLE to CIN D. Burba 5. P O. Henriquez HOU to FLA M. Alou 9. 1B D. Lee SD to FLA K. Brown 10. P J. Halama HOU to SEA R. Johnson 10. OF Ja.Cruz SF to CLE J. Mesa AA 1. 3B F. Tatis TEX to STL R. Clayton/T.Stottlemyre 3. 1B D. Ward DET to HOU B. Hunter et al 4. P D. Reyes LA to CIN J. Shaw 5. OF Pr.Wilson NYM to FLA M. Piazza 6. P M. Perisho ANA to TEX (for prospect) 8. IF M. Kinkade MIL to NYM B. Pulsipher 9. 3B M. Lowell NYY to FLA (for prospect) A 3. P E. Milton NYY to MIN C. Knoblauch 6. OF J. LeBron KC to NYM J. Randa 9. SS M. Caruso SF to CHX (Cal) W. Alvarez/R. Hernandez
These lists include lots of intriguing players, including players now establishing themselves like Caruso, Milton, Pavano, and Tatis. Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Texas, and the Yankees are again on the list.
I think these lists demonstrate that players are dealt as they get closer to the major leagues. The Top 10 AAA players include some fine baseball players--certainly comparable to Russ Branyan or Daryle Ward, players mentioned by Rany in his interview with Robinson.
Unfortunately, I don't have any recent prospect lists from Baseball America, but I do have Baseball Prospectus 1999, which ranked only 40 players, plus a few honorable mentions:
5. SS P. Ozuna STL to FLA E. Renteria 24. OF P. Bergeron LA to MON C. Perez/M. Grudzielanek 25. P E. Yarnall NYM to FLA M. Piazza 30. P F. Garcia HOU to SEA R. Johnson 32. P R. Bell ATL to CIN B. Boone 34. 1B D. Ward DET to HOU B. Hunter et al
Among the honorable mentions listed is 2B/SS Carlos Guillen (HOU to SEA), who was also in the Randy Johnson deal.
Obviously, it's too early to discuss the quality of these players as major leaguers--but it is noteworthy that some are from Atlanta, Houston and St. Louis. Again, more players from the BP list will likely be dealt as the years pass and as they get closer to the major leagues.
Top starting pitchers like Appier have brought in trade, over this period, young players like Acevedo, Bergeron, Caruso, Garcia, Graves, Lee, Newfield, Nitkowski, Pavano, Schmidt and Villone. Aging hitters comparable to King have returned Drews, Haynes, Ochoa, Relaford and Silva. Since Jeff Montgomery may also be dealt, it should be pointed out that comparable relievers have brought back Jose Cruz, Nevin, Rodriguez, and Varitek. Jeff Shaw yielded Konerko, but Montgomery is probably not as highly valued as Shaw. Also, both Timlin and Roberto Hernandez were packaged with other players to return either higher quality or additional prospects.
Before closing, it is perhaps also worth noting that many other top prospects that could have been included in the above lists were exposed in the expansion drafts (Carl Everett, Karim Garcia, Marty Janzen, Brooks Kieschnick, Robert Smith, Jeff Suppan, Bubba Trammell, and Terrell Wade) or were traded within a year or so of coming up to the majors (some top ones I listed in the introduction, plus Roger Cedeno, Benji Gil, Wilton Guerrero, Orlando Miller, Jay Powell, and Edgar Renteria). Some were even waived or allowed to leave as free agents (Brian Barber, Julio Santana and Marc Valdes). These transactions indicate further willingness to part with young players, although at least in Barber's case, serious injuries can be used as a reasonable excuse. Again, some talented players from Atlanta, Boston, Houston, and Texas are in these list.
Based on the evidence presented here, a GM should hold out for top prospects. They have been made available, even from the top teams. If somehow Baltimore, LA, San Diego and Seattle can be induced to bid for Royals players on the trade block, the bounty obtained in the transactions might be even greater.