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April 8, 1999

Do Top Prospects Get Traded?

What are Herk Robinson's chances?

by Rodger A. Payne

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:

  • First, two asterisks (**) indicate that a trade occurred just after the expansion draft.

  • Second, I've included the main player(s) sent away in trade for the prospect. I apologize for the few missing data cases. They're caused by a combination of faulty memory and lack of access to a new Baseball Register.

  • Finally, I'd like to thank Erik Johnson, John Perkins, Phil Ponebshek and Jason Rosenstock of STATLG-L for their assistance in clarifying some transactions. Any remaining errors are mine.

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.

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