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Last week, Joe Garagiola Jr. made the latest in a long series of
heavily-criticized trades in which he gave up young players developed by the
Diamondbacks for older talent. While the Byung-Hyun
Kim
-for-Shea
Hillenbrand
deal doesn’t quite fit the pattern of his other swaps, it
does share one important characteristic: it was largely panned by outside
performance analysts.

I’m with them. While I can see a scenario in which the Diamondbacks win the
deal, I think that they gave up too much talent for a player who is likely to
be average or maybe a little above. The deal is especially problematic because
the Snakes have third-base prospect Chad
Tracy
available, and Tracy is a comparable player to Hillenbrand right
now, and comes with a lower price tag and a higher upside.

What keeps me from emptying both barrels on the deal is Garagiola’s track
record. This isn’t the first time he’s made a trade that left me shaking my
head, and yet, the Diamondbacks have been one of the most successful
franchises in baseball since they entered the league. From 1998-2002:


Team                Record     Pct.     Playoffs       Titles

Yankees            497-309    .617         5              3
Braves             493-315    .610         5              0
A's                457-352    .565         3              0
Giants             457-353    .564         2              0
Mariners           455-354    .562         2              0
Astros             448-362    .553         3              0
Red Sox            446-363    .551         2              0
Cardinals          443-366    .548         3              0
Indians            441-369    .544         3              0
Diamondbacks       440-370    .543         3              1

Keep in mind that you’re looking at the first five years in Diamondbacks
history. They’ve had by far the best opening run of any expansion team:


Team                Record     Pct.     Playoffs       Titles

Diamondbacks       440-370    .543         3              1
Rockies            363-384    .486         1              0
Royals             383-418    .478         0              0
Marlins            354-390    .476         1              1
Angels             383-425    .474         0              0
Expos              345-458    .430         0              0
Pilots/Brewers     337-466    .420         0              0
Astros             333-475    .412         0              0
Devil Rays         318-490    .394         0              0
Mariners           290-465    .384         0              0
Senators/Rangers   309-499    .382         0              0
Padres             294-506    .368         0              0
Blue Jays          270-482    .359         0              0
Mets               260-547    .322         0              0

(That’s not entirely a fair comparison; MLB changed the rules for the last
couple of expansions, allowing the new teams access to better players in the
Expansion Draft. Additionally, no new teams prior to 1977 had access to a
thriving free-agent market. That’s why three of the top four teams in the
above list come from the 1990s. Nevertheless, the Snakes have outdone even
recent expansion teams by a considerable amount.)

One of the reasons the Diamondbacks have done so well is the trades that
Garagiola has made, and more specifically, his willingness to sacrifice the
future for short-term gain. For all the criticism I and others have heaped on
that willingness, the fact is, he has given up very little in his deals.

Traded IF Joe
Randa
, 3B Gabe
Alvarez
, and LHP Matt Drews to Detroit for 3B Travis
Fryman
.
[11/18/97]

Traded 3B Travis Fryman, LHP Tom
Martin
, and $3 million to Cleveland for 3B Matt
Williams
. [12/1/97]

These two deals are a unit, and together were the first sign that the
Diamondbacks were not going to be a typical expansion team. While signing
Williams to a five-year extension would be a regrettable move, trading Alvarez
and Drews wouldn’t be; the former played in 92 games in his career, the latter
none. (Randa was not a young player, but rather a 28-year-old coming off
back-to-back .300 batting averages for the Pirates and Royals.)

Traded OF Karim
Garcia
to the Detroit Tigers for OF Luis
Gonzalez
. [12/28/98]

The pinnacle of Garagiola’s deal-making, this deal set the stage for three
division titles in four years, as Gonzalez immediately became a .300/.400/.500
hitter upon arriving in Phoenix. Garcia, expected to be a great left-handed
power source, washed out of Detroit and had a good half-season with the
Indians in 2002, his only good year at the major-league level. He’s hit
.248/.284/.474 since the deal.

Traded OF Paul Weichard and a PTNBL [RHP Jason
Boyd
] to the Pirates for 2B Tony
Womack
. [2/26/99]

Weichard wasn’t much of a prospect at the time (the Pirates were eager to
trade Womack to make room for Pat
Meares
and Mike
Benjamin
in their infield), and never played in the majors. Now 30,
Boyd has a career ERA of 6.16 in 87 2/3 innings.

Acquired LHP Dan
Plesac
from the Blue Jays for SS Tony
Batista
and RHP John
Frascatore
.
[6/12/99]

This is the one that stands out. Of all the young players Garagiola has dealt,
only Batista has gone on to have an extended, successful career. While he’s
never posted impressive OBPs, his power has made him an above-average third
baseman in most seasons. He’s hit .256/.304/.482 for the Blue Jays and Orioles
since the trade while playing average-plus defense.

Traded RHPs Vladimir
Nunez
and Brad
Penny
and a PTBNL [OF Abraham
Nunez
] to the Marlins for RHP Matt
Mantei
.
[7/8/99]

Coming on the heels of the Batista deal, this trade was also battered from
pillar to post, largely because of the expectations for Penny. While both he
and Vlad Nunez have had stretches of success, neither has approached
projections, and both have spent some time either on the DL or in the minors.
Now 25, Penny has a career ERA of 4.15 in 528 2/3 innings, and is on his way
to his best year ever in 2003 (3.50 ERA in 12 starts). Either he or Felix
Rodriguez
(traded in the winter of 1998 for Dante
Powell
) is behind Batista as the second-best career dealt away by
Garagiola.

Vladimir Nunez spent most of 2002 as the Marlins’ closer, but threw just 9 2/3
innings in 2003 before being sent to the minors. Now 28, he has a career ERA
of 4.62 in 381 2/3 innings.

Abraham Nunez suffered a shoulder injury in 2001 that limited him to DH duty
that season. Injured again this year, he’s hanging on to prospect status by a
thread, and has just 17 major-league at-bats to his credit.

Traded 1B Travis
Lee
, LHP Omar
Daal
and RHPs Vicente
Padilla
and Nelson
Figueroa
to the Phillies for RHP Curt
Schilling
.
[7/26/00]

Probably the best example of what Garagiola has done, this trade was directly
responsible for the Diamondbacks’ championship in 2001. Like many of the
players the Snakes have traded, Daal and Padilla have had good stretches, even
good seasons, but haven’t had sustained positive value. Daal has been a decent
innings sponge, with ERAs of 4.69 (after the trade in 2000), 4.46, 3.91 (in
Dodger Stadium) and 4.52 this year with the Orioles. Padilla pitched very well
for the Phillies in 2002 (3.28 ERA in 32 starts, 206 innings), but has just a
4.48 ERA so far this year.

Lee and Figueroa haven’t even had that level of success. Lee is one of the
biggest disappointments in baseball in the last decade, an empty .260 hitter
who plays a nice first base. Figueroa has a career ERA of 4.74 in 197 2/3
innings.

Traded LHP Nick
Bierbrodt
, OF Jason
Conti
, and cash to the Devil Rays for RHP Albie
Lopez
and C Mike
DiFelice
. [7/25/01]

Conti was 26 at the time, more a Quadruple-A guy than a prospect. He hit
.257/.315/.383 in 222 at-bats for the 2002 Devil Rays. Bierbrodt’s career took
a bizarre turn last winter when he was shot in a late-night altercation. Still
just 25, he has an ERA of 5.86 since the deal, and 8.13 in 34 1/3 innings this
year. (He’s back in the rotation tonight.)

Traded DH Jack Cust
and C J.D.
Closser
to the Rockies for LHP Mike
Myers
.
[1/8/02]

At the time, this looked like an even worse version of the Plesac deal, with
Garagiola swapping two of his system’s top hitting prospects for a lefty
specialist. Cust has been a disappointment, however, hitting .265/.409/.524 in
the friendly confines of Colorado Springs last year, .169/.299/.246 in 65
at-bats with the Rockies, and .266/.423/.370 with Ottawa this year. His
defense remains awful, limiting what a team can do with him, and it’s fair to
say that his status as a prospect is in danger.

Despite a good year with the bat at Double-A Carolina (.283/.370/.498), the
Rockies had Closser open the 2003 season in the Texas League. He’s still
hitting (.268/.358/.452), but the questions about his defense (no better than
seven runs below average over the past three seasons, per Clay Davenport’s
evaluations) are hindering his progress. Like Ben
Petrick
before him, he may find a promising career derailed by his
inadequate glovework.

It’s early, but both players fall into the pattern established by so many
prospects traded away by Garagiola: They never again looked as good as they
did on the day they were dealt.

Traded 1B Erubiel
Durazo
to the A’s as part of a four-way deal in which they received
RHP Elmer
Dessens
and cash from the Reds.
[12/15/02]

It’s too early to completely evaluate this deal. As expected, Durazo has been
a significant contributor to the A’s offense, hitting .290/.389/.485. He’s
already nearing his career high in at-bats, having avoided the nagging
injuries that plagued him in Arizona. If Durazo plays as expected and stays
healthy, he will likely end up the best player that Garagiola has ever dealt
away…but there are a half-dozen guys on the list above who you would have
expected to claim that crown.

Counting a host of minor deals not included here, Garagiola has traded 32
prospects, 21 of whom had no career after the deal. Some of the remaining 11
players had good seasons here and there, but the best career of the bunch
belongs to a guy with a .304 OBP since the deal. The second-best? A starter
with a 4.15 ERA or a set-up man–Felix Rodriguez–with two notable seasons. It’s
a tremendous track record that demands respect; whatever those of us on the
outside may have thought about the price Garagiola paid to improve his
ballclub, the fact is that he hasn’t traded away much. He was right more often
than not, and you can’t just hand-wave that away with talk of luck or injuries
or how players were mishandled by subsequent organizations.

A few years back, I attempted to distill the differences between what we do
and what scouts do by categorizing the two as “performance analysis”
and “skills analysis.” I wonder if those same principles can’t be
applied to the evaluation of front-office personnel.

It may be that the skills we so admire in some executives–such as the
understanding of how an offense works, the appreciation of sunk costs, the
application of performance analysis–are paralleled by the attributes scouts
find so enticing in young men who play baseball: speed, strength, and an
impressive physique. And just as players who do not possess those skills can
be excellent players, so too can GMs who eschew, or marginalize, the ideas we
embrace rise to the top of their profession.

Are Billy Beane and Theo Epstein the GM equivalent of “tools”
players, while Brian Sabean, Joe Garagiola Jr. and John Schuerholz are the Billy
McMillon
s and Warren
Newson
s and Roberto Petagines,
the guys who don’t get respect but who put runs and wins on the board? Are the
blind spots scouts and other baseball people have when it comes to players who
don’t look like much but produce mirrored by blind spots analysts have toward
GMs who don’t adhere to stathead credos but, nevertheless, also produce?

Performance matters. Garagiola took an expansion team and won a World Series
in four years, making three playoff appearances in that time. Has money been a
factor? Yes, but as we’ve seen in Baltimore, in Texas and in New York, just
throwing money at a roster is not nearly enough to ensure success. Garagiola’s
performance record as GM–not his skills, but his performance–is better than
all but a few of his peers. Whether I like how he’s gotten the job done or
not, I have to respect that he has gotten it done.

If I don’t, I’m no better than the people who laugh at Jeremy
Brown
.