When news of a trade is unleashed upon social media, there’s usually a general consensus as to the immediate “winner” and “loser” of the deal; but there’s also usually some dissent—however minor it may be. Even the most seemingly lopsided deal will have its defenders from Jon Q. Twitter handle, and by the next morning those who bashed the transaction have calmed down and can offer at least some sort of justification for the offending party. That’s always been my experience, anyway.
Not this time. The Diamondbacks decision to trade 2014 first-round pick Touki Toussaint and Bronson Arroyo’s contract to the Braves for Phil Gosselin was met with universal disdain, even when Tony LaRussa issued some clarifying comments that tried to justify why Arizona made the move. In all of my years on this planet, I have never seen a move as universally panned from writers and fans as this one was, and that’s saying something.
And so the negative reaction to the deal got me thinking: The fans hate it, the “experts” hate it, what about the industry? In general, I have found front-office members and scouts to be more than generous with their time and willing to provide a quote on players, but out of respect—and in some instances, fear—they generally don’t like to comment on a winner or loser of transaction. In fact, I’ve gotten so many no comments that I generally stopped asking—on the record, anyway.
This time though, I had to try. I was too fascinated by how unpopular the move was to not at least attempt to get some feedback from those in the industry. Unsurprisingly, most were unwilling to comment, but I was able to get a few folks I contacted to offer their views. Their responses were not surprising, but a few were able to offer more justification than imagined.
AL West front-office member: “I don’t think there’s any question that [Atlanta] came out ahead in the deal, I think Toussaint has a chance to be a no. 2 starter if everything goes well, and I think you should probably get more than that if you’re going to give up a talent like that. Understanding that though, I do think you can justify it. As talented as he is, Toussaint is still a project, one that likely can’t help you until 2019, and the reports I’ve read on him vary from not just start to start, but inning to inning. I would have wanted more than salary relief and a utility player, but let’s not act like this was Adam Jones and Chris Tillman for Erik Bedard.”
NL East front-office member: “People forget this is a business, and in order to get something you want, you have to give up something you like. In this case, Arizona wanted the flexibility to make the team better, and in return they gave up a lottery ticket in Toussaint. The Diamondbacks have one of the best hitters on the planet in Paul Goldschmidt, an above-average supporting cast around him, and the pitching staff isn’t terrible. If you think you’re a $10-to-12 million guy away from competing for a playoff spot, why not move the guy who can’t help you for several years in order to create the room to get that guy? You can’t do it too much, but a move like this every once in a while isn’t going to destroy your farm system.”
Unfortunately for fans of Arizona, those were the lone two supportive voices of the dozens of texts, emails, and phone calls I made over the weekend. To save you from monotony and me from carpel tunnel, I won’t share all of them with you, but I thought this email I got back from a long-time scout with an NL Central club said everything that needs to be said.
“Don’t blame Dave Stewart for this deal. Don’t blame Tony LaRussa. Cost-cutting moves come from up-above, and if the Diamondback ownership group is so cheap that they feel like it’s necessary to move a top 100 prospect to clear enough cash to sign a no. 3 starter or a no. 6 hitter, then maybe they should be looking for someone else to purchase the club, because clearly this isn’t the right business for them. On paper, this is as bad a trade as I can ever remember, and I can’t help but feel sorry for the fans in Phoenix right now.”
The other social media hubbub this move created was a discussion—if you want to call it that—on what exactly Toussaint would be worth on the open market. Assuming the Diamondbacks would have declined Arroyo’s option, the trade saves Arizona right around $10 million dollars. While it’s not a perfect comparison, I thought I’d ask three front-office members if Toussaint would be worth more than that on the open market.
Front-office member no. 1: “Easy; he’s shown two 70 pitches and performed relatively well in the showcase events. If we saw this kid showing that kind of stuff in the Dominican Republic or Cuba, he’d be as highly touted as any international pitching prospect we’ve seen. That’d easily make him worth more than that figure, maybe double it.”
Front-office member no. 2: “I would say that if you make [Toussaint] a free agent right now, he’d get considerably more than the amount of money they saved. They just signed Yoan Lopez for something close to that figure, and with all due respect to Lopez, Toussaint has much better stuff with a much higher ceiling than he does. The fact he did it in front of area scouts and cross checkers makes the risk much smaller too, so there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t get a massive signing bonus.”
Front-office member no. 3: “I think it’s impossible to say until we actually have a prospect like this on the market. We can all assume that he’d get a massive payday, and maybe he would. I would hesitate to pay someone who can’t help me in the short-term that kind of money, though, and I imagine those who say they would are more bluster than reality. I’m not saying that makes it a good move, but the argument that Toussaint is worth more than $10 million doesn’t really fly to me.”
Two hard yes’s, one not-so-sure. Not quite the collective agreement we saw in the hatred of the trade, but pretty conclusive in what Toussaint would be worth if he wasn’t subject to the rules of the draft.
Like any transaction that involves prospects, we won’t be able to judge the results of this deal for several years, even if Arizona uses the saved funds to acquire a player that helps them win in 2016. We can critique the process though, and it’s easy to understand why fans would be critical of selling a prospect like Toussaint. For the most part, the industry doesn’t disagree with you.