I love trades, transactions, and rumors. Love ’em. While the actual game of baseball is pretty cool too — you know, I’ll watch it on occasion — there’s something endlessly fascinating about discussing roster moves. The flurry of action around the trade deadline makes it one of my favorite times of the season, and it’s one of the few things fans of rebuilding teams have to look forward to each year.
There’s just something so addicting about the deadline. Following the trade deadline on Twitter is like watching the climax of a giant, twisting, real-life soap opera unfold 140 characters at a time. Rumors are buzzing everywhere, emotions are running high, analysts are making over-the-top assessments, and debates are flying nearly as fast as the rumors. It’s an adrenaline rush that doesn’t require an HDTV or special effects, just a knowledge of the narratives surrounding this year’s season. It’s the ultimate story — a real-time novel with 30 authors and millions of attentive readers.
But one of the key reasons I love this time of the year is because it stimulates so much good analysis and debate. Each trade can be debated on the merits of the return for both sides — something saberists love to do — but there are also underlying philosophical debates about proper team building and strategy. How close is close enough to justify making a run at the playoffs? Should this team be looking to sell or buy? What should be this organization’s long-term plan? Are they working toward it? Sometimes the answer to these questions are easy; other times they can be the cause of all sorts of debate.
The Ubaldo Jimenez trade is a great example. I have conflicting emotions on this trade: while I like the total package the Rockies got back in return, I really dislike the trade from a philosophical point of view.
Even though everyone reading this article probably knows these facts by heart already, let’s first go over the facts of trade. This weekend, Ubaldo Jimenez was traded by the Rockies to the Cleveland Indians for a package that included four prospects. Two of these prospects were considered some of the best prospects in the Indians’ organization and ranked within Baseball America‘s Top 100 prospects for 2011. Meanwhile, Jimenez is under contract for two more seasons after this one at a total cost of just over $10 million.*
*He does have a player option for 2014 at $8 million, but it seems rather likely that he’ll opt for free agency instead.
I can understand the Rockies wanting to add more minor league depth and rebuild slightly. Coming into this weekend, their major league team wasn’t good enough to compete at the moment, and they didn’t have any minor league depth to turn to in order to fill holes. While the Rockies have a solid core to build around in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, they were going to need to fill out their team with expensive free agents if they wanted to compete without restocking first.
But here’s what I can’t get around: why would you trade your ace starter for three pitching prospects? While I tend to think the age-old axiom of “There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect” is overstated, the truth of the matter is pitching prospects flame out a lot more often than they make it. Pitchers get injured, follow odd developmental paths, and sometimes just simply don’t reach the peak everyone forecast for them. In an ideal world, you hope one of these pitchers will develop into a front-of-the-rotation, 4-6 WAR starter that you can have under team control cheaply for multiple seasons….which is what Jimenez already is.
As Eric Seidman pointed out in his article on the trade this weekend, the Rockies probably felt motivated to make this trade as a result of the poor development of their pitching prospects. And yet, if the Rockies hadn’t made this trade, their 2012 rotation could have still looked quite good and young. Jhoulys Chacin (3.81 SIERA) and Juan Nicasio (3.44 SIERA) have performed well this season and are both 24-years-old or younger, and even if they took some time to develop, Jimenez’s deal remained exceptionally cheap through 2014. With Jorge de la Rosa coming back from Tommy John surgery next season, I’m somewhat perplexed why the Rockies felt the need to sell Ubaldo so soon.
If I was the Rockies, I wouldn’t have made this trade without ensuring Cleveland included at least one of their top positional prospects. The Rockies have Tulo and CarGo, but outside of those two, their offense has some holes going forward. Todd Helton is getting old (although he’s still hitting fine), and the Rockies’ next best position players are Chris Ianetta, Seth Smith, and Dexter Fowler. They have few position prospects on the way up, so the addition of a player like Jason Kipnis would have been a huge boost of youth to their squad.
But again, this is the great part about transactions: everyone is entitled to their opinion. I’m more of a conservative guy than the Rockies’ front office, apparently, but that might simply be the result of too many years following the Rays. I place a high value on ace pitchers that are signed to team-friendly deals like Ubaldo Jimenez; even if he gets hurt or slumps to only a 2.0 WAR pitcher, he would still be a bargain. I may be overvaluing his contract, though, and underrating the possibility he gets hurt.
However this deal works out in the end, I have to applaud the Rockies’ front office for having the guts to pull it off. This was a wild, risky move that they made, but hey, sometimes it pays to take on risk. And it certainly made the trade deadline a heck of a lot of fun for the rest of us to follow.