JABO: The Impact of Prospect Depth on Trade Value

Last week, MLB saw two of their first big trades of the winter, as both the Red Sox and Angels gave up significant pieces of their farm system to acquire upgrades to their big league roster; Boston acquired closer Craig Kimbrel, while Anaheim landed shortstop Andrelton Simmons. In both cases, the acquisitions are not rentals, as Kimbrel is signed for two more years with a team option for a third, while Simmons is under contract through the 2020 season. To get high-quality players with multiple years of team control, both teams had to give up significant prospects from their farm system.

For the Red Sox, that meant parting with a pair of consensus Top 100 prospects in outfielder Manny Margot and shortstop Javier Guerra, along with a couple of lower tier add-ons. For the Angels, the cost was left-handed pitcher Sean Newcomb, the team’s first round pick in the 2014 draft and the most coveted player they had in the minor leagues; they also sent along with a second pitching prospect and shortstop Erick Aybar, who had been their everyday player at the position for the last seven years.

Both teams surrendered talent they would rather have kept, but felt strongly enough about the players they were receiving to make the trades anyway. And both teams did get very good players, among the best at their respective positions. But in terms of what these deals did to the remains of their respective farm systems, the situations could not be more different.

In making the Kimbrel deal, Dombrowski referenced the Red Sox loaded farm system, which has regularly been seen as one of the best in baseball.

“You don’t ever like to give up young talent,” Dombrowski said. “We think they’re very talented individuals. But I do think that (because of) the good job that the people at player development, scouting, international operations have done, we do have some depth at those positions. And we do have some other quality young players that we were asked about repeatedly.”

Those quality young players Dombrowski is referring to? They are almost certainly Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, the team’s pair of 23-year-old big league cornerstones, who happen to play center field and shortstop, respectively, the same positions that Margot and Guerra are playing in the minor leagues. With those positions locked down at the Major League level for the foreseeable future, Margot and Guerra were seen as somewhat extraneous to the team’s long-term plans, and were likely going to be traded at some point. The primary justification for paying a very high price for Kimbrel is that the team’s depth of prospects allowed them to make a trade like this, because even after surrendering good young talent, they have other good young talent to help them keep their future looking bright.

The Angels are in a very different situation; Newcomb was essentially their only prospect of significance, now that Andrew Heaney has too much time in the majors to qualify as a prospect. Roberto Baldoquin, the team’s top-rated prospect after Heaney and Newcomb heading into the 2015 season, just hit a meager .235/.266/.294 in A-ball, to give you some idea of the organization’s current crop of hitting prospect. With Newcomb, the team’s farm system would have been rated as one of the worst in baseball; without him, it unquestionably is so.

So, relative to their stock of future utility to the organization, the Angels probably gave up a greater percentage of their inventory than the Red Sox did, even though it’s pretty clear the package San Diego got for Kimbrel is a better one than the Braves got for Simmons. But even though Newcomb had more utility to his own organization than Margot or Guerra did, I can’t agree with the notion that highly talented prospects should be viewed as having significantly diminished value to an organization simply because of the presence of other highly talented players, even other talented players at the same position.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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8 years ago

You referred to Margot multiple times as Mateo I believe.