How Often Are Top 50 Prospects Traded?
Brandon Decker over at Beyond the Box Score wrote in March about trading top prospects for veteran starting pitchers and deduced that teams tend to over value their prospects when too often they don’t meet expectations. In fact, according to Baseball America which the article quotes, “nearly 70% of top 100 prospects fail, or can be considered busts.” So I undertook the initiative of checking which top prospects indeed were traded for current major league talent and later thought about whether the team might have regretted it or not.
In order to do this, and to narrow it down, I only referenced top 50 MLB preseason and midseason lists (since I want to limit this to the very ‘top’ prospects) going as far back as the 2010/11 offseason just to see how often (or rare) it is to see these top prospects traded in addition to the circumstances surrounding these deals. For instance, is the trading team getting value in terms of controllable players back, or is it just for a pure rental in the case of the acquired player hitting free agency after the season.
In the chart below, if you see BP MS, it denotes the Baseball Prospectus midseason list. Alternatively, you might see BA Pre which points to the Baseball America preseason list. On a couple occasions, I reference Fangraphs’ midseason list. For all of these players unless otherwise noted, the rankings are of the prospect before they were traded. I’ve also included the career WAR of each player from Baseball-reference just to see the value these prospects have earned. I think it’s fairly safe to say that teams and fans over value their prospects.
|Player||Prospect Rank||rWAR to date||Circumstances of Trade|
|Andrew Heaney||BA #30 Pre||1.0||Control involved|
|Matt Wisler||BA #34 Pre||0.5||Control involved|
|Addison Russell||BA #5 MS||1.2||Rental & control for Samardzija|
|Tyler Skaggs||BA #14 MS||-0.4||Control involved|
|Adam Eaton||BA #48 MS||7.0||Control involved|
|Mike Olt||BA #44 MS||-0.8||Pure rental|
|Wil Myers||BP #2 MS||1.5||Control involved|
|Jake Odorizzi||BP #20 MS||3.6||Control involved|
|Travis d’Arnaud||BP #8 MS||0.7||Control involved|
|Trevor May||BP #46 MS||-0.2||Control involved|
|Jake Marisnick||FG #39 MS||2.1||Control involved|
|Jacob Turner||FG #25 MS||-0.5||Pure rental*|
|Jesus Montero||BP #7 MS||0.1||Control involved|
|Brad Peacock||BP #27 MS||0.4||Control involved|
|Jarrod Parker||Later: BA#26 Pre||6.1||Control involved|
|Jarred Cosart||BP #29 MS||4.7||Control involved|
|Drew Pomeranz||BP #20 MS||3.0||Control involved|
|Alex White||BA #47 Pre||-0.5||Control involved|
|Robbie Erlin||BP #32 MS||-0.2||Control involved|
|Zack Wheeler||BP #36 MS||2.0||Pure rental|
|Casey Kelly||BA #24 MS||-0.6||Pure rental*|
|Brett Lawrie||BA #15 MS||13.8||Control involved|
|Chris Archer||Later: BA#27 Pre||7.5||Control involved|
|*denotes traded for player that was later resigned or extended|
Are there any guys there that teams would regret trading? Obviously it’s too early to tell on Andrew Heaney, Matt Wisler or Addison Russell. I’m sure the Royals and Cubs would love to have Jake Odorizzi and Archer back, respectively, but they were so young at the time, it took a couple years before they turned into what they are now. Giants’ fans are probably saying, “We’d like to have Zack Wheeler back please!” but they went for it in that Beltran deal and besides, Wheeler’s best season to date is only 1.1 WAR.
Wil Myers was the highest ranked prospect dealt on this list and many people at the time were shocked that the Royals did indeed trade their #1 prospect, but they received value back in the deal and made the post season. So no, they don’t regret that deal at all.
You can also see that teams often received value back in players they had control over for more than one season. Only in five cases were top prospects dealt for rentals and two teams, the Tigers and Red Sox, resigned or extended their player, Anibal Sanchez and Adrian Gonzalez, respectively.
So with that said, is it likely that the Blue Jays (or any team for that matter) will trade their top prospects i.e. Daniel Norris (BA #18 MS), Dalton Pompey (BA #29 MS), Jeff Hoffman (BA #33 MS) or Anthony Alford (ESPN #39 by Keith Law). Will the Twins trade a Byron Buxton (BA #2 Pre)? How about the Cubs dealing Kris Bryant (BA #1 Pre)? Honestly, that really isn’t happening. Teams want to hold onto their supreme talent. What is more often the case is that teams will trade lesser ranked prospects at the time and then hopefully, the acquiring team may just get fortunate and be rewarded handsomely i.e. see Noah Syndergaard, Anthony Rizzo, Eduardo Rodriguez or even Alex Meyer, all of whom were never listed as top 50 prior to being dealt. You never really know since ranking prospects is truly a crapshoot.
So with that I say, trade away. Current big league talent is always better than prospects we can dream of as we have no idea how they’ll perform.