The Major League Baseball hot stove season is upon us, and the trade rumors are brewing. Recently, it was revealed that the New York Yankees are in discussions with the Seattle Mariners to obtain James Paxton.
Paxton, as most people know, is Seattle’s 30-year-old left-hander. He broke out in a big way in 2017, finally showing the potential so many felt he had. He followed that up with a solid 2018 campaign, going 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA (and an even lower 3.23 FIP), a 1.10 WHIP, and a career-high 208 strikeouts in 160.1 innings while walking just 42, or 2.36 per nine.
Another interesting note is Paxton made 13 starts against 2018 AL playoff teams in which he went 5-3. Eight of those starts were quality starts and one lasted 0.1 innings against Oakland after he took a Jed Lowrie liner off the arm and hit the disabled list. So, really he went 8-for-12 in quality starts.
The team he seemed to struggle most against? Yep. It was the Yankees. Paxton went 0-2, allowing eight runs in 11 innings (a 6.55 ERA) striking out 14 and walking six.
The biggest question when dealing for a pitcher of Paxton’s caliber, especially in a highly-rated farm system like the Yankees, is: are the prospects worth it? There is no right answer to this. Some are in the camp that elite prospects are untouchable, and others are, well, Theo Epstein.
Myself? I’m in the camp that prospects are developed for trading as much as they are for becoming a fixture in your favorite team’s lineup. Prospect coverage is more readily available than ever before, and many people feel they know prospects because they are presented the information. Prospects become can’t-miss much more easily now, but that’s even more reason to trade them (some of them, at least).
Here’s the thing. We salivate over the top 100 prospects, the ones many claim should be untouchable. Just think about how many prospects there are in each system, we know the top 100. That’s about one percent of minor league prospects. While you can say that alone should make a top 100 prospect untouchable, that’s an unfair assessment.
Of that top 100, probably 60 percent (actually, probably more) will not reach those lofty, unfair expectations, and become league average players, a Quad-A hitter or pitcher, or even worse, never even make their big league debut a la Mark Appel. If we take a look just two years back, Tyler Glasnow, Lucas Giolito, Byron Buxton, Dansby Swanson, and A.J. Reed were names that littered most people’s top 20 prospects. Three of those five have been dealt, and the other two likely would if their respective teams had offers.
Basically, when we see a generational talent, a Mike Trout or Ronald Acuña, Jr. if you would, we know it before they get to the big leagues. When a team puts a prospect on the table, most of the time they have a reason why.
Most people don’t want to part with a Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, or Chance Adams. But if two of those four (preferably Andujar and Adams) can net you a proven American League pitcher with two more years of control, it seems worth it. For every prospect list that has Adams near the top, he still comes with a lot of question marks, mainly a lack of showing command. That’s a pretty big question mark. Adams was a college pitcher, if he was truly a top of the rotation piece, he would have been in the rotation this year, four years after being drafted.
It happens a lot with the Atlanta Braves. The swirling J.T. Realmuto trade rumors have the Braves Twitterverse up in arms about the prospects it will cost. I am as big an Austin Riley fan as any, but he is not a can’t-miss talent. He could easily be the next Kevin Maas as much as the next Josh Donaldson (I understand Maas played first, but we are talking the bat here). You can wait and see if Riley reaches those expectations, or you can go out and get a catcher who threw out 38 percent of his base runners (10 percent above league average) and has the rare big bat at the backstop position. I’ve watched this system for four years now. If Braves fans are playing a wait and see approach on William Contreras, it is going to be a long wait.
Sources indicate the Braves have a strong offer on the table for Marlins All Star Catcher J.T. Realmuto. MIA may prefer him dealt outside of NL East, but at this point team is operating as though a trade is likely to happen.
Now, if you don’t believe in trading prospects, there’s nothing to say you are wrong. I’ve taken heat for this before when I suggested trading Jorge Mateo (not for Sonny Gray, but just start shopping him mind you), and I’ll gladly take it again. The Mateo trade didn’t work out so well, but thus far, neither team has anything gained. And Mateo would likely still be sitting in the Yankees’ farm system, one year removed from his highest trade value.
The Kansas City Royals patiently waited for years, and finally, their first-round picks came through and took them to back-to-back World Series. But it was short lived and now, they are back to square one, each one of them gone.
You can argue the same for the Cubs, but you’d be wrong. Theo traded not just the Cubs top prospect, but one of baseball’s, for a three-month rental. Same with the Astros. Franklin Perez, Colin Moran, Daz Cameron, and Albert Abreu were all top 15 Astros prospects, each one is gone. We know how Dave Dombrowski feels. He has a scorched earth policy when it comes to the minor leagues, burning them down for top-end big-league talent, and it works. The guy has three AL pennants and two World Series titles. For those that didn’t notice, those are your last three World Champions.
The problem with trading prospects is that we get invested from following them up the pipeline. Some of us want to be the ones that say, ‘see, I told you’ when they hit, and others just get attached, viewing these prospects as future Braves instead of future players. It’s hard to draw the line and is 100 percent understandable.
The Yankees faithful yearn for the days of the Core Four, but that is such a rarity in the Yankees system. They’ve shown no ability to take top pitching prospects to the next level once they reach the bigs, so why not trade away a few wild cards to get a verified American League vet who could likely be your No. 1 if called upon?