ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The problem and promise of prospects

Updated on December 12, 2012


If you’ve been following any post-season baseball, you’ve heard that word probably a hundred times or more. This has been especially prominent this week, as the Royals traded prospects to the Rays for two pitchers, and the Reds, Indians and Diamondbacks exchanged prospects and a few major leaguers.

Already some heated debates have arisen around the Royals-Rays trade, with some lamenting the Royals relinquishing their prospects while others crow about what a coup it was for the Rays to obtain prospects. (Although it should be noted that there were also many who felt the Royals came out on the better end with two established Major League pitchers.)

Earlier, some national sports writers and talking heads lamented the Mets’ signing David Wright to a long-term contract when they could have traded him for prospects. Some now think they should trade R.A. Dickey for prospects. A few floated the idea that the Padres should do the same with Chase Headley.

Prospects have always had value

Teams have always wanted prospects, those youngsters with a world of talent and potential who could emerge into superstars. Before free agency in the 1970s, these prospects primarily came up through the organization that signed them, or they were traded as minor leaguers for other minor league prospects. Occasionally, a team might trade an aging star well past his prime and take a few minor leaguers in exchange.

In the 1980s the Yankees became known for trading prospects for stars, often past their prime, to bolster their attempt at a pennant. One of the most famous aging star-for-prospect trades occurred in August 1987 when the Braves sent 36-year-old Doyle Alexander to Detroit for a prospect named John Smoltz.

Smoltz, of course, went on to a Hall-of-Fame career for the Braves, although the Tigers didn’t exactly get hosed. Alexander went 9-0 the rest of ’87 and helped the Tigers win the AL East. (Alexander was on the other end of a trade like this. In 1971 the Orioles traded their aging star, Frank Robinson, to the Dodgers. One of the prospects Baltimore received in return was Alexander.)

Trading current stars for prospects relatively new

But the concept of trading an established star still in his prime for minor league prospects is a fairly new concept. I can’t pinpoint when it started, but it seems to have occurred after 2000. There came a point where some teams with only one star, who was coming up on free agency within a year or two, found themselves hopelessly out of the pennant race.

Rather than continue losing with a star player who was just going to leave in free agency anyway, they saw that trading him to a team in the pennant hunt could bring back sometimes three or four young players. Not only did they not have to worry about losing their star for no return, they ended up paying less in salary and still had the potential to develop a superstar team down the road.

One of the first major trades like this came on July 24, 2004 when the Royals traded Carlos Beltran to Houston in a three-team trade involving Oakland. Kansas City wound up with prospects Mark Teahen, Mike Woods and John Buck. Although Houston lost Beltran to free agency after the season, he nearly got them to the World Series with one of the most phenomenal post-season performances in history. The prospects the Royals received became average players at best.

Some prospect trades work out well

Sometimes trading for prospects works out tremendously. In 2007 the Rangers traded budding superstar Mark Teixeira to Atlanta for Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Perez, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Well, that worked out pretty well for Texas, who reached two World Series with Andrus, Perez and Harrison playing key roles. The Braves traded Teixeira the next season to the Angels for Steve Marek and Casey Kotchman. Not one of Atlanta’s highlights.

Baltimore also got a good deal after the 2007 season when they traded Erik Bedard, who had won 13 games in ’07 and 15 in ’06, to the Mariners for Adam Jones, Tony Butler, Kameron Mickolio, George Sherrill and Chris Tillman. Bedard won a total of only 15 games over the next four years for Seattle, while Jones was a key player in the Orioles playoff team this past season.

Sometimes the trades end up helping both clubs. In 2005 Florida traded Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett and Guillermo Mota to the Red Sox for Jesus Delgado, Harvey Garcia, Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez. In 2010 the Royals traded Zack Grienke and Yuniesky Betancourt to the Brewers for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jefress and Jake Odorizzi (one of the prospects traded on Sunday to the Rays), another deal that probably benefitted both teams equally.

Many deals for prospects fall flat

But more often than not, the team receiving the prospects ends up with the crappy end of the stick. Here is a sampling:

Florida traded Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit for Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Mike Rebalo.

Toronto traded Roy Halladay to Philadelphia for Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor.

Oakland traded Tim Hudson to Atlanta for Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer and Charles Thomas.

Oakland traded Matt Holliday to St. Louis for Shane Peterson, Clayton Mortensen and Brett Wallace.

San Diego traded Jake Peavy to the White Sox for Dexter Carter, Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard and Adam Russell.

Cleveland traded C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee for Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson, Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley.

And then there’s Cliff Lee, who has been traded three times for prospects:

Cleveland traded Lee and Ben Francisco to Philadelphia for Jason Knepp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and Lou Marson.

Philadelphia traded Lee to Seattle for J.C. Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies.

Seattle traded Lee and Mark Lowe to Texas for Matthew Lawson, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Justin Smoak.

Some of those prospects played a little for their new teams, a few others were young enough at the trade that they might still make it to the big leagues, and one or two might still develop into a star. By and large, though, the prospects didn’t pan out. It was probably better than the alternative, of letting the player go to free agency and receiving nothing in return, but certainly less than ideal.

Mets, Royals got it right

While some people, most notably Chris Rose, criticized the Mets for not trading Wright for prospects, I applaud their decision. Wright is a proven major leaguer, who has star power and is a face of the organization. He gives the Mets an anchor to build around, either from within or via other trades. Without him, they’re only building around potential. Not only is that hard to sell to fans, it’s hard to sell to free agents down the line.

Likewise, the Royals have been castigated, most notably by Joe Posnanski, for trading their prospects. Yet they received two bona fide Major League pitchers in return for four players who have no track record other than potential. Wil Myers likely will be a star someday, perhaps within the next few years. Odorizzi also might become a legitimate pitcher, especially since Tampa Bay has an excellent track record of developing pitchers. But right now, and perhaps in the long run, James Shields and Wade Davis will help the Royals try to rebound from the past few dismal decades more than the potential of those prospects would have done.

Teams realizing keeping stars has value over prospects

Don’t get me wrong; I think developing prospects is a vital part of any team’s success. The Yankees’ terrific run from 1996 through this past year is largely attributable to its Core Four, all developed within their farm system. But simply trading for prospects, especially when giving up an established superstar, frequently doesn’t work.

Teams seem to be realizing this on some level, even if the sports media isn’t on board yet. More teams, like the Mets with Wright, the Rays with Evan Longoria, the Pirates with Andrew McCutchen, are locking up their players when they’re young and avoiding that conflict of whether to trade them in their prime for unproven talent.

Even in trading for prospects, the Rays avoided trading an established star. While Shields and Davis have both been key components in Tampa Bay’s recent success, and both will become far more prominent with the Royals, they still weren’t stars like David Price or Longoria. A few good seasons from Myers or Odorizzi will off-set that loss far more easily than it would have for Price.

Trading for prospects sometimes makes sense and occasionally works out. But, unfortunately, it often seems like trading the cow for a handful of beans. Once in a while the beans grow a stalk and lead to a golden goose. But too often they’re just a handful of beans.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      The problem and promise of baseball prospects is an interesting topic and you have written an excellent hub on it. During the early and mid 2000s the Milwaukee Brewers were able to develop a number of position prospects like Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart. The problem was that with the exception of Yovanni Gollardo, the Brewers weren't able to develop any other starting pitchers. Therefore, both in 2008 and 2011 when Milwaukee had the good shot of making the playoffs, they gave up prospects for C.C. Sabathia and then most recently Zach Greinke. The farm system wasn't bankrupt by giving up prospects, and the Brewers did make the playoffs both years. The nice thing about prospects who can contribute to a team is that they can be controlled at a rather low price until they reach arbitration and then free agency. Milwaukee did the right thing in buying out Braun's years before becoming a free agent and signing him to a 2020 long-term contract at a reasonable price. The Brewers couldn't do the same for Fielder so he was lost in free agency to the Tigers. Yes, a team should try to hold onto its good prospects for as long as possible and try to sign them to long-term contracts before they reach free agency. Voted up and sharing


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)