How to properly evaluate a tradeBy
Twice this winter Brian Cashman has traded prospects for big leaguers. This is standard fare for the Yankees. The key to these trades is balancing immediate needs with those for the future. It’s far too easy to tip the scales in one direction, and we saw the Yankees blunder in this way over the past decade. This time around, however, it appears the Yankees managed their resources a bit better. They traded useful young players, but in return they received players who can help them in 2010 and beyond.
Despite widespread praise for the Yankees moves, a number of fans and analysts (more of the former than the latter) don’t like Brian Cashman’s dealings. They claim that he gave up too much for too little in return. But by which standard are they judging these moves? Are the detractors evaluating these moves by rigorous standards, or are they reacting emotionally to a business decision?
On The Book blog, Tom Tango notes two points upon which we should evaluate trades:
#1: What is the most outstanding player or package you can get back for a player or package?
#2: Are you better off keeping your player/package than the best outstanding offer on the table?
He then goes on to use the Javier Vazquez trade as an example.
Let’s take Javy Vazquez for Melky Cabrera + good-not-great prospect. If you are the Braves, is this the best you can get back? If not, you try to keep shopping. If it is, then you have to decide: am I better off trading?
If you are the Yanks and you want someone of Javy’s quality, is this the least you can give up? If not, you try to keep shopping. If this is the minimum you have to give up, then decide if you are still better off with the trade?
Looking at the Yankees situation, it seems that this was the least they could give up for a player of Vazquez’s ability. They pushed for Cliff Lee, but found the price too high. So they acquired a comparable pitcher for what we can presume a lower price. Would any other team trade the Yankees a pitcher of Vazquez’s ability for a similar package? We don’t know for sure, but it seems unlikely. The two teams matched up well because Atlanta sought to shed a starting pitcher, and the Yankees were in a position to absorb Vazquez’s salary.
The problem in evaluating trades, or even free agent signings, this way is that we’re not always privy to the unaccepted offers. Because of widespread rumor proliferation we learn more about these unaccepted offers than we ever have, but even now plenty of information never finds its way to us. That makes answering the first point difficult. If we do not know of other offers, then we can only answer the second part. Was the team better off keeping its players?
Most debate about trades centers on the second question because we assume that the package accepted was the best available. So we’re back to the beginning. Everyone will express an opinion on the matter, and we’ll see views of all different types. Which ones should we buy, then, and which should we disregard? The good arguments will look something like Dave Cameron’s comment on the post regarding the Brandon Morrow trade (spurred by his initial comment and Tango’s follow-up). The bad ones will usually consist of a sentence or two that focus on one or two aspects while disregarding other, possibly more important, points.
(Another aspect Tango emphasizes naming possible alternatives. “If you think your team could have gotten more, or given up less, then list out the players. It makes no sense to have an opinion that your team could have gotten more or given up less, unless you actually say what they could have gotten more or what less they could have given up.” To an extent I agree, but since your trade proposal sucks, I do offer a note of dissent. Many times, the naming of names adds no value to the conversation.)
Dissenting opinions are, as always, welcome. Didn’t like the Vazquez trade because you don’t think Vazquez won’t perform in New York? Why do you think that? What, other than an aberrant second half of the season five years ago, suggests that Vazquez can’t handle the city? That’s the kind of discussion that we promote at RAB. Some might not agree with you, but if you lay it out in these terms we can at least respect that you made a coherent, well thought out argument.