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November 29, 2010 at 10:42 AM

Trading young talent does not automatically mean the Mariners are heading the “Bill Bavasi route”

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There has been some notable fear expressed by readers on this site in recent days that the Mariners would be heading down the old Bill Bavasi route if they started to deal young prospects away.
The mere mention of dealing two of the team’s top prospects in a Justin Upton swap conjured up unpleasant memories for many of how former M’s GM Bill Bavasi dealt away five players for Erik Bedard three years ago. There was also the swap of Shin-Soo Choo (Photo Credit: AP) for Ben Broussard. Not to mention Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez.
But it’s worth noting that there is a common theme to all three of those trades that has nothing to do with what we’re currently debating. In all three cases, Bavasi traded young talent for returns that had a short shelf life. In Bedard’s case, he was only going to be under club control for two more seasons. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, but the main argument used by detractors is still valid. In that case, the team gave up several more years of control of outfielder Adam Jones and pitcher Chris Tillman, and reliever Kam Mickolio. Not to mention MLB veteran George Sherrill.
Sometimes, teams will do that and it works out. In the case of Cliff Lee, the Texas Rangers figured it was worth it to sacrifice years of club control over Justin Smoak and potentially several others still in the minors. All for only a few guaranteed months of Lee. In the end, though, the move paid off. Without Lee, the Rangers don’t make it to the World Series.
But the Mariners never did make it that far with Bedard. That’s why the trade has rightly been viewed as a bust.


In the two other Bavasi swaps I mentioned, Broussard lasted only one more sparingly-used season in Seattle before being dealt to the Rangers for Tug Hulett. Broussard was out of baseball soon after.
Perez retired just a few months after being traded to Seattle. Mariners fans are now reminded of that deal on a regular basis when they see Perez in his regular Baseball Tonight segment on ESPN.
When players leave soon after, without delivering any playoff reward, the teams dealing prospects wind up looking fleeced.
The Rangers don’t have that problem in the Lee deal. The Boston Red Sox took plenty of criticism in 2005, when they dealt budding young superstar Hanley Ramirez and other top prospects to the Florida Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Boston was only guaranteed two years of Beckett’s services before free agency, just like the M’s with Bedard. But that would have been enough, since the Red Sox rode Beckett (and Lowell) to a World Series in 2007. The Red Sox wound up extending Beckett before the two years was up (guaranteeing he wouldn’t need to be moved midway through 2007 to maximize value). So, while some in Red Sox Nation still smart every time they see Ramirez shining — as opposed to jogging after balls hit to the outfield –they can take comfort in the fact the Beckett deal brought them only their second World Series in 90 years.
Fast forward to the present-day Mariners. Would they face the same scrutiny in any trade involving two of Michael Pineda, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak for somebody like Justin Upton? No, they would not. Yes, there is always a risk of “losing” any trade. There are no guarantees in baseball. But in the case of Upton, the Mariners would be trading for five years of club control over a player roughly the same age (23) as the three big prospects we are discussing.
That’s not the same thing as going down the “Bill Bavasi route.”
Now, we can debate the merits of Upton and his strikeout-prone ways. We can argue over whether he’s peaked as a ballplayer already. But what we can’t do is compare this to the Bedard trade. Or the Broussard or Perez deals. They are two completely different things altogether.
What I’ve suggested is that the Mariners will not get this deal done without giving up two of Ackley-Pineda-Smoak. Not sure why the Diamondbacks would settle for less, especially if Pineda is one of the three (given how uncertain young pitchers can be health and production-wise).
And in the end, I would pull the trigger on this deal, knowing the uphill climb this team faces in getting back to respectability. Knowing how it needs exactly the type of shot-in-the-arm a young, potential star like Upton could bring. It would be only the beginning, mind you. But a jumpstart, rather than a timid step forward.
Upton is a former No. 1 overall draft pick who is succeeding in the majors, having already adjusted to life in the bigs. You’re not going to get him for an untested No. 2 overall pick and a bunch of secondary prospects. It just doesn’t make sense.
That’s my take. Some of you disagree and raise good points about red flags and other things. About how this M’s team doesn’t have enough top shelf prospects and that it would be risky to deal two of them.
That’s fine, we disagree. That’s why we can have a healthy discussion, or argument.
And while we argue about this particular trade, keep in mind that Wladimir Balentien, once one of the team’s better position player prospects, is on his way to Japan to try to revive his pro career. And that Jeff Clement, a former No. 3 overall pick by this team, has been taken off Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster.
Prospects are just that. They are prospects. They are not proven players. No matter how high they were drafted, or how good their Class AAA OPS looked, or how many minor league awards they piled up. They have to play in the big leagues and have their abilities tested there. And until they do, they will not graduate to the level of player an Upton currently is.
But we can argue the merits of that statement (and the relative value you can apply to such players) in the weeks ahead. For now, let’s understand the basics of the argument, whether the trade return is Upton, or some other player.
Let’s understand that the mere act of trading prospects does not mean going the “Bill Bavasi route.” It does not automatically equate to an Erik Bedard deal.
If you can’t understand that basic premise, you should probably sit this argument out.

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