I’ve sat back the past two days and watched with detached amusement as Royals GM Dayton Moore gets crucified over his decision to try to win more games at the major league level by dealing some of his top prospects. I mean, there have been many things to crucify Moore over since he took on the reins of the Royals, but I suppose I’m in the minority in saying that I don’t think this should be the thing that pushes him over the edge.
But I’ve long suspected that in baseball, we were entering an age in which the acquisition and development of minor league prospects of all types was — in some cases — taking on a higher priority for some people than the act of actually winning something at the major league level. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Winning a World Series does matter and so does getting to the playoffs. And yes, as everybody and their manicurist knows, you need a mixture of cheap, talented young players to go with the older, experienced, pricier ones to get to the playoffs year after year.
Still, as any baseball executive will tell you, there is a firm line between prospects and proven MLB players. And not every prospect is going to turn into the next Mike Trout.
Yet, I sense this distinction becoming lost on more and more people. I sense that, with the proliferation of websites and so-called “analysts” — some real and many self-imagined — purporting to specialize in the cottage industry that’s become the prospects game (a guessing game if ever there was one), we have reached a point where the myth and the hype far exceeds the rational expectations we should have about any given minor leaguer. And where the act of trying to win something at the big league level is frowned upon more than ever unless your team happens to be one of the chosen few (i.e. not the Royals) deemed ahead of time to have the odds stacked tremendously in their favor.
This is just me talking, so I can call this phenomenon whatever I want. Feel free to criticize, since I don’t have a monopoly over how everyone feels or should feel about things. But I’m going to call this “prospect overdose.”
We are at the stage, I believe, where a significant number of opinion-makers feel there are teams better off spending year after year of developing young prospects and players in order to achieve some ever-distant, vaguely-defined goal, than they are actually trying to speed up that process by acquiring the types of players who can help them try to win something a lot sooner.
The Royals are the latest case study. Their crimes against baseball, as defined by some of Moore’s harshest crtitics, aren’t merely the fact that they traded away prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi and peripherals for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. No, their biggest crime seems to be that they’ve declared that it’s more important to eventually try to win something at the big league level than it is to wait three or four more years on top of the years they’ve already made their fans sit through in compiling their version of a young core.
More important to acquire guys who have done something in the majors than to see whether Myers becomes the next Trout, or the next Domonic Brown.
That’s right. Maybe I’m being too harsh on Brown, still young enough to turn it around. Maybe the next Lastings Milledge? Yeah, you remember him? I do, because I sat next to and chatted with his very-pleasant girlfriend in Tokyo last March and watched him play for the Tokyo Swallows. Not quite what the prospect hype machine once envisioned for him.
Myers is the latest incarnation of the Next Great Thing in baseball. And maybe he will be. Or, maybe he won’t. But every time one of them comes around, the supposedly rational among us — those who insist they know the obvious difference between prospects and proven players — tend to forget everything they’ve learned and act as if the success of Myers is a foregone conclusion.More