Topic: winter meetings
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One of the more interesting trends to follow this winter has been the continued devaluation of the prospects market in baseball. At least, from the transactions we’re seeing and the words of general managers attempting to upgrade their teams via trades of top prospects.
Once upon a time, prospects were the new gold standard in baseball. Teams could not hoard enough of them, hoping to use them as currency in trades to eventually better their teams with the more veteran performers any balanced lineup needs. Well, as happens in just about any market, be it fiscal or baseball, things don’t always stay the same. As with any long-term portfolio, you have to have a mixture of assets to help temper any dramatic market shifts. For the Mariners, they had been hoping that some of their stockpiled prospects would provide the needed currency to upgrade their lineup via trade in order to counter what is generally perceived as a high-priced, mediocre free agent market.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, after years devoted to gathering the prospects that used to be enough to generate decent trade returns, the market has now changed and apparently not for the better when it comes to the value of minor league players unproven at the big league level.
We saw continued evidence of this yesterday when the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets completed a trade that saw 38-year-old Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey — let go by the Mariners after the 2008 season — dealt from the Big Apple along with young catcher Josh Thole and a lesser backup, Mike Nickeas, for two of the better-known prospects (and catcher John Buck) from Toronto’s system. Now, to be clear, Dickey is not like most pitchers his age in that knuckleballers tend to age well once they master their pitch and figure out some secondary stuff. For Dickey, he’s been more than just a one-year wonder for a while now and seems to have “figured it out” as far as maintaining his arsenal at a top level.
But still, it wasn’t too long ago that dealing a top catching prospect like Travis d’Arnaud and pitching prospect in Noah Snydergaard for a late-bloomer like Dickey would have drawn hoots of derision. When I say not “long ago” I’m thinking about two months. After all, d’Arnaud was ranked the 17th-best prospect in the game by Baseball America, is expected to make his MLB debut in 2013 and is known for his defensive catching skills as well as a bigger bat (despite the obvious red flags of some high strikeout totals and piling up his offensive stats in hitter-friendly Las Vegas). Snydergaard is touted, at worst, as a future mid-rotation guy by the folks who enjoy making these types of projections.
Giving up several years of control over two guys who look destined to be MLB regulars is a lot if you assume Dickey only has a handful of years left.
Some are comparing this deal to the Wil Myers-James Shields trade between the Royals and Rays in terms of what Kansas City paid in prospect value to get a few years worth of veteran pitching. Now, I happen to agree the price is similar. I know that many people feel the Blue Jays are closer to making the playoffs than the Royals are — which I wholeheartedly agree with — but that doesn’t change the price we’re seeing in these deals.
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik suggested several times at the winter meetings that teams did not seem to be valuing unproven minor league prospects as much as they were young players with some MLB experience. Zduriencik seemed surprised by that at the time, which suggested a shift in how prospects were being valued was already underway.
I read with great interest this story last week in Prospect Insider suggesting that what was driving the obvious value decline was the new reality of the second wild-card in baseball. As a theory, it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen put forward yet.More
Well, it’s that time of year again. Time for the Mariners to head off to the annual baseball winter meetings — this time, in Nashville — while carrying the hopes and dreams of a fanbase on their back. Five years ago, the Mariners came to Nashville and then-GM Bill Bavasi used the meetings to lay groundwork for the Erik Bedard trade.
Clearly, that deal did not work out and Bavasi was subsequently fired. In the aftermath of the deal, which saw outfielder Adam Jones dealt to Baltimore along with pitcher Chris Tillman and several others, many Mariners fans have been understandably “gun shy” about seeing more young prospects dealt to bring proven MLB players back to Seattle in return. But as the meetings get underway this week — and I’ll be there later today to cover them for you — the Mariners are going to be hard-pressed to get significantly better without fundamentally changing an approach both they and a vocal part of the fanbase has been reluctant to alter.
They will either have to:
a) Spend a lot more money on payroll
b) Trade away young prospects for proven players
In this morning’s paper, I outlined some of what GM Jack Zduriencik faces as he looks for that elusive mid-order bat he has failed to bring home the last three consecutive winters preceeding league-worst offensive seasons. And make no mistake, this will be a challenge. It’s stating the obvious to say that top free agents are going to make the Mariners “overpay” with more money, more years, or both, to go to a geographically isolated Seattle area that has played last place baseball since 2009 ended. With salaries for players of all levels being driven up by new revenues from both national and local television deals.
Former Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden, now a radio analyst for Sirius XM, spelled it out rather nicely on 710 ESPN Seattle the other day when he estimated the free agent market has seen a 10 percent bump and that payrolls might have to climb 20 percent higher for teams to stay even on a competitive level with where they thought it might cost them heading into this winter. In other words, if you budgeted for a $90 million payroll — which the Mariners are telling people behind the scenes is roughly the number they can climb to — you now need to spend close to $110 million to get the players you thought you could land and actually get better than your opponents who are also upgrading.
I agree with Bowden on that front and have thought for years the Mariners needed a payroll in excess of $100 million just to overcome the money taken up by both Ichiro and Chone Figgins. Now, even with Ichiro’s $18 million off the books, that number has all but been eaten up by Bowden’s estimated 20 percent inflationary impact on payroll ($18 million being 20 percent of $90 million). In other words, field a $90 million payroll in 2013 and it will be the same for the Mariners as if Ichiro was still here and being paid what he was last season.
The natural fallback plan, if the Mariners do not want to take payroll any higher than they’d already planned, is to secure the needed talent upgrades via trade.
But here, we run into Problem No. 2.More
Former GM Jim Bowden — now a radio analyst for ESPN and Sirius XM — went on 710 ESPN Seattle on the Brock & Salk show to talk about the challenges facing the Mariners and GM Jack Zduriencik. Bowden said Zduriencik has been extremely busy this off-season trying to upgrade the club’s offense and expects that he’ll have to trade one of his prized minor league pitchers to bring a bat in.
Bowden doesn’t feel Zduriencik has pressure to win “right now” but “I think there is pressure to make a step in the right direction when you’ve had the worst offense in the league three years in a row. You need to do something, you can’t just watch it. So, you need to make a trade and you need to get a free agent and you need to do it before the holidays.”
While he doesn’t see the Mariners getting in on Josh Hamilton, he likes the versatility and power that Mike Napoli has, along with the reguar season consistency of Nick Swisher.
He sees the coming meetings as having the potential to be the most active of the last 10 years due to rule changes that moved up deadlines for tendering contracts as well as some of the new money injected into the game.
Bowden said there has been a notable hike in salaries over the past year because of new local TV deals signed by teams like the Rangers and Angels and, soon, the Dodgers. But also because of national deals injecting TV and internet revenue into the pockets of all 30 teams in coming seasons. All have been in on some of the game’s best free agents since and thathas driven up salaries for players across the board.
As a result, Bowden said, teams will have to raise their payrolls as much as 20 percent if they hope to keep up.
“I think that’s the point here,” Bowden said. “We advertise how much these players are getting, but you’re not advertising how much the Mariners are getting in revenue. And that the industry is getting. That’s why the salaries are going up and historically that’s the way it’s always been.More