The Aftermath of the Trayvon Robinson Trade

A day after the unexpected Trayvon Robinson trade with Boston & Seattle, the dust has started to settle, but the shock is still there. 98% of Dodger fans, at least the ones I’ve heard from, are horrified, and rightfully so. However, I want to clear up one misconception, and this is the same one I heard often when the Dodgers traded Carlos Santana for Casey Blake and several prospects for Scott Podsednik, Octavio Dotel, Ryan Theriot, and Ted Lilly last year: trading away a prospect, no matter how good, does not automatically make it a bad trade.

With the rise of the internet and social media, fans have become far more aware of prospects than they’d ever been before. For decades, fans would only perhaps know their team’s best prospect, if even that. Whereas before, you might have only heard of Robinson when he hit 26 homers in little more than half an AAA season, now you have fans who have been following his career for 3-4 years already. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s good that fans have more interest in the team’s fuller organization. However, it also means that people get invested and attached to a prospect, and it’s understandably difficult when someone you’ve been dreaming about as a Dodger for several years gets shipped out weeks before he’s likely to make his debut.

That means that fans – not just Dodger fans, this happens on all teams – tend to overvalue their own players, and even yesterday on Twitter I saw people groaning about losing Robinson before even knowing who was coming back. I think that’s short-sighted, because I have no problem with trading prospects. A solid farm system exists to provide value, and while the obvious outcome is “good young player comes up to join the big club”, value can also come from “good young player is traded for immediate impact veteran or another good young player”. Depending on the circumstances, trading a top prospect is not always a bad thing – as long as you get value back. If the Dodgers are deep in outfielders and short in catching, than the idea of trading Robinson for an impact catching prospect is not a terrible plan.

The problem here is that few think Tim Federowicz is an impact catcher, and many doubt he can hit enough to even be a viable major league starter. This isn’t a new theme, because so far in Ned Colletti’s tenure, he’s often spent prospects to get players who were not of equal value. I didn’t mind trading Santana when we all thought Russell Martin would be here for 5-7 more years; I hated trading him for two months of a good-but-not-great third baseman. (If Santana had been sent to Cleveland for CC Sabathia that year rather than Blake, I guarantee you there wouldn’t have been anywhere near the same outcry.) I didn’t mind the idea of trading James McDonald & Andrew Lambo, two players unlikely to be stars, but the problem was a team that had no business going for it in 2010 trading them for an elderly reliever who wasn’t going to make a difference. This is why the Robinson trade stinks so bad, because you’re trading a top-5 Dodger prospect for three guys who are barely top-25 Red Sox prospects. (Jon Weisman has more on the newcomers at Dodger Thoughts.)

Worse, there’s also the feeling that this goes back to Hiroki Kuroda‘s refusal to accept a trade. Boston writers Gordon Edes and Sean McAdam each reported that Federowicz and Juan Rodriguez were initially discussed in negotiations for Kuroda, an assertion backed up by Ned Colletti’s comments that Federowicz was someone he’d been eyeing for some time. (McAdam says that a third prospect likely would have been included, though he doesn’t state if that was Stephen Fife or not.) Kuroda was clearly higher on Boston’s starting pitching shopping list than Erik Bedard, so if he agrees to the deal, the Dodgers send two months of Kuroda to Boston for a package nearly identical to the one that ended up coming for Robinson. That’s a deal that I think most of us would have been pretty satisfied with – I know I’d have been – and Robinson would have remained in the system. Remember when I said I was disappointed in Kuroda’s choice? Yeah, that paid off a lot quicker than I thought it would.

******

It’s no question that most Dodger fans don’t like the trade, but we’re not a fair sample. We’re biased. We loved Robinson, none of us had heard of the three Boston guys before yesterday, and we don’t trust Colletti. What’s really informative is looking outside our little sphere of Dodger fandom, and seeing what the feeling is on the other side of the trade and from the national writers who don’t cheer for either team. If the trade is getting positive reviews from those groups, then maybe we need to shift our way of thinking.

Not today, however, because just about every smart person who writes about baseball is completely confused about what the Dodgers are trying to do. Red Sox & Mariner writers are thrilled. Prospect writers are blown away. Just about everyone is united in killing the Dodgers over this; in fact, the only person I could find who wasn’t 100% against it was Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times, and even he could only muster an “it ain’t so bad”.  Read these assorted quotes on the deal at your own risk.

Mainstream media!

Jeff Passan, Yahoo:

Los Angeles Dodgers, who couldn’t convince Hiroki Kuroda(notes) to drop his no-trade clause and gave up their top hitting prospect, Trayvon Robinson, an outfielder with pop and plate discipline, to get into the Erik Bedard(notes) three-way deal and land catcher Tim Federowicz and two arms. As is the case with everything Dodger-related this year, they are losers.

Evan Brunell, CBS Sports:

There was only one trade made the entire week in which a team was instantly ridiculed for its move. The Cardinals were headed for the loser’s seat before the waning minutes of the deadline, but Los Angeles took it away with a staggering display of incompetence. To help Boston facilitate acquiring Erik Bedard, the Dodgers agreed to trade away Trayvon Robinson, one of the few bright spots in the high minors that could actually hit. Robinson, along with Jerry Sands, could have made a pretty decent first base-left field combo over the next few years. Instead, Robinson will take his .293/.375/.563 line with 26 home runs in Triple-A to Seattle while the Dodgers come away with three organizational pieces.

And really, that’s all they are. You’ve got catcher Tim Federowicz, who has a strong defensive reputation but whose hitting will be challenged enough that he best profiles as a long-term backup catcher. Those aren’t tough to find. Add in starter Stephen Fife, who has pitched to Federowicz all season for Double-A Portland, who profiles as a back of the rotation starter or solid middle reliever. Lastly, Juan Rodriguez, a reliever who throws smoke but is 22 years old and in Class A. Splendid. Oh, and all three will be Rule 5 eligible after the year, meaning they need to be added to the 40-man roster or risk being lost in the draft — and all three would be strong candidates to be taken. The Dodgers, in one fell swoop, traded away one of their few high-ceiling prospects for three organizational players who will all require 40-man spots, which are incredibly valuable.

Nationally respected prospect writers!

Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus:

I spent 15 minutes after this trade waiting to hear which players I’m missing while simultaneously trying to talk Jay Jaffe off a ledge via instant messenger. The Dodgers took a perfectly good Top-11 prospect, a player who is having a great year at Triple-A and easily projects as an everyday outfielder, and received three pieces of fringe in return. You’d almost think Frank McCourt was running the team.

Keith Law, ESPN:

The Dodgers get … I’m not really sure what they get. Tim Federowicz is a catch-and-throw specialist who isn’t likely to produce enough at the plate to be an average regular, but is plus across the board behind the plate (including a career 34-percent caught-stealing rate) and is no worse than a good backup in the majors. Stephen Fife probably profiles as a right-handed reliever rather than a starter because he lacks the out pitch to start; he’ll touch 95 as a starter with a fringe-average curveball. Juan Rodriguez has a plus fastball, no average second pitch, and below-average command and control — a nice arm to add to your system but a reliever at best and not a high-probability guy either. Unless Robinson was somehow burning a hole in their pockets, this doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, as they didn’t get any prospect as good as he is in the exchange.

Statistically-inclined sites!

Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus:

What the… excuse me… whiskey tango foxtrot? A deal sending a good prospect such as Robinson in one direction and a possible stretch-run helper such as Bedard in the other is the stuff deadline deals are made of, but what business did the Dodgers have for throwing their good prospect into this deal in order to enable somebody else’s stretch run acquisition without something to make it especially worth their while? Is Colletti expecting a playoff share from the Red Sox? A future job with the Mariners? Is this being written off as a charitable donation? Is it a cry for help from a man about to jump out the window? Is there somebody out there who will post bail if I fly to Los Angeles myself and extract a few teeth in search of the real truth?

(later in the article – MSTI) Against this bleak backdrop, the GM managed to make the situation worse by trading down in a deal he had no business butting into, punting away a future everyday player. This wasn’t the Angels taking on Vernon Wells‘ bloated contract or the Cardinals punting the future of Colby Rasmus, but it ranks among the most shockingly inept deals of the year. In a five-and-a-half year tenure that’s seen its good moments—three playoff appearances, including back-to-back trips to the NLCS—and bad ones (the Jason Schmidt contract, the Andruw Jones contract, the Juan Pierre contract, the Blake trade…), Colletti may have set a new low. That’s saying something.

Jack Moore, Fangraphs:

It did take four warm bodies to acquire Bedard, but that’s about it. None of the players moved by Boston appear on Kevin Goldstein’s top 20 organizational prospect list, nor do they appear in our Top 100 Prospects list or top 10 organizational prospect list. This isn’t to say they’re doomed to complete non-productivity in the Major Leagues — the prospects will be covered in a separate post — but the Red Sox don’t lose much from a good farm system and improve their chances at a World Series. Hard to argue with that logic.

Other Dodger bloggers!

Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts:

For those three, the Dodgers gave up Robinson (24 in September), who has a .375 on-base percentage and .563 slugging percentage (26 homers) this year for Triple-A Albuquerque. Robinson, who has hit well on the road as well as at home this season, has had his fine year marred by striking out 122 times in 100 games. But it’s stunning to see him traded for such an offensively challenged catcher and two sketchy pitching prospects.

In 2007, A.J. Ellis had a .382 on-base percentage and .409 slugging percentage in Double-A – better than what Federowicz has – and Ned Colletti does all he can to keep Ellis from getting regular playing time.

The only rationale I can think of is that the Dodgers think they’ll do better in the offseason trying to find a proper left fielder than they would trying to find a proper catcher. Essentially, Robinson was not in their plans, and they decided to unload him to fill a positional need. But it’s still puzzling, because the trade feels less like a step forward behind the plate and more like a step backward in outfield depth.

Eric Stephen, TrueBlueLA:

There is a decent enough chance Trayvon Robinson may never be a major league regular. But at the very least, Robinson could have been a cheap fourth outfielder for three to six years, which seems like more of an upside than the Dodgers received in return. To me this trade is an overreaction to fill a need, a need Colletti himself was largely responsible in creating. I’m not even confident that need was anywhere close to being filled. Which leaves me empty.

Jared Massey, LADodgerTalk:

At least it appears that Ned tried to address an area of need with Federowicz, given the fact that their catching depth is suspect. The problem is they didn’t need another glove first backstop with questions about his hitting. They have that guy in Matt Wallach. They also have the aforementioned Griff Erickson, who’s batting .275 thru 19 Double A games, is younger and has more potential at the plate. Add to that the three catchers drafted this past June and Tim becomes even less valuable.

The two pitchers profile as relievers, which is another area in which the Dodgers don’t need help. With the young hurlers in the majors, as well as guys like Steve Ames and Shawn Tolleson in Double A, Fife and Rodriguez don’t fill areas of need.

I suppose it’s nice to have depth, but you don’t trade the best hitting prospect in the organization for warm bodies. Unless Tray had incriminating photos of members of the front office, I really don’t get this deal.

Jimmy Bramlett, LAist:

So fine. The Dodgers got a catcher. The other source of confusion was the Dodgers receiving two pitchers who project to be back-end of the rotation guys at best in the deal.

“We’ve got a lot of pitching,” Colletti told reporters on Saturday explaining his evaluation of the Dodgers’ farm system.

“You’ll never turn down good pitching, but a lot of our emphasis is on position players.”

Evidently good pitching can be expanded to mean mediocre pitching.

With all of this double-speak, it is hard to determine the direction of the Dodgers. It seems they acknowledge and want to remedy their offensive holes, but all of the actions they undertake are contrary to that goal. Perhaps Colletti is thinking two or three moves ahead of everyone and will pull off a genius move.

But here’s is a sobering thought for everyone. With both Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp eligible for free agency in 2013, what happens in the very likely possibility the Dodgers cannot re-sign them?

Federowicz might be the catcher of the future for the Dodgers, but what good will it do if the only power sources for the Dodgers jump ship?

Bloggers from the other teams involved!

Jeff Sullivan, Lookout Landing:

But the Mariners just gained two good talents without really making any kind of significant sacrifice at all, and that’s the sign of a hell of a trade. It is impossible to be disappointed by this.

Jay Yencich, U.S.S. Mariner:

All-in-all, I’d say this is a win for the M’s, far better than what was initially coming down the wire, which was some backup catcher coming our way. I wouldn’t say either of these guys is a guy that I’m going to pencil in as the anything of the future, though Robinson has good odds on seeing some time down the road. For what may end up as a rental for the Red Sox (and whatever it is that Fields is), this is a pretty darned good return.

Marc Normandin, Over the Monster:

Most importantly, Federowicz, Fife, and Chiang were all going to be Rule 5 eligible this upcoming winter, so Boston was moving pieces it was planning to lose anyway in exchange for help now.

All in all, this was a good trade for Boston, as they didn’t give up anything they weren’t planning on losing in the short-term anyway, and they received a high-risk, high-reward hurler in Bedard. If Buchholz ends up missing significant time the rest of the year, and Bedard can stay on the mound, the Red Sox and their fans will be very happy about a rare July 31 deal that has a major impact.

Chip Buck, Fire Brand of the American League:

The good news for the Red Sox is that none of the prospects they traded away were highly touted.  According to Sox Prospects, Federowicz was ranked #22; Chiang #23; Fife #32; and Rodriguez #44 in the Red Sox farm system.  Essentially, they traded depth, rather than premium talent.  All-in-all, I’m pretty psyched they were able to obtain a pitcher while holding onto Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick, Anthony Ranaudo, Ryan Kalish, Kyle Weiland, and Felix Doubront.  You should be as well.

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  1. [...] came to fruition the very next day, when the dust had settled from the unexpected and unpopular Trayvon Robinson / Tim Federowicz [...]

  2. [...] Colletti into a national punchline. (Okay, more of a punchline.) My thoughts on the matter are well-known, and I’m not going to repeat them all here… but okay, I wrote a ton about it, so [...]

  3. [...] try not to unfairly denigrate him simply because he was included in one of the most shocking and unpopular Dodger trades in years, because he had nothing to do with that, and his defense is supposedly [...]

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