A Trading Season Primer

Sunset at Dodger StadiumIt’s July, and you know what that means: trading season is in full swing. It’s going to be somewhat of a unique time, as we’ll see for the first time what the second wild card does to the market, and we’re following a bizarre Dodger team that not only has money for the first time in years, but is just one game out of the division lead despite a roster that at times seems like it would struggle in the Carolina League.

With that in mind, silly season is here, and that means we need some very simple rules to live by…

1) Don’t believe everything you read.

Last week, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted that Ned Colletti had inquired with the Royals about the availability of Jeff Francoeur. Dodger fans responded predictably, since Francoeur is having a terrible season and ranks as one of the least productive outfielders in baseball. But think about how many different things could have happened to make Olney tweet that out:

  • - Colletti could have been legitimately asking about Francoeur, since Francoeur is exactly the type of “gritty” low-OBP player who would seem to interest Colletti.
    - Colletti could have called the Royals as just one of the 80 calls he probably made that week across the entire big leagues as he desperately seeks a bat, doing his due diligence as a general manager.
    - Kansas City could have leaked the info, true or not, in order to create the appearance of a big market for Francoeur, in order to inflate prices from other interested clubs.
    - The Dodgers could have leaked the info, true or not, in order to signal to other sellers that they should lower their prices because the Dodgers have other options.
    - Francoeur’s agent could have leaked the info, true or not, in order to make his client seem more valuable in the midst of a down season.
    - Olney’s source could have been an intern at the Kansas City Star, angling for a future position at Bleacher Report after showing his proficiency in making up stories.

The point is, we don’t hear about 90% of the conversations that actually go on, and 90% of what we do hear is complete fluff. I can’t imagine what the people inside organizations must think of us having heart attacks over every reported rumor, watching us flail over trade discussions which were either dead long ago or never real at all.

2) Especially don’t believe everything you read from a source which you aren’t familiar with.

We may make fun of Olney & Jon Heyman & Ken Rosenthal a lot, and often with good reason, but they’re legitimate baseball writers who are plugged in and have been doing this for a long, long, time. If you see a trade rumor and it hasn’t been mentioned by guys like that or at least by a team’s local beat writer, chances are it’s garbage, especially if it’s coming from someone like “Johnny29381″. It’s not always easy to tell, because last night a theoretically plausible report saying the Dodgers were in on Tampa’s Desmond Jennings surfaced from a Twitter account that claimed to be ESPN analyst and former Red Sox manager Terry Francona. If an account isn’t verified, or has very few followers or tweets, or keeps trying to get people to follow someone else’s account, it’s probably not real. Twitter makes this all the more difficult, though when a mainstream media member starts going with a fake report someone dreamed up on Twitter, it can occasionally be entertaining. Where have you gone, @kenrosenthai?

3) Trades need to make sense for both sides.

It’s no secret that there’s plenty of Dodger fans who have absolutely had enough of Chad Billingsley and would like nothing more than to ship him out of town as soon as possible. I don’t necessarily agree, but their frustration is understandable. That being said, you can’t say “Billingsley is awful, he’s worthless, get rid of him!” in one breath and then suggest trading him to the Cubs for Matt Garza, Bryan LaHair, Starlin Castro, & Jorge Soler in the next. He’s either valuable, or he’s not. Just because you want the Dodgers to make a great trade doesn’t mean that every other general manager out there is desperate to help them out. That goes for James Loney, too; just because he’s from Houston doesn’t mean the Astros want an overpaid, below-average first baseman who is in his walk year.

4) Always, always check splits in Colorado & Albuquerque.

Though it’s almost certainly not realistic, a popular target for Dodger fans these days seems to be Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez, who is having the best year of his career at age 26, hitting .337/.394/.604. That’s a fantastic stat line, but with Coors Field playing like its 1996 again, his splits are massive. At home, he’s hitting .390/.450/.714, which is practically Ruthian; on the road, it’s a much more mediocre .276/.329/.450. That might still represent an upgrade over what the Dodgers have, but it’s hardly worth emptying out a farm system to get.

The same holds true for Dodger minor leaguers in Albuquerque. I get a surprising amount of people who want to promote shortstop Luis Cruz, who has a career .296 OBP in parts of 12 minor-league seasons, because they insist he’s “figured it out” with a .319/.349/.533 line this year. Not quite; at home, he’s hitting a robust .353/.385/.629, while on the road, that’s a brutal .258/.286/.386. So no, no one’s going to put any trade value on a minor-league lifer who can’t hit outside of Albuquerque’s video game environment. That holds true for the superficially nice stats of Josh Fields, Tim Federowicz, and most of the other Isotopes as well.

5) We don’t know what we don’t know.

I have a hard time sticking to this one as well, and I’m sure I’ll break this rule in the coming weeks, especially in the fury of July 31. We just need to remember that we’ll never know as much as the teams themselves do, and I’m not talking about fancy stats. I remember one time in the last few years where a young player with strong peripherals on an American League club became available and I suggested the Dodgers take a look at him; then a person much more in the know quietly told me that this player had some personal demons that were known within the industry but not publicly known, and that they would make him much less attractive. That player hasn’t made it out of the minors since. That’s just one example, but I’m sure there’s millions more; we can never know that a player has to go because he slept with the catcher’s wife, or because he’s playing in his hometown and he is distracted by friends & family looking for handouts, or because he’s had brushes with the law that were kept out of the papers, or because he’s going through a painful divorce. On the other side of it, we may see a team acquire someone who seems useless because the pitching coach sees a flaw in his motion that he knows he can fix and turn him into a productive arm. That doesn’t mean we completely can’t pass judgement, of course, but we really ought to keep in mind that we’re likely not privy to the full information.

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Got all that? Good. Now let’s get back to figuring out how many prospects it’ll take to get Chase Headley north.

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