This Year, Trading Season Prices Look Higher Than Ever

Anyone still wondering if the lack of sellers in the world of four wild cards is going to increase prices?

Take yesterday’s Detroit/Miami deal, where the Tigers acquired half a season of Anibal Sanchez, a very good and underrated (FIP between 3.32-3.41 over the last three seasons) 28-year-old starter with some history of arm problems, along with solid-but-hardly-stellar second baseman Omar Infante. That cost them, along with a decent catching prospect who could be ready in 2013 and a lottery ticket arm, 21-year-old lefty Jacob Turner, the 9th overall pick in 2009, who made the bigs at 20 and has been ranked as Baseball America’s #26, #21, and #22 prospect before the last three seasons. He was also Detroit’s #1 prospect in Kevin Goldstein’s Baseball Prospectus rankings in each of the last two seasons, ahead of highly regarded third base prospect Nick Castellanos. (I’m assuming I don’t need to point out here that an 8+ ERA from a 21-year-old in six MLB games is all but useless to look at.) Detroit got a good starter for the playoff push this year, but paid handsomely to do it.

Or look at the yet-to-be finalized Ryan Dempster trade, which for two months of the 35-year-old Dempster would reportedly include at least 22-year-old righty Randall Delgado and possibly more. Delgado has struck out 574 in 543 minor league innings, and was ranked as BA‘s #35 & #46 prospect prior to 2011 & 2012. At BP, he was Atlanta’s #2 prospect behind Julio Teheran, though also in the “five-star” level along with Turner.

As Ben Lindbergh noted while reviewing the potential Dempster deal at BP, we’re already seeing what kind of effect the second wild card is having on the trading season (emphasis mine):

Last July, the Braves got Michael Bourn—who not only contributed 1.7 WARP to the Astros before the trade, roughly equivalent to Dempster’s 1.6 for the Cubs this season, but was under team control for the following season—for a package of four lesser prospects (Brett Oberholtzer, Jordan Schafer, Paul Clemens, and Juan Abreu). Delgado is easily better than any of those four. Those two trades are a study in quantity vs. quality, but Delgado alone is likely the better haul. If so, the Cubs got more for a half-season of Dempster than the Astros did for a season and a half of Bourn. Maybe that’s shrewd trading by Jed Hoyer and crew, or maybe it’s a reflection of a Wild Cards-created buyer’s market.

I don’t think that’s necessarily coming as a surprise, because we sort of anticipated that might be the case as soon as we found out about the expanded playoffs, but it’s instructive to see it coming to life. That means that if the Dodgers do make any sort of deal, whether it be for Matt Garza or Chase Headley or Aramis Ramirez or Hanley Ramirez, the way the market is coming together, we can expect that the price is almost certainly going to be far more than we’re comfortable with, unless it also comes with the Dodgers eating a ton of bad contract like Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells.

It doesn’t help, of course, that top Dodger prospect Zach Lee generally isn’t as highly regarded as either Turner or Delgado, coming in at #62 on BA‘s preseason list and as a four-star prospect (though still Los Angeles’ #1) on Goldstein‘s. As I don’t have to tell you, I’m putting almost no stock in a 20-year-old struggling in his first few games at Double-A, though I’ll admit it doesn’t help. None of that means that Lee won’t be a successful major leaguer, because I think we all believe he will be, and that means you don’t trade him for a rental like Dempster. But he may not be the ace we had hoped for, and that can have an impact on his value; he did not make Keith Law’s list of the top 20 prospects who may be moved in potential deadline deals today. Considering what teams are getting in the current market, perhaps it’s not foolish of the Cubs to have been (allegedly) asking the Dodgers for him in any Dempster deal.

All of this makes for what could be both a fantastically interesting and terrifying week and three hours until the deadline arrives. With the Dodgers now on a partially-Mets-fueled winning streak again, I don’t think there’s any question that they consider themselves buyers, and the way things are now, that’s a tough spot to be in.

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