Selling at the MLB trade deadline: Who should aim for a Mejia, and who should target a big package
The Manny Machado and Brad Hand deals were examples of two different approaches
Tuesday night the American League stretched their All-Star Game winning streak to six games with a homer-filled win over the National League (AL 8, NL 6). .
Now, just two days later, two 2018 All-Stars have been traded. The Orioles shipped Manny Machado to the Dodgers Yusniel Diaz, while the Padres packaged Brad Hand with rookie Adam Cimber to pry top catcher prospect Francisco Mejia ., including outfielder
With these trades, two World Series hopefuls became much more dangerous. The Dodgers replaced the injured Corey Seager with an elite player, whereas the Indians improved their leaky bullpen. Both teams made tremendous upgrades.
As for the Padres and Orioles, they're in "acquire young talent" mode and they went about it two different ways.
San Diego Padres: One top prospect
There is never a shortage of contenders looking to bolster their bullpen at the trade deadline, and, in Hand, the Padres had a player in high demand. Hand is excellent, left-handed and signed affordably through 2021. San Diego surely fielded several offers for Hand and would've fielded more had they waited until July 31.
Instead, they opted to trade Hand (and Cimber) and put all their eggs in one basket. Mejia was the only player they received in the deal. How often do you see a 2-for-1 trade in which two big-leaguers (including an All-Star) are traded for one prospect? Not often at all. That's what the Padres did though. They're banking on Mejia becoming a star.
Pros of the "one top prospect" approach: The Padres were able to package Hand and Cimber to get one truly elite prospect. ESPN's midseason top 50 prospects list ranks Mejia as the game's fifth-best prospect. He would have been in our had he qualified for his Fantasy prospects piece. The pro here is that, by seeking just that one player in return, San Diego was able to get someone with star potential, and you need stars to win. Had they sought more players in the trade, the Indians would've pulled Mejia off the table. Stars are hard to acquire and the Padres may have landed one for Hand and Cimber.
Cons of the "one top prospect" approach: It's awfully risky. If Mejia busts, the Padres could very well end up with nothing in return for Hand. Heck, even if Mejia becomes just an average MLB player, it's a subpar return for a player as valuable as Hand. The upside is a better shot at a great player. The downside is much more risk of getting nothing.
The Padres, it should be noted, have done this before. Two years ago they traded Drew Pomeranz -- Pomeranz was coming off an All-Star Game selection at the time -- to the Red Sox straight up for prospect Anderson Espinoza. At the time of the trade Espinoza was one of the very best pitching prospects in the game. Now? He's thrown 32 1/3 innings since the trade and none since Opening Day 2017 due to injuries. Like I said, there is a lot of risk with this approach.
Baltimore Orioles: Casting a wide net
It's not fair to call the O's package "quantity over quality" because Diaz is great. ESPN ranks him as the 49th-best prospect in baseball. Diaz is a great prospect, not an elite prospect though, and a superstar like Machado could've netted Baltimore a truly elite prospect had they shopped him around, especially given the teams reportedly involved in the bidding (Phillies, Brewers, Yankees).
Rather than turn Machado into that one potential star prospect, the Orioles opted for a great prospect in Diaz and four other lesser pieces: Third baseman Rylan Bannon, righties Dean Kremer and Zach Pop, and utility man Breyvic Valera. MLB.com currently ranks Kremer as the 13th-best prospect in the O's system, with Bannon 17th and Pop 29th. Good prospects. Not blow-you-away prospects.
Pros of the "casting a wide net" approach: Simply put, the more prospects you acquire in a trade, the more likely it is you get one or more who help you at the MLB level. You add more depth to your farm system and increase your prospect base. As good as teams have gotten at player development -- and they are great at it -- the attrition rate is still quite high. The more prospects you get in a trade, the more likely it is you get someone who can be part of your next contending team.
Cons of the "casting a wide net" approach: Typically, when a team acquires a package of four or five prospects, they get prospects who aren't as highly regarded. Diaz is a stud and a top-50 caliber prospect. The other guys in the Machado trade are OK prospects. MLB.com's scouting reports indicate Kremer may settle into a bullpen role. Bannon "could develop into a valuable utility player at the highest level." Pop has good stuff but unrefined command. There's not a ton of upside here. Yeah, you're more likely to get a big-leaguer with this approach, but you're less likely to get a true impact player.
This is very important to understand: There is no "right" approach to making a trade. There's nothing wrong with putting all your eggs in one basket like the Padres did with Mejia, and there's nothing wrong with getting multiple good prospects rather than one elite prospect like the Orioles did in the Machado trade. Both approaches can (and do) work.
Ultimately, it comes down to not only organizational preference, but organizational need. The Padres already had a loaded farm system before the Hand trade. They have a ton of prospects and are in position to roll the dice on a stud like Mejia. The Orioles, meanwhile, do not have a particularly good or deep farm system. They need to strengthen their organization, and the best way to do that is by acquiring as many players as possible in trades. (Zach Britton is on the block too, remember.)
There seem to be more sellers than buyers at the deadline this year, so let's break down the teams that should follow in San Diego's footsteps and get that one stud, and the teams that should follow in Baltimore's steps and stock up on prospects.
"One top prospect" candidates
The Pirates, Reds, and Twins all have strong farm systems and promising young talent on their big-league rosters already. They're best positioned to take a shot at a high-end talent. Also, those are three teams that can't afford stars on the open market. They have to grow their own stars, so go after those elite prospects at the trade deadline, even if it means getting fewer players in return.
As for the Mets, they are in a weird spot because they insist they want to contend next season even though their big-league roster isn't looking so great, especially on the position player side. Their farm system is improved and they have more pitchers on the way. In order to supplement the MLB roster in an effort to contend next season, I think the best bet is to go for that high-upside talent and hope for an immediate impact.
Candidates for the "casting a wide net" approach
Shallow farm systems across the board. The Blue Jays (Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette) and White Sox (Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Luis Robert) do have star-caliber prospects, but there's not much depth beyond them, and those clubs need to build up their prospect base to help become a sustainable contender. The Marlins, Rangers, Royals, and Tigers are all relatively early in their rebuilds and trying to build a strong farm system, so get as much talent as possible.
The Angels are in a similar situation as the Mets. They're not very good this year -- they've crashed hard the last few weeks -- but they're going to try to win next year because Mike Trout is inching closer to free agency. They have a cache of high-end prospects (Jo Adell, Brandon Marsh, Jahmai Jones, Kevin Maitan) but must improve their organizational depth. There's still a little too much playing time going to guys like Nolan Fontana, Ryan Schimpf, Deck McGuire, and Oliver Drake. The Angels need to raise their internal replacement level, so to speak.
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