The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline is just days away and speculation is running rampant in baseball towns across North America. Fans everywhere want to get the scoop on what their favorite club is planning to do in the trade market.
In the end though, most trade talk will turn out to be just that — talk.
In the Pacific Northwest, trade chatter centers on Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray. Whether the right-hander is within reach of the Seattle Mariners is debatable. The belief among baseball insiders is Seattle doesn’t have enough high-value prospects to entice Oakland.
Having said that, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has proven to be an innovative deal-maker during his 22-month tenure. Underestimating him now would be unwise.
Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports suggested Dipoto might have no choice other than pursue Gray. From Rosenthal’s perspective, the Mariners are going to eventually crash. Why not go all-out before making impact?
This kind of talk both excites and agitates Seattle fans. A segment of the team’s faithful want Dipoto to do whatever it takes to break the franchise’s 15-season playoff drought.
Other fans don’t want the organization to part ways with potentially valuable prospects, including 2016 first round pick Kyle Lewis. This demographic can’t forget bad deals from the past, such as swapping Adam Jones and Chris Tillman for Erik Bedard.
That burn still smolders nearly a decade later.
Exacerbating fan anxiety is Dipoto’s most recent deal, which sent another top prospect — Tyler O’Neill — to the St. Louis Cardinals. Shades of Adam Jones all over again in the eyes of the skeptical.
It’s not just the notion another club might fleece the Mariners that concerns fans. Many believe the club should strive to build from within. I see the sentiment expressed on Twitter frequently. Here’s an anonymous example:
“Who’s the most consistent winning franchises? Boston, NYY, Dodgers, etc. what do they have in common? Build from within and supplement w/FA”
While I agree building a strong minor league system makes sense from an operational and financial aspect, a closer look at the rosters of successful clubs dispels the perception of this passionate fan.
The following table illustrates the 40-man rosters of clubs mentioned above and a few others I’ve cherry-picked. The Mariners, last season’s World Series participants, plus the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals — both locks for the postseason.
Please note, data used in tables throughout this piece are based on how rosters were configured on July 26. Furthermore, “homegrown” refers to players signed as amateurs via the draft or from abroad.
|40-Man Roster Breakdown |
To the surprise of no one anywhere, the Mariners acquired more players via the trade market. Interestingly, Seattle has just one fewer homegrown player than the Dodgers; one of those teams allegedly built from within.
Ironically, one of the teams most often heralded as the benchmark for blowing up a roster — the Chicago Cubs — has just 14 homegrown players.
Looking at an overview of 40-man rosters probably doesn’t provide enough detail for some of you. After all, 15 players aren’t even playing with the big league club.
Let’s turn our attention to how each club’s 25-man roster currently looks. Please note, players on the 10-day disabled list are included. Therefore, some team totals will exceed 25.
|25-Man Roster Breakdown |
|Tm||Homegrown||FA||Trade||Waivers/Rule 5 |
Suddenly, the assertion that consistent winning franchises build from within loses steam.
The defending champion Cubs have fewer homegrown players on their 25-man roster than the Mariners. The other club lauded for roster demolition — the Houston Astros — has just one more.
Despite the attention the Dodgers receive for their farm system and the stars it’s producing, they have the same number of homegrown players as the Mariners and their lowly regarded system. In fact, Los Angeles has relied more heavily on trades than any team listed above.
In fairness, there’s more to the story. Detailing quantity without discussing quality would be misleading.
With that in mind, the following represents the proportion of value teams are getting from their acquisitions using Baseball Reference’s wins above replacement (bWAR).
|25-Man Roster bWAR |
Certainly, the Astros are capitalizing on their productive farm system. Nevertheless, other organizations are successful this season without relying as heavily on homegrown talent.
So, what’s the best way to win a consistent winner?
Just 12 months ago, the Cubs and Indians “went for it” by moving prospects to get bullpen help. Inevitably, both clubs faced-off in the World Series. Their primary trade partner — New York Yankees — are now contending too.
The Boston Red Sox and Nationals followed suit last offseason by exchanging future talent for major leaguers and both appear bound for postseason action.
Earlier this month, the Cubs continued their buying ways by shipping a package of prospects to their crosstown rivals for starter Jose Quintana.
The respective approaches taken by these clubs were reasonable when they struck their deals. The same concept applies to the Mariners — they should do whatever makes the most sense right now.
Am I suggesting Dipoto should go all in and “sell the farm?”
Not necessarily, but the notion the Mariners should refrain from moving prospects because the best organizations are built from within makes no sense and a flawed concept.
The fear of another deal going sideways doesn’t hold water with me either. Every team has their share of clunker trades and fans who can’t let go of the past.
Bear in mind the Cubs broke their 108-year World Series victory last year and only major leaguers hoisted the championship trophy — not prospects.
I suspect the same will hold true if the Fall Classic ever comes to the Emerald City.