There are three schools of thought when it comes to assessing who “won” a trade:
- Waiting to judge a trade until years and years down the road when the careers of all the players involved have played out. This school of thought is baloney and usually espoused by fans on the side of the team that just got fleeced. It is only a valid evaluation model if the person doing to the valuation is Nostradamus or the Long Island Medium and I’m pretty sure at least one of them is dead.
- Judging the trade based on the perceived values of all the assets involved at that very moment in time. This is a popular model because it makes use of the information that is actually available instead of hypotheticals like, “Ya never know, Jose Rondon could put on 50 pounds of muscle and start hitting 25 homers a year and become a superstar.” It also happens to be how most front offices, you know, the people actually making the trades, evaluate trades.
- Evaluating trade based solely on whether or not the parties involved got what they wanted. This is fairly simplistic, but it is also a model we should all probably utilize more, both front offices and fans.
In the context of the recent Huston Street trade, your school of trade evaluation thought matters a lot when you come to the all-important decision (which actually isn’t important at all for you, unless “you” happen to be Arte Moreno or Jerry Dipoto) of whether or not the Angels made a good trade.
If you are a Luddite who subscribes to the “wait a few years” model, then the grade quite obviously gets an “Incomplete” grade. How the prospects in the trade are regarded doesn’t matter at all because there are infinite outcomes available for each of the five involved in the trade. Jose Rondon might wash out in Triple-A or he might be a solid bench player or he might fill out his frame, develop some plate discipline and turn into the next Derek Jeter. Taylor Lindsey might hit 500 doubles in his career or his unorthodox swing might get exploited by big league pitchers. R.J. Alvarez might be the closer for the Padres for the next fifteen years or he might blow out his elbow in his next appearance and lose his precious velocity forever. Elliot Morris might become a mid-rotation workhorse or he might end up working the drive-thru at Sonic three years from now. All four could take the “Padres” nickname too seriously, find Jesus and retire from baseball to pursue missionary work in the third world. And those are just a sampling of the possible outcomes.
In some of those scenarios, this trade goes down as a footnote in Padres history, in others it goes to down as a franchise turning point. The same goes for the Angels because it could be Huston Street closing down Game 7 of the World Series for the Angels or it could be Huston Street getting creamed by a bus on his way to the ballpark tomorrow. So, yeah, this model is really stupid because so many of the outcomes are completely outside of anyone’s control.
If we skip ahead to the third “goal-based” model. The clarity of answer is at the other end of the spectrum in that this trade is unequivocally a win for both sides. The Angels got the top-tier late-inning reliever they had been so desperately seeking. Whether or not you think that desperation was justified is not a factor. It only matters that the Angels thought it was a huge need. It is one they’ve clearly satisfied. As for the Padres, they saved money and loaded up with four prospects that all have a decent shot at being major league contributors, two of which should be ready as soon as 2015. They both got what they wanted. Everyone wins!
Where things get murky is that second “current value” model. This should be fairly mathematical, but the valuation of each asset involved is largely subjective. Huston Street is the most-known commodity involved and even his value is up for debate. Right now, he has the numbers of an elite closer. But he is also a guy who benefited some from Petco Park and definitely benefited from a totally unsustainable strand rate. He’s also got significant durability concerns. On the other hand, he has a slightly below market value club option for 2015, which helps. Even with that though, there is a school of thought out there that even top-tier relievers are fungible assets given to wild swings in performance and thus no reliever, save Mariano Rivera, should ever carry a premium valuation.
With the prospects though, especially these prospects, the value is all over the place. There are scouting publications that think Taylor Lindsey could be an above average bat and solid glove. There are others that think he can just barely field the position enough to stay at second and that his aggressiveness and inconsistent power will offset his contact ability. So he’s either an above average regular or a part-time platoon player, depending on who you ask.
R.J. Alvarez is even harder to peg. He’s got the huge fastball and is often slapped with the “future closer” label, which is really valuable if you are the type of person that values closers. Those are the same people that would inflate Street’s value because he is a “proven closer.” But the non-believers who place little value in relievers in general are going to put even less value in relief prospects. The people in between will see Alvarez’s potential but they’ll also be highly wary that Alvarez had a Tommy John scare just a few weeks ago.
All the same things that we just said about Alvarez can be applied to slightly lesser degree to Trevor Gott, the prospect the Angels got in the trade (which almost nobody ever actually factors into the equation). The long and short of his value in the deal is that the less you value relievers, the more the Alvarez-Gott swap amounts to a wash.
Elliot Morris might be the least heralded part of the deal, but he also might be a guy that tip the scales. Believers in Morris will see a kid with a big frame and good velocity who already got his TJ surgery out of the way. If he hits, he could be a nice inning-eating #4 starter. If he doesn’t quite hit all the way (meaning his secondary stuff never develops fully), he’ll make for a quality middle reliever. If you don’t believe, he’s a guy with weak secondary offerings and shaky control who will probably never reach the majors. Splitting the baby, he’s at least a young arm with a modest chance of reaching the majors in the next three years.
The real swing vote in the deal though has to be Jose Rondon, I know he was for me, personally. Some publications have downplayed him as a raw kid that figures to wind up in a utility infielder role but then you have respected names like Keith Law stating that he wouldn’t trade Rondon straight up for Street. The problem is Rondon is all projection right now. He’s one of the youngest (if not the youngest) player in the California League and putting up strong offensive numbers, even when accounting for the environment. He’s also got some physical development left. He’s still listed at 6’0″ and 160 lbs., but reports I’ve seen claim that he is actually about two inches taller than that with a frame that could add weight to the point of him getting “too big” to stay at short. What that means is that he could develop some actual power at the plate and in the field. Or he might not. The thing about raw kids is sometimes they never get fully cooked, which is why the opinions on him range from fringe All-Star to bench player.
Add it all up and you have…. well, I don’t know, because that depends on you. The more optimistic you are about the prospects, the more obvious it is that San Diego struck it rich, even if you also place a high value on Street. On the pessimistic side though, San Diego still did just fine as Alvarez and Lindsey should be contributors of some kind starting as soon as tomorrow. Rondon also is a safe bet to at least get a crack at the majors at some point. Even if the three all amount to replacement level players and Street maxes out at three wins over the rest of his contract, that’s a gamble worth taking for a rebuilding franchise that has no real need for a veteran closer. At best, it is a market value deal for the Angels, and that’s a real stretch that requires you to set aside the opportunity cost of the assets they surrendered. In a worst case scenario, the Angels paid a steep premium.
Of course, if you blend method two and method three together, the overpay doesn’t matter because it is just a means to an end and maybe that combination is what we really all should be focusing on.