Amidst my efforts to finally publish my Blue Jays top 30 prospects (I promise, it’s coming soon) I came across this article from SI.com’s Tom Verducci. Now, I know there’s some anti-Verducci-ites out there who won’t read the piece, so below is, in a nutshell, what I found interesting.
The article discusses the myriad of moves (turning over half of his roster, entire infield, most — if not all apparently — of his prospects, blah blah blah) made by Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane this winter. Tying it into a larger trend within baseball where roster flexibility makes up for expanding bullpens and shortening benches — a situation Blue Jay fans are all too familiar with. Which is why Beane went out and got Ben Zobrist. He can play anywhere, having manned five (which seems to be his career average), four of which at an above average level according to fangraphs UZR, positions in 2014.
As a Jays fan, I’d love to see Ben Zobrist on board, but quality pieces don’t come cheap, with Beane sending his top prospect, shortstop Daniel Robertson the other way.
Robertson’s position at the top of the A’s prospect pecking order was almost by default as a slew of other trades, starting when consensus top five prospect Adisson Russell was included in the package for Jeff Samardzija, ‘gutted’ Oakland’s farm system.
And this is where Verducci goes a bit Billy Ga-Ga, quoting a rival talent evaluator:
“He’s not so concerned about the minor leagues. He doesn’t care if people say, ‘You have a great minor league system,’ the way some GMs do. He’s focused on winning in the major leagues. That’s it. [Brian] Sabean operates the same way with the Giants. They don’t care what people say about their minor league system.”
To say Beane (and Sabean) make up some small club of GM’s who are only focusing on winning in the major leagues, while the rest fawn over their minor league system, is bollocks. Sure, Beane, or Anthopoulos for that matter, don’t care if someone like Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus or even me are crapping on their farm system but if it’s a rival GM who is turning up their nose then I’m sure red flags are raised.
Yes, Beane turned over his entire roster by trading away five of his top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America. And I’d wager a guess no other team turned over that many of their high end prospects (I’m too lazy to check) but the story doesn’t bother to mention the incomings.
In fact, Verducci goes on to ask:
Who else would trade his organization’s two best shortstop prospects (Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson) six months apart?
One that brought back a top tier shortstop prospect in the Donaldson deal? In fact, I believe Franklin Barreto is now the A’s number one prospect. Which should mean he’s dealt any day now.
Which brings us back to the question asked in the title of this convoluted post. Is it AA’s love of the Jays farm system preventing deals for much needed pieces such as a Zobrist or relief arms?
Short answer: No.
Longer answer. Anthopoulos uses his minor league system in exactly the same way the vaunted Beane does. He drafts, signs, and develops players in the hope that they eventually be valuable, cheap contributors the major league team. But if, along the way, a deal comes along where one of those future Jays can be used as a trade chip? The Jays GM has shown no hesitancy in pulling the trigger.
Tampa would have been very reticent about trading Zobrist within the AL East. For Toronto to bring Ben to Blue Jay land, I’m sure the Rays would have been asking for one of the Jays top three prospects. That makes no sense. Zobrist is a free agent after this season. Would you trade six years of Daniel Norris or Aaron Sanchez for one year of BZ? Bearing in mind that both R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle are probably gone after 2015. So now one of the arms in line to replace those two in the rotation are also in the wind, meaning you’re replacing a starter and Zobrist in 2016 (I’m assuming Zobrist would not re-sign with the Jays).
The Jays have an excellent farm system, however, after the top three names, all of whom will make mlb contributions in 2015, there is quite a large drop off in terms of proximity to the majors. No matter how much we like the players down in Lansing, Dunedin, etc. rival GMs are more than likely looking for more immediate help. So, when Anthopoulos comes calling for bullpen arms, the asking price is again, and I’m assuming a bit here, one of those top three names of Norris, Pompey, Sanchez and probably Stroman for good measure.
Kansas City did show us the inherent value of a good ‘pen. Doesn’t mean you trade potential front line starters for a 60 odd innings a year though.
I have to admit, I do enjoy the narrative of Billy Beane as a some sort of mad genius, constantly interchanging roster pieces like he was overseeing some sort of massive game board. But he cares about his farm system as much as anyone else. He may use the pieces at his disposal a bit more frequently than others but the picture he is looking at his unique to him.
Anthopoulos doesn’t value his prospects any more than Beane. Simply, he won’t move them for someone that doesn’t bring back at least similar value to what the Jays are being asked to give up. That kinda makes sense no?