“I Wish We Could Get Guys Like That”

Weird things about baseball fascinate me. One of those things is the concept of discarded players. Every once in awhile, you’ll see a player doing well and think to yourself, “Hey, wasn’t he on our team at one point?” David Carpenter is one such player. Watching him face the Red Sox this week, I couldn’t help but think that it would be sure nice if the Sox had him right now instead of Craig Breslow. Sure, the world will keep on spinning, and Carpenter wouldn’t make or break the 2014 Red Sox, but every little bit counts, and the Red Sox gave him away for free after just five weeks on the roster. In situations like these, we often jokingly say (or at least I do), “Hey, I wish we could get guys like that!”

I don’t mean to pick on the Red Sox, because every team does this. If you scan rosters, you’ll find one such player on just about every roster. And originally, my intention was to run down that list and look at them all individually. But then I got a look at this trade. On July 31, 2010, the Atlanta Braves traded Gregor Blanco, Jesse Chavez and Tim Collins to the Kansas City Royals for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth. Take a look:

flow_chart (1)

The Braves made this trade because they really wanted to get back to the playoffs. They had missed out on October berths in each of the past four seasons, they had not been to the National League Championship Series since 2001, and they could no longer claim that Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux or John Smoltz were walking through that door. On the day of the trade, the Braves were 9.5 games behind the Phillies in the East, and were in a dead heat with the Astros for the Wild Card spot. (Remember when there was only one Wild Card team? Ah, memories.) They didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, but they needed to do something.

Do something was an appropriate motto for the Royals’ action as well. Yes, Collins had a little bit of hype behind him, but he was far from a top prospect. The diminutive Worcester, Mass., native was never a top 100 prospect. And at the time, Blanco and Chavez weren’t thought of as much of anything themselves. In our writeup of the trade here at FanGraphs, Jack Moore called Chavez’s involvement in the trade “negligible,” and with good reason. The Royals would become Chavez’s fourth organization, and at the time he had pitched just 145 innings major league innings.

Fast forward four years and Chavez is suddenly a pretty valuable weapon. He had a great 2013 campaign in which he posted a 78 FIP- across 57.1 innings, mostly in relief. This season, as you probably already know, he has been a full-time starter, and acquitted himself quite well. The fly balls that once plagued him are relatively in check — though he still has a pretty healthy HR/FB% — and his Minus stats paint him as an above-average pitcher. But he’s not doing this for the Royals.

In fact, the Royals didn’t extract any value out of Chavez at all. In his season-plus with Kansas City, he posted -0.6 WAR and the team relinquished him to the Blue Jays, who claimed him off waivers. Less than 12 months later, Chavez had an 8.44 ERA in 21.1 innings pitched for the Blue Jays, and they too relinquished him via waiver claim. Now he’s working on 1.8 WAR and counting as a member of the A’s.

Blanco’s situation wasn’t nearly as bleak, but the results were mostly the same. Following the trade to the Royals, he immediately slotted in as the team’s starting center fielder, and compiled 0.5 WAR in his time there, which included 40 center-field starts. Spread that out over a full season, and you have the productive but unheralded player we know today. He managed 10 steals in 12 tries and posted a .348 on-base percentage for Kansas City, but when the next season started he was on the outside looking in. The Royals’ Opening Day outfield consisted of Alex Gordon in left, Melky Cabrera in center and Jeff Francoeur in right, and Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Maier in reserve. Blanco was in Omaha, where he hit just a buck-ninety six, but had a .384 OBP. The Royals had seen enough though, and shipped him off to the Nationals in a conditional deal. Conditional on what, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t appear that the Royals ever received anything in exchange for him. In fact, the transaction doesn’t even appear on the May 2011 transaction logs for the Royals or Nationals on MLB.com.

Blanco remained in Triple-A in the Nationals organization, where his performance got worse. Turns out, he had bone spurs in his wrist, and their removal ended his season early. The Giants, as you can see in the link in the previous sentence, had noticed his very healthy OBP, and took a chance on him. They had their hitting coach, Hensley Meulens, work with him, and he would win the Most Valuable Player Award in the Venezuelan Winter League that year. He went on to become an important part of the Giants’ 2012 World Series team, and was even better last year. He has not started as strong this year, but the Giants are now 6.2 WAR in the black on the Blanco transaction, and that has to feel pretty sweet.

If you’re keeping score, the Royals came out ahead in that 2010 trade. They derived 1.6 WAR collectively from their trio of players, while the Braves derived just 0.6 WAR. I’m sure the Braves don’t regret the trade. After all, Farnsworth picked up a win in the NL Division Series that season, and Ankiel homered as well. Their contributions were just positive enough, in other words. But it’s worth wondering what if. What if the Braves had held serve and kept Blanco. If Blanco had the 2012 season he did in San Fran in Atlanta instead, perhaps the B.J. Upton contract never happens. If Collins was still around, perhaps the temptation to foolishly move a player with legit upside like Alex Wood back to the bullpen in favor of the forever mediocre Gavin Floyd wouldn’t have become a thing that happened this season. Perhaps they wouldn’t have needed Floyd around at all if they still had Chavez.

We could do this dance with the Royals as well. Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson are essentially the same players as is Blanco, but in retrospect, you have to wonder if the Royals should have received at least something in return for his services. And While Blanco might have saved the Braves from Upton, perhaps Chavez could have saved the Royals from committing to Jeremy Guthrie once he hit free agency. Probably not, but it’s still interesting.

Again, the point of this post isn’t to criticize the Braves, Royals, Blue Jays or Nationals for discarding useful major league players. It’s simply to illustrate just how fragile success is in the majors, and how fates turn quickly. After being discarded by two organizations, Blanco would play a semi-starring role in October. Chavez woke up this morning leading a very good A’s pitching staff in strikeouts. Meanwhile, Farnsworth and Ankiel spent just a couple of months in Atlanta. Let’s let Smooth Jimmy Apollo sum things up for us (fast forward to the 16 second mark):

Indeed.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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Anon21
Guest
Anon21
2 years 29 days ago

If Collins was still around, perhaps the temptation to foolishly move a player with legit upside like Alex Wood back to the bullpen in favor of the forever mediocre Gavin Floyd wouldn’t have become a thing that happened this season.

That’s an innings-limit thing, not a slight to Wood’s value. Wood will start for the Braves in the playoffs if they make it.

vslyke
Member
2 years 29 days ago

I was going to say that exact thing. Wood’s on the same schedule that Medlen was on in 2012. Its frustrating to see an author of an otherwise well done piece slam a team and be so wrong about his information (although I will admit my jimmies are more rustled than usual because I’m a Braves fan).

Anon21
Guest
Anon21
2 years 29 days ago

Eh, I wouldn’t expect a guy on the national beat to know what the deal is. It was just a subsidiary point, in any event.

vslyke
Member
2 years 29 days ago

Yeah I guess. As I said, my personal bias made that a bigger deal to me than it otherwise would have been. Still pissed about the Red Sox series.

Steve
Guest
Steve
2 years 29 days ago

The Braves were actually 3.5 games ahead of the Phillies at the time of the KC trade; the numbers in the article are from post-July 31.

nard
Guest
nard
2 years 29 days ago

Now do one for Edwin Encarnacion.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
2 years 29 days ago

Bautista
Encarnacion
Lind
Francisco/Tolleson

All put on waivers in their mid to late 20s.

Now form the heart of the best lineup in baseball.

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City
2 years 29 days ago

Bautista was a brutally one-sided trade. In the middle of their 2 decades in baseball purgatory, the Bucs traded Jose Bautista to the Jays for Robinzon (sic) Diaz, who provided the Pirates with exactly 0.0 WAR.

I am sure with a little work I could find a handful of trades that may have been arguably more one-sided, but as a Pirates fan the Bautista trade seems so far beyond the pale that it borders on criminal.

Bob
Guest
Bob
2 years 29 days ago

Please. As a fellow Pirates fan who has watched darn near every game of the 20 year streak, this is the worst type of revisionism. We all had hopes for Jose, but no honest fan saw this sort of output from him. Here’s an article from 3 years ago that goes far more in depth on the Pirates thinking at the time:

http://www.bucsdugout.com/2011/5/15/2172829/jose-bautista-pirates-trade

munchtime
Guest
munchtime
2 years 29 days ago

Please don’t mention Francisco.

As a Brewers fan, I was pretty upset when they kept Overbay instead – and all I expected was a repeat of 2013. :(

ShaneH
Guest
2 years 29 days ago

Encarnacion is funny, especially talking about Chavez.

Jays waived him.

A’s picked him up.

Somehow, decided to stick with Kouzmanoff.

A’s waived him.

Jays picked him up.

From Jays to A’s to Jays in an off season w/o ever playing for the A’s at all.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
2 years 29 days ago

“Blanco might have saved the Braves from Upton”

The Cardinals traded David Carpenter a few years ago to the Astros for the exhumed remains of Pedro Feliz. As a Cards’ fan, I wish the team could have saved the team from two months of Pedro Feliz.

Jason
Guest
Jason
2 years 29 days ago

You should at least credit Bob Lobel for: “Why can’t we get players like that?”

Matty Brown
Member
Member
Matty Brown
2 years 29 days ago

For me, as a Jays fan, I think about giving away Yan Gomes for Mike Aviles, while we suffered through another year of Aren-Shitia.

Their 2013 seasons: Gomes: 294/.345/.481 +3.7 WAR
ArenShitia: .194/.227/.365 -0.6 WAR

Robert Hombre
Guest
Robert Hombre
2 years 29 days ago

As a Cleveland fan, I wonder why teams ever make minor transactions with the Indians. It’s not just the Aviles+Gomes for Esmil Rogers, but also back in 2010, when the Clevelands traded a half season of Jake Westbrook for a certain fringe prospect in the Padres system known as Corey Kluber.

Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera were acquired for half-seasons of Eduardo Perez and Ben Broussard. Zach McAllister, though not quite league-average, was in exchange for a half season of Austin Kearns.

Ultimately, it’s fairly inconsequential, since the Clevelands are six games under .500 with a shot farm system (and the Jays are doing quite well!), but I jokingly wonder why anyone deals with the Indians in non-blockbuster trades any more.

Dan Greer
Member
Dan Greer
2 years 29 days ago

I think it was actually Aviles and Gomes for Esmil Rogers, which is even worse. And Aviles was acquired originally for John Farrell.

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 29 days ago

Matty, at least be thankful that the Jays didn’t play hot-potato with Jose Bautista, unlike a bunch of teams did in his early career:

December 15, 2003: Drafted by the Baltimore Orioles from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2003 rule 5 draft.

June 3, 2004: Selected off waivers by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from the Baltimore Orioles.

June 28, 2004: Purchased by the Kansas City Royals from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

July 30, 2004: Traded by the Kansas City Royals to the New York Mets for Justin Huber.

July 30, 2004: Traded by the New York Mets with Matt Peterson (minors) and Ty Wigginton to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger.

August 21, 2008: Traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later. The Toronto Blue Jays sent Robinzon Diaz (August 25, 2008) to the Pittsburgh Pirates to complete the trade.

JKB
Guest
JKB
2 years 28 days ago

I am a Tampa Bay Rays fan, losing Jose Bautista to KC and Josh Hamilton to Cincinnati were two heartbreaks.

Lakeside
Guest
Lakeside
2 years 29 days ago

Expos GM Jim Beattie 1999: “boy I wish we had that Randy Johnson guy”

Radivel
Guest
Radivel
2 years 29 days ago

“Blanco was in Omaha, where he hit just a buck-ninety six, but had a .384 OBP. The Royals had seen enough though…”

The Royals in a nutshell. “You’re getting on base too often? Get out of here!”

TonyJohn
Guest
TonyJohn
2 years 29 days ago

This article reminds of the ones Steve Treder pumped out about hypothetically creating teams. I devoured those and even look for them once a week, though it looks he has since moved from THT. Keep these coming. They are lovely.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
2 years 29 days ago

These examples always make me wonder how many career borderline mlbers were just one mechanical tweak, just one chance encounter with the right coach at the right time, away from being stars.

Andre the Angels Fan
Guest
Andre the Angels Fan
2 years 29 days ago

As someone who works in training and development for a living, I assume everyone is just the right training and the right coach away from greatness. It’s not 100% accurate, but it’s a lot closer than you think.

BDF
Guest
2 years 29 days ago

Not just conscious activities like training and development but chance encounters and offhand remarks, too.

ShaneH
Guest
2 years 29 days ago

To me, if a player has gone through several teams before becoming great, you can give your organization (and the rest) a pass. Chavez went through a bunch before the A’s got him. And he sucked with the A’s until they fixed something.

But look at Carlos Pena. Or Nelson Cruz. Or Edwin Encarnacion. Those three were with the A’s, and let loose. But they were also let go by other teams before they became awesome (Encarnacion is a funny case since this all occurred during a single off season, and he ended back with his original team).

But for all of those players, there are a dozen guys who’ve passed through 6 teams and fell out of baseball.

Fatbot
Guest
Fatbot
2 years 28 days ago

This is the answer to the article title question. Examining results based on 20/20 hindsight is pretty useless. I guess maybe it’s fun to dream what could have been, but can’t blame a team for a bad trade except for judging it at the time made (and there’s certainly plenty of bad trades to focus on at that face value). Nobody can be blamed for passing on a useless turd like Gregor Blanco, there’s 1,000+ guys with more talent currently in farm systems. Just because he luckily panned out for the Giants is great for them, but can’t blame other teams. Giants do a great job throwing crap against the wall to see what sticks, but not like the Rays were stupid to get rid of useless Pat the Bat and his negative WAR just because the Giants magically got 2.7 WAR from him.

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 28 days ago

Other than the part about Blanco being a useless turd, you’re right on.

A solid 4th outfielder does have value. If your team ever got stuck using a replacement-level guy for a long stretch when a regular goes down, it is noticeable.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 27 days ago

Its not luck. Its scouts, and coaching. And often an injury tweak. See Morse, Michael.

Mr baseball
Guest
Mr baseball
2 years 27 days ago

Yea, stat guys shout “luck” when they don’t understand something. Seems lately there is a lot they don’t understand.

Dumb@ssery
Guest
Dumb@ssery
2 years 26 days ago

Yes, that’s exactly what “stat guys” say. They simply say “luck!” and then never look at anything else, ever. Fortunately, scouts have been right 100% of the time on all players, so we still have them around to know how “real” baseball people think. They know that game isn’t played with a slide rule, but on a field.

/sarcasm

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