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:
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):
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