Rentals, Processes, and “Flags Fly Forever”

One rumor that has been flying around twitter is that the Twins have offered outfield prospect Aaron Hicks and catcher prospect Wilson Ramos for Cliff Lee, which would be a solid haul for only half a season of Lee, as Aaron Gleeman outlines over at Hardball Talk. Hicks is a top 20 prospect according to Baseball America and Ramos is top 60. Gleeman calls giving both away for merely a rental to be “uncharacteristic” for the Twins.

Dan Wade of TwinsMVB tweeted the following upon hearing the rumor:

Losing Hicks and Ramos in the Lee deal would forever taint my opinion of Bill Smith. Beyond stupid to part with Hicks for a rental.

David Brown of Big League Stew then asked the obvious question: “What if the Twins win the World Series?”

I think the answer would be clear for most Twins fans. “Flags fly forever” – The World Series is the ultimate goal for the organization (outside of the business side, of course), and so a couple of good prospects and some future wins could easily be sacrificed to attain a World Championship. Praise would almost certainly be heaped upon Bill Smith for bringing in that key piece that would bring the Twins up past the level of the Johan Santana teams which simply couldn’t escape the first two rounds of the playoffs.

How should we evaluate Smith’s part of this potential trade and situation, though? His job is to put the Minnesota Twins in the best position to win as many World Series as possible, while working under a certain amount of restraints. I don’t know enough about Hicks and Ramos to say for sure, but given their lofty rankings in prospect circles, there’s a good chance that they could be major contributors for the Twins in the coming seasons. We could potentially run simulations, based on how good Ramos and Hicks project to be, and see how many World Series victories we would expect from the Twins with them and instead how many we would expect if the Twins execute the trade. The attitudes of people like Wade and seemingly Gleeman suggest that the Twins would likely win more World Championships with the two prospects as opposed to obtaining Lee for the 2010 stretch run and playoffs.

Consider that hypothetical situation – a Twins franchise with Ramos and Hicks is likely to win more World Championships than the Twins with Cliff Lee.

If that is indeed the case, even if a Lee trade results in a World Series victory, the trade would be a poor decisions on Bill Smith’s part. It all comes back to the “processes over results” mantra of sabermetrics, and this would be the ultimate result. The trade is still a bad trade, process-wise, despite the fact that the ultimate goal of the franchise for 2010 is reached. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that this trade would be constantly listed among the best deadline deals ever, simply because, as above, flags fly forever.

The heartless mathematician and economist screams at me about the potential loss of utility from this trade. Apart from a mathematician and an economist, however, I’m also a human being, and perhaps more importantly, a baseball fan. I was along for the Brewers ride to the postseason in 2008, largely fueled by a rental of CC Sabathia, which cost the Brewers Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, and Rob Bryson. The Brewers were eliminated in the first round, and a top-half farm system is now consensus bottom ten. But I don’t care that the Brewers sacrificed a large amount of talent and likely some wins in the future – that playoff ride was a phenomenal emotional experience, especially given the fact that my hometown team had never won anything in my lifetime. Forget the revenue and other tangible benefits that the playoff appearance brought the team – it was fun. Every time I think back to the trade for Sabathia, I always decide, once again, that it was the right move, because I can’t imagine that 2008 season without the magical playoff run, and I certainly give a large part of the credit to Doug Melvin, whether objectively right or wrong, for pulling the trigger.

Wade’s reaction makes logical sense given his estimation of the talent levels of the three players involved in this deal – it appears that it would be a heist for Seattle, despite how supremely good Cliff Lee has been this season. Still, if we see the Twins raising the Commissioner’s Trophy in November and a new World Series Championship banner in Target Field, I’m not sure that his current attitude towards the trade and Bill Smith will remain.

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Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

33 Responses to “Rentals, Processes, and “Flags Fly Forever””

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  1. Nathaniel Stoltz says:

    There’s also the fact that Hicks and Ramos are far from finished products and may not reach their upside. If they flop and Lee does what he’s been doing, then the deal looks even better for Minnesota, and that uncertainty has to be factored in.

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  2. TMW says:

    You’ve also got to factor in the 2 comp picks. Theoretically, they could pick up a college player or two who may not have Hicks’ ceiling, but may be as or more MLB ready than he is.

    It’s scary for Twins fans, but I don’t believe it to be the heist it initially appears to be (if this is anything more than a rumor).

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    • JR says:

      The two comp picks have a lot to do with this being a great trade for the Twins. Not only do they significantly increase their chances of a deep post-season run, but if Hicks and Ramos are the only two major prospects traded away, they have a chance to immediately replenish their system. They’d have a chance to match the Yankees in winning a championship in the first year of a new stadium, which would be close to heaven up here.

      Also, the Twins will be able to a) capitalize on the value of Ramos (which will diminish as he spends more time butting his head on the glass ceiling of Joe Mauer), while b) replace him in the system with a player at a position of long-term need (any position not manned by Mauer).

      The caveat of a high payroll team signing Lee and another type-A player (bumping the Twins’ picks down) is diminished by Lee’s Elias ranking being higher than most other type-A’s (including Carl Crawford).

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  3. The A Team says:

    There’s another thing to consider, how much more valuable is a World Series appearance (let alone winning it) in Target Field’s first season? I imagine that the associated ticket hikes and merchandise sales would be considerably greater in real terms than if they won in 2014.

    And from the other side of the coin. How much does adding Lee actually improve their playoff odds? Maybe the regular season bumps up to 75% but eventually they have to play an AL East Giant (or two) in a 5 or 7 game series and they won’t have much better than 50% odds against those guys…so the quick back of the envelope analysis says the Twins have an 18ish% chance of reaching the World Series with Lee (and maybe a 13ish% chance without). Even if that understates things by half, we’re talking about a fairly small boost in the odds of surviving the American League and that doesn’t take into account the final showdown. And this is why the playoffs are called a crap shoot.

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    • BX says:

      Unless either the Tigers or an AL West team seizes the wildcard, the Twins will pretty much have to play two AL East giants on the road to the World Series.

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    • TFINY says:

      In a five game series, which the Twins havn’t gotten out of in years, which rotation sounds better? Liriano, Baker, Pavano, Liriano, Baker? Or Lee, Liriano, Baker (or Pavano) Lee Liriano? Or maybe the Twins could pull a 09 Yankees and only use three starters for the whole post season. I think the added benefit of Lee twice at least over Baker twice is astronomical, and worth far more than your five percent which was given, and probably even more than your ten percent. Can you name a better post-season rotation?

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    • PhD Brian says:

      Luck plays a very big difference in the postseason, perhaps even more than skill in many sports, so the key is maximizing your odds of getting there. The twin with lee is more talented than the twins without lee anyway.

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      • Knox says:

        I don’t know what you are saying…but it sounds really really dumb, are you actually saying a team of a bunch of beer league softball players could have beaten the 2009 Yankees if they were lucky? because lucky is better than skill??

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      • Kevin S. says:

        That’s not what he’s saying at all, and I’m not sure how you can read it that way unless you’re being deliberately obtuse. In a seven-game series, even an epically great team is probably only 60/40 to move on.

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  4. NEPP says:

    If he traded for Lee and they won the WS…its a good trade regardless of anything else. The two prospects MAY help the Twins in a couple year or they may not. The goal is to win a World Series, not be competitive every year. Its a big roll of the dice though as Lee can only give you 2 starts in a 7 game series regardless. Even with him, would the Twins have a better rotation than the Yankees? Doesn’t look like it to me.

    Those comp picks could be worth quite a bit too though.

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    • MikeS says:

      I agree with you, NEPP. It’s awfully hard to win just one WS. To pass up a deal that really puts you in the picture on the off chance that the two guys you give up might someday be better? I think this is another way of arguing how the value of a win is different to different teams. It makes no sense for KC to trade for Lee but any team that’s close, especially a team with a weak rotation really has to consider it. The trick is to not get caught in the trap of a marginal team picking up Lee to make the playoffs and hoping “anything can happen.” It usually doesn’t and then you have mortgaged your future just to fall short of the ultimate goal. But if the Twins honestly feel that they are just one SP away from being a champion then they should go for it but a realistic analysis of their own team is the key to whether or not to pull the trigger.

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    • Gary says:

      I think Liriano and Lee are the deadliest playoff combo in baseball period. FIP wise, K/BB wise, just devastating stuff. The only two that could be close is Carpenter/Wainwright, or of course Lee and Felix. They are absolutely better than Sabathia and Hughes/Burnett/Pettitte.

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  5. cpebbles says:

    At this point, there is absolutely no way that Hicks ranks in the top 20 of a good prospects list. Nice tools, questionable swing, no results.

    Wilson Ramos definitely looks like a quality catcher, but unless you think he’s a future star this is an obvious move for the Twins to make.

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  6. Mark says:

    Yes, it’s a great trade if they win the Series. But even with Lee the Twins are still probably the 4th best team in the AL. Even with Lee and Liriano at the top of the rotation, they’re still large underdogs vs. the Yanks or Rays in round one. The luck involved in winning in the playoffs just makes it (almost) always a bad deal to trade top prospects for a rental.

    Lee, by himself, doesn’t change the current Twins outlook – right now they’re a team very likely to win the Central and very likely to not make the Series. With Lee they’re a team very likely to win the Central and very likely to not make the Series.

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    • Max says:

      Scouts love Hicks. His numbers in the minors have been good for age, but not great. If I’m the Twins I give up guys like Hicks every time for a chance to get the best starting pitcher in the AL, even if it is only for a rental. If I’m the Ms I guess I’d be ok taking Hicks but I’m not sure I’m thrilled…guy is probably not gonna reach the majors until 2013 and by then Ichiro is gone, and I don’t care what Cameron and his bunch of nut swingers say, the Ms are looking mighty crappy next year.

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  7. PhD Brian says:

    This is a good deal for the twins. Reaching the post season has to have some permanent positive effect on all future revenues for the team that is significant. The World series should increase this positive benefit even more. Assuming a large fraction of this money will be kicked back in the form of player development and free agent signings (fair because the Twins have a history of trying to win) then it is clear winning one year should increase the odds of winning in future years. In other words, they may have a few million more in 2011 and 2012 to spend on player development and free agents if they win in 2010. That difference increases the odds of winning in 2013 by some amount. Add in the compensation picks to this mix and it seems clear to me that going all out to win now is probably the best strategy as long as they do not give away or spend to much (and frankly is probably the best strategy far more often than teams do it). Two high level prospects and some increase in 2010 salary in exchange for two high draft picks and a much better chance for permanent increase in future revenues seems like a decent trade to me.

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  8. Steve says:

    Keep in mind that the first round pick you are “trading for” will probably be something like the 31st pick in the draft. Certainly a nice pick to have, but you are still selecting a player with some sort of flaw at that spot. Maybe the 2011 class is so deep that this is a better pick than you usually see at that spot, but I think you need to discount it a little for the chance that Lee signs with the Yankees. And I’d be surprised if that doesn’t happen.

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  9. Lerx says:

    Well at this point, based on headlines from MLB trade rumors it sure sounds like this trade was a bunch of bunk. The article was thought provoking, but we don’t really know who offered what to whom…

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  10. smocon says:

    You bring up an interesting point regarding the Sabathia trade to the Brewers and how it related to your own “emotion” about the experience. The reason those guys are the GM’s and make all the big bucks is that they dont let emotion get in the way of doing deals.

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  11. Anon says:

    Maybe I’m missing something but doesn’t Ramos have 563 OPS this year as a 22YO in AAA and Hicks a 779 OPS as a 21 YO in single A?

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    • Kenny says:

      You’re missing something.

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      • Rondo says:

        Your not missing much. Except Hicks is 20 and Ramos has about 30 ABs in the majors this year, but his minor league numbers are pretty much spot on with what you posted.

        So yah, a middling Catcher who isn’t going to amount to anything other than cheap league average player, and a single A prospect that maybe really good and might not ever play in the majors.

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      • Kenny says:

        Popping up with OPS numbers and nothing else says “you’re missing something to me” Players do other things besides OPS, SSS, etc.

        Im not even a Hicks and Ramos fan, but I know when something is missing.

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      • Rondo says:

        Oh I see your point now, i thought he was just asking if he was looking up stats on the correct guys. You are a bit of deeper thinker in this case, I took his question as literal. Either way, you didn ‘t need to be a douche, you could have given him your thoughts rather than the snarky one line smug you threw out there. Especially since it appears you have diarrhea of the keyboard and like to type many ‘look how smart i am’ posts.

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  12. Kenny says:

    Everyone kept telling me that the Twins would never do a Hicks/Ramos package. Huh, guess I was right as there seems to be some validity to this rumor. How about that.

    Anyways, you have to consider what the players will mean to the Twins in terms of future playoff runs. Answer: Probably not much. How can Wilson Ramos be valuable to the Twins as a backup catcher? What, the 30 starts he gets each year will be the difference maker? This IS his only value to the Twins. Hicks has a good 3 years left until he’s making a major league impact and this isn’t a team with a lot of holes in the outfield either. Pretty deep system there. Frankly I’d be a lot more interested if the M’s managed to squeeze Sano out instead of Hicks. The M’s don’t have a great need for outfield either.

    It seems to me that this could also be smoke screen to get the Rangers to give up Smoak.. so actually, its a Smoak screen.

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    • Jason B says:

      Don’t strain to pat yourself on the back *too* hard just yet – it may still be just a rumor and nothing more. Just because a rumor is repeated doesn’t necessarily lend credence to it.

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  13. Kenny says:

    Also, it’s hard to argue against the trade for Josh Beckett, when the Sox won a ring with him. Yes, many people would say they’d take back that trade for Hanley every day of the week and twice on Sunday, but winning a ring takes a bit of the bite out of it.

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    • Erik says:

      That’s not a bad viewpoint – except it lessened the blow of losing Ramirez since the Sox still have Josh Beckett.

      There is little chance that the Twins would be able to obtain Lee beyond the 2010 season.

      With that said, as a Twins fan, I am leaning towards wishing they would do the deal if it were to bring a World Series title. I think any Twins fan would do it if they were guaranteed to see the Twins win the World Series in 2010.

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  14. Mike in MN says:

    I would, even without a guarantee they’d win it all (or even make it to the WS). We have no idea what the team will even look like in 3 years or so (when Hicks MIGHT be good enough to be in the ML). M&M are healthy. Young is adequate. Liriano and Pavano are pitching well. The bullpen (despite this weekend) is solid. The division is winnable. Fear of the future is the only reason not to go get Lee. Toolsy OF is their number 1 area of depth (ok, maybe relief pitcher) in the minors (Hicks, Benson, Morales with high ceilings, Revere, Tosoni with medium to low ceilings). Ramos’ only value is as a trade chip. If Mauer is hurt, I’m not sure the rest matters (not when $23MM is in a hurt guy), so he’s not valuable as a Twin.

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  15. TedWilson says:

    Good article.

    I’m still waiting for LaPorta and Brantley to make me regret that trade. A few writers on FG, esp the Cardinals fan, ripped that trade. It is 2010 and trust me, I am glad the Brewers made the playoffs for the 1st time in 25 years in 2008. I trade that for finishing 81-81 in 2010 any day.

    In fact, I don’t think LaPorta in 2010 would push the Brewers to .500 this year. But maybe next!!!! God knows I dream of an 84 win season!!! We are going to regret that trade so bad when we are stuck at 81 next year.


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  16. Ryan says:

    What exactly are Seattle fans hoping to get if Hicks+Ramos isn’t enough?

    The twins are the absolute last team that would overpay for a rental player, and that’s what he is because they obviously aren’t going to re-sign Lee. They’re already the best team in the AL Central without him.

    0% chance that Twins offered Hicks+Ramos or we Lee would be on his way to Minnesota already

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  17. Jon S. says:

    To The A Team: According to the playoff odds calculator, adding Lee right now increases the Twins chances of making the playoffs by 19%. That’s effing huge.

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