The Most Lopsided Trade of the Decade

Last week, in discussing the minor league signings of both Adam Eaton and Bruce Chen, I mentioned that the trade sending Eaton to the Rangers in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young was arguably the most lopsided of the decade. Perhaps I was a bit too hasty in my assessment, or too eager to remind fans of the trade, because several commenters pointed out that the extremely lopsided Bartolo Colon deal in 2002 would wipe the floor with the Eaton trade. Evaluating trades is tough because it is human nature to utilize hindsight as opposed to foresight, when the rationale at the time of the trade is of equal importance. Still, when I made my comment, I was clearly evaluating the trade retrospectively. Let’s look at both of these deals.

Before getting into the details, the criteria for these evaluations needs to be crystal clear. I am only going to use Win Values for players on the teams they were traded to. So, if Eaton was traded to the Rangers and then joined the Phillies, the actual transaction analysis will see Eaton’s shorter tenure with the Rangers stacked up against Gonzalez and Young with the Padres… not the aggregate win value for each player regardless of team.

Eaton spent the 2006 season with the Rangers and the disabled list, pitching in just 65 IP with a +0.6 WAR. From 2006-2008, Chris Young sandwiched a very solid season with two slightly below average ones, amassing a total of +5.4 WAR over the three-year span. In the same window, Gonzalez proved to be very durable and productive, producing win values of +3.8, +3.2, and +3.5, for a total of +10.5 and an average of +3.5 wins/season. Put together, the valuation of this trade looks like +15.9 wins for the Padres and +0.6 for the Rangers, a difference of +15.3 wins in total and +5.1 wins/season. Does the Colon deal surpass this mark?

Update: I realize I neglected to include both Akinori Otsuka and Termel Sledge as part of the trade. With Otsuka’s +3 wins for the Rangers and Sledge’s -0.7 wins for the Padres factored in, the results shrink to +15.2 wins for the Padres and +3.6 for the Rangers, a difference of +11.6 wins.

The Colon deal in question took place halfway through the 2002 season, when the Indians sent their ace right-hander to the Expos in exchange for prospects Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips. At the time of the trade, Colon was still at his peak, pitching a boatload of innings and producing effectively in them. In that 2002 season, he was worth a total of +4.7 wins, +2.3 of which were earned in Montreal. He pitched to the same tune of +4.7 wins in 2003, although that season was spent with the White Sox, not the Expos. The Expos portion of this deal is the +2.3 wins provided by Colon following the trade.

How about the others? Well, Brandon Phillips has a solid reputation now, but he didn’t really fit into the Indians grand scheme and actually cost them -1.1 wins in his four years with the team. Cliff Lee had a tremendous 2008 season but was by no means an all-star up to that point, yet he has still managed to give the Indians +16.4 wins over his seven-year career following the trade. And Grady Sizemore… well, he’s just an amazing talent, worth +26.1 wins since his 2004 debut. Put together, Phillips, Lee, and Sizemore added +41.4 wins to the Indians. Colon added +2.3 to the Expos, resulting in a difference of +39.1 wins favoring the Indians, over two and a half times the difference in the Eaton trade.

This isn’t a perfect method by any means but it gets the job done for our own intents and purposes. So, yes, the Colon deal was vastly more lopsided. Anyone else have any trades of potentially large lopsided magnitudes to evaluate?

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

56 Responses to “The Most Lopsided Trade of the Decade”

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  1. Rahul says:

    Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser to the Twins for AJ Pierzynski.

    This one would have been a lot more interesting had Liriano not missed most of the last two years, but still those three players have accumulated 23.5 wins for the Twins to date, while Pierzynski spent one year for the Giants as a league average player, getting 2 wins.

    This still has potential to become more lopsided, but still has a long ways to go to catch up to the Indians trade.

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  2. Teleamchus says:

    Nathan, Liriano and Boof for A.J. Pierzynski has to be right up there…Although probably not as high since Liriano hasn’t pitched in the majors enough.

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  3. Joe M. says:

    A.J. Pierzynski for Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser was a bad trade. It probably doesn’t match up with the Colon trade, due to Liriano’s lack of innings and Bonser’s lack of talent, but that trade was very lopsided

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      I think the thing that’s making the AJ trade not appear as lopsided as Colon is that, even though Nathan has a sterling reputation as a closer, relievers generally are not worth that much. Bonser isn’t that tremendous either, and Liriano had a monster rookie season before going under the knife.

      Right now it is +39.1 to +21.5 in favor of Colon. AJ cannot add any more to the Giants, meaning Liriano, Nathan, and Bonser control its fate. Liriano and Nathan realistically don’t have to do much to bring things closer but don’t forget that it isn’t as if Lee or Sizemore are going to stop playing.

      For instance, say Sizemore and Lee were traded tomorrow, and the Colon deal ended at +39.1 favoring the Indians… then if Liriano pitches 4 seasons with an average of 3 wins/yr, and Nathan pitches the next 4 yrs of his contract (up after 2012) at +2 wins/yr, the AJ deal goes from +21.5 for the Giants to +41.5 for the Giants… but Sizemore and Lee are likely to continue adding to the Indians meaning it’ll be really tough for this AJ deal to come close.

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      • JH says:

        The caveat should be that teams should only get credit for club-controlled years. Any years the team gets from acquired players as a result of new contracts should be void for the purposes of this discussion.

        I don’t exactly know how to handle long-term contracts like Sizemore’s, which takes him through one year of free agency with a club option for a second at dirt cheap (for a player of his skills). The Indians couldn’t have signed that deal without the trade. Maybe those years get counted, but any time a player acquired in trade gets a free agent contract, those wins don’t?

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      • lookatthosetwins says:

        I think if we had this discussion 2 years ago, that would be thought of as the most lobsided trade, but things haven’t gone well for two of the three since. In ’06, Bonser was looking like he was going to be a solid middle of the rotation starter, and Liriano looked like Sandy Koufax (not that I’ve ever seen Koufax pitch). Nathan being the best closer in the game was just a throw in. Now Liriano’s trying to come back without the same stuff he had a few years ago, and after 2 mediocre years Bonser is going to miss the season with shoulder surgery.

        I think everyone thought that this was going to be the most lobsided trade in history a few years ago. The fact that the last few years have been unkind to 2 of the three, and it’s still very lobsided in terms of win values should tell you why people thought that at the time.

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  4. Aron says:

    It will be interesting to see how the Mariners / Orioles trade from last year pans out long term. In 2008, Erik Bedard netted the M’s 1.1 wins, while Sherrill was good for .4, Adam Jones totaled 2.2, and Kam Mickolio chipped in with .2 wins for the Orioles.

    Bedard looks healthy this year, but may leave or be traded. Meanwhile, Jones has only begun to dip into his talent and Chris Tillman looks like a potential stud down the road. Tony Butler may even have something to say before this is all said and done. This trade has the potential to look very ugly in five years if the Mariners aren’t able to keep Bedard around and healthy.

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  5. Bill says:

    Every Sox fan favorite trade: Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocomb.

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  6. Kazmir-Zambrano might get up there eventually, pretty amazing for a one to one deal. Zambrano was worth two wins to New York and Kazmir is at 15.5 wins for Tampa and could be around there for awhile yet.

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  7. DW says:

    Yeah, the AJP deal Sabean did pops out at you. It was the first thing that I thought of.

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  8. TE says:

    What about the 2 WAR from Akinori Otsuka?

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  9. Rafa says:

    Worst trade ever: Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields. (Yes, this is potentially hyperbole.)

    Damn you Fred Claire!

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  10. It’s also worth mentioning that Giants released Pierzynski after that one season.

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  11. vivaelpujols says:

    How about Mulder for Haren, Calero and Barton. Since that trade, Mulder has been worth 1.4 WAR for the Cards, while Haren, Calero and Barton were worth a combined 17.5 WAR for the A’s. And Barton is very young and could be a very good player in future years as well.

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    • JH says:

      That raises another question: should the A’s get credit for flipping Haren and turning him into a few other players who will be adding wins for them in the near future? If you get to include Brett Anderson as a residual benefit of the Mulder trade, it starts to look a lot better.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        I still think that they shouldn’t have trade Haren. I am sure that they could really use him for the playoff run this year.

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      • JH says:

        I disagree, mostly because I don’t think you’re putting “A’s” and “playoff run” in the same sentence this year without Matt Holliday, and they were able to trade the surplus prospects from the Haren deal to pull that off.

        Also, I think 6 years of Brett Anderson will outweigh 2 of Haren on its own. Anything they get from Cunningham, Eveland, and 2/3rds of Matt Holliday is icing on the cake.

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      • a's says:

        2 years of Mark Mulder

        4 years of Kiko Calero
        3 years of Dan Haren
        Daric Barton
        Brett Anderson
        Aaron Cunningham
        Chris Carter
        Dana Eveland
        1 mediocre year of Carlos Gonzalez and 1 career year of Greg Smith
        1 year of Matt Holliday
        – 2 years of Huston Street

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  12. Berkmaniac says:

    Jeff Bagwell to the Astros for Larry Andersen to the Red Sox. LOL! Bagwell had a career 80.2 WAR, all with the Astros. Andersen had only 1 save in 22 IP for the Red Sox before he became a FA and signed with the Padres.

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    • Kevin says:

      Exactly the point I make below. You can’t go by Bags’ career WAR. You can only count his WAR for his six years of team control, or arguably until his first extension expired, if he didn’t go the Boras-client route. Still a kick-ass trade, but not an 80-win swing.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        An extension is a lot easier to get done than a free agent signing. If Bagwell had been a free agent when he signed the extension, he would have gotten a lot more money and probably would have been out of the Astro’s price range.

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      • Kevin says:

        vivaelpujols, ease isn’t the question. You trade contracts, not players. At some point, you can’t credit a player’s continued production as the benefits of a trade.

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  13. OsandRoayals says:

    I feel that its being left unsaid that the Colon trade had the unique consideration in that the Montreal Expos assumed they were going to be disbanded and so had to have a win now attitude.

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  14. Kevin says:

    I agree with JH. Since you trade contracts, you can’t give a guy credit if he re-signs with you in free agency. How do you handle extensions before that, though? Like JH said, they wouldn’t have been in a position to offer that extension without the trade. Regardless, you can’t just give them credit for a guy’s entire tenure, like saying the Braves fleeced the Tigers because they traded an aging Doyle Alexander for twenty years of John Smoltz.

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  15. Brian Recca says:

    Actually I believe the Mets also received Bartolume Fortunato in the Kazmir, Zambrano deal.

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  16. Boomer says:

    My entry
    Angels trade Jim Edmonds to the Cardinals for Kent Bottenfield & Adam Kennedy.

    Edmonds – 51.1 WAR
    Bottenfield – 0.1 WAR
    Kennedy – 17.2 WAR

    Difference = +33.8 WAR for the Cardinals.

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  17. Phil says:

    rolen for polanco timlin and bud smith?

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  18. NickP says:

    It probably won’t change for most of these since it’s a veteran for a bunch of youngsters, but I think you need to explicitly talk about the money involved.

    If you trade for a guy making $20 million and he gives you 2 wins by giving up a guy that makes $1 million and produces 1 win, I wouldn’t call the trade a win since you picked up 1 WAR.

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  19. Ted says:

    This probably should not be counted in the evaluation, but it somehow seems in the spirit of this exercise: Trading Pierzynski for Nathan, Liriano and Bonser wasn’t just a fleecing, it also paved the way for Joe Mauer to contribute 19.7 wins since his debut in 2004. And that to the total, and this trade begins to dwarf the Colon deal. Though here it might be beneficial to discount AJ’s win value total since leaving the Twins, even though it includes four seasons with the White Sox.

    In fact, maybe this could add some sophistication to the analysis. Since trades do not happen in a vacuum, perhaps the deficit for Montreal should be discounted by whatever win values they cobbled together from whomever played center field for them during the 2004-2008 seasons. And so on.

    So, the real value of the trade is Colon, plus the difference between Sizemore in 2004-2008 (which is speculative, because he might have made the Montreal club either before or after 2004), plus the difference between Cliff Lee and Montreal’s number five pitchers since the trade (again speculative, working under the assumption that Cliff Lee would have replaced the least effective starter from each of those seasons), plus the difference between Brandon Phillips and Montreal’s actual second basemen (and here I think it would be useful to penalize Montreal for the entirety of Phillips’ career, not just the portion spent with Cleveland).

    I don’t know, having written all that it seems somewhat unworkable. But I am going to post it anyway because, well, why not.

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    • Kevin says:

      Yes, trades aren’t made in a vacuum, but those are decisions that aren’t part of the value exchange. San Francisco didn’t give the Twins Joe Mauer; they already had him. While Minnesota certainly benefited by clearing AJ out of the way, that’s immaterial to the fact that the trade was a fleecing. If they had traded him for just Bonser, say, then they’d still have the benefit of Mauer playing, but it wouldn’t really be a good trade.

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      • lookatthosetwins says:

        Yeah, I was going to make the same argument about Mauer, but decided against it as I thought about it a little bit more.
        I think it does make the trade a little bit better, as they were trading an expendable part, and not losing any value at the position. If they traded him and got awful production at that position, then they would be losing that value at the position, and the trade would be worse for them, at least for that one year.

        But it really depends on what you are talking about in terms of a lopsided deal. If you are thinking completely on the lines of value given and value taken in, then you don’t count the players they are replacing or take into account the state of the team at that time. But if you are talking about how much this trade benefited the Twins, then I think you add Mauer’s WAR for that year only.

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  20. Matt B. says:

    Jose Cruz Jr to the Jays for Timlin and another reliever (either Slocumb or Spoljaric) was a pretty good trade for the Jays back in the day… This is when Cruz could do no wrong for the M’s…

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    • LB says:

      Slocumb was never a Blue Jay, and was certainly not traded to the Mariners twice. It was Spoljaric, and yes it was another awful fucking trade for at best ehh relievers while giving up young team controlled talent.

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  21. JI says:

    How about the McGwire for Mathews/Ludwick/Stien(?) trade.

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    • Johnny Dickshot says:

      That one’s tough to evaluate because McGwire’s impact on the Cardinals (and history) goes far beyond the win column.

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  22. Kirk says:

    I think there are several parameters missing from your Colon analysis.

    A) Colon’s 2+ wins could have made the difference in making the playoffs and having an ace would be very important in the playoffs. They didn’t but at some point you need to take a shot at it. Kind of like the CC – LaPorta+ trade this year. Using this simple analysis there is no way that the Brewers can come close to looking good.

    B) Montreal still got 2 draft picks in the deal which have some value.

    C) It’s already been mentioned that Montreal had some unusual concerns regarding contraction.

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  23. Bill says:

    Danny Cater for Sparky Lyle.

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  24. Dutch says:

    Tim Hudson for Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer, and Charles Thomas.


    Fred McGriff for Melvin Nieves, Donnie Elliott, and Vince Moore.

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  25. Scott says:

    How about Aramis Ramirez/Kenny Lofton for Jose Hernandez/Matt Bruback/Bobby Hill between the Cubs and Pirates in 2003?

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  26. longbeachglenn says:

    The Mariner’s, for a change, did get the better of the Jaime Moyer for Greg Briley trade.

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  27. abun24 says:

    It wass Jamie Moyer for Daren Bragg.

    But they lost out on Ramon Vazquez for Carlos Guillen, among others.

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  28. Jay says:

    Kirk — I don’t see how the Expos could have ended up with draft picks, since Colon didn’t leave as a free agent.

    However, this does point up a weakness in the method, i.e., arbitrarily cutting off the “wins added” tabulation at the moment the acquired player leaves his new team. I think, in the Colon deal for example, that the Expos should get additional credit for either (a) the wins Colon contributed to his next team (the White Sox) after the Expos traded him there, through the end of his then-current contract (one season), or (b) Colon’s projected win value through the end of his then-current contract at the time the Expos traded him.

    By the same token, the Indians get credit for Brandon Phillips’ win value through his then-current contract (under club control through 2010), or at least for his projected win value at the moment they traded him in March 2006. (Obviously, those two numbers are quite different!) Either way, the point is that the value the acquiring team gets out of the trade includes the new players’ value in future trades. You could go further and evaluate the win value of players received in those subsequent trades, but that is (a) overly complicated and (b) diluting the immediate question (how good/bad was this trade) with others (how good/bad were subsequent trades).

    Of course, there are other good adjustments you could make. The leveraged value of wins with respect to playoff contention might be a useful adjustment, and one which appropriate brings deadline deals into their true contexts. Another would be the time value of money and wins — Grady Sizemore might still be racking up win value for the Indians, but a win in 2011 is not as valuable as a win in 2002.

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  29. Kevin says:

    One issue that I was wondering about is that some trades aren’t zero-sum. Look at the Johan trade. The Twins traded one year of Santana for the Carlos Gomez pu-pu platter. But because Santana’s extension was a requirement for the trade to go through, the Mets traded those players for seven years of Santana. The trade specifically generated the new contract. How do you look at that?

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  30. Jim says:

    Well, extend-and-trade(like Santanna), should probably count. I.e. just count all the years of club control from the trade. That does bring up the money issue. Perhaps include the money the players were payed during the years of club control as a factor? Another example: the Soriano for A-Rod trade.

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  31. Noel Loans says:

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  32. JoeyO says:

    Know this is really late now, but wanted to point out a couple major flaws in the process.

    First, it doesnt matter what team the player ended up playing for to get the value totals. If I traded Adam A for Bobby B and Casey C then immediately traded Bobby B for Danny D, you wouldnt value the trade as only Adam A for Casey C, Bobby B’s value must be accounted for.

    And that brings us to the fact that all teams involved need have their own Win vs Cost value – the trades themselves cant be looked at as even Win/Cost sum. In the above, it would be the controlled value of Adam A against the controlled value of Bobby B and Casey C for one team and Controlled Adam A against Controlled Casey C and Danny D for the other. In the two trades mentioned in the comparison, this is what was actually swapped

    Cleveland paid 2 years of Bartolo Colon and 5 years of Tim Drew to get 1/2 year of Lee Stevens, 7 years of Lee (after extension), 8 years of Sizemore (after extension), 4 years of Phillips, and a big chunk of Mark DeRosa (through Jeff Stevens who was received for him) which then became Chris Perez and Jess Stevens. Lee was also traded for 6 years of Carlos Carrasco, 6 years of Jason Donald, 6 years of Jason Knapp and 6 years of Lou Marson. That is a gigantic haul for 2 years of Colon and 5 of a low-value Drew. And while their return value can be added up now, it will be another 8 or more years before we know the true return they got for Colon – its going to be paying off for many years to come.

    But, Montreal paid 1/2 year of Stevens, 6 years of Lee, 6 years of Sizemore and 6 years of Phillips for 1 year of Colon and 2 years of Tim Drew plus 2 years of Biddle, 1/2 year of Leifer and an injured season of Orlando Hernandez where he never pitched (once their Colon/Sox trade is accounted for). Their value is then dead at that point as the players played out their contracts or were released.

    Those two values for the respective teams will be very different.

    On to the other deal – we have

    San Diego paid 1 year of Eaton, 2 years of Otsuka and 6 years of Billy Killian for 6 years of Gonzalez, 4 years of Sledge and 5 years of Young.

    In this case, no one has been traded since so this is the same for the Rangers just in reverse.

    Only thing is this one isnt done yet. The Rangers can no longer collect any value, their side is dead. But whatever SD gets when they trade Gonzalez and/or Young will still be return from that initial cost of 1 year of Eaton, 2 years of Otsuka and 6 years of (never to reach the majors) Killian.

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  33. saj says:

    You just can’t look at trades this way. It’s all about the money, as we’ve seen for the past 2 off seasons. Teams often aren’t looking for fair value in a trade, they just want to dump salary commitments and they will give away great talent for next to nothing. It proves nothing. Only $ equivalent trades can be examined like this.

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  34. steve shane says:

    i doubt anyone will see this bc of the large # of comments but it has to be said that stadiums/leagues play a significant role in the effectiveness of a player.

    For example, Chris Young, is an extreme fly ball pitcher. The Ball Park at Arlington is not conducive to FB pitchers. PETCO park is conducive to FB pitchers….. thus you MUST take into account the fact that a team knows that a certain type of player would not succeed in a certain environment (whether that be a big city/ball park configuration/lineup…) when trying to gauge their overall value.

    to say the chris young was worth X WAR for the padres DOES NOT mean that he would have been worth X WAR for the rangers.

    also, to only account for the players values during their tenures for the respected ball clubs is VERY SHORTSIGHTED. lets say team a trades player X to team b for player Y. but team b trades player Y to team C for player Z. to only account for player X and player Y’s values and not account for the fact that player Y netted player Z is just plain stupid, and why this is the case in this article is beyond me.

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  35. exxrox says:

    Agreed with steve shane…please take into account the players that the Indians received for Brandon Phillips in this calculation.

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