Ruben Amaro Jr. Says Teams “Over-Covet” Prospects; Is He Right?

Many are questioning the thought process behind Ruben Amaro Jr. standing pat at the non-waiver trade deadline.  The Phillies have a lot of veterans under fairly large contracts.  According to Philly.com, when asked about why he didn’t move some of his veterans, Amaro stated

“In this day and age, I think one of the most over-coveted elements of baseball are prospects,” Amaro said. “I don’t know how many prospects that have been dealt over the last several years have really come to bite people in the a**. I think what’s happened is, I think teams are really kind of overvaluing in some regards.”

I thought it would be fun to actually go back and see how many prospects or minor league players who were traded at the deadline panned out.  I went back to 2005 and used every single transaction that involved both an MLB player and a prospect (I considered a prospect a guy who had never been in the MLB, or a guy who had been in the MLB but had yet to achieve rookie status).  I also strictly used trades that were done on July 31, in each year from 2005-2011.  I skipped 2012 and 2013 because it’s harder to get a gauge on whether or not prospects traded will make it or have any success.  Also, from 2011 until now, prospects have had about three years to get to the big leagues and I felt that was a good place to end. 

There were 53 transactions in that time, some very minor, some very major, and some in between. I took each transaction and compiled each player’s WAR after the trade (WARAT).  I still applied this criteria if there was a player who was traded on two different July 31s.  For example, Jake Peavy was traded twice, so his WARAT will be different from one trade to the next.  Some players appear as prospects and MLB guys as well, like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was traded as a prospect, and later on once he was not considered a rookie anymore.

I will look at the percentage of prospects that never made it, the percentage that made it but provided negative WAR, and the percentage that made it and provided positive WAR.  I will then look at the MLB guys who were traded and the percentage of guys who provided positive and negative WAR for the remainder of their careers.

The data I found was very interesting.  There were 85 “prospects” traded and 66 MLB guys traded. Below is a table with each trade.  In parenthesis, I noted whether each player was a prospect (P) or an MLB guy at the time.  I will then have their WARAT, or WAR after trade.  If a prospect never made it to the show, I use the abbreviation “NMI.”

TEAM A TEAM B
2005  
Kyle Brono (P, NMI) & Kenny Perez (P, NMI) Jose Cruz Jr. (MLB, 3.2)
Kyle Farnsworth (MLB, 3.2) Zach Miner (P, 2.7) & Roman Colon (P, NMI)
Geoff Blum (MLB, 3.2) Ryan Meaux (NMI)
Ron Villone (MLB, -0.6) Yorman Bazardo (P, 0.2) & Michael Flannery (NMI)
Miguel Olivo (MLB, 7.7) Miguel Ojeda (MLB, -0.3) & Nathaneal Mateo (P, NMI)
2006  
Rich Scalamandre (P, NMI) Jorge Sosa (MLB, -0.1)
Todd Walker (MLB, 0.7) Jose Ceda (P, 0)
Rheal Cormier (MLB, -0.3) Justin Germano (P, 0.4)
Kyle Lohse (MLB, 17.6) Zach Ward (P, NMI)
Jeremy Affeldt (MLB, 2.5) & Denny Bautista (MLB, -0.2) Ryan Shealy (P, 0.7) & Scott Dohmann (P, -0.4)
Sean Casey (MLB, -0.8) Brian Rogers (P, -0.3)
Jose Diaz (P, NMI) Matt Stairs (MLB, 0.9)
Julio Lugo (MLB, -0.8) Joel Guzman (P, -0.2) & Sergio Pedroza (P, NMI)
Jesse Chavez (P, 0.9) Kip Wells (MLB, 0.2)
2007  
Mark Teixeira (MLB, 24.7) & Ron Mahay (MLB, 0.6) Jarrod Saltalamacchia (P, 8.2) & Elvis Andrus (P, 17.6) & Neftali Feliz (P, 4.8) & Matt Harrison (8.8) & Beau Jones (P, NMI)
Eric Gagne (MLB, -0.8) Kason Gabbard (P, 0.4) & David Murphy (10.4) & Engel Beltre (P, NMI)
Jon Link (P, 0) Rob Mackowiak (MLB, -0.7)
Julio Mateo (MLB, 0.2) Jesus Merchen (P, NMI)
Matt Morris (MLB, 0.1) Rajai Davis (P, 8.4)
Wilfredo Ledezma (MLB, 0) & Will Startup (P, NMI) Royce Ring (P, 0)
2008  
Jason Bay (MLB, 6.1) Manny Ramirez (MLB, 6) & Craig Hanson (P, -0.5) & Brandon Moss (P, 6.3)
Ken Griffey Jr. (MLB, -1.1) Nick Masset (P, 2.4) & Danny Richar (P, -0.2)
Arthur Rhodes (MLB, 1.7) Gaby Hernandez (P, NMI)
Manny Ramirez (^) Andy LaRoche (P, 0.3) & Bryan Morris (P, -1.4)
2009  
Aaron Poreda (P, 0.1) & Adam Russell (P, 0) & Clayton Richard (P, 0.7) Jake Peavy (MLB, 13.2)
Jarrod Washburn (MLB, -0.4) & Mauricio Robles (P, 0.1) Luke French (P, -0.5)
Vinny Rottino (P, 0.1) Claudio Vargas (MLB, 0.1)
Orlando Cabrera (MLB, 0.3) Tyler Ladendorf (P, NMI)
Edwin Encarnacion (MLB, 13.8) & Josh Roenicke (P, 0.1) Scott Rolen (MLB, 7.4) & Zach Stewart (P, -0.4)
Joe Beimal (MLB, -0.3) Ryan Matheus (P, -0.3) & Robinson Fabian (P,NMI)
Nick Johnson (MLB, 0.5) Aaron Thompson (P, -0.2)
Victor Martinez (MLB, 10.9) Justin Masterson (P, 13.7) & Bryon Price (P, NMI) & Nick Hagadone (P, 0)
Chase Weems (P, NMI) Jerry Hairston (MLB, 3.1)
2010  
Bobby Crosby (MLB, -0.1) & DJ Carrasco (MLB, -0.5) & Ryan Church (MLB, 0.5) Chris Snyder (MLB, -0.1) & Pedro Ciriaco (P, 0.1)
Lance Berkman (MLB, 4.5) Jimmy Paredes (P, -1.6) & Mark Melancon (P, 3.3)
Ramon Ramirez (MLB, 0.6) Daniel Turpen (P, NMI)
Christian Guzman (MLB, -0.7) Ryan Tutusko (P, NMI) & Tanner Roark (P, 3.6)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (MLB, 8.7) Roman Mendez (P, 0.1) & Chris McGuiness (P, -0.4)
Javier Lopez (MLB, 2.8) Joe Martinez (P, 0.2) & John Bowker (MLB, -1)
Octavio Dotel (MLB, 2.4) James McDonald (MLB, 2.9) & Andrew Lambo (P, -0.2)
Rick Ankiel (MLB, 1) & Kyle Farnsworth (MLB, 1) Tim Collins (P, 1.4) & Gregor Blanco (MLB, 6.2) & Jesse Chavez (MLB, 1.5)
Corey Kluber (P, 8.4) Jake Westbrook (MLB, 3.8)
Nick Greenwood (P, 0) Ryan Ludwick (MLB, 1.4)
Ted Lilly (MLB, 2.8) & Ryan Theriot (MLB, 0.5) Blake DeWitt (MLB, -0.5) & Kyle Smit (P, NMI) & Brett Wallach (P, NMI)
2011  
Orlando Cabrera (MLB, -0.7) Thomas Neal (P, -0.6)
Derrek Lee (MLB, 1.7) Aaron Baker (P, NMI)
Michael Bourn (MLB, 9.1) Jordan Schafer (MLB, 0.1) & Juan Abreu (P, 0) & Paul Clemens (P, -1.4) & Brett Oberholtzer (P, 2.9)
Alex Castellanos (P, -0.6) Rafael Furcal (MLB, 1.2)
Brad Ziegler (MLB, 2.1) Brandon Allen (P, -0.4) & Jordan Norberto (P, 0.3)
Mike Adams (MLB, 1.2) Robbie Erlin (P, 1.1) & Joe Weiland (P, -0.1)
Erik Bedard (MLB, 3.4) Josh Fields (P, 0.9) & Trayvon Robinson (P, -0.7) & Chih-Hsien Chiang (P, NMI)
Ubaldo Jimenez (MLB, 4.8) Alex White (P, -0.2) & Joe Gardner (P, NMI) & Matt McBride (P, -1.2)

 As you can see, some trades worked out better than others.  Of the 85 prospects, 72.9% of them (62) made it to the big leagues.  So, that means 23 prospects, or 27.1% of those traded, never stepped on a big league field.  Of the 62 that made it, 32 were good for positive WAR after the trade, 21 were worth negative WAR, and 9 were at 0 WAR. The WAR of all the prospects that made it adds up to 97.8.  That’s an average of about 1.2 WAR per prospect. 

Now we can analyze the MLB guys. There is a wide variety of age in the group of 66 MLB players.  Some were traded fairly early in their MLB careers; some were traded as their career was winding down.  I found that 69.6% of these players (46) were good for positive WAR after they were traded.  19 players (28.7%) were worth negative WAR, and 1 player was worth zero WAR after the trade. When you add their WAR together, you get 178.8, averaging 2.7 WAR per MLB player traded.

So, on average, teams were trading an MLB guy that would be worth 2.7 WAR for the rest of their career, for a prospect that would turn out to be worth 1.2 WAR in that same time period.

In addition, if you add up the total WARAT for each individual trade, the MLB player’s WARAT was higher than the prospect’s WARAT in 32 of the 53 trades (60.3%).  The prospect’s WARAT was higher in 17 of 53 trades (32%).  Finally, there were three trades that cancelled each other out, and were neutral.

There are many ways to look at this and some things to keep in mind.  It may seem like trading an established big leaguer is not smart from these numbers.  However, it depends on the situation a team is in.  Also, most of these “prospects” have yet to finish their MLB careers, so they are still in the process of racking up WAR. Good examples include Kluber, Masterson, Moss, Murphy, Andrus, Davis, and Feliz. On the other hand, some of the MLB guys were traded when they were still pretty young.  Saltalamacchia, Martinez, Teixeira and Encarnacion are examples, but they are still older than most right now.  These guys are providing most of the WARAT for the MLB guys. Also, some of the MLB guys were so old that they only lasted another couple years in the MLB. 

You have to take money into account as well.  For some trades, teams are not only getting prospects in return, but they’re dumping salary and now have money they could spend elsewhere in the off-season. One example of a trade that worked out really well for one team and not so well for another was the huge Braves-Rangers trade.  The Braves received Mark Teixeira, and traded four prospects that have all turned out well.  Teixeira was great for Atlanta, but was only there for half of 2007 and half of 2008, with the Braves not even advancing to the postseason with him.  The Rangers however, got guys who helped the Rangers reach the World Series in 2010 and 2011.  Be careful with the prospects you trade away.

Since I am relating this article to Ruben Amaro Jr., I will connect this data to the Phillies’ current situation.  The evidence shows it probably would have been smart for them to move their older, more expensive players for prospects, even if they aren’t considered top prospects.  Amaro stated that he doesn’t know how many prospects in past years have come back to bite teams.  Yes, not every prospect is going to pan out.  And yes, some of them could come back to bite.  However, as mentioned before, over 70% of prospects dealt at the deadline from 2005-2011 at least made it to the major leagues.  There is also a good chance that most prospects that make it will contribute positive WAR.  That’s a pretty good turnout. Hamels, Utley, Rollins, Papelbon, Howard, Burnett, and Byrd will all be north of 30 years old next year, with some over 35.  So, they do not have young guys who are already established, like Martinez, Encarnacion, and Teixeira like I talked about earlier.  They are old.  The current Phillies team has proven it’s not going to win, so why wouldn’t they trade off some of their assets, and take a chance on some prospects panning out, while at the same time free up money for future off-seasons? They are not going to win in 2015 or 2016 most likely, so even if their current players still provide positive WAR in the next two years, what’s the point in keeping them around?  Go out and completely reload and blow the roster up.  With the amount of guys they could trade, or could have traded, you’re bound to have some of the prospects you get in return pan out, as the data above suggests.  Stock up the minor league system, and take the hit at the major league level for a couple years.  Add that to the money they will be saving, and they will be well-equipped to contend in three years.

Prospects are not “over-coveted” in baseball.  The problem for Amaro and the Phillies is that they do not have the right people in charge of evaluating and developing prospects.  They have traded for prospects in the past, such as the Pence and Victorino trades in 2012 (not included above) and have not gotten good returns.  So, maybe Ruben Amaro Jr. just isn’t very good at what he does, and wants to believe that giving up major-league veterans for prospects when your team is completely out of it is not a good idea.




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I am a junior at East Stroudsburg University of PA. Majoring in communications and minoring in English, I'm aspiring to be a baseball writer. I have a passion for the Red Sox, and MLB and statistics in general.


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rustydude
Member
2 years 17 days ago

Bring back Connie Mack.

Carl
Guest
Carl
2 years 17 days ago

Amaro’s comment is a classic example of sour grapes. He has no ability to evaluate players (only within the past year was a token sabrmetrics guy added) even though he’s convinced he does. His trades have been disastrous, as have been his draft picks (e.g. 2011 top pick Larry Greene is STILL is single-A). The Phillies farm system is horrible and high-A Clearwater is singly the worst affiliate in the MiLB per CBS Sports*. Until recently only two pitchers from their minors, Madson and Bastardo, made it to the majors in the last DECADE. Amaro is absolutely clueless as a GM and was recently listed as dead last in a Sporting News list rating GMs. It will be a glorious day in Philly when he’s finally gone.

*http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/eye-on-baseball/24637049/the-phillies-high-a-affiliate-is-possibly-not-good-at-baseball)

michael
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michael
2 years 17 days ago

Amaro is being self-serving. If prospects were so valueless, why does he keep asking for so many of them, and only of the highest caliber, regardless of what he’s offering. there are times when a veteran player has more value staying put than in any trade, and amaro should recognize that. And, from an economic standpoint, a good, cost controlled young player is more economically efficient than even a superior veteran. Amaro believes has has a jewel box of assets that other GM’s should line up for. But the market tells us otherwise. There have been roughly three dozen players moved. Not one is a Philly.

wes
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wes
2 years 17 days ago

Not to defend RAJ, but I don’t think that the author has really answered the question about the worth of prospects versus the worth of veteran players. 1.2 is less than 2.7, whether you respect the respective GM or not.

If the data shows that prospects are generating less WAR than the traded players you can’t just say, “yeah, but bad Phillies, bad RAJ.”

Just based on the pool of prospects listed in the article it looks like the expected value of a prospect would be 27%*0 (those who didn’t make the majors) + 28% * the average negative WAR of those players with negative WAR + 47% * the average positive WAR of those players who made MLB and posted positive value. One might want to project those sums over the some reasonable time horizon. Similarly, the expected value of a traded veteran would be estimated using the usual age penalty (0.5 WAR per year?). This ignores cost, but in the case of the Phillies the salaries of Utley, Rollins, etc. isn’t really the problem. But in general including salary into the expected value equation would be straight forward.

And this totally ignores the fact that if you remove Utley, Rollins, etc., the Phillies are a 100 to 110 loss team. So attendance drops, revenue drops, tv rating drop, and the new tv contract doesn’t help that much.

Joe pass
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Joe pass
2 years 16 days ago

Reuben and Reuben alone also killed Dom brown .. He can’t play left field he can play right field not well but much better than left field .. He can’t go it his left .. Notice last nights game error to his left and very good play to his right glove hand.. . His judgement and nopoleanoic view on this team killed it. Please for the good of philly resign…..or better yet get promoted to president ..just stay out of personal moves….you don’t have it…also the other gms don’t like you and make a fool of you behind your back

bflaff
Guest
bflaff
2 years 15 days ago

Might make sense to look at this issue through the lens of Amaro himself, since his personal experience w/r/t prospects vs. vets probably matters to him more than what some other GM has experienced.

Nathaniel Dawson
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Nathaniel Dawson
2 years 15 days ago

Why use total career WAR after the trade for the veterans? Teams that trade for veterans typically only get 1/2 to 1 1/2 seasons out of the vets before their current contract expires. I tealize it would make a much more difficult study, but this does reflect reality for major league teams.

The same could be true for the prospects, that not all of their career WAR is produced during their years of team control, but you would find that the vast majority of it is.

Things that major league teams have to consider when analyzing results of trades like this:

Time remaining on the contract of the veteran player.
Current and future salary obligations to the players.
Possible draft pick compensation value a team might realize from the veteran players.

All these things have to be considered to fully evaluate whether major league teams have placed the appropriate value on prospects.

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