Controlling expectations during prospect trading season

The Hot Stove season is upon us, which means one thing: ridiculous trade suggestions from fans!

For every rumor that comes our way, whether substantiated by actual trade talks or simply the fabrication of someone’s mind, the immediate reaction from fan bases on message boards or in comments sections of websites is to celebrate the obvious impending arrival the other organization’s top prospect. Clearly, in every trade, the other team’s top prospect is the automatic return, if not multiple top prospects.

The first such example popped up on the baseball landscape on Monday, as rumors swirled that the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks were in trade talks that involved Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija heading to the Diamondbacks. Naturally, every Cubs fan expects Archie Bradley back in return.

Bradley is perhaps the best overall pitching prospect in the minors. His plus-plus fastball and plus-curveball combination are the starter kit to a top-of-the-rotation starter and potential ace. He has some command issues at the moment and walks a few too many batters, but with an athletic, workhorse-type body, there’s no reason to believe he won’t get things under control.

He spent the entire 2013 season dominating Double-A as a 20-year-old and could be in the majors by next season. The only way he’s getting traded by the Diamondbacks for anybody is if manager Kirk Gibson decides he doesn’t fit the organization’s minimum grit quota.

Bradley, of course, hasn’t been mentioned in any actual reports and isn’t going to get included in a deal for Samardzija. I’m just here to make that brutally clear. Samardzija is a fine major league pitcher, a reliable middle-of-the-rotation workhorse who won’t lead a staff but certainly makes one better. He is under contract for two more seasons, giving him slightly more trade value than many of the veterans typically moved in such deals, but still not enough for Bradley. If Cubs GM Theo Epstein managed to pry Bradley free from the Diamondbacks, even if it were just straight-up for Samardzija, he’d need to be fitted for his light saber and robe. These aren’t the prospects you want to trade. You want to send me Archie Bradley.

The Diamondbacks don’t want to watch Bradley line up against them the way the Giants will have to do with Zack Wheeler for the next decade, and Bradley is a better prospect than was Wheeler. There are only a handful of potential aces in the minors right now, and trading one of them for two years of Jeff Samardzija simply wouldn’t be sound decision-making. Perhaps if we were discussing David Price instead we’d have a different outlook, as Price is already the ace the Diamondbacks expect Bradley to become, but Samardzija is not. He’s good, he’s solid. He’s not great.

We have a track record for similar pitchers getting moved. For around a year-and-a-half of Jake Peavy, the Red Sox essentially (in a roundabout three-way trade) gave up Jose Iglesias. For a few months of Matt Garza, the Rangers sent the Cubs Mike Olt, Justin Grimm, C.J. Edwards and Neil Ramirez, which, frankly, was too much, but is not an argument for why Epstein can acquire Bradley in a Samardzija deal. James Shields and others got back Wil Myers and others for the Rays, and while Bradley is perhaps a comparable prospect to Myers, Shields is significantly better than Samardzija and thus not a good basis for a comp.

You see where I’m going with this. For a pitcher like Samardzija, the realistic return is a small package of prospects, none of whom have top-end ceilings. The Red Sox gave up a legitimate prospect in Iglesias for Peavy, but he also had question marks. All of the prospects the Rangers gave up for Garza have more questions marks than Bradley, who has an extremely high floor (there’s little chance that he totally busts). The Cubs will get some talent back from the Diamondbacks, but Bradley won’t be a part of the package.

Understanding prospects and trade rumors is about more than just knowing names and rankings within organizations. Bradley is the Diamondbacks’ top prospect, but not all organization number ones are created equal. Bradley is better than most of them.

I would expect the Cubs to pursue pitching prospects, however. They have a collection of hitting prospects that is the envy of organized baseball, but they are trailing behind on the mound. If they are going to trade away one of their most competent pitchers major league pitchers, they need to use the move to fill in the gaps in their organization.

And they likely will. If they don’t move Samardzija to the Diamondbacks, they’ll find another team with plenty of interest. They’ll make a trade and get a pitching prospect or two back in return. But Archie Bradley won’t be one of them.

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I’m not sure I see the point of the comparison of
“similar” pitchers being traded, as the author seems to come up with a caveat in each case suggesting that the situation was not actually all the similar.


Here’s a list of some pitchers and their returns using Baseball America’s rankings. So yes I agree that Shark won’t bring back Bradley but he could bring back 2-4 of a teams top 15 prospects. I also think Cubs keep him, at worst he looks like a #2 starter that can compete with an Ace from time to time over the course of a season. 1/11: Matt Garza to Chicago (NL) SP Chris Archer (1), SS Hak-Ju Lee (4), OF Brandon Guyer (10), C Robinson Chirinos (16), OF Sam Fuld 7/11: Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland SP Alex White (2), SP… Read more »