We Are Not Prompt

As is so often the case, I have virtually nothing to say about the July 4th trade that brought Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland that hasn’t already been said better elsewhere.  I don’t even have a particularly strong take on whether this is a “good trade” for the A’s, though my perspective might be a little skewed by me starting to write this while watching Hammell give up more runs to the punchless Giants in five innings than they managed to score in their other three games against the A’s combined.  My opinion at this point might best be described as “cautiously optimistic,” which is to say that I’m hopeful, but significantly less confident in the trade than I am in the forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie.  (Have you seen that trailer??!!)

One thing about the trade stands out to me, however.  It seems to me that it augurs the arrival of a seismic shift in how prospects are valued in baseball.  Everyone reading this site knows that the success the Oakland franchise has seen over the past fifteen years (give or take the Jack Cust era) is largely due to the organization’s ability to identify and capitalize on undervalued commodities.  Once upon a time, those undervalued commodities were minor league prospects – “Sure, you can have our All-Star pitcher,” Billy would tell other teams, “and all we ask in return are these six guys none of your fans have ever heard of.  I’m okay with you coming out so far ahead on this deal, because we’re best friends.”  And that’s the story of how Dan Haren was traded for every member of the A’s roster from 2008 to present.

Somewhere along the line, however, prospects went from undervalued to overvalued (presumably stopping briefly at correctly valued somewhere in the middle).  This was best exemplified in Jesus Montero, the onetime Yankee uber-prospect that the Yankees repeatedly refused to give up in scuttled trades for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, LeBron James, and Nova John C. Reilly (so excited you guys!).  The Yankees repeatedly turned down chances to get a Hall of Fame-type pitcher into their starting rotation because Jesus Montero was fated to be the golden catching god who would descend from the stars and bring peace to the galaxy along with 10-14 World Series rings to New York.

This did not happen.  If you would like to trade for Jesus Montero today, feel free to hold on to your Hall of Fame pitcher and try offering ¾ of a good hoagie instead.  The Mariners (the Mariners!) will turn you down, until you throw in some napkins as well.

This is all to say that prospects are no longer the undervalued commodities they once were.  So what is undervalued these days?  Well, if you were to ask Billy, judging by this trade he might tell you that the new undervalued commodities are “guys who have already played in the Major Leagues and been good and stuff.”  Baseball’s smartest GM does it again.

Billy knows full well who Addison Russell is – he knows a lot more about him than any of us do.  He knows that Russell might turn into “Barry Larkin with more power,” but he might also turn into Bobby Crosby.  Prospects are unknown quantities by their very nature, which is exactly what makes it so easy to make them the repositories of all our hopes and dreams.

Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, in contrast, are known quantities, in that they are known to be good.  This is a certainty, and said certainty, somewhat paradoxically, makes them less valued than the unknown quantity that is Addison Russell today, or that was Jesus Montero four years ago.

None of this is new.  What is new in the last few years is the increasing value that baseball’s trade market has placed on the unknown and the corresponding decrease in value of the known.  What this trade signifies to me is the pendulum has officially swung too far, what once was undervalued is now overvalued, and it’s time to jump on this particular inefficiency before the rest of the market catches up.

So Billy (and David Forst, and Farhan Zaidi, etc.) made the trade.  Easy peasy.

Happy Independence Day.

58-34, 1st Place in the American League West and Best Record in Baseball

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