Written by: Andrew Lowe (@ALowe710)
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Recently in my league, a few trades went down that I couldn’t help but write about. I’m not going to analyze the trades so much as I’m going to look at what it means for The Process. Team A is the team to focus on here, and I’ll provide some background. The owner is one of the most active owners I’ve ever played with and he’s been in the league for three years. He took over a pretty defunct team that was finishing just outside of the playoffs and he completely blew it up. At the pinnacle of his rebuild, he had amassed more than 60 prospects. But a few weeks ago, something went off in this man’s head and he started trading away all of his best young players.
Here’s the trade that started it all:
(the agreed trade was actually slightly different: four 1sts and two 2nds next year instead of the two 1sts this year)
And then this happened a few weeks later:
As well as this on the same day:
|Team A trades away||Team D trades away|
|Lewis Brinson||Justin Verlander|
|Willie Calhoun||Josh Donaldson|
The question that bears asking following this madness is simple: When do you bail on all the prospects and the (likely) losing and pull the trigger on some blockbuster moves that open your contention window? It probably depends on a few factors: How patient are you? How good are the prospects you’re trading away/how confident are you that they eventually hit their ceilings? And whom are you acquiring?
The clearest example of The Process in real sports is the Sam Hinkie-led Philadelphia 76ers, but before them came the Hinkie-assisted, Daryl Morey-led Houston Rockets. The Rockets had gathered assets in preparation for a big move, and it came in the form of a trade for James Harden. While the move has not led to any championships yet, it has boosted the Rockets into the top tier of the Western Conference, and Houston currently holds the best record in the NBA this season. They first gathered assets and then traded most of the cupboard for their future franchise cornerstone.
I think the Harden trade can be easily compared to the Ohtani trade from above. Both players are/were hyped at the time of the trades as potential franchise players who have shown a lot of talent – Harden in short bursts off the bench and Ohtani in Japan being an impressive two-way player. Both commanded heavy prices in trade. While the jury is out on Ohtani in the majors, the trade for Harden was certainly worth it for the Rockets. I think Ohtani will eventually prove to be as well. When acquiring a potential franchise player, pay up. It almost should not matter what you have to give up, because the likelihood that those draft picks or prospects become bonafide franchise players are normally low. Overpay for premium talent that you truly can’t get elsewhere.
We can look to the Houston Astros as well for similar short-term moves – they acquired Justin Verlander to give them another excellent starting pitcher for the playoffs and the push they felt they needed to win the World Series. While the latter two trades are along the lines of what the Astros did, there’s one major difference: The Astros had several pieces already in place and had one of the best records at the time of their trade. Team A, on the other hand, had the worst record in our league last season. While he has some nice pieces in place (Bellinger, Jose Ramirez, Ohtani), a lot of things can happen between now and the playoffs to derail a season and waste a year. There are still a lot of holes that need to be patched up. Although the pure value was good for both sides, I think the timing makes the latter trades quite risky for Team A. Consequentially, more trades of similar ilk could be in order for Team A.
This is where things can get messy. If things go sideways, would Team A make a similar trade again? Simply put: It depends. There’s always risk. If Team A truly feels his core is competitive now, then these are great supplementary trades and should absolutely be made again. But if Team A is to the vets as the Padres are to Eric Hosmer, I think there’s too much risk and not enough value in the future and you just gave Eric Hosmer an 8-year contract!
Let’s go back to the 76ers. The Sixers aren’t done with their Process yet. While their mastermind Hinkie was ousted, the Sixers have held onto much of their best assets and have seen a few flourish (see: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons). They’ve already made one move in search of completing their puzzle. In the trade for Markelle Fultz, the Sixers gave up one of the most valuable assets in the NBA: the 2018 Lakers pick. The Sixers thought Fultz was the perfect piece to add to their core for years to come, but so far in his rookie season, he has dealt with major issues. Would the Sixers, or you, still make that deal? Most would probably say no, but I would have. Fultz was the consensus #1 pick at the time and a great fit in the new-style NBA, as well as for Philadelphia. Now, maybe I would have done some more background research as to this whole shot change thing (which is totally fishy in hindsight), but without that knowledge, I still would make that trade because of the premium talent (on paper) AND the future value. Fultz is still young, under contract for several more years, and still could be that perfect piece for the Sixers. That takes us into the “Who are you acquiring?” portion.
Team A acquired Justin Verlander, Josh Donaldson, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Upton – all big names in baseball. But all are over 30 years old. By no means is that a (fantasy) death sentence to their careers, but it is a ticking time bomb and each has their issues that are only exacerbated past a certain age. Donaldson has dealt with injuries. Upton and Martinez are slowing down and becoming less agile, and while we in the fantasy realm don’t care about poor defense, the aging will soon put their athleticism and skills at the plate into question. Verlander has dealt with inconsistency the past few seasons as well as injuries. So while these players are going to produce this year, how long is Team A going to compete?
I would certainly not call Team A’s owner patient. He probably wants to compete right now after two seasons at the bottom of our standings. I can’t blame him. After just half a season of tanking, I am already having pipe dreams of competing and squeaking into the playoffs this year with my elite prospects contributing heavily. Team A probably does not care about 2023. He’s gone all-in on 2018. He could compete for the next 2-3 years, hopefully win, and then sell off Bellinger, Ramirez, and Ohtani to restock his farm system and supplement the prospect talent he already has. However, Team A is so active, he has not simply sacrificed 2023 for 2018. He still has 50 prospects (our league is stupid deep) that could help through trades or production. The question is, did he keep the right ones?
Finally, this takes us to the “How confident are you about the prospects?” question. Look at the prospects Team A traded away. A lot of Top 100 guys, but were any Top 10 prospects? No. The “bust” rate on a Top 10 hitter is something like 40%. It’s, of course, much worse for prospects ranked lower. Sure, some of those prospects could be quite good major-leaguers. But who knows if any turn out to be half as good as Upton, Donaldson or Verlander? Heck, Mitch Haniger might turn out to be the best piece going to Team D.
As always, I’ll conclude with a summary of the lessons:
- Bail on The Process if it means you acquire elite talent. When it’s truly (and meaningfully) valuable (take into account how long the talent will be elite and how long you will have it), jump at the chance.
- If it’s not elite talent or it’s not long-lasting, it should help put your team over the top. Preferably “the top” is a championship level team, but it could also simply be getting to the playoffs or finishing in the money. Otherwise, you’re just wasting resources.
- Know your prospects and realize that many will fail.
As for my team, I believe I have elite prospects – Acuna, Jimenez, Tatis, etc. Thus, I’m holding onto them and waiting for them all before I make moves. Team A is going the route of the Rockets. I’m taking the Sixers approach. Both can be sustainable and have had success. I may be Sam Hinkie and it might not work out. But I Trust The Process.
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Featured image courtesy of Sports Illustrated