These days, a 26 year old Carlos Carrasco, already banished from the majors for a 7.43 ERA, spends his time striking out career minor leaguers and fringe prospects at AAA. At least he’s doing better than teammate Jason Donald, who can’t even break a .225 average in the minors after hitting only .202 last year at the big league level. Lou Marson can sympathize too, his days as a weak hitting backup catcher over thanks to an unrelenting sore shoulder. I guess they’re all in better shape than Jason Knapp, who, at the tender age of 22, was driven out of baseball following consecutive right shoulder surgeries.
That mixed bag of washed up, unfulfilled dreams was the collection of prospects the Indians deemed worthy enough to trade Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee for on July 29th, 2009. Knapp, in fact, was the centerpiece, with Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro making the deal contingent upon his inclusion. Knapp would go on to pitch 28.1 innings in the Indians Organization in 2010. He has not thrown a professional pitch since, and likely will not ever again.
Such is the fate of most prospects traded for elite players; be it due to injury or incompetence, they wash up, burn out, or are sent to mediocre careers in the baseball fields of Asphodel. Which is why it is so puzzling that teams were so unwilling to trade any of them at this year’s July 31st deadline. Just look at the fates of traded prospects in recent years. Every single on of the prospects traded for Lee was listed as a consensus top 100 prospect, and not one of them has had or is likely to have a productive major league career. Matt Laporta, Baseball America’s 2007 #23 overall prospect, was traded to the Indinas at the 2007 deadline for CC Sabathia, and subsequently struggled to a .694 OPS through parts of for major league seasons before being sent back to the minors, his current residence. Of the four prospects sent to the Twins in the Johan Santana deal, every single one of them has flamed out except for Carlos Gomez, who nonetheless struggled mightily for the first five years of his career. Justin Smoak was ranked by Baseball America as the #13 prospect in baseball and was traded for Cliff Lee at the 2010 deadline; He has since yielded a .706 OPS as a well below average major league first baseman.
Considering this wealth of examples, it is difficult to understands the majority of contender’s reluctance at this year’s July 31st trade deadline. This was one of the slowest trade deadlines of recent memory, with the Cardinals, Pirates, Diamondbacks, and Tigers all standing pat despite glaring holes. Executives who spoke to ESPN’s Jayson Stark blamed it on factors ranging from the new CBA to an increase in extensions, but the major contributing factor was an unwillingness to part with unproven young players, which based on aforementioned research, doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Sure, there are exceptions, but even most of them come with caveats. Justin Masterson was traded to the Indians for Victor Martinez in 2009, and while is he currently on pace to win 17 games, the sidearming righthander posted ERAs near 5.00 for the Tribe in both 2010 and 2012. In 2010, the Twins sent catching prospect Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for closer Matt Capps, and while he’s having a standout season this year, he has spent the majority this and his last two seasons injured. The Mets picked up stud rookie pitcher Zack Wheeler in exchange for two months of Carlos Beltran, but just 12 starts into his major league career, its hard to call him a success just yet.
That Wheeler trade, largely viewed as a coup for the Mets, in addition to the Hunter Pence deal that netted the Astros talented youngsters Jarred Cosart and Jonathon Singleton and the Zack Grienke swap that got the Brewers Jean Segura, may in fact be the reason for the market idleness this summer. The aforementioned deadline deals all supplied a rebuilding team with a top flight prospect, who has gone on to significant success in the majors. Wheeler has is 6-2 with a 3.49 ERA since being called up in June, Singleton is still in the minors but Cosart has a 1.60 ERA this summer, and Jean Segura was named to the All Star game in his first full season.
Seeing the failures of the prospects included in the Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia deals, rebuilding teams have raised their demands when selling top veterans. In July, Mets GM Sandy Alderson was known to be asking for a team’s top 10-15 level prospect for Marlon Byrd, a free-agent-to-be who was suspended and looked retirement bound just one year ago. Conversely, as theoretical deadline buyers, like the Pirates or Cardinals, see the success of these upper crust prospect types from past deals, they grow reluctant to move their youngsters. This would explain Pirates GM Neal Huntington’s remark that they (regarding the team’s inactivity around the deadline), “were willing to do something stupid, but nothing insane.” Prospect demands are higher than ever while prospects are being treasured more than in any era in baseball history. The result is what one executive referred to as, “the deadest deadline ever”