Saturday, November 5, 2011
A Bird in the Hand
As the Texas Rangers made their postseason run, a friend of mine asked me, in all seriousness, whether the Mike Napoli – Frank Francisco trade was going to become the second-most regrettable Blue Jay trade in history. Now, given the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that stemmed from that deal for the better part of 2011, I was almost relieved to hear that he would only consider it the second-most regrettable.
After a less-than-inspired effort to talk him off the ledge, I started to wrap my head around the trade he considered to be the most regrettable, which also happened to involve the Rangers: Michael Young for Esteban Loaiza.
Even if you rightfully believe Michael Young has been overrated for a large part of his career, it’s still tough to defend the trade from the Blue Jays’ perspective (though it can be done, based on the fact that they were only 1.5 games back of the first-place Yankees, and thought they might catch them with another arm in the rotation to complement David Wells, Kelvim Escobar and Chris Carpenter, while a 23-year-old Roy Halladay sported a 10.90 ERA. There’s a fine recap of the trade here). A great many fans have pined for a decade over the All-Star, batting champion middle infielder the team let get away for a second-rate starting pitcher that never helped them reach the postseason promised land.
The Young deal is probably just the most glaring example of “the one that got away” for Blue Jays fans. It’s hardly the only one. In the above-linked article, it’s pointed out that the Jays traded away three other middle-infield prospects in the system at the time in Felipe Lopez, Cesar Izturis, and Brett Abernathy. There’s obviously been varying degrees of big-league success amongst those erstwhile Jays prospects, but the returns were indisputably slim, including the likes of Steve Trachsel, Mark Guthrie and Luke Prokopec.
I think my friend who still rues the Young trade to this day uses it as a proxy for what he would perceive as the team’s tendency to get very low value back for its prospects. Young is his talisman, representing the what-might-be for every Jays prospect past and present, the upside realized, every last drop of value squeezed from the talent the player possesses.
I can pretty much guarantee you, though, that in 2000, my friend wouldn’t have had a sweet clue who Michael Young was. The fact is, even today when minor league stats, scouting reports and video are more readily available than ever, most fans have a familiarity level with their favourite team’s prospects that’s comparable to my grandparents’ familiarity level with programming the clock on their microwave.
But if hindsight is 20/20, then prospect hindsight is, like, 20/10 – and everybody has it, even Frank Costanza. That’s because prospects develop actual track records over time, across whatever organizations hold their rights, and we can see perfectly how they developed and what they accomplished after the fact. But the ones we remember are the ones that actually develop into big leaguers. Fans can be forgiven for feeling like we’ve seen way too many of them go on to bigger and better things for other teams, even if it’s just patently not true. We still don’t want to let ours go.
It does seem that at least among a more modern generation of Jays fans, the tendency to overvalue the team’s own prospects is beginning to wane. We can be forgiven for harbouring an unhealthy prospect infatuation here and there, but many of us are coming around to the idea that some prospects just aren’t going to be Blue Jays.
Maybe our added peace of mind with trading prospects comes from knowing that it’s Alex Anthopoulos who will be doing the trading. Before he’s done as General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, he’s going to make some bad trades (and it can be argued he has done so already). But for now, he seems to be pretty good at it, and he gets the benefit of the doubt more times than not.
That might be something we should all bear in mind this offseason. One thing I’ve noticed about Anthopoulos is that, while his forays into the media are occasional and vague, he usually does what he says he’s going to do. If he says he’s not going to break the bank for a top-tier free agent, I’ve seen nothing in his work as GM that should lead a fan to not believe him. Conversely, if he says he’s going to explore the trade market, and that not all the elite prospects in the system are going to be Toronto Blue Jays at the big league level, I believe him there too. He’s already shown he’ll make those moves. So we better not get too attached to those prospects as we get ready for more deals.
It’s entirely possible that this off-season, Alex Anthopoulos will trade another Michael Young out of the Jays’ farm system. Some fans, two or five or ten years later, are still going to have big problems with that. That’s fine – second guessing the GM is part of the fun of being a fan. But we should probably at least mentally prepare ourselves for the possible departures of our prospect man-crushes, and even the guys that we didn’t think would amount to much (the same way the Jays saw Michael Young back in 2000), and be reasonably comfortable that the Jays’ GM isn’t going to move any of them for another Esteban Loaiza.