Thursday, February 2, 2012

Returns on trades of free agent one-year contracts

by Jason Wojciechowski

Mediocre teams sign mediocre players to one-year deals every off-season, and every off-season, fans mutter things like "if he pumps up his value, he can be flipped for something." But can he?

Using the magic of Baseball Prospectus's transactions database combined with the transaction listings at Baseball-Reference, I compiled what I believe is a complete list of players who signed one-year free-agent deals before 2011 and who were subsequently traded. It's very possible that I've missed someone because I did it more or less manually, so you should tell me who I missed, and I'll add them in, but here is what I found:

Fourth outfielders

  • Jerry Hairston went from Washington to Milwaukee for Erik Komatsu, who Kevin Goldstein had ranked as the Brewers' 14th-best prospect prior to 2011. He has fourth outfielder upside and was taken by St. Louis in the 2012 Rule 5 draft.

  • Orlando Cabrera went from Cleveland to San Francisco for Thomas Neal, a former Cal League mirage with bench player upside who's limited to left field. (Sadly, that was good enough to get Neal ranked 6th in the Giants' system prior to 2011.)

Live arms

  • Rodrigo Lopez was traded from the Braves to the Cubs for Ryan Buchter, a 24-year-old at High-A with control issues.

  • Lucas May went from Kansas City to Arizona for Andrea Pizziconi, an Italian-born 20-year-old reliever in Rookie ball.

First basemen who don't hit

  • Derrek Lee was traded by the Orioles for Aaron Baker, a 23-year-old High-A first basemen with a career batting line of .264/.343/.448, which is better known as "maybe adequate if he were playing in the majors, depending on his defense."

Never-made-it infielders

  • Alfredo Amezaga netted Jesus Merchan for the Rockies. Merchan was 30, plays the infield, and has never appeared in the big leagues.

Package deals

  • Erik Bedard wound up fetching Trayvon Robinson for the Mariners, but it was part of a three-team deal that involved eight players.

  • Corey Patterson was a minor piece of the Edwin Jackson / Colby Rasmus trade.

  • Brian Tallet was a slightly less minor piece of the same deal.

  • Octavio Dotel was an even slightly less minor piece.

  • David Pauley was part of the Doug Fister / Charlie Furbush trade.

Unnamed PTBNLs

  • Jim Thome got Minnesota a PTBNL from Cleveland.

Stacks o' Cash

  • Sergio Mitre was sold by the Brewers to the Yankees.

  • Wil Nieves was sold by the Brewers to the Braves.

  • Brian Bocock was sold by the Phillies to the Pirates.

  • Tim Wood went from Pittsburgh to Texas for cash or a PTBNL.

  • Matt Treanor was purchased by the Rangers from the Royals.

So putting aside Trayvon Robinson, the best return on the trade of a one-year-contract player is either Erik Komatsu or Thomas Neal, both of whom are "if he starts more than 40 games for your team, your team is screwed" guys, and the former of whom the acquiring team couldn't even be bothered to add to the 40-man roster this off-season.

Maybe 2011 was a bad year for these deals, but I suspect that if you undertook the same exercise for the last few seasons, you'd find similar results. I think that fans like to dream on Zack Wheeler while forgetting that Carlos Beltran was not in the same boat as Wil Nieves in the off-season before 2011.


Liono said...

What about Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez. Cabrera was under team control for another year but he signed in KC on a one year deal.

Jason Wojciechowski said...

Liono -- I wasn't counting off-season trades. The kind of trade people are thinking of, I think, when they talk about flipping a one-year-contract is a mid-season trade to a contender.

Liono said...

I figured that was what you were working with, thought I would mention it just in case.