Trading Guidelines: Why the Sox Aren't Buyers

There is no doubt that the Sox right now aren’t competing the way many envisioned they would. It is therefore unsurprising that a number of people here have suggested we trade for a star such as Giancarlo Stanton or Troy Tulowitzki using the considerable depth we have in the minor leagues. This post should explain why such scenarios aren’t likely to happen. It will also explain the two basic ideas behind trades, since I don’t think people fully understand how deals actually happen.

So, without further ado, these are the two criteria that need to be met for teams to strike a deal involving a superstar and prospects.

1) Both teams must have a desire to make a trade, and the trade must in some way meet team needs

This sounds obvious, but a lot of people seem to overlook one of the factors within this principle. There is a mentality that a lot of fans have that follows the line of thinking that if a player would look good in a team’s uniform, plays well, and provides value at a position of need, a deal should get done. That is great, but there are two sides to a deal.

The other team needs to have an interest in dealing the player too. The Sox would love to acquire Stanton, for example, but Miami has no interest in dealing him at the moment. The Marlins are currently 1.5 games out from the lead in the NL East, which means that they are likely to keep him, at least for the remainder of the year. While it may be in their interest to deal him eventually because the team (or rather, Jeff Loria) hates the idea of paying anyone truckloads of money, the team still has him under control for a few more years. They don’t need to move him just yet, and because they are in competition right now, there’s no desire.

Similarly, the Rockies have little desire to move Tulowitzki. He is their franchise player, a fan favorite, and they have already committed a large amount of money to him. The team also has a lot of good pieces in place for competing next year (Nolan Arenado, Corey Dickerson, Eddie Butler, Tyler Matzek, etc.) in addition to already having a good one-two punch between Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. They also have Jon Gray, who might be ready in two years time.

To play devil’s advocate on this matter, one might mention the Sox trading Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett two years ago as a sort of tabula rasa that the Rockies might like to duplicate. While that trade made sense for the Sox then, it would not make sense for the Sox to be on the receiving end of such a deal now, and it makes less sense for the Rockies. The Sox made that trade knowing that their young talent would not be ready for a good two to three years and, quite frankly, got extremely lucky that nearly every 2013 free agency acquisition worked out for them. The current team is evidence that there is regression to the norm. Trading for Tulowitzki would basically put them in the same situation that they were in prior to the Punto deal. Ben Cherington likely says no.

The Sox also have less interest in a Tulowitzki deal because the Sox still view Xander Bogaerts as the team’s future shortstop, and dealing for Tulowitzki would mean he would have to shift to third. As I mentioned before, the team has needs, primarily in the outfield. There isn’t much of a need to acquire a shortstop. The Sox may desire a hitter, but what they really need is an outfielder.

The Rockies, on the other hand, have young talent that is available to them now, unlike the Red Sox of 2012, who only had Will Middlebrooks. I believe that they are looking to compete next year, so trading their franchise player makes little sense for them since that would net them prospects that likely won’t see (or be effective in) the majors for a couple years in the best case scenario.

Finally, the Sox offense has been so bad that it is likely not going to be fixed in time to salvage the season. If the Sox are making a trade for a superstar, they are likely doing it in the offseason when records don’t matter. At that point, Miami may decide to sell off Stanton (which would make sense given team history). But given their current situation, they aren’t dealing him prior to the July deadline.

So, in summary, a deal for one of these superstars doesn’t fit with the desires or the needs of the teams involved.

2) Fair value in a deal involving prospects is not the same thing as equal value

Even though I have basically said that a trade involving Stanton or Tulowitzki is dead because there isn’t a desire amongst any of the three teams to make the trade at the moment, let’s pretend that trade talks happen anyway. The Sox are looking to compete this year. Miami has thrown in the towel/the Rockies have decided that they aren’t competing for the next few years. The Sox also lose interest in keeping Bogaerts at short, so Tulowitzki is an option. The next step is to actually find fair value in a deal.

Stanton and Tulowitzki are both superstars. This cannot be disputed. They are franchise players that happen to be the top two players in fWAR in the NL at the moment. They are also younger players than what can usually be found in free agency (Stanton is 24, Tulowitzki is 29, and a good number of free agents are past 30). As a result, prying them away from Miami or Colorado will require a king’s ransom.

So what is fair value for players like Stanton and Tulowitzki? It starts with a top prospect in any system. The Sox do have a deep pool of prospects, but with the exception of Bogaerts (who is untradeable now that he is in the majors) the talent isn’t that elite. Mookie Betts and Henry Owens are likely only top 30 prospects (in MLB) at best, and Jackie Bradley Jr.’s value has taken a hit due to his poor hitting in the majors so far. Will Middlebrooks looks more like Mark Reynolds than Adrian Beltre, so his value is also not what it seemed to be a couple years ago.

If the Sox are actually going to make a trade, the starting point must be one of the two (tradeable) guys at the top: Betts or Owens. This is non-negotiable. If you play GM and offer up a deal for a franchise player that does not include one of them, the Marlins or the Rockies are likely laughing in your face and hanging up without even responding. In other words, you are offering Jon Lester less than the reported four year, $70 million extension that was already insulting. The talent needs to start at the top, and then you need to add more pieces on top to provide more than equal value.

Why more than equal value? Essentially, a team selling a star player is looking at the deal as a sort of loan (this is not a perfect analogy, but bear with me). Banks give out loans and expect interest on top of the initial sum of money as payment for the investment. As such, a team trading away a top player in the majors now is not expecting to get back just a future star, but also something additional on top as interest for the time that it will take for the prospect to develop, as well as the uncertainty that he will even reach his potential. Thus fair value for a superstar is not the same thing as equal value.

Owens and Betts don’t even have the superstar potential that one usually attributes to top prospects. They aren’t viewed as being in the same tier as guys like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Javier Baez, or even Noah Syndergaard. They are not likely, at their peak, to be top 10 players, which Tulowitzki and Stanton appear to be right now. As a result, if you start a deal for a superstar with one of the Sox prospects, you need to include another two good talents at the very least. If a franchise player is worth a dollar, Betts or Owens is worth fifty cents at best. A second tier player in the Sox farm system like Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Garin Cecchini, or Blake Swihart is only worth a quarter. Guys deeper down the list (like Christian Vazquez, Trey Ball, or the newly drafted Michael Chavis) are only worth a dime. Current major leaguers like JBJ and WMB are likely worth a quarter and a nickel respectively. In other words, Owens/Betts and two from the list of second tier players only "equals" the value of the current superstar. That doesn’t even include the "interest" that would need to be paid on top.

So what would "fair value" be for a superstar? Well, it is more likely to look like Betts, Webster, JBJ, and Vazquez or perhaps Owens, JBJ, Swihart, and Ball than Webster, Workman, Cecchini, and WMB. It might even look like Betts, Owens, JBJ, and WMB. And even still, I don’t think that that is enough to pry away one of two superstars competing at the moment for NL MVP honors.

To put things in perspective, the Sox traded Casey Kelly, the top prospect at the time, and Anthony Rizzo, who some viewed as the second most valuable prospect in the system. Gonzalez was never an MVP candidate and, as a first baseman, loses value compared to Tulowitzki, who plays at a premium position. He was also significantly older at the time of the trade than Stanton is now. Similarly, the Tigers traded Andrew Miller, a top prospect and former #6 overall pick, and Cameron Maybin, another highly regarded prospect, in a deal for Miguel Cabrera. The price point for a guy like Stanton will therefore start with Owens and/or Betts, who themselves are lesser prospects than what Miller or Kelly were. That is a cost I doubt the Sox are willing to meet.

The price of acquiring these guys is just way too much. The Sox will have to decimate the farm system that is only strong because it has great depth (meaning that after the trade, the Sox will drop down from arguably a top 5 system to somewhere in the middle of the pack) to make the trade. And given the current struggles, a single player is unlikely to turn things around. A trade in the next month just isn’t going to happen. Perhaps they’ll explore a Stanton deal in the offseason, but given the current situation, the Sox are more likely to be sellers than buyers.

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