The Era of the Overhyped Prospect Is Definitely Here


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I want you to ignore the outcome of the Phillies-Rangers Cole Hamels trade for a moment- which I think was pretty good for both teams. The Phillies got six players for Hamels and Jake Diekman, five of which are prospects, three of which are on every top 100 list. The Rangers got a pitcher who is second in wins in the NL since his 2006 call-up, first in wins, has a 3.30 ERA, three All-Star appearances, four top eight Cy Young finishes, an NLCS MVP award, and of course a World Series MVP award.

Hamels is an accomplished pitcher, and yet the Rangers were willing to give up major depth and quantity of good prospects to avoid giving up the #34 prospect in minor league baseball. The Dodgers were apparently uneasy about giving up one of their several top 25 prospects. Boston and Chicago walled off four prospects each, and apparently New York did too. Hamels is an established top of the rotation arm, and yet these teams were unwilling to give up players that mostly won’t ever equal up to him as a big leaguer. The failure rate, even on highly rated prospects is pretty high. A few years ago, Texas wouldn’t trade Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt to get Cole Hamels, a deal that today would look laughably lopsided in Texas’ favor. The Phillies once wouldn’t trade a top five prospect in all of baseball, Dom Brown, even for Hall-of-Fame bound Roy Halladay, and just a short time ago, Pittsburgh refused to part with Gregory Polanco for upgrades (though that could still be smart).

There are lots of names that are off-limits, even in deals for the Hamels, Prices, and Cuetos around baseball. Those names- Urias, Seager, Gallo, Mazara, Swihart, Betts, Judge, Severino, Bryant, Soler, Schwarber, Russell, Castillo, Moncada, and others- will struggle to produce nearly as many true stars as they were off-limits for. This isn’t somehow just my opinion, or even something that is easy predict, it’s just something that history suggests is a foregone conclusion. Prospects are just that, prospects, and their fail rate, even amongst the super talents, is high. It takes a lot of prospects, and a fair amount of room for error, to build a championship team through prospects and the farm, though it virtually has to be a part of the equation. It’s worth noting that even if you have a great system, money is probably still a better indicator of post-season success- since 2004, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, San Francisco, Boston, and San Francisco have won the World Series, and all of them were big market teams that paid substantial money to build winners.

None of this is to say that I would trade a top ten prospect for much of anything. I’m not really arguing for the extreme opposite of this market. I’m arguing that it’s sort of ridiculous to act like every prospect out there is worth what the market says they are right now. If you can get a top ten lefty starter, i’m not sure that anything should be “off-limits,” much less someone outside of the top ten prospects. We’re now valuing players who are at best a coin-flip to turn out at a higher value than established stars, nearly universally. I do go to 20 plus minor league games and get the Minor League Baseball TV package, so I can’t put down minor league ball too much, but it seems that the value structure on players is completely out of line right now in baseball.

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