Trades, Player Development, and the Value of High Picks

There has been a lot written into about the downfall of the Phillies and their various strategies to pull themselves out of it.  I think much of the downfall has been placed on the wrong things.  Bloggers often reach for the draft and player development as two easy punching bags.  I think it is a lazy way of being sensational and lacks a understanding of the basics of player development.

What set in motion this examination was a paragraph from a That Ball’s Outta Here editorial on a David Murphy piece:

At least at the end, Murphy finally identifies the real problem: The Phillies farm system isn’t developing the type of quality young players who can adequately replace older, more expensive players. But what is the reason for that? Yes,there have been some trades, but none of the players traded away have yet to make much of an impact at the major league level. Is there some reason why the Phillies aren’t developing good players?

Before going to the beginning of the developmental process, lets start with the end for many Phillies prospects over the past 5 years, trades.

Trades:

Before going into the effects of trades on the major league club, just take in the sheer number of players traded since the end of the 2008 World Series.

That is 19 names, and only 5 of them (Knapp, Singleton, May, Santana, and Bonilla) have not played in the major leagues, and only Knapp of that group will likely never play in the majors.

But, but none of them are stars.  How many stars are there in baseball?  The final outcome of prospects, is not stars.  You are lucky to get one every so often, and the Phillies cashed many of these chips in for stars, like Lee and Halladay.  But when looked at as a whole the Phillies traded away an insane amount of depth from Winter of 2008 until Winter 2012 (Young and Revere trades).  Keep this in mind as we go back through the prospect journey.

The Draft:

Not to say the draft doesn’t matter after the first round, but the probability in the draft goes downhill very quickly after the first few picks.  The Phillies 2008 team among its 13 regulars (8 position players + rotation) had 6 1st Round picks, 1 2nd, 1 4th, 1 5th (who would have been a 1st a year earlier), 2 6ths, and 2 International free agents.

This is not atypical of the construction of many teams.  First round picks hold much of the value, and the earlier the pick the higher the value.  Using MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects, here is the breakdown by round.

Number in Top 100
1st 1-15 28
1st 15- 14
1s 17
2nd 6
3rd 1
4th 3
5th 1
6th + 6
Int FA 24

Top prospect lists may not be the end all be all of value, but they trend towards being the most accurate we have, and even then the likely outcome is disappointment.  So we see all of that value in the early first round, and the Phillies due to a combination of winning and signing FAs have there be their early picks.

Year 1st Pick Other 1st Rd/1s Picks
2008 24 34
2009 75
2010 27
2011 39
2012 40 54
2013 16

You can blame development all you want, but if you aren’t putting talent in the system it is irrelevant.  Frankly, the Phillies have traded away almost all of the 2008 draft at this point, the 2009 draft has some life left in Kelly Dugan and Aaron Altherr, having already produced Darin Ruf, and the earlier mentioned Singleton.  The 2010 draft should bring the Phillies a mid-rotation starter (Jesse Biddle) and a back-up catcher (Cameron Rupp).  The 2011 draft has already produced what should be the Phillies first homegrown third baseman since Scott Rolen (Cody Asche).  As for international talent, it is an area the Phillies have been lacking in the past, but have begun making an organizational strength in the past few years (not mention the list of guys traded away).

Development:

The casual notion of prospect development is that each year they move up a level, they get better, and eventually reach the major leagues where they continue to advance until they get old.  This is far from the truth, the developmental process is up and down, and can move in leaps before slowing up.  Along the way, the game roots out all of those unworthy for the major leagues.  This is because major league baseball is hard, and one flaw will be exploited until you are out of the game forever.  Prospects don’t arrive when you need them, they arrive when they are ready.  Along the way prospects can be cashed out for other talent, in that moment they have value, which is their value as a major league asset or as a future trade asset.  If you deem that value (and risk) less than what you are getting back.  You make the trade.

Along this development process there are many things at work.  The big three things that in my mind affect things the most are coaching, the player’s ability to make adjustments, and the players raw ability.  In the end you need all three things to succeed, with coaching being the least important of the group.  When a team goes to trade a player, they can’t judge the coaching in valuing the player, they are really judging whether they think the player is lacking in the two things he takes with him.

Back to Trades:

In this day and age of information, almost every team knows the physical abilities of the players in other organizations that they are interested in.  Each evaluator may see differences in potential, and each is looking for something a little different to like, but the information is there to observe.  What a team trading for a player lacks, is the knowledge of a player’s makeup, how hard will he work, and most importantly how is he at making adjustments and improving.  In this area the trading team has an advantage.

So back to the claim that no player the Phillies have traded has come back to make the Phillies regret.  The one area the Phillies could be exceptional and judging internally is their own player’s makeup.  This is not far fetched and has played out to some extent overall, and I actually believe it to be true.  But it is not the only reason.  Remember that the likely outcome for a prospect is failure, odds were that a portion of the players traded would go on to not be stars, and have to settle for being back end starters or utility players.

The other is that from the moment a player is traded it is another organization that most take up the developmental mantle.  The regression of prospects after being traded from the Phillies can also be laid at the feet of the organizations.  Along the way they may have missed in development, or failed to coax out an extra tool.  The same could have been said if a player blossoms (like Gavin Floyd in Chicago and Gio Gonzalez in Oakland), it isn’t always that the Phillies missed, but also that another team may have found something.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the struggles of the Phillies.  Do not lay the blame at the feet of scouts, talent evaluators, and organization coaches.  The farm system may not be churning out a stream of talented players yet, but it might also not be in their control.

About Matt Winkelman

Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has previously appeared on Phuture Phillies and The Good Phight. You can read his work at Phillies Minor Thoughts

33 thoughts on “Trades, Player Development, and the Value of High Picks

  1. I’m more in agreement than not with you on this, especially with regard to the current state of the system.

    But the organization’s production of talent from roughly 2007 to 2013 was by any measure quite poor.Who was the best player produced by the system (traded players included) in that time span? Brown? Is there even a quality every day regular in that batch, except (hopefully) Brown and (maybe) Asche – assuming Brown can maintain his 2013 level of play and Asche overcomes his frankly disappointing debut (I think he will).

    I think it’s true that not all of the blame for that falls on the organization, but a record that bad over that length of time suggests at least some organizational deficit, whether drafting or development or both.

    1. Quality regulars produced since 2007 (or projected quality, currently with major league service time): Brown, Happ, Cosart, d’Arnaud, Asche, Worley (say what you will but he was a major league #4 starter for two years), Pettibone
      There isn’t a star in there, but I see an above average OF, 3 back end starters, one above average C, one guy who could be anywhere from a #2 to an elite closer, and the Phillies opening day 3B

      This is not including anything Drabek does now that he is healthy, Singleton/Santana

      1. I could quibble with some of this – as you say yourself, some of these guys are merely projected to be quality regulars – only a couple have achieved it so far (and in some of those cases, not for an extended period of time) – and Brown, as much as I like him, certainly hasn’t established himself as an “above average OF,” at least not yet.

        But more to the point … that’s over a 7 year period, and that’s a poor output for such a time period. Put it this way – it’s not an output that’s consistent with contender status. You can argue that that’s partly a matter of factors beyond the organization’s control, and I will even agree with you, but IMO that mitigates it only.

        The big picture is that: while the mistakes at the major league level are more glaring, an organization that produces that little talent over a 7 year span is not going to contend, even if the major league operation is top notch.

      2. But really even more to the point – several of the guys you mention either aren’t up yet or reached the majors last year. Which is consistent with the argument that they have managed to right the boat, an argument I have sympathy for. As I said, I really agree with you entirely regarding the system as it exists now.

        But let’s limit ourselves to players who came up between 2007 and 2012 – a six year period. There’s three guys on your list, and two of them are pitchers with very short periods of effectiveness. There’s Brown and … not much else. Is there an organization with a worse record of producing talent in that time span?

  2. From the BA Top100….24% from International FA market. SInce 2011, the Phillies are going in the right directon now.

  3. I may be entirely blind, but my view is that, of the organization’s many failings, I don’t think drafting and amateur player evaluation has been one of them. And if you’ve seen my many posts, I’m no apologist for the organization – they do many very poorly.

    There have been some poor drafts, but there have been several good drafts. People have unrealistic expectations of: (a) what a typically decent draft can and usually does produce (take a look at each team’s draft year by year – you’d be shocked at how unproductive an average big league draft can be); and (b) how excrutiatingly long the development time line is for prospects. We got used to the meteoric rises of Utley, Hamels and Howard, but cases like Dom Brown (back and forth, long jagged graph lines before the player truly becomes productive) are perhaps much more common. As for timelines, there is still a decent chance that guys like d’Arnaud, Singleton, Villar, Cosart and even May are going to become very good players (and there are others) – but it can take a long, long time, particularly with pitchers. Similarly, some good prospects just got injured – Drabek and Knapp were fine prospects, but they got hurt. It happens. And these are just the guys who were traded – many of our other prospects from this time period are with the team and continue to develop (Justin DeFratus, Rosenberg, Galvis and others are examples).

    The Phillies were also victimized because they were good (lower draft position) and made FA signings that cost them picks. Also, they were reluctant participants in the international market and didn’t bust slot on picks under the old draft system. Again, not necessarily a smart organizational decision, but not the fault of people who were running the draft and who were constrained by the choices. Now that the playing field is more level, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Phillies’ drafts have also improved relative to the competition.

    Really, truly, honestly, they have not done a bad job in drafting and signing amateur talent on the whole, given their draft position and management’s imposed limitations.

    That said, I am concerned about the organization’s apparent troubles in developing pitchers (they seem to do fairly well with hitters – the re-tooling of Dom Brown’s swing at AAA, was not easy and they did a good job). It seems that there are inconsistent messages throughout the system and I’m on record that, for whatever reason, Ray Burris was flat out disastrous last year. Guys shouldn’t perform substantially better in big league ball then they do at AAA – especially in a AAA park and league where hitting stats are a bit depressed. Now maybe Burris was teaching them some “hard lessons” that paid off in the big leagues – but I’m not buying it right now and I sure don’t like the idea of guys like Phillippe Aumont having another lost season and further squandered development time because coaches like Ray Burris don’t know what the hell they are doing.

  4. I think losing a couple of first round picks for the signings of Ibanez and Papelbon were also very detrimental. That’s potentially 2 players who could have brought something to the system.

    Granted a lot of the players traded away have had a minimal impact, but Cosart, Singleton, Gose, and D’Arnaund will almost certainly hurt us. I understand why the trades were made, but the long term effect is not promising. If Pence and Oswalt had helped to deliver a title then the narrative would be completely different.

    The investment in Latin America is encouraging though, and if Amaro is replaced by a baseball mind, then the hope is that it trickles down into the farm. That might be asking too much though, but we’ll just have to see how this rickety pro team performs.

  5. One thing that many people – including myself – sometimes forget is that the system is specifically designed to keep teams from experiencing sustained success. The Phils are attempting to outspend that design, but that can be tricky.

    After reading your assessment, based on the output you mentioned, I don’t think the Phillies are necessarily bad at development. As you’ve said, they have produced some decent major league talent. But how far does decent major league talent get you?

    The Phillies run of success was powered by guys like Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Hamels, who were all far above decent. Until they can start producing players of that ilk again – and I realize that there’s a lot that goes into that – then “decent” results are what we’re likely to see on the field.

    1. I don’t disagree but part of my point is that the players who have been brought along during this time frame are still in the developmental cycle. The really big failing of the system is not that the 2007-12 period was so bad, but that the team was really bad at picking and developing talent in the 2003-2006 time frame; those are the guys who should be the productive 27-30 year old guys right now, but that period of time was a prospect-free dead zone for the organization.

  6. Three questions about international FAs:
    1. What percentage of those appearing in the Top 100 list are Phillies’ prospects, i.e., one out of how many?
    2. How many international FAs rank ahead of Franco? and
    3. Where do the Phillies currently rank in international spending; which franchises are ahead of the Phillies; and are the Phillies closing the spending gap between them and playoff teams?

    1. 1. 2 out of 100 (Franco and Biddle), 2 formers Phillies d’Arnaud and Singleton
      2. Int FAs ahead of Franco: Bogaerts, Taveras, Sano, and Polanco
      3. With new spending limits, the Phillies amount of spending is in alignments with their draft order. They have avoided trading cap room in trades and have spent almost all of it (hard to know exact numbers)

      1. The international spending limits don’t apply to Japan. Are there any other countries they don’t apply to?

        1. To be excluded from the spending pool:
          - Be at least 23 and played at least 5 seasons in a recognized professional league
          - Be at least 23 and have played in the Cuban Professional League for 3 years
          - Have already signed a contract with a major league club

          1. To catch up, the Phils need to spend more in Cuba, Japan, Korea and all the other countries with recognized professional leagues. It sounds as though the main impact of the international spending limits is in Latin America, true?

            1. Why do they need to spend more there? You are talking players like Tanaka, Abreu, and MAG. These guys are full FAs, subject to large contracts and the luxury tax. Essentially it is like saying the Phillies should spend more on FAs in general. International FAs might come cheaper (in some cases) but with much larger risks.

              Also spending pools affect European prospects as well as young Cubans, just not those over 23.

            2. With the trend towards major-league teams’ signing young stars to long-term deals before reaching free agency, the pursuit of international FAs will expand.

            3. Does Germany qualify as a good start to catch up, with the signng of the 17-year player last year….I think they also even signed a few Czechs awhile back.
              And can you forget the Korean pichers from the late 90′s early 2000.

      2. I believe Japan and Cuba are excluded from the international spending limits. What about Korea? Any others?

      3. So, the question becomes if you look at all the money that’s being spent by teams all over the world, including in Japan, Cuba and in any other countries not subject to spending limits, where do the Phillies rank, which franchises are ahead of the Phillies, and are the Phillies closing the gap between them and the playoff teams?

    2. I guess the answer to my first question is one out of 24. So, my substitute question is -
      How many playoff teams have more than one international FA on the Top 100 list?

      1. 2014 Playoff Teams: #Top 100 Prospects (Int FAs)
        ATL – 2 (1) PIT 6 (2) CIN 2 (0) STL 3 (1) LAD 4 (1)
        BOS 9 (2) TBR 3 (1) OAK 1 (0) TIG 2 (0) CLE 3 (0)

        If you are looking for large numbers of Int FAs the orgs are Texas, Toronto (though not quite in the Top 100 right now) , Cubs, and Royals. But for the most part it is 1 or so per org

  7. I’m not sure if its a scouting or a development issue but I have to think that our record on 1st round picks has not been good in recent years. Its easy to collect a list of picks that have done little to support their status, prior to Crawford who was an early round pick, which obviously makes a big difference. Guys like LGJ, Watson, Gueller, Collier, Hewitt, Savery and even Drabek don’t look like major league regulars, let alone stars. DArnaud looks like he could be good if he can stay on the field. I have less of a problem with our 2nd round picks but those 1st rounders need to be better.

    1. It’s fair to say that they have not done well with first round picks – this is historically correct as well. Many of their great picks have been second rounders – Schmidt, Rolen, Rollins.

      1. Can never understand MLB, of all the professional sports, they refused to let teams trade draft choices from their rule 4 draft. I wonder if it has ever been discussed. Number one picks could be valuable trade chips, especially top ten picks.

  8. You said something that I have thought about many times. Lately it was the comment about Michael Martinez that touched on it. I had the opportunity to play against a player who made the major leagues in Puerto Rico in Class A amateur ball. He had it all. He could hit, hit for power, field, throw, and run. He was signed by the Cardinals and made their team in his third year of professional baseball. He spent seven years with them as an outfielder. He never hit more than .240. The potential was never realized. That was neither his fault nor the Cardinal’s organization. Major league baseball consists of superior players. He was in the league for seven years, both platooning and as a bench player. The last person on the bench could put to shame any one of us who is criticizing him. I have always been in awe of people who could play well enough to be major leaguers, no matter what. They are awesome. Major league baseball is for those superior athletes or players with very refined skills. Sorry for the rant, but this strikes a chord with me. The last man on a major league bench is special.

    1. I need to make something clear…that I agree with Matt that major league baseball requires refined skills that very few of us possesses, the Michael Martinez reference was somewhere else.

  9. I think that there is no question that the reason the farm is lite is because of the lack of high draft picks, but some of that is a direct result of Amaro’s incompetence. In my opinion the biggest blunder of Amaro’s tenure and that is saying something, has been signing Paplebon 1 week to early. He waits one more week and he doesn’t have to give up a first round pick. It isn’t like he was trying to lowball him. Wait 1 week keep your first round pick, then sign him to the largest contract ever given to a relief pitcher. Imagine what the farm would look like with another Biddle or Crawford. I feel like this mistake is always over looked when discussing Amaro.

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