On November 29th, the Twins surprised a lot of people by trading Denard Span to the Nationals for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. This was surprising because Span had developed into an every day center fielder, while Meyer had yet to make it to AA. It seems that the majority of the time that an established MLB player is dealt for prospects, the plural “s” is important. Of course, there have been other somewhat similar trades already this off-season.
The Angels had already traded Ervin Santana to the Royals for Brandon Sisk
The Marlins traded Yunel Escobar to the Rays for Derek Dietrich
The Rays also traded Burke Badenhop to the Brewers for Raul Mondesi JR.
The Pirates traded Chris Resop to the As for Zach Thornton.
The Cardinals traded Skip Schumaker to the Dodgers for Jake Lemmerman
This got me thinking about other One on One Prospect for established MLBer trades (so not counting prospect eligible for prospect eligible trades). So I looked at the ones I could find (via Baseball Reference’s transactions) from 2009 to April 2012:
Shaun Marcum for Brett Lawrie
Marcum was solid for the Brewers for 2 seasons with a 2.1 WAA and 4.2 WAR, while Lawrie made it to the big leagues late in 2012 and has already posted a 5.4 WAA and 7.6 WAR (though his defensive component is controversial. Even offensively he has been worth 4.1 WAR and it isn’t a stretch to say he has been worth at least 2 runs defensively, making him better than Marcum). So it is clearly a win for the Blue Jays, especially once you consider that Marcum is a free agent and Lawrie still isn’t a free agent until 2018.
Carlos Beltran for Zach Wheeler
Beltran would play in 44 games with the Giants to the tune of a .5 WAA and 1.0 WAR. The Giants would miss the playoffs. While Wheeler hasn’t yet made the Major Leagues, his prospect status has only gone up, as he was rated as the 35th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America before the start of 2012. He is expected to reach the Majors sometime in 2013 and like Meyer, had been in A + at the time of the trade. The difference between Beltran and Span is obviously the lack of control the Giants had over Beltran.
Sergio Santos for Nestor Molina
A trade that was widely mocked and questioned from a White Sox perspective has not worked well for the Blue Jays. Santos was out for the season after just 5 innings pitched. Molina spent most of the year in AA (with a cup of coffee in AAA) and had a decent year (3.26 FIP).
Not big prospects:
Boof Bonser for Chris Province
Bonser was horrible in 2010 (after the trade) and hasn’t pitched in the Majors since. Province was equally horrible in 2010 between AA and AAA and is out of affiliated baseball.
Brian Bixler for Jesus Brito
Bixler would end up not playing in the Majors in 2010 and would resurface in 2011 with a different team. Brito is out of professional baseball.
Jhonny Peralta (and cash, didn’t know whether to include it or not) for Giovanni Soto
Since the trade, Peralta has been an above average shortstop according to Baseball Reference, while Soto hasn’t reached the Majors. He had an okay 4.03 FIP in AA this year and is just 21, so there is still a chance he turns out to be something. If not, this is a salary dump.
Ramon Ramirez for Daniel Turpen
Ramirez ended up being a solid pickup for the Giants (and then eventually used to help get Angel Pagan) while Turpen has bounced around, playing in AA and AAA for the Twins in 2012 at age 26.
Chad Qualls for Matt Gorgen
Qualls was bad and Gorgen, 25, had a solid year in AA and AAA (in a tough PCL park).
Mike Fontenot for Evan Crawford
Fontenot turned out to basically be a replacement player for the Giants but Crawford didn’t even play in professional baseball in 2012.
Jose Guillen for Kevin Pucetas
Guillen was terrible for the Giants and Pucetas struggled in the PCL. In 2012, Pucetas has a decent year in the minors with another organization, but is already 28.
Pedro Feliz (and cash) for David Carpenter
Feliz was awful for the Cardinals, while Carpenter had a good year in the Majors followed by a bad year and was then traded.
Brian Fuentes for Loek Van Mil
Fuentes would throw in just 9 games for the Twins (but didn’t give up a run) while Van Mil has bounced around and has struggled in AAA (and is already 28).
Manny Delcarmen for Chris Balcolm-Miller
Delcarmen threw just 9 games with the Rockies and ended his career while Balcolm-Miller is just 23 but has been stuck in AA and regressed statistically in 2012.
Octavio Dotel for Anthony Jackson
Another pointless bullpen acquisition by the Rockies, Dotel threw all of 5.1 innings with the team. Jackson is 28 and hasn’t hit in AA.
Jose Lopez for Chaz Roe
This time, a hitter was a failure in Colorado, as Lopez was a disaster while Roe (a former first rounder) flamed out in AAA and is now in independent ball.
Scott Linebrink (and cash) for Kyle Cofield
Linebrink would provide some value for the Braves in a relief role in 2011 while Cofield would pitch just 17 minor league relief outings in the Braves organization and was with the Pirates AA in 2012.
Brendan Ryan for Maikel Cleto
This trade is more applicable than most of the other ones, though Meyer is a better prospect than Cleto was at the time of the trade. Ryan has solidified himself as the best defensive shortstop in baseball, while Cleto has really struggled in short stints in the Majors. Cleto would have to develop into the best reliever in baseball for this trade to work out for the Cardinals since they really weren’t saving that much money.
Chin-Lung Hu for Michael Antonini
Hu went to the plate with a wet noodle instead of a bat in New York while Antonini is 27 years old and struggled in the PCL this year (and most importantly, hasn’t made it to the Majors yet)
Nyjer Morgan for Cutter Dykstra
Morgan would have one good year in Milwaukee followed by one bad year but was better than average in all. Dykstra is still just 23 and had a decent year in AA. The jury seems to still be out though Morgan did give the Brewers value (and isn’t the player Span is, though Dykstra isn’t and wasn’t the prospect Meyer is).
Alberto Gonzalez for Erik Davis
Gonzalez was laughably bad in San Diego while Davis is 26 and has not even thrown many AAA innings, not to mention not making the big leagues yet.
Juan Francisco for J.J. Hoover
Francisco, who was mediocre in limited time with the Reds, was also mediocre in his time with the Braves. Hoover was great in both AAA and the MLB in 2012 for the Reds. A clear win for the prospect side though Hoover already had AAA experience.
Aaron Cunningham for Cory Burns
Cunningham turned out to be dreadful in Cleveland, and Burns is already out of the organization but was interesting in the Majors in a DIPs point of view in a small sample size.
Ben Francisco for Frank Gailey
Francisco didn’t last in the Blue Jays organization very long and wasn’t very successful, but Gailey struggled in the minors and eventually went back to the Blue Jays organization.
Burke Badenhop for Jake Jeffries
Badenhop was just traded away by the Rays after one year, but he was really solid in a relief role. Jefferies struggled massively in the minors for the Marlins.
Huston Street (and cash) for Nick Schmidt
Street battled some injury problems in 2012 but was awesome when he actually pitched. Schmidt is already 27, meaning this was mainly a salary dump. He was good in AA but struggled in the PCL in 2012.
Kevin Slowey for Daniel Turpen
Slowey was traded before he ever pitched with the Rockies while Turpen was mediocre in the minors for the Twins.
Derek Lowe (and cash) for Chris Jones
A salary dump, Lowe struggled and was released while Jones had some success in AA.
Kila Ka’aihue for Ethan Hollingsworth
Kila struggled again and was DFA’d while Hollingsworth was mediocre at best in AA and AAA
Jack Wilson for Luis Caballero
Wilson was below replacement with the Braves before being released and retiring. Caballero is in the Dominican Summer League and has not hit at all. I doubt he makes it stateside even.
Matt Diaz for Eliecer Cardenas
Diaz was terrible in his 2nd go around with the Braves (but he was bad with the Pirates as well), but Cardenas never even pitched in the Pirates organization.
Connor Jackson for Jason Rice
Jackson didn’t do anything with the Red Sox, but Rice never pitched in the A’s organization either.
Alfredo Amezega for Jesus Merchan
Amezega was even worse than usual in his return trip to the Marlins while Merchan wasn’t really a prospect, and split 2012 between the Padres organization and Independent ball, playing in 26 AAA games with the Rockies after the trade.
Rafael Furcal for Alex Castellanos
Despite the injury in 2012, Furcal has been about an average shortstop for the Cardinals. Castellanos did get a taste in the big leagues in 2012, but didn’t play very well.
Derrek Lee for Aaron Baker
Lee was a nice pickup down the stretch for the Pirates (but just 28 games) while Baker has been an utter disaster in the minors with the Orioles.
Jerry Hairston for Erik Komatsu
In a small sample size, Hairston was a good Brewer. Komatsu broke into the Majors in 2012, but has already switched teams and struggled in a small sample size.
Orlando Cabrera for Thomas Neal
Cabrera struggled with the Giants while Neal did make it to the big leagues (just 9 games) with the Indians in 2012.
Jason Marquis for Zachary Walters
Marquis would have just 3 horrible starts with the Diamondbacks before breaking his leg. Walters reached AAA in 2012, but struggled.
Nick Green for Zach Phillips
Green played 0 games as a Ranger, while Phillips has thrown 16 solid games (other than homers) in the Majors with the Orioles.
Sort of (PTBNL trades that were 1 for 1 with one of the players still prospect eligible but with MLB experience)
Kelly Shoppach for Mitch Talbot
Shoppach was an okay backup catcher option for the Rays for 2 seasons while Talbot struggled and went to Korea.
Brian Bruney for Jamie Hoffman
Bruney was horrible for the Nationals while Hoffman never played in the Majors for the Yankees (but did get a cup of coffee with the Dodgers).
I decided to go further back, so I looked at the 2006-2007 seasons and made the criteria stricter. I looked at only established MLBers, so ones that have just a handful of innings or games don’t count. I copied and pasted these from Baseball Reference so the links should work:
The Florida Marlins traded Ron Villone to the New York Yankees for Ben Julianel
Villone was okay for the Yankees, a below average reliever, while Julianel never made the Majors.
The Toronto Blue Jays traded Chad Gaudin to the Oakland Athletics for a player to be named later. The Oakland Athletics sent Dustin Majewski (minors) (December 8, 2005) to the Toronto Blue Jays to complete the trade.
Gaudin was another below average/above replacement reliever, while Majewski never made it to the Major Leagues
Paul was a replacement player for the Rays (and didn’t play anywhere else in the Majors afterward). Schlichting only got 25.1 MLB innings with the Angels (and at all), but was at least above replacement
The Brewers turned out to be Koskie’s last stop, but he played well there, above average in 76 games. Wolfe would pitch 82.2 innings for the Blue Jays and was about average.
Ross settled in as a solid backup catcher in 3 years with the Reds, while Basham never made the Majors and was out of the Padres organization before Ross was out of the Reds organization.
The Cleveland Indians traded Brandon Phillips to the Cincinnati Reds for a player to be named later. The Cincinnati Reds sent Jeff Stevens (June 13, 2006) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade
Phillips is still playing with the Reds and earned a large contract before the 2012 season. Stevens never pitched for the Indians (only for the Cubs, and horribly).
Walker threw just 20 innings for the Rays before going back to the Giants, while Hines never made it to the Majors, throwing in AAA for the Giants for 2 different reasons.
Edens never made the majors and Yan pitched in 15 solid innings for Reds.
Roberts was in the Twins organization until 2011, but never made it past AAA. It was Castro’s 2nd stint with the Reds, and he was solid after the trade but struggled the next two years with the Reds.
While Cabrera has developed into an everyday shortstop, Perez was out of the league by the end of the year. Cabrera was already in AAA at the time.
Weaver was a below replacement pitcher for the Cardinals, but Evans played just 20 MLB games and didn’t play them well.
Despite being basically the opposite of the Asdrubal Cabrera trade in style, this also didn’t work out for the Mariners either.
Ramirez never played for the Indians, but got them Kenny Lofton, who played about average down the stretch. Wickman was good for the Braves towards the end of the year, but really struggled the next season.
Lamura never played in the MLB, but Alomar was basically done in the Majors anyway.
The veteran Stanton pitched well, but not much, for the Giants. Martis really struggled for the Nationals.
Corey was an okay reliever for the Red Sox for two and a half seasons. Mendoza got his chances with Texas, but never put it together and really struggled.
Sometimes I forget how long Kyle Lohse has been around, and I also forgot he was a Red. He was really solid there, and Zach Ward obviously didn’t make the Majors.
Casey was borderline hilarious with the Tigers, but Rogers struggled in his small sample in the Majors.
Jumbo Diaz’ big league career is nothing to note, but neither was Stairs’ Ranger career.
Ceda never pitched for the Cubs, and while Walker’s time with the Padres was small, he was solid.
Kip Wells made a grand total of 2 starts for the Rangers, but Chavez’ appearances with Pirates were not good.
The Philadelphia Phillies traded Ryan Franklin and cash to the Cincinnati Reds for a player to be named later. The Cincinnati Reds sent Zac Stott (minors) (August 9, 2006) to the Philadelphia Phillies to complete the trade.
Franklin was basically replacement level for the Reds, but Stott never made the Majors. So a definite wash.
The Toronto Blue Jays traded Scott Schoeneweis to the Cincinnati Reds for a player to be named later. The Cincinnati Reds sent Trevor Lawhorn (minors) (October 13, 2006) to the Toronto Blue Jays to complete the trade.
Small sample size, but Schoeneweis was excellent with the Reds.
Neifi Perez was so miserable for the Tigers that it was his last MLB stop. They didn’t give up anything for him though. The only penalty was the at-bats that the team gave to Perez.
New York was Green’s last MLB stop, and he was basically a replacement player. MacLane’s 2 MLB appearances were with the Cardinals.
The Chicago Cubs traded Phil Nevin and cash to the Minnesota Twins for a player to be named later. The Minnesota Twins sent Adam Harben (minors) (September 5, 2006) to the Chicago Cubs to complete the trade.
Nevin played his last 16 games in the Majors with the Twins (and played poorly). Harben never got past AA (despite a good ERA, he had extremely poor peripherals).
Ward was not the prospect, but he played in just 20 games for the Braves. Atilano made 15 starts for the Nationals, and they were poor.
Nunez would never play in the Majors for the Nationals (making just a few horrible appearances for the White Sox). Anderson finished the season well with the Dodgers, but struggled the next year.
The Boston Red Sox traded David Wells to the San Diego Padres for a player to be named later. The San Diego Padres sent George Kottaras (September 5, 2006) to the Boston Red Sox to complete the trade.
Wells was a similar story as some above, as he finished the season well, but was bad the next year. Kottaras had developed into a nice role player, but struggled with the Red Sox and was lost on waivers.
Saarloos was horrible with the Reds and went back to the A’s.
The Detroit Tigers traded Mike Maroth to the St. Louis Cardinals for a player to be named later. The St. Louis Cardinals sent Chris Lambert (August 30, 2007) to the Detroit Tigers to complete the trade
Maroth was horrible with the Cardinals, but Lambert turned out to be bad as well.
Colon didn’t do much in several chances with the Royals, but Christensen has never made the Majors.
Molina was a servicable back up for the Yankees.
Iguchi was solid for the Phillies in what turned out to be a good move for them.
Lohse was about an average starter for the Phillies in a small sample size, while Maloney got his chances and was below replacement.
Pinero’s run with the Cardinals was up and down, but overall he ate a lot of innings for them. Danielson has been out of professional ball since 2010.
Link never played for the White Sox, but Mackowiak was terrible.
Parrish was a terrible Mariner in a small sample size.
The San Francisco Giants traded Mark Sweeney to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a player to be named later. The Los Angeles Dodgers sent Travis Denker (August 25, 2007) to the San Francisco Giants to complete the trade.
Sweeney was a horrible Dodger, while Denker was a good Giant. However, Denker played just 24 games.
Macri never got much of a chance with the Twins while Ortiz was a terrible Rockie.
The Washington Nationals traded Ray King to the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named later. The Milwaukee Brewers sent Andrew Lefave (minors) (September 14, 2007) to the Washington Nationals to complete the trade.
Lefave never made the Majors and King struggled.
The Colorado Rockies traded Jamey Carroll to the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named later. The Cleveland Indians sent Sean Smith (minors) (April 24, 2008) to the Colorado Rockies to complete the trade.
Sean Smith’s professional career ended after 09, while Carroll was a solid regular (thanks to defense) with Cleveland
Yates mostly struggled as a Pirate.
Obviously, a good plurality of these trades are relievers for somewhat fringe prospects. The majority of them seem to be non impact trades for both teams, but some of them turned out to be very lopsided.
Something we should also look at, especially when we are looking at the trade for Alex Meyer for an established MLBer in Span, is the overall attrition rates between A-ball and the Majors. Since Meyer ended the year in the Carolina League (A +), we will go back a few years and see what the data tells us.
In 2007, out of the 88 pitchers who had at least 46 innings, 19 of them made the Majors. Out of the 100 batters with at least 138 plate appearances, 17 of them made the big leagues. In 2006, 25 of the qualified hitters made the Majors, while 28 of the pitchers made the Majors. In 2005, 25 of the pitchers made the Majors, while 19 of the hitters made the big leagues. This means about 27.6 % of pitchers made it to the big leagues while 20.3 % of hitters made it. I assumed that the attrition rate would be larger for pitchers, but for perhaps several different reasons (difference in need, variance, small sample size, or teams keeping their better hitting prospects out of the pitcher friendly league, etc.) it didn’t turn out to be the case.
Of course, this doesn’t differentiate between impact big leaguers and marginal big leaguers. So I looked at the pitchers in the Carolina League in ’04, in which a stunning 31 of 92 pitchers made it to the big leagues (33.7%). Those players had a total WAR of just 20.6, or .66 WAR per player. According to Baseball Reference (the WAR we are using for this, not because it is a better WAR, but just because it is easier to sort through minor league seasons using that site), light-hitting shortstop Brendan Ryan had a .5 O-WAR in 2012, and has a 4.7 O-WAR for his career. According to WAA (the non leverage adjusted one), 7 of the pitchers were above average (but at least 4 were in minimal innings), while 24 of them were below average. One could certainly note that just looking at this one year could cause selection bias, and that it could have just been a weak crop of prospects in the league that year. However 10 of those 31 pitchers appeared in the Baseball America’s top 100 prospects in baseball at some time. It was easier, at least that year, to be a top 100 prospect than to turn out to be an above average MLB pitcher. Meyer wasn’t even a top 100 prospect according to Baseball America coming into the year, but even if he was, that wouldn’t guarantee success. Meyer is a good pitcher, with a good fastball, good breaking pitch, good projection and extension. However, he isn’t a life changing prospect. The odds are that Meyer will never be Ben Revere (in value), much less Denard Span.
To me, it doesn’t seem wise, unless it is a straight salary dump, to trade an established big league starter/every day player with team control for one prospect. Exceptions are possible, such as if that prospect is already in AAA or dominating AA and is projected to move right into the Majors. There is too much risk and attrition in minor league players to put all of your eggs in one basket, especially, to be topical, in one like Meyer. I would honestly prefer a couple of lesser prospects than just one. Even though the attrition rate of pitchers was less in our data above, they are so risky. Even the best pitcher in the 2004 Carolina League is Brandon McCarthy, a solid pitcher, but one that has nearly had his career ruined on a couple different occasions by shoulder problems. He has reinvented himself and earned a 2 year 15 million dollar deal, but he was the ceiling for pitchers in that league. Statistically speaking, just according to odds, the Twins would be absolutely thrilled if Meyer turned out to be McCarthy. Denard Span has been worth more WAA and WAR over the last 3 seasons than McCarthy has been his entire career.