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Minor Details: Avoiding trade disasters

12.03.10 at 1:12 pm ET

This week’s episode of the Minor Details podcast examined the importance of an organization’s ability to scout its own prospects. The significance is substantial, since an organization that undervalues its prospects risks a potentially disastrous trade along the lines of the 1990 deal made by the Red Sox of then-prospect Jeff Bagwell for middle reliever Larry Andersen. At the same time, an organization that overvalues its prospects risks inaction, and missed opportunities to trade for players who can help a club or even stars.

This week’s guests on Minor Details are former Arizona Diamondbacks GM (and Red Sox assistant GM) Josh Byrnes and former Red Sox player and manager Butch Hobson, who served as Bagwell’s manager with Double-A New Britain in 1990. (The significance of the Bagwell deal resurfaced this week, as the Astros great is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.) Byrnes talked about the state of the trade market, some of his past trades and the idea of trading outfielder Justin Upton, who played for Byrnes in Arizona.

To listen to the podcast, click here. Some highlights:

Byrnes suggested that, in order to get a good view of their own prospects, organizations might have 10 or 15 evaluators — some who had nothing to do with the acquisition of a player — scout the player in an effort to achieve an accurate assessment.

Byrnes on the industry-wide value of prospects in trades:

Some prospects are going to hit, some are going to miss. That’€™s just what history tells us. … If teams are going to miss, they’€™re going to miss by overvaluing their own. Sometimes that bogs down the trade dynamic.

Byrnes on why trades might be a better route to building a roster than free agency:

When you’€™re trading for guys, generally you can find guys, if you’€™re willing to step up, in their prime for shorter commitments. One of the biggest fears of free agency is you’€™re generally signing players who are in their 30s to long deals. We all know that a lot of those deals don’€™t end well. … There can be a market inefficiency [in the value of prospects in the trade market]. There always is when everyone runs too far in one direction.

We did make a lot of trades [with the Diamondbacks]. … We didn’€™t spend on free agency. Literally, for two offseasons, we didn’€™t spend a dollar.

On whether the Diamondbacks’ trade of Dan Haren to the A’s — in which Arizona sent prospects Brett Anderson and Justin Upton to Oakland — might serve as a model for a potential Diamondbacks deal of Justin Upton:

Maybe. As much as the player’€™s talent is a huge determining factor, you almost can’€™t say it enough, the years of control and the cost are huge factors in valuing what you’€™re getting or what you’€™re giving up. With Upton, we all know that he’€™s a good player now and has a chance to be a star-level player. There are five years of contract at about $49 million.

If you’€™re a team acquiring him, one, I feel like that fits in virtually any team’€™s budget, and two, you might have gotten impact performance without total free agent cost, so it might free up dollars to do other things.

Byrnes on Upton’s talent:

It’€™s significant. He probably has two issues to correct. One is the strikeouts. Two is finding a way to stay on the field for 155 games. ‘€¦ To be an elite player, he’€™s got to cut down on the strikeouts, but he already is very good. He can certainly hit in the middle of the order, hit for average, draw walks, hit for power. Something that he’€™s worked very hard on, his defense, I think, has gotten very good. And he’€™s a very good base runner and base stealer. You put it all together and he can do a lot of things. I also think you can play center field if you need him to. ‘€¦ He’€™s a very good talent. Some of the longtime baseball people compare him to some big names in the history of the game. That’€™s maybe unfair to Justin, but it also shows you what’€™s possible.

Byrnes on the difficulty of making trades?

They’€™re pretty hard to make. It’€™s funny. In my time, some of the shops I was friendliest with and people I’€™d worked with and knew really well, we tended not to make deals. It wasn’€™t for lack of trying. A lot of times we saw players the same way. We evaluated them the same way. Unless there’€™s some sort of gap, it’€™s sometimes hard to make a trade. … That difference of opinion ultimately makes both sides feel like they got what they wanted. Sometimes, when you agree too much, you can’€™t make a deal.

Byrnes on Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, two players whom the Sox refused to trade:

I remember calling Theo after Pedroia won the MVP and Youkilis finished third. As much as we really liked both those guys, and felt they were championship starting major league players, I said, ‘€˜Did you ever really envision the day where Pedroia would win the MVP and Youkilis would finish third?’€™ And he said, ‘€˜Maybe not, but they did.’€™ And that’€™s what we always loved about those guys.

Hobson on Bagwell in 1990, when he hit .333 with a .422 OBP and four homers in New Britain:

I projected him as a guy to hit anywhere from 20-30 home runs. …He had power potential. He had the wide stance. He had strength in his forearms and hands.

When the trade was made, we were all shocked, but we also realized, we’€™re baseball people and that happened.

He wanted to be a Red Sox player. That was the organization he wanted to play for, because he was a Red Sox fan.

Read More: Arizona Diamondbacks, Butch Hobson, Dan Haren, jeff bagwell
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