Is Jon Daniels Really Overvaluing His Prospects?

Jon Daniels
I know, the title gave me tired head too. Just bear with me. Up to this point, the Texas Rangers offseason has been what one might define as both underwhelming and uneventful. The club has not yet made that splashy move which causes pundits to claim they won the offseason, or motivate fans to rush to the box office to purchase season tickets (Not sure that is still a thing). With so many players from other teams being traded this winter, fans have grown impatient with the Rangers lack of activity and perceived indifference from the general manager in regards to moving prospects from what is rated as one of the better farm systems in baseball.
General manager Jon Daniels has traded two prospects this winter in Christopher Bostick and Abel de Los Santos when he acquired pitcher Ross Detwiler from the Nationals, but without the addition of a marquee name, there seems to be this narrative that JD is hesitant to trade any significant prospects because he overvalues them. Daniels even had to answer at the winter meetings if he is placing his prospects on an unattainable pedestal, which he understandably responded to harshly. Here is a snippet of what Daniels told beat reporter Calvin Watkins:

“We’ve made proposals, gone back and forth,” Daniels said. “We would trade from our prospect group; it just has to be the right deal. That’s why I laugh. You get criticism for not trading these guys and you get criticism for trading too many of these guys. We’re apparently guilty of both.”

Daniels makes a fair point. He receives criticism for being myopic by giving up too much in trades for players such as Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, but is also excoriated for being leery of trading his young assets when he feels he is not receiving equal value in return. You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t, I guess.

The “JD overvalues his prospects” narrative was discussed by me and my colleague Billy Casey on a recent episode of The 20 Grade Podcast, and again earlier today in a Twitter thread featuring Billy and affable radio personality Jeff Cavanaugh. This is usually an argument I choose to dismiss due to the fact the point really is silly in my opinion. However, being the open minded baseball hipster I am, I decided to do some investigating and try to find out if Daniels may overvalue his prospects more than other general managers. So, let’s proceed if one has chosen to read this far into my article.

Before I introduce my research, I will state what I believe to be true. Young, cost controllable assets are the most valuable commodities in baseball. Even league average production from a young player earning the league minimum can be worth tens of millions of dollars in surplus value. All teams value prospects because, well, they are valuable. Here is a piece by Dave Cameron explaining how much additional value top 100 prospects according to Baseball America can provide clubs once they reach the majors. If the reader chooses to ignore the link, I will just say the money can be enormous. A lot of teams, including the Rangers, are aware of the bargains the young players now are, and how the players are peaking at younger ages when they are paid less money. With teams now more resistant to trade higher level prospects, trades for elite major league players including David Price and Josh Donaldson have at first glance been underwhelming due to the lack of impact prospects involved. General managers not named Jed Hoyer have recently been unable to pry the elite level prospects in trades for established big leaguers, which means a lot of upper echelon prospects are not being dealt.

I decided to browse the list of Baseball America’s Top 10 prospect index from 2014. Yes, I realize the list is close to a year old, and a lot can happen in one baseball season, but the 2015 index is not yet completed, so this is what we have. Also, the lists are subjective and choosing to use the top 10 is somewhat arbitrary, but this should give us some idea of how the prospects are valued. The following chart lists the team, the numbered prospect in the system traded, BA’s team prospect talent rankings in ‘14, and the number of top 10 prospects traded since the ’14 index was completed.

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A couple of notes before I proceed, The Braves #3 prospect, J.R. Graham, was recently selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Twins. The Dodgers #9 prospect, Onelki Garcia, was claimed on waivers by the Chicago White Sox, and Robbie Ray appeared on both the Nationals and Tigers lists, and has since been traded by both teams. Also, the Cardinals #1 prospect’s life was recently tragically cut short.

46 players (15%), 45 if you do not count Ray twice, from the BA Top 10 Index have been traded since last year. Only three number one prospects have been bartered, and one of them was Taylor Lindsay, a player who would not be a top prospect in most farm systems. Eleven teams have not traded any of their top ten prospects from a year ago, and ten teams have only traded one of their top 10 prospects since last season. That is two thirds of the major leagues. That leaves nine teams which have traded two or more of their top ten prospects, and only five which traded four or more.

Of the five teams which traded four or more, all were in the bottom third of the organizational rankings, with the Angels unsurprisingly possessing the worst farm system. The Marlins are also not what one would define as a team to model your franchise after. The team that moved four players which wielded a formidable farm system according to BA, recently hired a new general manager. You might have heard of him. With said GM having no real ties to any player in the system before he was hired, him moving players he has no real commitment to is more understandable.

Here are two more links one may be interested in, The 2014 Baseball America Top 100, and Midseason Top 50. The Rangers had five players in the Top 100, and two in the Midseason Top 50. None of them have been traded. Twelve players from the Top 100 have been moved, and not one from The Top 50 has been traded as Addison Russell had been traded a few days prior to the midseason list being released.

What does all of this information tell us? Well, what I take from the list is JD is not overvaluing his prospects any more than any of the other general managers. The majority of the teams which have been involved in the most prospect trades had poor farm systems, and when the need for improving their team at last year’s trade deadline occurred, the teams had to pay more because they did not have potent farm systems. The Addison Russell, Huston Street, and Joakim Soria are prime examples of pitching being more expensive at the trade deadline.

One should also have noticed the majority of teams who have refrained from trading prospects have above average farm systems. These teams are all in different stages of the win cycle, but the preference to hold on to their own guys is pretty apparent. Also consider a lot of money, time, and coaching goes into developing these players. Trading them can be emotionally difficult for players and employees of the club at times.

Is JD infallible? Of course not. He has made mistakes just like all general managers have the proclivity to do. As a Rangers enthusiast, do I wish the Rangers would fortify the back of their rotation? Sure, I do. While impact moves have been made via trade by other teams this offseason, the Rangers underselling their prospects and sacrificing future cost effective value for a win or two improvement when so many teams are attempting to compete would be short sighted. Underselling your prospects is the kind of thing which get GMs fired (Just ask Kevin Towers). And if one is frustrated by not signing a marquee free agent, realize good teams have not been signing free agents this offseason.

What I will concede is with the second wild card dynamic, and all of the potential financial benefits involved with competing in September and playing in October, punting a season may not be very shrewd. Also, having a top farm system does not necessarily guarantee success, and can be risky without much financial clout. However, top prospects are still important, and the fact JD has been unwilling to sacrifice future value for an extra win or two for a team Steamer does not think will be very competitive next season, is probably encouraging. Also, the Rangers made impact moves last offseason, and were unable to really discover if that team could be competitive due to a myriad of injuries. With some health, and some high leverage success, maybe the current roster competes in 2015.

What we have learned is if Daniels is indeed overvaluing his prospects, he certainly is not the only one. Prospects are valuable currency, and to advocate the GM undersell his prospects just because he has the depth and ability is foolish. Would you sell your dollar for fifty cents?

Dustin Dietz
Dustin graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, and a minor in history. He will often write about pitching mechanics and analytical baseball stuff. You will more than likely disagree with the majority of what he writes or says. In his spare time, Dustin time travels and plays at a replacement level in slow pitch softball leagues.

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