The Value Of 1st Rounders In Trades


Hopping around the internet this afternoon, I came across an interesting article on MLB Trade Rumors today. The post by Tim Dierkes was called “Draft Picks Currency” and can be read here. To summarize, essentially Dierkes took a look at all the deals that involved the trading of a teams 1st round pick within 3 years of making that pick.

The Tigers name came up on that list multiple times, the first of course being the Miguel Cabrera trade in which the Tigers dealt 2005 and 2006 first rounders Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller. The 2nd time was this past summer when supplemental 1st rounder Chance Ruffin was included in the deal to acquire Doug Fister. While we won’t know how well the Fister deal turns out for a couple of years, the Cabrera trade has turned out to be highway robbery for the Tigers.

I found this article particularly interesting because there has been talk this off-season of the Tigers potentially trading a couple of their more recent 1st round picks in Jacob Turner and Nick Castellanos. Tigers fans have had mixed reactions to the youngsters, particularly the more often mentioned Turner, being dangled in trade proposals for the likes of Gio Gonzalez and Matt Garza. Fans have certainly balked at including both in the same deal, especially for mid-rotation starters, and I can’t blame them for that.

That being said, I have been on record as saying I would be willing to part with one of these guys in a package deal to acquire guys like Gonzalez and Garza. After reading through the list of players that have been acquired for first round picks, I feel comfortable in saying, the teams that acquire the major league player usually come out on the better end. What these deals show is teams are clearly willing to pay for potential, and often that potential goes unrealized to it’s fullest.

Some of the players that have been acquired in recent history that involved first rounders include; Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee (twice), Matt Holliday, Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Freddy Sanchez, Shaun Marcum and C.C. Sabathia. There is quite a list of talented major leaguers involved in these deals. The guys those teams received in return? Not so much.

The Jays received two 1st rounders in return for Halladay in Kyle Drabek and Travis d’Arnaud. Drabek struggled mightily last season, but still has potential, and d’Arnaud is ranked by many the top prospect in the Blue Jays organization at the catching position. That being said, I don’t think the Phillies regret what they have gotten from Halladay at all so far, and would probably do this deal again in a heartbeat.

The A’s and Billy Beane got absolutely robbed. Holliday brought back 1st rounder Brett Wallace and a couple other guys who aren’t there any longer. Holliday has gone on to murder the ball for the Cardinals the past couple years, and none of the guys the A’s received are in their organization.That might have more to do with Billy Beane and his ability to identify talent more than anything.

Anyway, I could go through the whole list for you here, but you can read all these deals through the link provided above if you would like.

The main point here is that 1st round picks value is often at its highest before the players actually begin playing the majors. The jump to the majors is a tremendous one, and often exposes the weaknesses that are masked because of talent level in the minors. That doesn’t mean that Jacob Turner or Nick Castellanos can’t turn out to be tremendous players. They certainly can. However, we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that trading either of them away is damaging to the future of the franchise. I’m not sure that owner Mike Ilitch is all that concerned about the future right now anyway.

Now, these deals aren’t made in a vacuum of course. A lot of the quality veteran players were dealt because of contract concerns by their clubs, or by teams that weren’t contending in the foreseeable future. For instance, Cliff Lee was dealt by the Mariners at the deadline in 2010, simply because the Mariners knew he was going to test the free agent market in the off-season. The Mariners weren’t likely to re-sign him. Plus, they weren’t in contention either. Still, it was a smart move by the Rangers to part with 1st rounder Justin Smoak, even for just a couple months of Cliff Lee. It helped them get into the World Series,and despite some occasional flashes, Smoak hasn’t established himself as a quality major leaguer yet.

Tigers fans should take notice of this list created by Dierkes. There are only a couple of deals there where the 1st rounder’s value could exceed the level of play of the veteran. Brett Lawrie for Shaun Marcum comes to mind here, though Marcum was valuable to Milwaukee’s playoff run last year. In hindsight, the Brewers would probably like to have kept Lawrie, but without Marcum they might not have made the playoffs at all.

I’m not saying that the Tigers have to trade, or should trade Jacob Turner and Nick Castellanos because they are destined to be a flop. I’m just suggesting that we keep an open mind fellow Tigers fans. After all, at one time AnDrew Miller and Cameron Maybin were considered top 15 prospects overall as well. The Tigers maximized their value while they were still in the minors, and that strategy could potentially come up again.

Any deal involving the Tigers recent 1st rounders isn’t likely to be for a rental like Cliff Lee though, so we can take some solace in that. GM Dave Dombrowski has shown that he looks to get youngish stars, or cost controlled players in these types of deals.

The argument could be made that the Tigers top two prospects value is as high as it’s ever going to be. They are talented and haven’t been exposed much at the big league level. They are also cost controlled. That is obviously inviting to any team out there. Either way, I trust Dombrowski to maximize their value if he should decide to deal them at some point.

If not, I am okay with keeping them too.