Friday, July 31, 2009

Learning all the Wrong Lessons from the Soriano Non-Deal

It's become a virtual folk legend around these parts that Jim Bowden did the right thing when he didn't trade Alfonso Soriano at the trade deadline in 2006, because when he signed with the Cubs we got two compensatory picks, one of whom became the eighth wonder of the world, the flow o' the century... oh it's timeless... HOVA!

Now I love Jordan Zimmermann as much if not more than anyone. Josh Smoker is an utter flop, but there's little question that Zimmermann is a more valuable player to the Nationals than Alfonso Soriano or probably anyone we'd heard about being offered in a trade.

NTP reminds us that the best offer that was rumored at the time was Soriano was Jason Kubel and Scott Baker. Now, make no mistake--Kubel and Baker are hardly chump change. Baker is a solid mid-rotation starter, and he would have been the Opening Day starter for the Nationals this year. And Jason Kubel has busted out this season with a monster .307 / .377 / .553 line that bests even Soriano's excellent 2006. Had JimBo made that deal, he would have done just fine.

Of course the team later denied that this deal was ever offered, and Dave Sheinen later reported that Kevin Slowey was the best offer, though it's not clear whether that was straight up. In any case, we don't know what the team was offered. Kasten insists they were offered less value than Jhonny Nunez, but what-ev... that lacks a certain truthiness.

If we assume though that Jordan Zimmermann is better than anything we were offered, shouldn't we conclude that Bowden did the right thing?

The answer is yes, but really it's no. Huh? OK, hang with me.

The key for any team is to focus on using good method and worry less about the outcomes. If you're using a sound process, including a smart overall strategy, considering the best data and scout evaluations, etc., then you're going to come out ahead more often than not.

Sometimes, you'll make the right decision and it won't work out. Boz is right--Strasburg could get hurt. That doesn't mean that if he gets hurt the Nationals were wrong to draft him. Or that if he stays healthy that means we were right. Drafting and paying for the best player available is the sound decision, so that's what you should do. You just have to accept that shiznit happens, and you can only control the things you can control.

Also, sometimes you make a dumb decision and you get lucky. Like not trading Soriano and hitting on Zimmermann.

Consider the list of #67 overall picks in draft history. Since 1980, you have Kurt Suzuki, Chad Qualls, and Wally Joyner. No other players drafted in that spot in 30 years had any kind of career on MLB, until Zimmermann. The history of the #31 pick (the Smoker pick) is a little better, especially with that guy Greg Maddux drafted by the Cubs in '84. But it's not that great. In 30 years, you have Maddux, Kirt Manwaring, Aaron Heilman, Jarrod Washburn, J.P. Howell, and a couple other marginal guys.

Those are bad odds. Much worse than the odds of grabbing Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, or Jason Kubel. Like choosing Rollins College, Bowden made a dumb decision and somehow it worked out for him anyway. But most of the time his methods resulted in Daniel Cabrera-type moves.

So when you're evaluating Rizzo or any other GM, focus on method, not so much outcomes. And be careful, when a team does something dumb but lucks out, chalk that up to good luck, and don't draw the lesson that it's good to be dumb and hope for luck.

P.S. Rizzo!! Take the Marlins deal for Nick!!!


flippin said...

I agree completely. Even though I think the guys that we could get for NJ are disappointing, I think any deal is probably better than no deal. At the end of the day at least we get something of value before our asset walks out the door. I am not sure what the compensation pick for NJ would be should he leave, but I doubt it's worth more than a former first rounder....

Harper said...

Agree - but this is also works against trading some players you've mentioned before as "should have beens". Without hindsight -who's more likely to help you in 2010 the 31 year old Nick Johnson, coming off of a season and a half of great play or whatever prospects you would get for him?

He was a special case (just signed a very affordable 3 year deal) but that's the crux pick any date in the future and figure out what's worth more.

estuartj said...

you argument, though certainly valid, is no relevant to today's goings on. Nick Johnson and Biemel are the only guys that are FA this year and neither seems likely to get return picks.

Thus the only question is what we are being offer worth more than having the guys on the team?

I'm also thinking Guzman will clear waivers so he could still be dealt later, and he Willingham, Dunn, etc could be traded this off-season for a better package than anything being offered today.

Steven said...

I think you guys are missing one point, which is that you have to think about player value within the construction of your overall team, and your plan to contend.

Let's say option is to resign Nick for 2 years, and let's assume he gives us 3 WAR per year over that time, playing on teams that win let's say 69 and 75 games.

Let's then say option 2 is to trade for a prospect who gives us 3 WAR in 2011 and 2012, playing on teams that win 79 and 83 games.

In option 2, those 3 WAR are more valuable because they are wins that are putting you in a playoff race, maybe even getting you in.

All this presumes that the Scats are geting better though, and to get better they have to have a strategy to improve over time, and they will NOT improve over time by just sitting on 30 year olds and watching their skills erode playing for terrible teams.

Harper said...

but it seems like you are doing something for the Soriano deal that you aren't for the Nick deal - which is factoring in odds. Nick (pre FREAK injur) would have been very high odds to give you that WAR number while a prospect, even if in a better time frame, would be much lower odds.

That to me is the crux of your Soriano talk. Slowey was so much more likely to give you something that it's better to deal for him than rely on draft picks.

Steven said...

You're probably right on some of the exact examples that have been tossed out.

After all, if I was going to describe "good methods," it would probably not include my personal method of flipping through the prospect handbook, thinking about it for 2 minutes while changing a diaper, and deciding, "yes!!!" I do my best, but I'm sure I'm wrong plenty, especially on 20 year olds I've never seen.

The other question with Nick is whether they are resigning him or not, which means, are they in the latter stages of contract talks with him NOW. If not, they ought to be assuming that the question is a) trade nick for something or b) lose him for nothing.

Harper said...

Honestly right now, at 30, still not sure the power will come back, looks a little off in the field, I think you gotta deal Nick.

I won't kill them if the end up with something like 2 yrs 6 mill for Nick but if that's the case we should be hearing about that tomorrow.

Steven said...

I won't kill them if the end up with something like 2 yrs 6 mill for Nick but if that's the case we should be hearing about that tomorrow.

That's my post for tomorrow. If they don't trade him, they damn well better have a contract extension to announce.

Anonymous said...

Happy now? Beimel and Nick are traded.

NG said...

The decision whether to trade a pending free agent or take the draft compensation doesn't lend itself to a one-size-fits-all decision process. There's no way to define or implement the method or process you talk about without defining who the minor leaguers are and what your expectations are for them.

Certainly, the expected value of the "average" minor league player is significantly lower than the average expected value for the #30 or #67 picks you discuss, so you can't just say that a rebuilding team should always take minor leaguers over draft picks. Would Toronto be making the right decision if the traded Roy Halliday to the Nationals for Kory Casto?

The Soriano non-deal has the odd history that, in retrospect, the Nationals probably would've been fine either way. But if their scouting and evaluation didn't think very highly of Slowey in 2006, for example, you can't say they made the wrong decision by not taking him.

Roberto said...

Happy now? Beimel and Nick are traded.

The Beimel deal is a good example of the problems with the "they stink so why not trade for prospects?" approach.

The Beilmel deal was a "trade" in only the most formalistic sense of the term. In all likelihood neither Ryan Mattheus nor Robinson Fabian will ever contribute anything to the Nats -- Beimel might has well been DFA'd.

Or, since he projected as a "Type B" FA, the Nats could have kept him, gotten what they could have out of him and used the compensatory pick to try and get something better than Mattheus and Fabian. It could scarcely be worse.