Regardless of what size market a baseball team plays in, it’s critical to maintain a strong farm system. The small market Oakland A’s have been a powerhouse team in the last decade thanks to a farm system that produced Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez and others. The large market New York Yankees had their latest dynasty thanks to homegrown players Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.
As a fan, there’s no better thing than for your team to develop its own players. This way, you can follow them through the farm system, get excited when they are promoted, suffer through the growing pains as they learn to play in the Majors and finally enjoy watching a superstar develop right before your eyes. As a Mets fan, it’s great to have free agent Carlos Beltran on the team, but he’ll never approach the same level of stardom for the team’s fans as Jose Reyes and David Wright, who both grew up as members of the Mets.
But while it’s great to have homegrown players on the roster, the farm system also exists to help fill needs for the Major League team. Perhaps the most famous example of this is when the Braves traded three Minor League players for Fred McGriff, who helped lead the Braves in their miraculous comeback to win the 1993 NL West race.
Right now there are (at least) four clubs who have an excess of talent in their farm system in certain positions but who have gaping holes on their Major League roster. The Devil Rays, Angels, Mets and Dodgers could all benefit from trading some of their prospects for help at the Major League level.
The Devil Rays have some of the finest top young hitters in the game. Unfortunately, they also have just two capable starting pitchers in their rotation. Tampa Bay actually made a low level move last season to help alleviate this problem, when they dealt speedy outfielder Joey Gathright to the Royals for pitcher J.P. Howell. Currently in Triple-A, Howell has 56 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings but has a 4.70 ERA and a 3-4 record.
The Devil Rays have Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Elijah Dukes, Johnny Gomes and Delmon Young fighting for playing time among the three outfield positions and designated hitter. The farm system has top prospects Evan Longoria and Joel Guzman at third base and Reid Brignac and Ben Zobrist at shortstop. Meanwhile, the starting rotation in Tampa has three pitchers (Casey Fossum, Jae Seo and Edwin Jackson) with ERA’s over 7.00 for the season.
This past year’s free agent market showed what a premium starting pitching goes for on the open market, so the Devil Rays will have a hard time getting someone to trade a quality starting pitcher. But they did it once before, fleecing the Mets out of Scott Kazmir. One team that has shown a willingness to deal starting pitching recently are the Oakland A’s. The Devil Rays could make an attractive trading partner. A trade of Carl Crawford (.295/.367/.483) and Evan Longoria (.310/.426/.568 at Double-A) for Dan Haren (4-2, 1.74 ERA) and Joe Kennedy (1-3, 2.70 ERA) is a deal that could help both clubs.
The Angels have stockpiled young talent in recent years and have shown a complete reluctance to move it for needed parts. The team has a glut of middle infielders, while desperately needing a power bat to bolster Vladimir Guerrero in the lineup on an everyday basis. They could really use an upgrade at designated hitter, where Shea Hillenbrand carries a dismal .252 on-base percentage to go along with a woeful .309 slugging mark.
Two years ago, many considered Brandon Wood to be the top prospect in all of baseball. A shortstop, he hit 43 home runs and batted .321 in the Single-A California League. But the Angels already have Orlando Cabrera at the Major League level and Erick Aybar is also a Major League quality shortstop in the system. The Reds meanwhile have been less than thrilled with the strikeouts of Adam Dunn, who still posts a .528 slugging mark despite fanning once every three times at the plate. The Reds also recently demoted former top prospect Edwin Encarnacion, a third baseman with lots of promise. Cincinnati is in the market for pitching, so a Brandon Wood and Chris Bootcheck (3.52 ERA in 10 games as a RP) for Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion deal could help both squads.
The Mets have exciting young outfielders Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez and Lastings Milledge in the farm system and Carlos Beltran in the middle of a seven-year contract firmly entrenched in the Majors. They also have no long-term answers apparent at either catcher or second base. It’s hard to imagine a second baseman worth one of the Mets’ outfielders but a top young catcher would be a good haul.
Ironically, the one team with a quality backstop who might be available is division rival Atlanta. The Braves have All-Star Brian McCann as the team’s starting catcher and also recently promoted Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who has shown no signs of being over-matched in his brief stay in the Majors. A Gomez (.286/.363/..414 as a 21-year old in Triple-A)-Saltalamacchia (.309/.404/.617 as a 21-year old at Double-A) swap would help both teams, especially if the Braves lose Andruw Jones to free agency after the 2007 season.
The Dodgers have just called up youngsters Andy LaRoche and Tony Abreu to help fill their void at third base, although they don’t seem ready to allow either player to claim the job outright. They also have several promising outfielders, including Delwyn Young and Matt Kemp in the Minors.
The Blue Jays have seen injuries rob them of any chance of competing this season, which might make All-Star Troy Glaus available. A deal of LaRoche (who batted .315/.410/.514 last season in the Minors)-Kemp (who batted .346/.414..543 last season in the Minors) for Glaus-Casey Janssen (0.81 ERA in 18 games as a reliever) could help both teams.
Trading prospects is a difficult thing for most clubs to do. They don’t want to give up the cheap years of a player’s career and they certainly don’t want to trade someone who develops into the next Alex Rodriguez. But it does no good to have too many prospects at one position and a void elsewhere on the field. The best deals are the ones that help both clubs and the Devil Rays, Angels, Mets and Dodgers are all in a position to make those kinds of trades with their existing Minor League depth.