Crisp, Marte, and minor Marcs of M's history
The recent Cleveland/Boston trade that sent Coco Crisp to Boston in exchange for Andy Marte has inspired a great deal of discussion around the M's - and national- blogosphere. The Lookout Landing diary here inspired a debate concerning Crisp's bat, and the discussion at USSM focused equal attention on Crisp's defensive value. Today, Baseball Prospectus weighed in with an article from Joe Sheehan taking a moderate approach: the Indians win in the long run, but Boston picked up a good player who may push them over the top right now.
A number of commenters on the deal see it rather simply: Boston got fleeced. The value of Andy Marte (BP's #1 prospect in baseball for 2005), or rather his potential, far outweighs what Crisp brings to the table, even if he gets a bit better, or even if he is a slightly above average CF (which many debate). Marte did quite well in the Southern League at age 20, hitting for power despite being younger than just about everyone he was facing. Clearly, he's an elite prospect, and someone that PECOTA, among others, expect great things from as early as 2006.
But looking at Marte's line made me think of another hitter who came through the same league a bit over a decade ago. Let's try one of those player A/player B things that make USSM so popular (chicks dig the player comps):
Player A: .269/ .364/ .525 .889; 50% of hits are XBH; 58/105/387 BB/K/AB
Player B: .307/.372/ .530 .902; 36% of hits are XBH; 33/35/336 BB/K/AB
Both players were 20 years old, and both played in the Southern League.
I can't say that one is obviously better; what stat matters to you when looking at minor league stats will obviously determine your answer. Some would say that player B is a singles hitter who may fizzle out against better pitching. Others might argue that Player A's strikeout rate is unacceptably high, and shows he'll be overmatched in MLB, or settle in as a Russ Branyan/Rob Deer 'three true outcomes' type.
If you haven't already clicked the link, Player B is M's megabust Marc Newfield, a talented outfielder the M's drafted out of high school in California in 1990. He didn't hit for a great deal of power coming up (though his 18 HRs in the season linked above, at age 20, is not too shabby), but he was 6'4" and over 200lbs, so people just kinda thought it would come.
It didn't. His MLB career line of .249/.303/.375 is pretty much replacement level personified. I have no idea why he never panned out; he played in the one and only game I ever saw in Fenway Park, and was always a favorite of mine, long after it became apparent he wasn't the guy who would put a stop to the M's revolving door at LF.
The point here isn't that Marte is Newfield redux. The point is that teams discount for prospects, and they're right to. For every Randy Johnson, who rewards a team for valuing potential, there's a Newfield or a Patrick Lennon, that punishes a team for the same quality. And a team that's quite close to competing for a pennant might prefer the sure, if unspectacular, thing to the spectacular, if hypothetical, brilliance of today's uberprospect.
This trade generated so much discussion because there are tons of issues at play:
Is Crisp a potential star, or is he just Randy Winn with a cool name?
What do we do when defensive stats say Crisp is an elite LF, but scouts say he's not?
What will Marte become in 2-3 years?
When looking at prospects, what quality is more important, plate discipline or pure power?
How do we, as fans, treat injury rumors (like we had with Marte)?
What else are we going to talk about in January/February?