Wednesday, February 01, 2006

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?


At 2/02/2006 9:23 AM, Blogger PositivePaul said...

Shows ya, though, how important it is to have a cupboard full of prospects. That's what ired me so much in 2002-2003. We had a cupboard full of perceived prospects that were 'untouchable' while Gillick sat on his hands and did nothing -- NOTHING -- to bump the team into the playoffs. Now where are those 'untouchables'? Certainly not helping us out now.

At 2/02/2006 10:33 AM, Blogger marc w. said...

True. Still, at the time, I would've hit the roof if I was told the M's just offloaded Rett Johnson for a three month trial of whatever aging slugger the M's could've got.
It's tough; when the M's have made moves like that, they haven't always worked out. Remember Andy Benes and his 5.86 ERA (he went 7-2, and the M's won the ALDS, so we forget how staggeringly poorly he pitched)? Of course, the prospect we gave up turned into a ML journeyman reliever, so no harm done.

But yes: the M's should have a cupboard full of blue-chip prospects on hand at all times. We at Mariners Morsels are always willing to take a stand on the big issues, no matter what. Damn the consequences, I'm just going to say it: I want the M's to have the best farm system in baseball.

At 2/02/2006 10:57 AM, Blogger PositivePaul said...

Damn the consequences, I'm just going to say it: I want the M's to have the best farm system in baseball.

You'll be happy to know that when I talked to Bavasi on Saturday, that seems to be a huge focus of his. Actually, one hugely positive thing about signing both Washburn and Everett (over other guys like Millwood and Burnett, and even Weaver) is that we keep our draft picks (since neither of them was offered arbitration). That was very clearly part of Bavasi's plan.

I'm not sure what the draft tree offers this year, but at least we'll enter it with a bigger bushel. And, money to sign players, too, shouldn't be an issue. For all the crap we give the FO about not spending money on the payroll, a point can be made that they could be saving some for the very intention of using it on draft picks (nevermind international free agents, like Campillo and YuBet).

At 2/02/2006 1:09 PM, Blogger marc w. said...

Sadly, Baseball America's 2006 draft preview quotes a lot of GM's as saying that this is one of the thinner drafts in recent years. Some say it's deep but mediocre, others say it's just plain mediocre.
But they'll get someone, and as everyone keeps saying, they've been pretty good at finding good players recently. They've also got the money to *sign* their draft picks.

At 2/04/2006 2:03 PM, Blogger marc w. said...

Well THAT'S true: I don't see Atlanta's grand strategy in all of this. It's so odd, it makes me wonder about Marte's arm. People tend to give the Braves the benefit of the doubt, but it's awfully hard to in this case.

At 2/04/2006 7:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can understand that, from what I know. Nothings wrong with his arm at all. He was just log jammed at 3rd. They've got several prospects logged jammed like Marte was.

I guess they just deemed him expendable. I'd suggest reading "Scouts Honor" if you haven't read it. It really goes into the Braves system and talks about prospects, and the fact they're notorious trade bait.


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