Monday, December 03, 2007

The Classes of 2003 and 2008

I felt that it was a very nice little coincidence this week when the two blockbuster trades both involved a young outfielder who first made a name for himself as a big high school prospect in the 2003 amateur draft. It is especially noteworthy to me, as I myself am a member of the class of 2003. Now of course I am not and never have been a major league prospect, but it is not hard to feel a bit of a connection to the players in the exact same age range as you, who are reaching adulthood at the same time as you. In basketball we had LeBron James to bear our standard, and in baseball, Delmon Young and Lastings Milledge were two of our very best prospects.

On the trades themselves, my opinion is not particularly interesting, since I have no special insight on the players and so many other voices have already weighed in. I think that the Rays-Twins trade was just a great baseball trade, one that will be fun to watch over the years to see who emerges on top. Were I running things in Tampa Bay, I would have found it very difficult to trade away a talent like Delmon Young, and I’m not usually one impressed by toolsy players with pitiful walk rates. If I had to guess, I’d say Matt Garza is able to provide more early value, but eventually the Twins win the deal. It’s a great trade, though, because eminently reasonable people can view it any number of ways.

The same will not be said of the Milledge deal. There is very little that can be said in defense of it, it seems; most comments that are not made by people with jaws on the floor tend to stress that Milledge is not that good of a prospect, and that the trade is not an all-time debacle. If that is the best that can be said for a deal, then it almost certainly shouldn’t have been made.

I have also seen the point raised that critics of the trade are overstating not only Milledge’s prospects but his trade value, and that Minaya obviously found that the value was only Schneider and Church. I have two problems with this argument, the first of which is simply that because Minaya felt that Schneider and Church was the most valuable package he could receive does not make it so.

The second is that the argument treats the relationship between a ballplayer and his general manager in the same manner as the relationship between a gallon of milk and a store manager. Even if we suppose that the Nationals’ package represents the extent of Milledge’s value, he’s not a commodity with an expiration date. He doesn’t need to be cashed in.

If I may make an even more ridiculous analogy, the relationship between the GM and the player is more like the relationship between me and my car. I have a car, and it has a certain resale value; which, in the case of my lovely early 1990s automobile, not a whole heckuva lot, but someone would take it at some price. If I sold the car, the best I might be able to get for it is $1,000. So if I do sell it for $1,000, have I made a good deal? After all, I got fair market value for it.

My answer is: depends. I was under no obligation to sell the car, so we have to consider other factors, like how much it will cost to replace my car. A better example is probably the stock market. If I sell a stock for $15, I have by definition received fair market value--there's not even a question about it. But if you were an investment advisor, would you just tell your clients to feel free to buy and sell stocks willy-nilly, just because by definition any stock transaction is a fair deal?

My point is that just because Milledge has X trade value doesn’t justify a decision to trade him for X. This is a trade for which it is very hard to see the upside for the Mets. If Brian Schneider and Ryan Church are going to outperform whoever the Mets’ other alternatives for their roster spots would have been, and doing so will make a significant impact on their fortunes, than I would submit that it is going to be a rough year in Queens.

Moving on, there is the Class of 2008. The potential Hall of Fame class, that is. As I have written before, I don’t really care about who goes into the HOF, because I don’t believe that the HOF has any capacity to honor the truly great players anymore (and “anymore” is not a new condition; the situation dates back to the 1970s at least) . I care a little bit, to about the same extent as I care about who wins NBA games. If Bert Blyleven is finally elected, it will still not be an honor to tell him that he is in the same class as Rube Marquard. As far as I am concerned, they can only dishonor him by waiting a dozen years before considering him worthy of standing aside Marquard.

If it was just Marquard, that would be on thing. But it’s not--it's Pop Haines, and Catfish Hunter, and Bob Lemon, and Chief Bender, and Dizzy Dean, and Jack Chesbro, and Lefty Gomez. None of whom should flatter Blyleven, or Tommy John for that matter, as company.

So I try to stay out of the HOF debates; while I like the “who was better than who” exercise as much as any baseball fan, it’s a lot more interesting to make your own lists, or follow along with something like the Hall of Merit or to just argue about players on a message board. So I’m not going to write an essay begging and pleading for the induction of Alan Trammell, Bert Blyleven, Tommy John, Goose Gossage, Mark McGwire, and Tim Raines, or bemoaning the fact that the BBWAA voters didn’t even give Lou Whitaker a second chance on the ballot. I’m going to write a sentence that does that, and move on with my life. Now excuse me; the Bobcats might be playing the Clippers right now.

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