It happens every year at the MLB trade deadline.
A team makes a trade and that team’s fan base gripes as soon as they see the prospect or prospects that were exchanged in said trade.
Orioles fans, Cubs fans, Blue Jays fans…they’re all the same in this regard. They become familiar with a few farmhands and as soon as they read that one of the more recognizable prospects is heading out the door, they overreact.
Cardinal fans are an exception. They study the team’s farm system more than most fan bases in baseball. They know how hard Alex Reyes throws and that his walk rate is inflated. They know how good Luke Weaver’s command is and how much pop Harrison Bader could bring in a few years. They monitor Carson Kelly’s progress and most can tell you he was drafted as a third baseman before being moved to catcher.
But as knowledgeable as Cardinal fans are, they tend to overact, too.
Take the deal John Mozeliak just made at the trade deadline this year. He acquired left-hander Zach Duke from the White Sox in exchange for outfielder Charlie Tilson.
Fans seemingly like and understand the move. The Cards needed bullpen help due to Trevor Rosenthal’s issues. They needed to become more efficient at bridging the gap between their starting pitcher and closer Seung-hwan Oh, so Mozeliak acquired a pitcher in Duke that has 182 strikeouts over 157 relief innings the last three years. He’s not just a lefty specialist either, as right-handers are only hitting .182 off him this season.
That said, fans are familiar with Tilson. He was batting .282 with four home runs and 15 stolen bases for Triple-A Memphis this season. Fans know he can run and they see the high batting average so the thought process is, “We gave up a solid prospect for a reliever?”
Yeah, but have you seen what other teams have given up for relievers at the trade deadline?
The Cubs acquired the top bullpen arm on the market in Aroldis Chapman last week. They also paid dearly for him, parting with top prospect Gleyber Torres, outfield prospect Billy McKinney, right-hander Adam Warren, and minor-league outfielder Rashad Crawford.
Chapman is a rental, by the way. He could wind up pitching against the Cubs if he signs a free agent deal elsewhere this offseason.
Six days after the Cubs landed Chapman, the Indians parted with outfielder Clint Frazier, left-hander Justus Sheffield, and right-handers Ben Heller and J.P. Feyerisen. Unlike Chapman, Miller is under contract for 2017 and 2018, plus he’s one of the top relievers in the game.
But Frazier is considered one of the better outfield prospects in baseball and Sheffield is a former first-round pick. The Indians didn’t exactly get a bargain for Miller, even if nobody in Cleveland is going to complain about the team trying to arm themselves for a World Series run.
Not to be outdone, the Giants parted with their top pitching prospect in Phil Bickford and one-time backup catcher Andrew Susac to acquire Will Smith from the Brewers. Smith is only 27 and carries three more seasons of arbitration eligibility but he’s no Miller or Chapman. He’s also not even a closer. Yet the Giants felt compelled to part with their top prospect in Bickford, a player they drafted 18th overall in 2015 and who ranked 50th on Baseball America’s midseason top 100.
Their top prospect. For a reliever.
The Cubs, Indians and Giants got better at the deadline. Many of the aforementioned prospects were also blocked by veterans with multiple years left on their contracts. But all three of these teams paid premium prices to acquire non-starters.
Tilson is a nice prospect but he projected as a fourth outfielder. Duke fills an immediate need for the Cardinals and has another year left on his contract beyond this season. Best of all, the Cards didn’t part with Reyes, Weaver or Jack Flaherty to acquire Duke from Chicago.
Compared to what other teams in the National League gave up in efforts to beef up their bullpens, the Cards made out just fine.