• Yanks Fooling Themselves With Prospects?

    Posted by on June 27th, 2008 · Comments (24)

    Via Ken Davidoff:

    The Mets may be more likely to make the playoffs this year, thanks to their strong starting rotation and weak competition – and the Yankees’ weak starting rotation and strong competition. But over the next five seasons and beyond, the Yankees are much better positioned than their Flushing counterparts because of their considerably deeper farm system.

    “We’ve been very aggressive in the amateur market, as we said we would be,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said yesterday. “We’ve been more aggressive on the amateur side and less aggressive on the free-agent side. It’s common sense.”

    When Cashman was set to bolt the Yankees after the 2005 season, he put forth, in writing, his recommendations for the organization. Part of that recommended business model was to ignore Selig’s mandate and go after the best amateur talent available.

    George Steinbrenner asked Cashman to come back and promised to allow those recommendations to become reality. Now, when you combine the Yankees’ 2006-08 drafts (assuming everyone signs) with the trades of Gary Sheffield and Johnson in the 2006-07 offseason and the acumen of amateur scouting vice president Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ inventory ranks among the elite in baseball.

    This is always nice to hear. But, you also have to take it for what it’s worth. Reading this, I decided to go back to Baseball America’s 2002 Prospect Handbook, to see which teams were ranked as having the best prospect “blend” (in terms of quality and quality) in their farm system. Here’s how Baseball America ranked the top five minor league systems in 2002:

    1. Chicago Cubs
    2. Seattle Mariners
    3. Houston Astros
    4. San Diego Padres
    5. New York Yankees

    The Cubs, at that time, had Mark Prior, Juan Cruz, Hee Seop Choi, David Kelton, Bobby Hill, Carlos Zambrano, Nic Jackson, Ben Christensen, Scott Chiasson and Luis Montanez as their top ten prospects – according to Baseball America. How many of those are doing well for the Cubs, six years later?

    The Mariners, at that time, had Ryan Anderson, Rafael Soriano, Antonio Perez, Chris Snelling, Clint Nageotte, Jeff Heaverlo, Shin-Soo Choo, Ryan Christianson, Jamal Strong and Matt Thornton as their top ten prospects – according to Baseball America. How many of those are doing well for the M’s, six years later?

    The Astros, at that time, had Carlos Hernandez, John Buck, Chris Burke, Jason Lane, Brad Lidge, Anthony Pluta, Morgan Ensberg, Rodrigo Rosario, Chad Qualls, and Tommy Whiteman as their top ten prospects – according to Baseball America. How many of those are doing well for the Astros, six years later?

    The Padres, at that time, had Sean Burroughs, Dennis Tankersley, Jake Peavy, Xavier Nady, Mark Phillips, Ben Howard, Eric Cyr, Jake Gautreau, Ramon Vazquez, and Oliver Perez as their top ten prospects – according to Baseball America. How many of those are doing well for the Padres, six years later?

    When you look at these “Top Ten” lists six years later…it’s not a reach to say that, maybe, one of the top ten paid off – in terms of being a big leaguer of sustained worth…on average.

    Oh, and, how about the Yankees farm system in 2002? The one ranked as the 5th best in baseball?

    The Yankees, at that time, had Drew Henson, Nick Johnson, Brandon Claussen, John-Ford Griffin, Juan Rivera, Sean Henn, Marcus Thames, Erick Almonte, Jason Arnold and Bronson Sardinha as their top ten prospects – according to Baseball America. How many of those are doing well for the Yanks, six years later? Zip.

    Coming into this season, Baseball America ranked the current Yankees top ten prospects as follows:

    1. Joba Chamberlain
    2. Austin Jackson
    3. Jose Tabata
    4. Ian Kennedy
    5. Alan Horne
    6. Jesus Montero
    7. Jeffrey Marquez
    8. Brett Gardner
    9. Ross Ohlendorf
    10. Andrew Brackman

    Now, Joba Chamberlain looks like the real deal. But, the others? If this little study tells us anything, well, you just don’t know, for sure. What looks wonderful, in terms of “prospect status,” at one moment can look totally different six years later.

    There’s a pretty good chance, come 2013, we could be looking back and saying “Wow, remember all those ‘prospects’ that Cashman collected in 2006, 2007, and 2008? Outside of Joba, what every happened to those guys?”

    Comments on Yanks Fooling Themselves With Prospects?

    1. thenewguy
      June 27th, 2008 | 9:57 am

      so does this mean its bad to have a good farm system? good players have to come from somewhere, they don’t just appear in the majors. Baseball is a fickle game, talent-wise, as players appear from nowhere and can disappear just as quickly. The Aaron Small’s appear much more in baseball than the other major sports.

      That said, I certainly think it is important to have top prospects, as well as keeping one’s eye out for the many diamonds-in-the-rough that appear throughout MLB.

      I’m just not sure how you could construe having a good farm system as ‘possible bad news.’ Perhaps we will be disappointed with some of these prospects (and it would be terrible to assume all of these 10 players will have an impact for us.)

      But, to be sure, I think many yankees fans are already prepared for disappointments from IPK, Ohlendorf, and Tabata at least.

    2. Raf
      June 27th, 2008 | 10:25 am

      How many of those are doing well for the ______, six years later?
      ——————
      It’s more complicated than that. Some of those players got hurt, some were traded away, some didn’t pan out for whatever reason.

      Joba looks like the real deal, but a lot can happen between now and 6 years into the future.

    3. June 27th, 2008 | 10:26 am

      The ‘possible bad news’ is having this belief that ‘the answer’ to a strong future is having a strong farm system…and banking on that alone.

      Sure, you want to have a good system – so that you *might* get that “1 of out 10″ guy who becomes a star.

      But, at the same time, your future will be determined by making good trades and signing the right free agents, at the right time…and not just determined because it looks like you have a bunch of prospects that should be great someday.

    4. Raf
      June 27th, 2008 | 10:38 am

      Veteran players are subject to the same pitfalls that prospects are; they get hurt or don’t pan out for whatever reason. They get old too.

    5. gphunt
      June 27th, 2008 | 10:41 am

      Yeah, it’s obviously a balance of having a consistant farm system, making good trades, and signing free agents that will benefit the team.

      I think the Yankees are mainly putting their efforts into rebuilding the farm system so A) they can have players ready to jump in and pitch/play well when one of the regulars are injured and B) have the prospects to make a trade during the mid-season.

      Before this season and last the Yankees didn’t have the prospects to acquire a David Cone or a David Justice for the stretch run.

      People point out that The 90s championship teams were built off of a good farm system, but there were still only 5 or 6 guys out of the system…the other 20 came from trades and free agent signings.

    6. OnceIWasAYankeeFan
      June 27th, 2008 | 10:44 am

      Steve is right. You need to have the best development system you can but it rarely guarantees future stardom and success. Not only should you consider the best free agent options, but you ought to also remember that the odds of even a majority of your “top” prospects becoming truly valuable major leaguers isn’t very high. Given the financial advantages that teams like the Yankees and Red Sox have, they should keep in mind that those prospects are useful for making impact trades, like a Sabathia or a Santana.

      When you have abundant resources for payroll, young players who may only turn out to be league-average have greater value to small-market teams willing to trade established stars that are priced too high.

      If you’re lucky, you still keep the best of your prospects while flipping the others for more useful players.

    7. AndrewYF
      June 27th, 2008 | 12:31 pm

      “If you’re lucky, you still keep the best of your prospects while flipping the others for more useful players.”

      Which is exactly what the Yankees have done since the dynasty years. What was the most successful prospect they traded away during that time? Mike Lowell? Problem is, from about the 2000 season on, the quality of their prospects diminished, forcing them to settle for the likes of Kevin Brown, and Jeff Weaver. And yet they still got to keep Wang, Cano, Melky. Good on Cashman for holding on to those guys, especially for a guy who supposedly can’t recognize talent. A great, great trade was for Javier Vazquez, even though Cashman gave up Nick the Stick and Juan Rivera (still, they haven’t done all that much since being traded) – unfortunately it didn’t work out, and presumably George ordered him flipped for Randy Johnson. Which wasn’t a horrible trade, as Johnson was still a damn good pitcher in 2005, and Vazquez was an okay innings-eater until he stepped it up last year. But imagine if Vazquez were still on the Yankees.

      The Yankees are not on the wrong path by any means. Their farm system, in recent years, has already produced stars like Wang and Cano (except for the first half of this year), and Joba. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and they have quality AND quantity in their pitching prospects – which, given the rate at which they succeed, is absolutely the correct policy to take. And they have enough resources that they are able to keep A-Rod, one of the best players in the game, and go after free agents like Sabathia or Tex (presumably). It’s a little disingenuous to question the Yankees’ new dedication to their farm system – it is absolutely the right thing to do. You can question fans’ faith in prospects, of course, but not the path the Yankees have decided to take in the past 3 years. If not for the dedication to the farm, the Yankees would be in a much, much worse place.

    8. MJ
      June 27th, 2008 | 12:59 pm

      This is always nice to hear. But, you also have to take it for what it’s worth.
      —————————————
      Right. What it’s worth is that the Yanks are in a position to remain competitive, given their wealth of minor league talent and major league dollars.

      Davidoff isn’t saying that a stocked farm system GUARANTEES results, he’s merely pointing out that the Yankees might be in better shape than the Mets going forward based on the Yanks’ depth in the farm system.

      As usual, you’re being Mr. Negative. You don’t have to keep hammering the point about how prospects don’t always pan out. Everyone knows that and concedes the point.

    9. June 27th, 2008 | 1:02 pm

      ~~You don’t have to keep hammering the point about how prospects don’t always pan out. Everyone knows that and concedes the point.~~

      Really, do they? All I ever hear and read is how Cashman is a genius for coming up with a game plan to get as many prospects as possible, etc.

    10. yankeemonkey
      June 27th, 2008 | 1:06 pm

      Steve, the point is that you *do* have to get as many prospects as possible *precisely* because so many of them don’t pan out. Don’t twist things around.

    11. baileywalk
      June 27th, 2008 | 1:08 pm

      It’s possible you didn’t know anything about the farm system at the time — because it wasn’t followed as closely back then — but… were you saying these same things in 1994? That’s not a rhetorical question, either. Did you also question all the talented players in the system — guessing most wouldn’t work out — who were about to create a dynasty?

    12. MJ
      June 27th, 2008 | 1:09 pm

      All I ever hear and read is how Cashman is a genius for coming up with a game plan to get as many prospects as possible, etc.
      —————————————
      Prospects not panning out and Cashman stockpiling them aren’t mutually exclusive realities. The whole point of why I think Cashman IS doing a good job is because he’s stockpiling enough so that a) once an acceptable level of depth is acquired, he can have better leverage for trades and b) the more prospects you have, the better the odds that you’ll get some up to the big leagues.

      Your comment to me missed the point completely.

    13. June 27th, 2008 | 1:40 pm

      ~~~Steve, the point is that you *do* have to get as many prospects as possible *precisely* because so many of them don’t pan out. Don’t twist things around.~~~

      But, the point being made by Davidoff – and others – is that the Yankees have this army of prospects who are going to carry them in the future, no? And, my point is that these stockpiles of prospects often end up being carved down to one decent player in the end. And, that’s the rub.

    14. June 27th, 2008 | 1:44 pm

      ~~~The whole point of why I think Cashman IS doing a good job is because he’s stockpiling enough so that a) once an acceptable level of depth is acquired, he can have better leverage for trades and b) the more prospects you have, the better the odds that you’ll get some up to the big leagues.~~~

      Well, if the Yankees have such a great heap of prospects in the system, then why would they not part with any of them for Santana?

      I see this as Cashman saying that he’s not interested in trading prospects, period now. And, that’s my rub here – - counting on prospects, as a main plan, will kill you every time. You still need to trade for an O’Neill or Cone, here and there, or, sign a Key or Stanton, here and there…etc.

    15. June 27th, 2008 | 1:48 pm

      ~~~It’s possible you didn’t know anything about the farm system at the time — because it wasn’t followed as closely back then — but… were you saying these same things in 1994?~~~

      Outside of Jeter and Williams, what “prospects” from *then* went on to be part of the great teams of the late ’90s? Rivera, Pettitte and Rivera – and Mendoza – helped, yes – no question. But, were they super-hyped prospects at the time? No. In a way, the Yankees were lucky that Pettitte, Posada and Rivera developed the way that they did…because many did not see them as becoming stars. It’s sorta of like Wang and Cano. How many times passed on Cano, in trade offers? A lot. Because he was not considered a future star.

      Again, the point here is…if you wait on your “stud” prospects…and think that they’re all going to be stars, en masse, you’re making a mistake.

    16. yankeemonkey
      June 27th, 2008 | 1:49 pm

      Why is it so hard to understand that in trading for Santana Yankees would’ve had to pay twice? Prospects AND an obscene amount of money? I bet Cash would’ve made the trade if it was one OR the other, but as it was that deal simply didn’t make sense. And it still doesn’t, by the way. Same thing with Sabathia.

    17. thenewguy
      June 27th, 2008 | 1:51 pm

      I don’t like this post because, using Steve’s logic, a Miami Dolphins blogger could have posted something like this:
      “Possible bad news, Miami selects first overall pick, fans should prepare for let-down. In recent memory, the number 1 pick in the NFL draft is often a letdown. Prime examples are Alex Smith (2005), David Carr (2002), Michael Vick (2001), Courtney Brown (2000), Tim Couch (1999). Judgement being reserved on the 3 most recent picks. That means that from ’99-’05, only 2 first round picks haven’t been let downs. Therefore, Miami fans out to be worried that their team is picking first overall.”

      While the facts are true that there have been many 1st pick busts, does this mean that Dolphins fans should have wanted the 5th pick instead? or the 8th? or the 20th?

      Obviously, if something is rated highly, be it a current player, prospect, or farm system, there is a chance for a let down. If the player or system is rated low, there is a chance to be pleasantly surprised. Does this mean we want the Yankees farm system to be rankly poorly so we can be surprised when unknowns make the big league roster?

      As someone above said, everyone knows most baseball prospects don’t make it. Minor league baseball has thousands of players, the MLB draft is inconcievably long compared to other drafts.

      Are we just arguing semantics on this one? Is the glass either half-full or half-empty, and I see it as the former while you, Steve, see it as the latter?

    18. unfrozencavemanyankee
      June 27th, 2008 | 2:01 pm

      “The Mets may be more likely to make the playoffs this year, thanks to their strong starting rotation and weak competition – and the Yankees’ weak starting rotation and strong competition.”

      The Mets “strong starting rotation”? Did I miss something? Does Davidoff actually follow these teams? I like the Yanks chances this year very much, thank you.

      As for the prospects issue, some of us (albeit very few)on this site have regularly cautioned against the irrational exuberance surronding many of the Yankees prospects by others on this site. Having good prospects is important but so is the present – you don’t need to abandon one to develop the other.

    19. MJ
      June 27th, 2008 | 2:14 pm

      Well, if the Yankees have such a great heap of prospects in the system, then why would they not part with any of them for Santana?
      ————————————-
      Again, you’re either missing the point or not reading what I’m writing.

      As I said, “…he’s stockpiling enough so that a) once an acceptable level of depth is acquired, he can have better leverage for trades…” Maybe Cashman felt that trading for Santana this winter represented too steep a price given that the farm system didn’t have the depth at AA/AAA to make these trades?

      Cashman has never said he wouldn’t trade minor leaguers away. He’s simply passed on the one high-profile deal that came through his desk this winter that we all know about. And, based on the asking price (to say nothing of the contract), he was absolutely right to do so.

    20. MJ
      June 27th, 2008 | 2:20 pm

      Having good prospects is important but so is the present – you don’t need to abandon one to develop the other.
      ————————————
      I don’t see any evidence of the Yankees having opted for one strategy at the expense of the other. Did they not re-sign A-Rod to the largest contract in baseball history? Did they not extend Andy Pettitte to a contract that pays him nearly as much as Josh Beckett and CC Sabathia — 2007′s Cy Young finalists — combined? Hard to say that a team with a $200M+ payroll has abandoned the present.

      For the first time in quite a while, the team has legitimately good prospects that the baseball world is excited about. What they become is anyone’s guess but I don’t see any downside in having the biggest payroll and the best farm system. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do with your buckets of cash? Invest it?

    21. Raf
      June 27th, 2008 | 2:20 pm

      Well, if the Yankees have such a great heap of prospects in the system, then why would they not part with any of them for Santana?
      ———
      Because the asking price was too high. THEN there’s the matter of the extension they would have to sign Santana to.

      At the end of the day, it wasn’t worth it.

    22. DJ21996
      June 27th, 2008 | 6:00 pm

      To my understanding. The key is to fill your system with as many good prospects as possible. Trade most of them for ready major leaguers and keep the 2 or 3 that look like certainty’s to make it with your own club.

      Basically what Boston did. Trade off some of your better prospects…get Beckett and Lowell. Then keep Pedroia, Jacoby, Papelbon, Youkilis and go from there.

    23. June 28th, 2008 | 9:56 am

      [...] talent. And, as I shared yesterday, in 2002, the Yankees – according to Baseball America – had the fifth best farm system in all of [...]

    24. deadrody
      June 29th, 2008 | 11:43 am

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think you can ignore the fact that Nick Johnson (ignoring his injury history), Marcus Thames, and even Juan Rivera have been successful major league players. The fact that it wasn’t with the Yankees is not an indictment of the minor league system.

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