Once upon a time, before the DH, before interleague play, before challenge/replay and before players wore pajama bottoms instead of bloused baseball pants, baseball trades were major league players for major league players. Teams traded value for value, stars for stars.
No more. Now nearly every trade, including most at this year’s trade deadline giveaways, involves an established major league player for pigs-in-a-poke or a mystery grab bag.
They don’t trade flesh and blood any more, they trade contracts. More correctly, they dump salary and send an expensive contract to a contending team for a bushel full of prospects, many of whom are suspects.
One of the best trades the Reds ever made involved eight players — and all eight were major league players. The Cincinnati Reds received five players (Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, Ed Armbrister, Cesar Geronimo and Denis Menke). The Houston Astros received Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart (the ballplayer, not the movie star). All eight players were major leaguers at the time.
YOU DON’T SEE TRADES like that these days. Instead you see the Reds sending a legitimate major league star, Jay Bruce, to the New York Mets, for two young (and cheap) minor leaguers, second baseman Dilson Herrera and pitcher Max Wotell.
The Reds, of course, aren’t the only guilty party, but they have been the busiest over the last year-and-a-half. They’ve traded Bruce, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto.
And in return they received not a single establish major league player. From all that, so far Adam Duvall (Leake) has made an impact. Jose Peraza (Frazier) is on the team. Pitchers Brandon Finnegan and Cody Reed (both for Cueto)are in the rotation and Finnegan is treading water while Reed is trying to avoid drowning.
IT IS THE BUSINESS of Baseball as we know it these days. As always, money is the bottom line — trade fat contracts for minor leaguers making nothing.
Much is made when these trades are made about getting the other team’s top prospects. On the surface, it doesn’t look as if the Reds are doing well in that department. Fans are screaming that the New York Yankee snookered the Reds in the deal for Aroldis Chapman, then the Yankees emptied the cookie jar with the prospects they received when they dealt Chapman to the Chicago Cubs.
But who is to say? The Baseball America Top 100 prospects is extremely subjective. Who really knows how good a player is until he succeeds or fails as a major leaguer? Many top prospects succeed and many top prospects fail.
NOBODY CAN PASS judgment yet on how well the Reds did by acquiring a busload of prospects. It will take three or four years to make that assessment.
But it is a painful process when fans see their team’s best players traded away for future mystery men. And fans have a legitimate complaint when they say, “Why should I go watch them play when they are still charging major league prices to watch a glorified Triple-A team?”
WHAT ONE HAS TO hope is that this isn’t a vicious circle. What happens if or when some of these prospects become stars and are eligible for free agency? Will the Reds be able to afford them then? Or do they start trading again for prospects.
Get used to it. It’s the Business of Baseball and the Reds are on the wrong end of the business side.