Why Intra-division Trading Is a Bad Idea
On Twitter, Sky Kalkman of Beyond the Box Score and I have been going back and forth on the merits of trading within one’s own division. As the debate grew, Twitter’s 140-character limit became increasingly annoying, so I figured I’d write a short post explaining why I think intra-division trading is a bad idea.
Of course, the subject of the conversation was Roy Halladay, and Sky didn’t think the Toronto Blue Jays should be afraid of trading him within the division to the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. They should be, however.
Between 2002-08, Roy Halladay has been worth over six wins above replacement per season. As of right now, the Yankees have accrued 19 WAR in 88 games and the Blue Jays have accrued 12.4 in 90 games, putting them on pace for 35 and 22 WAR, respectively. Prorating Halladay’s average production for the rest of the season, if the Jays traded him right now to the Yankees, they would be losing about 3.3 WAR and the Yankees would be gaining about 2.7 WAR. Overall, that’s a 6-WAR shift, or about 10.5% of the WAR the teams are on pace for. That’s without accounting for players the Blue Jays acquire and contribute during the season.
If the Jays simply traded Halladay out of the AL East, they would only have to worry about losing the 3.3 WAR as opposed to another team also picking up 2.7 WAR on them.
We could get down to the nuts and bolts of it and calculate specific WAR estimations that include various packages the Yankees could put together in a Halladay trade, but it’s not necessary because any package the Yankees can put together can be matched in some way, shape, or form by other teams.
The only reason a team should ever trade an impact player within the division is if intra-division teams are the only ones willing to offer players that satisfy specific needs, or if they’re the only ones willing to take on bad salaries (which is why, if I’m J.P. Ricciardi, I’m insisting the Yankees take on Vernon Wells with Halladay as well). The Jays can get a good return on Halladay from a number of teams; they need not look to the Yankees for this, nor should any other team look to a division rival when it comes to trading.
That’s my take on the matter. I invite Sky to respond to this post via comments here or even via a response blog post.
Be sure to check out Sky’s breakdown of the Roy Halladay trade scenarios at BTB.
UPDATE: Here’s Sky’s response to my argument.
He points out that the Jays trading Halladay does hamper their 2009-10 post-season hopes but enhances them in future seasons (and hampers the Yankees’). This is true, assuming the prospects all pan out as predicted, which doesn’t always happen. As Matt Swartz pointed out in one of his submissions for BP Idol:
In total, 51% of first and second rounds picks make the majors.
So, the Jays would essentially be flipping a coin as many as four or five times, depending on the amount of top prospects they get.
Matt further points out:
Of the 2052 players in the study, 1041 of them made the majors. Of those, only 109 players were traded and then debuted with a different team than the one that had drafted them. Of that group of 109, only 19 accumulated a WARP3 of 10.0 in their careers. As it turns out, for all the fans who scream at GMs for trading away the farm system, rarely do the GMs trade away impact prospects.
Historically, the Jays would be running against the numbers if they were to trade the Jays to a division rival for a wealth of prospects. Probabilistically, if they are going to trade within the division, they should demand Major League-ready talent or bust.
UPDATE #2: Sky responds.
Prospects are a gamble no matter whether you acquire them intra-divisinally or inter-divisionally. But they have the same expected value.
The difference is that when you trade an impact player like Halladay within the division, you can confidently write in permanent marker that he’s going to provide his new team with around 6 WAR. Sure, he could get injured but he’s been very durable since 2006. There are a lot of sticks that could get caught in the gears, so to speak.
With the prospects, as Sky points out, it is a gamble. Going back to the figures from Matt Swartz, cited above, we have the following probabilities with four first- and second-round prospects:
- 12.5% chance of all making the Majors; 25% three of four make it; 50% two of four; and 75% one of four.
- 17.4% chance the prospect will contribute a WARP-3 of at least 10.0 over their careers (even less if you assume that many of the prospects end up playing with different teams than the ones they were traded to).
(Note: WARP-3 and WAR are not interchangeable. That may be obvious but I feel it’s worth pointing out.)
So, if the Jays trade Halladay to the Yankees, they are almost definitely going back 6 WAR in the division race (less MLB contributors they acquire) in at least the next two seasons. Halladay, at 32 years old, is going to start to decline at that point, so we can’t expect 6 WAR every season until he retires.
At any rate, the odds of the prospects providing an average of 3-5 WAR from 2011 until the end of Halladay’s career are not in favor of the Jays. To make an analogy to poker, the Jays making this trade to a division rival is like chasing an open-ended straight draw. If the Jays are going to gamble, they may as well gamble without spotting a division rival an average 6 WAR in 2009 (prorated) and ’10, and anywhere from 3-5 in ’11 and a couple years beyond.