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Why You Can't Count on Prospects: Andy Marte

In December 2005, the Braves traded a minor league prospect named Andy Marte to the Red Sox for shortstop Edgar Renteria. While Renteria was coming off a rough season in Boston, he was still in the prime of his career and there was reason to believe, if healthy, he had some good seasons ahead of him. It turns out that he did, and Atlanta prospered from them.

Despite that upside for Renteria, the move was heralded as a bright one for Boston because of Marte's untapped talent. Just how much was expected of Marte? At the time, he was the No. 9 prospect in all of minor league baseball. Not the Red Sox system, not the Braves system, but No. 9 among all minor leaguers put together. Later that winter, in desperate need of a center fielder to replace the departed Johnny Damon, the Red Sox flipped Marte and a handful of players for Coco Crisp, so the Indians thought enough of Marte to deal an All-Star center fielder who, the Red Sox hoped, would emulate Damon minus the power at the plate.

Crisp never did live up to the Damon hype, but he still did a lot more than Marte. Three years on, Marte was still unable to hold down a regular spot on Cleveland's roster. He was twice given the third base job to lose, and lost it both times, failing to hit better than .226 in the major leagues. Now, he's been designated for assignment by the Indians, who need to create room on their roster for reliever Juan Salas, whom Cleveland acquired this afternoon for fellow infielder Isaias Velasquez. That's right, the Indians traded away yet another infielder, but when they needed to find room on the roster for Salas, Marte -- who is out of options -- was the player they were willing to throw away.

It's a cautionary tale for teams that become too wedded to the potential of their farm system. Sure, top prospects can change the outlook of a franchise's future. We've seen in happen twice in the past two years in the AL East, with the Rays single-year reformation running concurrent with Boston's infusion of homegrown talent in both its rotation (Jon Lester) and bullpen (Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen). Yet for all the success stories, there are many more that end in an organization's disappointment and a tattered career, which is precisely where Marte finds himself until he lands on a new club.

By Cameron Smith  |  February 19, 2009; 5:27 PM ET
Categories:  Braves , Indians , Red Sox  
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Comments

Well put. Another example unfolding before our eyes are the Angels. They have turned down deals that might have helped the club because they valued their prospects, especially Brandon Wood, so highly. While Wood may not be as bad as Marte, there's no reason to believe that he will be anywhere near as good as was believed a few years ago.

In a related note, I think that a lot of this rating of prospects is, at best, suspect. Some organizations' prospects are rated more highly than their actual production might warrant because the organization has a good track record and, thus, is presumed to know what it's doing.

But, as they say in the financial sector, "past performance is not a guarantee of future success." Marte was probably ranked that highly, at least in part, because of Atlanta's reputation. The Yankees' pitching prospects were highly rated yet. so far at least, none of them has accomplished very much.

Posted by: hisownfool1 | February 19, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Amen. Reason number 34 that "The Plan" to build the Nats from the ground up was a loser on arrival. The odds just do not support that plan of attack as being successful. Teams do not get better by massing hopeful prospects, they get better by massing solid MLB players. The Royals have had amazing propect talent forever -- finishing last over and over and losing each of your FA guys again and again will do that. The Twins must be the best organization in the game for being able to make a solid team every year mostly out of cast-offs and home-made guys, but no other team has been able to even come close to matching that feat.

Posted by: dfh123 | February 19, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

I've been of the mindset for years (as long as I can remember), that you almost ALWAYS trade a prospect (especially pitching) for a player who has proven himself at the Major League level unless you're talking about a 1 year fix. Then things get a little dicey.

Now if the prospect is just destroying the minor league system, it changes things. But Marte wasn't doing that. He was playing slightly above his head in the minors age wise, but he wasn't standing out.

As a Braves fan I was happy when I heard about the trade. I knew we had Renteria for 3 years and I didn't think Marte was going to pan out to be a star. I also knew there was no way he was displacing Chipper (big shock).

Prospects in baseball have such a high miss ratio and injuries play such a huge part of the game that trading them for a proven player normally seems like a no brainer to me. Sure it will come back to bite you now and then, but unless they've lit your minor league system up, I'd take trade offers for everyone.

Posted by: adampschroeder | February 19, 2009 8:46 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't building through the draft a "loser." I think that Kasten and company didn't fully appreciate just how bare the cupboard was and that fans wouldn't just sit by and tolerate 5 more years of losing. You can't presume on people's patience that long.

Re: trading prospects. Like so many other things, baseball swings between extremes. For years, teams in contention freely traded prospects for proven players, even if they were one-year or even two-month rentals.

Then the pendulum swung to, IMO, the other extreme: teams are holding onto their prospects even when the players are years from the majors.

Posted by: hisownfool1 | February 19, 2009 9:34 PM | Report abuse

I spoke to rashly, by no means do I think taht the draft is a waste of time or that player development is not essential. But, when that is the only prong of a club's plan to build a contender (basically leaving significant FA signings and trades for established players off the table) it really is management speak for -- we aint spending money anytime soon and we're betting the fans can stomach a loser for some time while we try to make a buck. (Roughly translated).

Posted by: dfh123 | February 20, 2009 7:40 AM | Report abuse

Nice points from Cameron and the commenters. The Red Sox also agreed to pay a good chunk of Renteria's (a/k/a "Rentawreck" in Boston) salary in the deal.

This isn't a blinding insight, but a farm system can stock your team two ways: through graduating prospects to your roster and through giving you chips to trade. Having a good understanding of what stage of the team building process you're in should tell you whether to acquire or deal.

Hisownfool1 points to the Angels and Brandon Wood. He could probably add Dallas McPherson and a few others to that list. Contrast that to the somewhat gutty decision to move Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Guillermo Mota. It was not a case of deep pockets, as the Angels salary was not far from the Red Sox the next couple of years. Certainly HanRam has developed better than Wood. But the fact is Wood was a higher rated prospect by BA and BP at the time of that trade.

In the Nats context, the failure to move Cordero at peak market is probably as bad of a team building decision as Bowden could have made. A closer is a luxury on building team.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | February 20, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

I think you can come up with just as many examples of teams trading prospects for veterans who didn't pan out (hello, Grady Sizemore). The Yankees dynasty was built around homegrown players. They haven't won again since they began dealing away their farm system and giving away draft picks to sign veterans . . . And besides, it's not just the Rays and Red Sox who have won of late through building from within. How about the Phillies in 2008, the Rockies in 2007? Not every prospect pans out, but dealing for major league veterans is a strategy that doesn't often succeed (2008 Tigers). I'd bet this post wouldn't have appeared if you ran your theory by some front-office folks.

Posted by: jlev4 | February 20, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

How long until the Nats sign him? One day? Two?

Just wait, it'll come...

Posted by: pondaz | February 20, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Wow, a nice heady baseball discussion! I agree that not moving Cordero was a big miss, and also that actually moving Rauch (who was under team control for some time) was a similarly bad move. It's too ahrd to even try to evaluate the Soriano non-tade, who knows what was out ther to be had.

The Yanks have missed the playoofs once in like 15 years or so, it's not like they chancged gears and have not had success. The teams that won it all were populated with homegrown guys, but also with a lot of very significant imports: Whetland, O'Neill, Boggs, Brosius, Clemens, Brown, Cone, etc. It is pretty clear that it takes a combo of developing from within and getting the parts you need from the market to create a real winner. I hope the Nats take chances by moving a Lastings for instacne for a Noah Lowry, or the like. Do what you can when you can to get better.

Posted by: dfh123 | February 20, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Good self scouting is also critical. The Braves are notorious for not giving up prospects who pan out, especially pitchers. Dan Meyer, right? As for the Nats, they need to make Boz's Amos Otis v. Tommy Agee judgment about Lastings fairly quickly to either max his trade value or keep a long term contributor.

Part of the Rentawreck deal was that the Red Sox did not want to run the risk of having Edgar fall on his face 2 years in a row and really be stuck with his contract.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | February 20, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I'm pretty sure Renteria had another nickname in Boston though it's not NSFW

Posted by: noahthek | February 20, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

dfh... : if the Nats are stupid enough to flip Lastings for Lowry, Bowden deserves to be fired on the spot -- That's a Littlefield move.

I'd miss Noah, but if Sabean is able to pull off that trade it make many a Giants fan ecstatic, we'd even forgive Lastings for the fan slapping incident at Shea a few years back.

Posted by: noahthek | February 20, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Noah, I was not trying to propose an actual deal of Lastings for anyone as if I think Lowry is so great or anything (I think he is recovering from liek 4 surgeries anyway), but just throing out a couple of names to point out that if the Nats make a move to fill a reasonably perceived need (we have many right handed OF's we do not have enough SP's), I am on board with them taking that risk.

Posted by: dfh123 | February 20, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

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