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On the trade deadline, Al Avila, and the changing baseball marketplace

The Shane Greene trade seems to have been judged too harshly by some.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Texas Rangers Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

When the news broke that Shane Greene had been dealt to Atlanta at last week’s trade deadline, we waited for what seemed like forever to see which players would be coming Detroit’s way. Once the constant Twitter refreshing was over, it was time to judge the return.

Nobody was ready to give Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila a standing ovation, but the package — lefthander Joey Wentz and outfielder Travis Demeritte — was interesting, especially when considering that Demeritte was available during the last two Rule 5 drafts.

Things get interesting when looking at previous trade markets and the viability of rebuilding through trades. Reliever rentals yielded a pretty prospect penny just a few years ago. Obviously, those were some of the top names in baseball, like Aroldis Chapman, but there seems to be an increasing lack of willingness to part with top prospects.

Market Decline

Top-100 prospects dealt at the deadline

Year Top 100 prospects dealt
Year Top 100 prospects dealt
2011 3
2012 1
2013 1
2014 2
2015 8
2016 9
2017 7
2018 2
2019 3

Trading is not an exact science, and neither is evaluating prospects. Every ranking will be different, but the top prospects in baseball are usually similar enough across the board. A lot of trades prior to the 2016 explosion involved MLB players. After that, there was a spike in dealing top prospects, which has subsided lately. That might have with the rise of knowledge and information about the players in farm systems.

It was extremely unlikely that Greene was ever going to net a top 100 prospect, but looking at the sheer amount of top 100 players being dealt (or lack thereof) can give us an idea of how the trade market has changed.

In 2016, the two of the top relief arms in game at the time were on the move. Andrew Miller was sent to Cleveland, and in return the New York Yankees received a four-prospect package, headlined by Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. Frazier ended the season ranked 15th in MLB Pipeline’s top 100, and Sheffield was 78.

The other big name, Aroldis Chapman, went to the Cubs for Gleyber Torres and change. Also included was Adam Warren, an MLB arm, while Torres ended the 2016 season as the No. 17 prospect in baseball before blossoming into one of baseball’s very top prospects shortly after.

With just those two trades, the Yankees picked up three of their top 10 prospects at the time, as well as three top 100 prospects. Meanwhile, in 2019, Shane Greene yielded one top 10 organizational prospect, Joey Wentz.

The 2017 trade deadline saw a few more top 100 prospects dealt, but not any nearly as high profile. Top starting pitchers Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray both brought in top prospects. Another top 100 prospect, Tyler O’Neill, was moved by Seattle to St. Louis for Marco Gonzales. This is the same year that the best prospect J.D. Martinez brought in was Dawel Lugo. Justin Wilson and Alex Avila netted Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes.

The 2018 deadline brought us the beautiful overpay for Chris Archer by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Outside of that, Yusniel Diaz, who ended the year as the 52nd ranked prospect, headlined the return for Manny Machado. The only other top 100 prospect dealt was Francisco Mejia (26) who went the the Padres for Adam Cimber and Brad Hand.

In 2019, Zack Greinke and his massive contract were able to net the 100th ranked prospect in Seth Beer. Other than that, Taylor Trammell (30) was sent to San Diego in the Trevor Bauer/Yasiel Puig mega-deal.

Learning From The Past

The Tigers are in the midst of a rebuild; trading their expiring contracts and other superfluous pieces (like Greene) for prospects is key. And there should be nobody who is upset that Greene and Castellanos were moved. It would be a waste for the Tigers not to try to get value for them.

Where the market decline comes into play is getting out of this rebuild. Other teams have previously been able to trade some of their expiring contracts and get important parts to their future. Since the price on high level prospects is on the rise, if they are even available at all, that becomes increasingly difficult.

This is not to say the Greene was supposed to net the Tigers a future superstar. Realistically, Avila did about as well as he could have in the deal. The point? That there is a sense of being underwhelmed by prospect returns lately. There is not much the seller can do about it, because the market has changed. The selling GM has a responsibility to get some sort of value for his team’s future out of expiring contracts, but buying teams are more hesitant than ever to give up their top prospects.

This means that the Tigers will have to either spend money on a game-changer in free agency, or hope that they have found that in the draft. Casey Mize, Riley Greene, and Matt Manning are all very promising prospects. But if things continue in the current direction, especially for a team like the Tigers with a spotty trade record in recent years, the trade market is not going to be a sound strategy to climb out of a rebuild.