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The Value of Prospects Revisited

1. J.D. Drew
2. Rick Ankiel
(as a pitcher)
3. Eric Chavez
4. Bruce Chen
5. Brad Penny
6. Michael Barrett
7. Ryan Anderson
8. Pablo Ozuna
9. Ruben Mateo
10. Matt Clement

Does this list mean anything to you?  Joe Posnanski at Inside Baseball for tells us that it is the Baseball America's  Top Ten prospect list from 10 years ago. How many guys on this list, he asks would you not have risked giving up for a superstar Cy Young pitcher?  It kind of makes you think the value of prospects has gotten skewed lately in placing too much value in them. But, and it's a big but-the second 10 names on that same list include Roy Halladay, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran. So, trading away prospects by a team wanting to win today is always a risk.

The reason you see John Smoltz's picture in this post is to bring home the never-resolved issue of prospects-for-stars debate.  In 1987 the Tigers were in a tight race but needed a proven starter to bolster their rotation.  They traded prospect Smoltz for 36-year old Doyle Alexander.

He had not pitched particularly well for almost two years. He had played for eight teams in his Magellan-like career, and he played for the Yankees twice. On top of that, he was not exactly known for his clutch pitching*. There were a lot of reasons to think that Alexander would not be much of a factor.

*Alexander's postseason numbers were abominable -- he was 0-3 with a 7.65 ERA in the playoffs and World Series. And that year in the playoffs, he would get bombed in both his starts.

Instead, he was THE factor. Alexander was great -- in the regular season at least. He started 11 times in the final month and a half as Detroit and Toronto went back and forth in the standings. And ... Detroit won all 11 times he started. It was remarkable. He threw three complete-game shutouts. He punched up a 1.53 ERA. On Sept. 27, with the Tigers 2 1/2 games behind Toronto, he threw 10 2/3 innings and gave up only one earned run to beat the Blue Jays. His next start, he beat the Jays again to push the Tigers into first place to stay.

It was one of the greatest pennant race performances in the history of the game. You never want to give too much credit to one player, but Detroit won the American League East in 1987 because of the Doyle Alexander trade. There was much joy in Detroit. Then the Tigers lost the ALCS to Minnesota in five games.

The Tigers did not win the pennant that year but they undeniably got as far as they did with the sizable contribution they got from Alexander.  Smoltz, of course went on to have an impressive career but he was not ready at that time to fill the role Doyle Alexander did.

The way prospects are brought along by teams now, with signing bonuses and what-not, it's not as easy to give them up unless the post-season is in sight-and even then....

This debate never ends. Feel free to weigh in with your opinions..