I want to talk to you today about context. Context is why a move that makes sense for one team may be absolutely the wrong decision for the next. Whenever we evaluate a decision made by any team, we need to move beyond questions of value and more into questions of whether acquiring a certain value at a certain time makes sense for a club. And it's in that vein that I want to compare the work being done by two clubs who project to be particularly awful in 2016: the Colorado Rockies and the Milwaukee Brewers.
Last week saw both the Rockies and the Brewers make fairly major trades. Neither, in a vacuum, was a bad idea. Colorado had just finished signing a three-year, $27.5 million deal with left-handed hitting outfielder Gerardo Parra, a remarkable amount for a player who has been roughly replacement level for the last two years. Nevertheless, if you give the Rockies the benefit of the doubt for bringing in Parra, they had a glut of four left-handed hitting outfielders, all of whom were good enough to start for a majority of teams in baseball. One had to go, and the Rockies chose Corey Dickerson.
Dickerson was a little bit of an odd choice coming off of an injury-plagued 2015, and with four more years of team control at a very low price. As such the Rockies could have held him for another year or two to let him recoup his value. It also would have allowed them to trade 30 year old Carlos Gonzalez, who has only two years left before becoming a free agent, or Charlie Blackmon, who is 29 and has three years of arbitration eligibility left. Essentially, the Rockies traded their youngest and cheapest option, who had also had the worst season of the three options. He also was projected to be worth the least, somewhere around one win above replacement by ZiPS, but has significant offensive upside.
In return, the Rockies received Jake McGee, a 29 year old left-handed reliever and potential closer. McGee projects to be worth around a win and a half this year, and can't become a free agent for another two years.
Now, two years of McGee for four years of Dickerson might not make a ton of sense, but there's a decent chance that McGee outperforms Dickerson for these next two years. If another team were to acquire a very good reliever, a team with a legitimate shot at the postseason in two years, that would be one thing. But these are the Rockies we're discussing, who have finished with more than 83 wins exactly twice in their 23 year history, and who lost 94 games in 2015. They are not on the verge of competing, and would have probably been wiser to focus on acquiring talent for the long-term to pair with their impressive stable of prospects (seven Rockies made it onto Baseball Prospectus's top 101 list). Not blowing an extra three leads for the next two years will not turn Colorado into a juggernaut.
Not that they seem to see this, mind you. Every move they've made this offseason (all mid-range free agent signings before this trade) could be characterized as something a team does to fill in the margins around a strong core. But the Rockies simply don't have that, with just four players projected to be worth more than two wins, and none more than four. They're patching holes on a ship that has already sunk.
The Brewers similarly have only four players projected to be worth two wins or better, and none worth more than four. And they also traded from depth over the weekend, sending 26 year old shortstop Jean Segura and an extra arm to the Diamondbacks for overpriced veteran second baseman Aaron Hill, passable starting pitcher Chase Anderson, and an interesting looking minor league lottery ticket. The Brewers have a couple different other shortstop options in the system in stopgap Jonathan Villar and prospect Orlando Arcia, who should be ready at some point in 2016 after excelling at double-A as a 20 year old. And Segura has been a disaster over the last two years, combining adequate defense with a truly awful approach at the plate. Last year, Segura tied for last in baseball (amongst guys who qualified for the batting title) with just 13 walks in 584 plate appearances. In fact, that's tied for the second worst mark of the decade. Somehow, he still managed to strike out 93 times. Over the last two years, his on-base percentage is .285 and his OPS+ is a not very nice 69.
In return for the replacement level work that Segura is likely to provide, the Brewers take on some of the money owed to Aaron Hill and hope that a dead cat bounce can at least make him an interesting trade chit at this year's deadline. Anderson is relatively old for a guy who is only two years into his career, but the 28 year old has posted totally passable strikeout numbers and has shown good control over the last two years. A move out of the desert should help him look a lot more palatable, and he's under control until 2021. Plus there's the minor league shortstop, Isan Diaz, who's probably more of a second baseman, but who won the MVP of the Pioneer League last year at 19.
Milwaukee has done the same thing with Adam Lind and Francisco Rodriguez, divesting themselves of players who will not help them two years from now in favor of young players who might. And they may do the same with Jonathan Lucroy before the season starts as well. They recognize the need to rebuild, acquiring players they can control beyond the immediate future and who can be used to acquire still more pieces. Now, perhaps none of the players can be as dominant as McGee has the potential to be for the next couple years, but at least they'll have them for years to come. Meanwhile, the Rockies are signing older outfielders with little upside and sending away the ones they can control for longer than two years for a guy they'll lose before they're going to be good again.
Context. It's what makes the Brewers' decisions make sense as they rebuild for a brighter future, while the Rockies fumble around in the dark. Just like they have for their entire history.