Prospects In Deadline Trades Face Long Odds

To trade your prospects or not trade your prospects? That is the dilemma teams face every year at trade deadline, and this season is no different.

Sometimes an unheralded prospect traded at the deadline comes back to haunt an organization, as Corey Kluber, Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, Ben Zobrist and Jose Bautista have.

Other times well-known and highly regarded prospects, such as Adrian GonzalezCarlos Santana, Elvis Andrus and Scott Kazmir, end up having the long big league careers expected.

But those positive outcomes are exceedingly rare.

As part of an examination of the trade deadline and team behaviors, Baseball America reviewed every July trade from 2003-12 that involved a prospect. (Trades from 2013-16 were not considered because many prospects involved are still climbing the minors.)

The finding? Only 69 of 366 prospects—or 18.9 percent—traded in deadline deals those 10 seasons went on to have productive MLB careers.

 Year Prospects Traded MLB Careers Pct
2012 48 13 27.2%
2011 42 6 14.3%
2010 43 13 30.2%
2009 43 5 11.6%
2008 30 8 26.7%
2007 27 7 25.9%
2006 36 5 13.9%
2005 21 1 4.8%
2004 27 4 14.8%
2003 49 7 14.3%
 Total 366 69 18.9%

*MLB career defined here as two or more seasons on a major-league roster AND a positive career WAR.

There are a few reasons for such a low success rate. Prospects are inherently volatile, and the majority are bound to bust. But perhaps most importantly, the very best prospects—the ones expected to become true franchise cornerstones—are rarely traded in deadline deals.

"You stay out of a top 10 and you tend to stay out of big leaguers," one pro scouting director said of making deadline deals.

Teams have long been reluctant to trade away their top prospects in all but the biggest deadline deals. But nowadays that reluctance has been amplified.

“It’s nearly impossible (to get a top 20 prospect in a deal now),” the director said.

Still, scouts and front office officials devote thousands of hours to scouting the minor leagues every year in an effort to find prospects that are suitable compensation for a veteran at the trade deadline.

The harsh truth, history tells us, is those efforts most often end up being for naught.

NOTE: If you want to view the complete data set for these results, you can do so by clicking here.

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