Incoming GMs Trading Top Prospects Have Messy History
It is only natural for an incoming general manager to want to make a splash. After all, in most cases, a new GM is brought in from the outside because the major league team is struggling and needs a jolt.
For new GMs who come in from other organizations, that often means trading top prospects for established big league talent.
There is a long history of incoming GMs making such moves in their first offseasons with their new team. This year’s iteration is new Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen trading two of the Mets’ top five prospects, outfielder Jarred Kelenic and righthander Justin Dunn, in a package to the Mariners for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz.
When new GMs come in and start dealing immediately, they are often trading prospects they have yet to see or fully evaluate themselves. Some incoming GMs show restraint and wait to see their inherited top prospects before making trade decisions—such as Alex Anthopolous when he took over the Braves last year—but others jump right in and start dealing.
It’s a risk, and one that has a significant lower success rate than prospect-for-veteran trades on the whole. When new GMs trade top prospects they have often only seen from an outsider's view—if at all—history shows it’s a 50-50 proposition at best they get the better end of the deal.
Here is each instance this decade of a GM coming in to a new organization and trading one or more inherited Top 10 Prospects in their first offseason. Overall, incoming GMs trading the top 10 prospect(s) came out 4-for-9 in such deals.
In the only deal Hazen made involving an inherited Top 10 Prospect his first offseason, he shipped out a future All-Star outfielder in Haniger, who was set to be Arizona’s No. 5 prospect and immediately became Seattle’s No. 5 prospect, as well as a past and future All-Star in Segura. Marte has been a fine utility infielder and Walker pitched well when healthy for the D-backs, but Haniger alone has been worth more bWAR (7.8) than Walker and Marte combined (5.0) since the trade.
Dombrowski’s only prospects-for-veteran trade his first offseason worked out just fine. Kimbrel delivered a 2.44 ERA with 108 saves in three seasons with the Red Sox, helping them reach and eventually win the 2018 World Series. Guerra and Asuaje have reached the majors but aren’t impact players. Margot and Allen have a chance to eventually tilt the deal in the Padres' favor, but for now, it’s an example of a GM trading prospects he just began overseeing and getting the best of the deal.
The Cubs spent most of their first offseason under Epstein and Hoyer largely trading veterans for prospects to get their rebuild underway. But they made one trade where the main component was trading away a prospect, and it was a misfire. Stewart hit .201 in 55 games with the Cubs and Weathers was a 26-year-old career minor leaguer who would never reach the majors. LeMahieu, who ranked as the Cubs' No. 10 prospect, went on to collect three Gold Gloves, two All-Star appearances and a batting title in Colorado.
Eppler took a chance when he took over the Angels, trading No. 1 prospect Newcomb, No. 3 prospect Ellis and Aybar to Atlanta, but Simmons flourished as a hitter in Anaheim while maintaining his elite defense, making the trade worth it. It’s one of the few clear-cut examples of an incoming GM trading away top 10 prospects they inherited and coming out OK.
A.J. Preller, Padres – Hired Aug. 2014
Traded: Yasmani Grandal, Zach Eflin and Joe Wieland to Dodgers for Matt Kemp and Tim Federowicz
Traded: Jake Bauers, Rene Rivera and Burch Smith to Rays and Joe Ross and Trea Turner to the Nationals in a three-team trade. Received Wil Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes in return.
Traded: Max Fried, Mallex Smith, Jace Peterson and Dustin Peterson to Braves for Justin Upton and Aaron Northcraft
Traded: Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, Matt Wisler, Jordan Paroubeck and a 2015 competitive balance round A pick (Austin Riley) to Braves for Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr.
In the standard-bearing offseason for an incoming GM trading away inherited top prospects, the Padres traded six of their top 10 (Turner, Ross, Wisler, Fried, Eflin, J. Peterson) as well as their Nos. 15 (Bauers) and 16 (M. Smith) in the same deals. The results have been mixed. The Ross-Turner-Bauers for Wil Myers deal stands as one of the decade’s worst trades. Kemp delivered some short-term offensive production, but Grandal came into his own in his mid-20s with the Dodgers and Eflin evolved from prospect to solid back-end rotation piece once he got healthy with the Phillies. The Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel trades worked out OK, although the continued growth of Mallex Smith and the fact the Braves used their acquired draft pick to select now-No. 1 prospect Austin Riley make it less clear cut, especially considering Upton and Kimbrel were gone after one season.
Result: 2 wins, 2 losses
A year before the famous Dansby Swanson/Ender Inciarte-Shelby Miller trade, Stewart made a deal involving one Top 10 Prospect (Velazquez) and another soon to be Top 10 Prospect (Williams) from Arizona’s system. In return, the D-backs received Hellickson, who posted a 4.62 ERA in one season with Arizona before being traded to Philadelphia for a lesser prospect (Sam McWilliams) than what the D-backs gave up in the first place.
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While the following trades don’t technically fit our criteria, they are worth mentioning.
The Dodgers' busy first offseason under Friedman and Zaidi included nine separate trades. While the duo didn’t technically trade any of the Dodgers' Top 10 Prospects they inherited, they did acquire two other teams’ Top 10 Prospects and immediately flip them. Heaney, the Marlins' No. 1 prospect, came to the Dodgers in the Dee Gordon deal and was immediately sent to the Angels. Eflin, the Padres' No. 9 prospect, came over in the Kemp deal and was sent to Philadelphia the next day. Kendrick at least gave the Dodgers two seasons of valuable versatility, while Rollins had his worst season to date before leaving as a free agent. If we counted the trades in our sample, it would produce a 1-for-2 mark, with the chance to become 0-for-2 if Heaney remains healthy moving forward.
De Los Santos and Peralta both ranked just outside the Mariners' Top 10 Prospects at the time they were traded, thus falling outside the limit of Top 10 Prospects being moved by an incoming GM his first offseason with the organization. If they were included, it would go down as a clear-cut 0-for-2.