New Trade Diary

There were a zillion trade diaries yesterday, and yet this morning when I return to post my thoughts, it’s not obvious where they should go. I don’t want to fill up the DLD with trade talk, since that should be a haven for readers who don’t want to discuss the trade. The big trade diaries have all been pushed down from the front page. There’s a few new little trade diaries, but none are even close to getting enough recommendations to make the top list.

So for lack of any better place to add my comments, I’ll just make a new trade diary.

I was late to the party last night, so it took me all evening to get caught up on all the discussions, but I did manage to read (almost) everything. My next-day observations:

1. The characterizations of Billy Beane are exaggerated on both sides. Obviously the folks who are saying "he’s sold out the team" or "he’s lost his frickin’ mind" are exaggerating in the heat of the moment. But the supposedly sober folks on the other side saying "you must trust Billy, when has he ever let you down?" are also exaggerating. The truth is Beane’s record isn’t immaculate. The Tim Hudson trade was a complete bust for us, and the Arthur Rhodes experiment did not go well at all. Those aren't the only examples. Like anyone, Beane has made mistakes, and he’ll make more. Maybe this trade will be one of them. You can’t logically conclude that just because Beane did it, it must be right.

On the other hand, he does have a very good track record over all. I see no reason to believe Beane has departed from his usual practice of perpetual reload. He must think this trade will improve the team. Maybe he’s right, or maybe he’s wrong. He’s not perfect, but he’s not stupid either.

2. Way too many people are stuck on the idea of one GM fleecing the other. The way a GM succeeds at trading is not by suckering fools into making stupid deals; it’s by creating a series of win-win trades. The point is to make your own team better, and if in order to do so you have to make someone else’s team better, that’s fine. You both still gain ground against the other 28 teams.

The fleece trades are memorable, but they’re the exceptions. Even when they do happen, I think it’s more by accident than design. Both sides probably evaluated the trade as reasonably close to even, but there’s always uncertainty. Sometimes the uncertainty all tips in one direction and in hindsight it looks like one guy got robbed.

I think the idea that certain GMs are "dumb" is greatly exaggerated on the Internet — a function of the I’m-a-genius-and-everyone-else-is-a-moron mentality that pervades Internet commentary — but to whatever extent some GMs are less savvy than others, Jim Hendry is not one of the dumb ones. I doubt that either Beane or Hendry believes he fleeced the other. I think they both see it as a win-win trade which marginally improves their team.

3. Because of Rich Harden, this trade has more uncertainty than most. This trade is all about risk, and who wants to assume it. Would you rather have a 10% chance at $900, or a 90% chance at $100? Mathematically they’re the same, but which you prefer depends on your current financial situation.

Everybody knows that Harden is a high-upside, high-risk guy. The risk and the upside can be evaluated and set against a package of roughly equal overall value but with different risk distribution. Guys like Gallagher and Murton are the other side of the coin: they’re more likely to be useful contributors on an ongoing basis, but less likely to be great. I think the two sides of this trade are probably nearly equal in total value; the key difference is the distribution of risk. For whatever reason, the Cubs have decided that they want to gamble right now, and Beane has decided that the A’s want to sell risk and buy security. To me, that’s the interesting proposition of this trade, which one might agree or disagree with, not which team came out ahead.

4. Several people have commented that they hope Harden’s health takes a sudden dive and he’s terrible for the Cubs. This is the logical conclusion of the fleece mentality: If Harden sucks then it’s, "Ha ha we fleeced you. We win, yay for us." But if Harden is awesome then it’s, "Oh no, you fleeced us," and hang our heads in shame.

I think this attitude is completely wrong. The trade is done. Harden is off our team now. If he goes on to be terrible, that doesn’t make our team any better; if he goes on to be fabulous, that doesn’t make our team any worse. The only way in which Harden’s future performance affects our team now is how it affects us in future trades. When Beane has a great player and wants to trade him, people are naturally suspicious. They ask, "Why is Beane unloading him? Is something wrong with him? Does Beane know something I don’t?" If they’re afraid, they won’t trade. If other GMs are reluctant to trade with us, that’s a bad thing.

Harden’s future makes a difference in this respect. If his arm falls off tomorrow, as many on this blog have openly wished, when future GMs ask themselves the questions above, they’re going to think, "What if it’s like that time when Beane traded Harden and he was a big dud? Am I going to get ripped off like that?" On the other hand, if Harden goes on to be great, they will think, "Yeah, but maybe it’ll be an opportunity like Harden. The Cubs came out great with that trade."

We want Harden to do well in Chicago. His success won’t make our team any worse, but it will make our trading options better for the future.

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