Ah, July 31st, when a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of deadline deals.
A quintessential deadline deal--contender deals prospects to last-place team for star player--was "completed" Monday, with the Braves sending four young players to the Rangers for Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay. The general consensus seems to be that the Rangers did pretty well here; Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Elvis Andrus are more likely to be a part of the next Rangers playoff team than Teixeira was, and this was the best offer Jon Daniels received, at least among the publicized ones.
However, at least one analyst says we have to consider John Schuerholz's track record in trading prospects: he has done a good job of trading young'uns at the peak of their value, and watching them flame out elsewhere. Does Schuerholz have inside information on his own minor leaguers that leads him to believe they will not become Major League stars?
At least two well-known recent books have discussed why used automobiles are often lemons. The buyer is suspicious that the car is a lemon, so he is unwilling to pay full value for it. Since this brings the vehicle's market price down substantially, the owner of a well-functioning car will pull out of the deal altogether rather than sell at a loss. Now, the only sellers who can profit from the transaction are those whose cars have significant flaws. Naturally, all the used cars that are actually sold are likely to have issues.
Minor leaguers don't carry such a big information gap. Although the Braves certainly know more about their own prospects than the Rangers do, Texas's front office has surely spent many hours scouting the players they acquired--especially Salty and Andrus--and looking over their statistics for meaningful numbers. If there is a hole in any of their games, the Rangers probably know it. Schuerholz and the rest of the Braves officials may know something Daniels doesn't, but it's not all that likely.
So is this "track record" simply an illusion driven by small sample size and a few memorable instances? Looking closer, the big answer appears to be...I'm not sure.
Yes, this is the man who pawned off Andy Marte and Dan Meyer on unsuspecting rubes. Melvin Nieves probably wasn't a fair return for Fred McGriff, all things considered. Damias Moss (if you count him) was never good to begin with, but his luck ran out after leaving Hotlanta.
However, Schuerholz is not without his flaws--including writing. As GM of the Royals in the '80s, he gave away David Cone, Cecil Fielder, and Ken Phelps for peanuts. He has had few awful trades with the Braves--save for his need to turn a 23-year-old Jermaine Dye into Michael Tucker--but he did give up on Jason Schmidt, Odalis Perez, and Adam Wainwright, among others. It's also hard to argue that he traded "failed" prospects like Wilson Betemit and Bruce Chen at the peak of their value. Same goes for Jason Marquis and Matt Belisle. This is just a cursory glance at his track record, not a comprehensive one, but I don't see a huge trend of former Atlanta prospects flaming out in other organizations.
So where did this reputation come from? I think the spectacular failures of Marte and Meyer are fresh in the minds of even the most level-headed analysts, especially since Tim Hudson and Edgar Renteria have done quite well in Brave uniforms.
It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Pits (Saltalamacchia's name stretches from armpit to armpit on his jersey) become an All-Star catcher, just like it wouldn't surprise me if he has to move to first base and can't hit well enough to stick there. Prospects are like that, Braves or otherwise.