Is “selling the farm” worth it?

Let’s break this deal down from a realistic standpoint, by which I mean the way another team would look at things, not from the perspective of fans dreaming big on these kids. In Montero, you have a very highly touted hitting prospect, but also a first baseman who has suddenly lost the ability to hit for power in Triple-A and whom the Yankees clearly don’t like much. (As an aside, the Yankees have really done a bang up job protecting Montero’s trade value. Or not.) In Banuelos, you’ve got a young pitcher who’s been making everyone drool for the past year, but who’s also walking everything in sight this year in his first taste of the high minors. It’s within the realm of possibility that he turns into an ace, but right now he’s just a very young pitcher who hasn’t shown he can consistently get outs in the high minors. With Betances, you’ve got a prospect scouts absolutely love to dream on, but who has never shown an ability to keep the free passes to a minimum (a career 4.2 BB/9 across the minors), and who may well profile as a reliever in the majors. And in Nova, you’ve got a completely average starter who is big league ready.

Now that’s not to sell any of these young guys short. Maybe one of them does hit their ceiling. Heck, maybe all of them do. But right now they’re just uncertain commodities who haven’t shown any (or much) big league ability. Ubaldo, on the other hand, is one of the 15-20 best pitchers in baseball, at a minimum, and the Rockies have him under control for 3 additional seasons at an absurdly affordable rate. In other words, he’s a Ferrari. And just because a Ferrari costs a lot of money doesn’t mean the dealer isn’t asking for a fair market rate for it.

When it comes to these “trade the farm” deals, the ultimate decision is one of risk, and where you want to put your money. In essence, do you think it’s more risky to bet on Ubaldo Jimenez or to bet on a package of young players. There’s no way to answer this question philosophically, it’s always a case by case thing, and the more I think about this question, the more I lean towards closing my eyes and pulling the trigger. It’s been fun to dream on the Yankees’ current top 3 prospects, but when you consider the risk involved with them, and consider that Ubaldo would be signed through 2013 at a very low salary, I’m pretty sure the trade comes out to a fair value for the Yankees. They’ll be getting a very good big league pitcher coming into the prime of his career at a significantly discounted salary, which will save them money they can put somewhere else in the organization. And they’ll certainly get better in the short term, without significantly managing the next few years, thanks to the fact that Ubaldo is only 27 years old.

Montero, Banuelos, Betances, and Nova is a high price to ask, but for Ubaldo Jimenez, it’s probably fair. And if push came to shove, I’d probably make that deal if I were Brian Cashman.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

58 thoughts on “Is “selling the farm” worth it?

  1. With all due respect, thank God you are not Cashman!! I just can't give up that much for one player and who knows how the young guys careers will turn out. You just have to have patience in my opinion.

    • It's not about patience so much as it's about likelihood and value. Considering that Montero probably isn't going to be a catcher at this point, I'd say odds are about 50-50 that Ubaldo alone is worth about as many wins as all 4 of those guys combined in the next 5 years or so. And if he's not, it shouldn't be too hard to make up the difference and then some, because he's cheap.

      • Ublado is what a 5-6 win player and you don't get him for 5 years… you get 2.5 years (the 2014 option is voided if he's traded)… you can't do the straight up analysis over equivalent time periods… would you do the same thing f the Yankees traded for say Cole Hamels (who has 1.5 years left). Ubaldo is not the long term guy under contract that everyone thinks he is if he's traded.

        So you are talking about 2.5 years of Ubaldo – lets call that ~13-15WAR which assume he's healthy for the vast majority of it. (I'm dinging the WAR a bit as he won't be striking out the pitcher and may give up some more runs transitioning to the AL, so I think 6 is a fair upper limit)

        You are putting that up against 6 years of control of those 4 players (5 iyears n Nova's case)…
        – assume Betances turns into a so-so reliever and is 0.5-1 WAR (say 3-5 WAR over 6 years)
        – assume Banuelos is a #2/3 type guy 2-3 WAR/year…. that alone is 12-18 WAR
        – Nova remains a back end of the rotation guy – he's put up 0.8 AR in 16 starts this year … so maybe he's just a 1-1.5 WAR guy for the remaining 5 years of control…. that's another 5-7 WAR or so.
        – Montero becomes a fulltime 1b, plays slightly below average defense and is only a slightly above hitter… 2-3 WAR player? Again that's 12-18 over the 6 years of control.

        I'll ignore the surplus value/contract side of things as Ubaldo has an absurdly affordable rate and these prospects will be making league minimum for a couple of years and being underpaid via arbitration (and if the arbitraion starts going up a lot it means they have become that much more valuable performance wise anyway)

        The only thing I ignore is the marginal value of a win to a team like the Yankees… obviously one 6 WAR player is better than six 1 WAR player (as the Yankees likely have the means to fill in roster spots at better than 1 WAR if they pick up a 6 WAR player.

        I think it's way less than 50-50 that Ubaldo puts up more WAR under what would be the Yankees team control, than the team control of the 4 prospects in question (which I think is the better question than looking at equivalent time periods when evaluating a trade). and I don't think it would be close barring 2 complete bust outs and either Banuelos or Montero vastly underperforming.

        • Sorry for the long post above!

          Part of the huge issue in dealing Jimenez is his asymmetric valuation

          Ubaldo's value to the Rockies is 3.5 years of team control, but the receiving team is only getting 2.5 years of control…that is going to make the trade hard to pull off – because what will seem like a fair deal to the Rockies for giving up 3.5 years of control of an ace (which is the only reason why they would trade him) is going to sound like an overpay for only getting 2.5 years of an ace… do teams really want to pay essentially a 1 year value tax on his value thanks to the Rockies only 2014 option?

          And on top of that the Rockies are probably not looking at this as a break even deal…. they probably want more than 3.5 years of ace value in return (or why do the deal)…

          I really think people are not understanding the 'just' 2.5 years of team control (that's not much more than when Grienke was dealt albeit under a better contract moneywise)….And the Rockies are going to want probably what they see as 4 years of ace like value for that due to the contract on their end

          • Tom, I think you should write for this blog. That was an excellent analysis. A concise reasoning of why it would be ridiculous for Cashman to give those four players for Jimenez. I'd probably roll the dice and give the Rockies TWO of them. Choose two. Probably Banuelos and Betances.

            Jimenez is far from proven. He's pitched in the NL West, which is an awful offensive division. He's struck out the pitcher everytime through the order. I think he would be good in the AL East, but there's also the opportunity for him to become a John Lackey/AJ Burnett.

        • Well let's look at it from an opportunity cost standpoint then. Nova is obviously replaceable. If the Yankees hadn't given up on Hector Noesi you could basically have inserted him into the same role next year. Montero is a DH, so he's also not terribly hard to replace. Betances is a little bit more valuable, but he's such an uncertain commodity that if someone wants to bet hard on his ceiling, I'm inclined to let them.

          So what you're really looking at is Ubaldo vs. Banuelos. A 27 year old who's one of baseball's top pitchers, or a 20 year old who's suddenly lost his control once he's hit the high minors. And yes, that's over-simplifying things a bit, but that's how you have to look at things. Pitchers are really volatile and very difficult to project long-term at an early age. It's every bit as likely Banuelos never makes a big league start as it is that he becomes an ace.

          Which isn't to say there isn't risk. There's a lot of risk here for both sides. The question is which risk do you want to bet on, and when you factor in the Yankees' current needs and financial resources, I would put my money down on Ubaldo.

          • "If the Yankees hadn't given up on Hector Noesi you could basically have inserted him into the same role next year."

            How have they given up on Noesi? He is an effective reliever who can still be stretched out to be an effective starter? Even if he does stay in the bullpen, he has proven to be an effective long man, which is needed on every team. These comments just make me go crazy. And how would Nova be average? How is it that he dominates one of the best NL offenses (the Reds) and it is completely dismissed? He is potentially going to that league and has shown he can pitch effectively, if not very well, and yet he is replaceable? All of this is just garble and biased reporting, no analysis, whatsoever.

          • You don't stick a 23 year old with a career 5.06 K/BB ratio but only 39 IP in Triple-A into a strictly low leverage bullpen role if you actually think he's a legitimate starting prospect. Unless you're absurdly short-sighted anyway.

            As for Nova, obviously you wouldn't dismiss the game in Cincinnati, but it was just one game. On the whole, there's nothing especially noteworthy about his season thus far, and he's still a guy whose projected ceiling is basically as any average starter.

          • Brien, you seem to oversimplify the upside of the prospects. You argue your way into making the trade basically "Ubaldo vs. Banuelos." But that is not at all what you are proposing. Montero is the fifth best prospect in all of baseball. I don't think you can so easily dismiss him. Betances is a BIG prospect as well that other teams highly value.

            It is a bet either way. I agree with you on that. If it was Banuelos vs. Ubaldo I'd take Ubaldo in a heartbeat. That is not what you or the Rockies are proposing, though. The chances that one of Banuelos, Montero, or Betances develops into a star player for years to come is significant. I would take my chances with those three over Ubaldo and it wouldn't even be close. I doubt it's really that close for Cashman either.

            I guess we'll see how Cash sees it.

          • Well Montero is the only one I think you can really argue I'm being unfair too. Nova is extremely replaceable just from within the current system, and while Betances is a legitimate prospect, the gap between his ceiling and his floor is pretty big, and we're getting to the point where his performance is such that it's looking less like he's going to reach that ceiling.

            As for Montero, I'm mostly just assuming he's not going to be a catcher, at which point the Yankees are between a rock and a hard place, because he's blocked at first base, and as a DH he's more valuable in a trade. But when all of your potential trading partners are aware of that, it drastically lessens his market value, because the selling team has lost a lot of leverage. If I'm wrong about him being a catcher that's obviously different, and in that case I'll go back to complaining about how he's not already in the big leagues.

          • Nova is replaceable from a skill level… as was Kartsens as was Kennedy as is Noesi…

            The problem is replacing them has a cascading effect… you have to hope to catch lightning in a bottle with a vet at the end of his career or a guy coming off injury. Or deal more talent to get another team's 'replaceable' starter or overspend in FA. After this trade who is the best starter in the minors who could start next year after CC/Ubaldo/AJ/Hughes? Do the Yankees go with another reclaim project for #5? Do they keep Brien Gordon as the 6th starter? Carlos Silva? What happens if Hughes fades again and they need 2 starters? (and an emergency 6th starter behind that)

            Starters with xFiP within ~0.1 of Nova…. Franciso Liriano, Freddy Garcia, Jonathan Sanchez, Joel Piniero, jeremy Guthrie, Randy Wolf, Carl Pavano, "allstar" Kevin Corrieja is 0.12 better…

            Jeremy Hellickson is .35 worse, and has a significantly worse GB rate with K rates and walk rates that are remarkably similar to Nova….

            Does he have the stuff of some of these guys? Obviously not, but I also don't think Nova is at his ceiling yet either and folks are underselling his skill level.

            This may sound crazy, but I think it's nearly a coin flip as to who is better between him and Hughes over the next 3 years (especially if Hughes still sees velocity issues) …. it's hard to believe but Nova's #'s outside of wins are similar to Hughes 2010 season (and that was Hughes with higher velocity than he currently has)… He has fewer K's but the significantly better groundball rate makes up for it.

          • I guess you could also say that Ubaldo's one start dud against the Red Sox was just one game as well.

          • Well yes, yes you could. Why, it's almost as if one game doesn't really prove much of anything.

          • Respectfully… are you crazy?

            You've boiled Montero/Banueloa/Betance/Nova down to basically a Banuelos for Ubaldo swap? The other 3 have effectively ZERO value because the Yankees don't have a compelling need for thos guys?

            You can't ignore the 2.5 year piece… you have to consider the possibility he walks or someone else pays him (especially with the Yankess stil having some mega contracts on the books) – using your opportunity cost assessment, it would have made sense to trade those 4 for Cliff Lee last year.

            Would you have given those 4 up for Greinkie for 2 years in the offseason?

    • The whole point to Brien's post is that you can't predict how the prospect's careers will turn out. There is no such thing as "patience" in NY as a playoff berth does not make the team a "success" unless it brings a championship with it. With the window of opportunity to win with guys like Jeter and A-Rod closing, Cashman's job is to NOT waste playoff appearances being "patient" but to go all-in and try to win it all every year.

      • This is true, but what he is not acknowledging is that you can't predict how Ubaldo will pitch in the AL East, and the AL in general, with a DH. I understand the concept that prospects are only good in their potential, but Ubaldo's potential in the AL East has to be questioned as well. Otherwise, it is irresponsible analysis.

        • Well in so much as Banuelos and Betances have yet to pitch in the A.L. East either, there's no real reason for it not to just be lumped in with the general risk profile of all of these pitchers, even if I concede that we should always explicitly note the A.L. East factor when discussing trades (though given that everyone pretty much always does just that, it seems pretty superfluous at this point).

  2. The Yankees have tried a pitcher from the Rockies. Remember Shaun chacone? He was decent. I remember him for his playoff win against the angels to tie the series to make a game five. I'm sure ubalado is way better than him. But for me I'll give up nova,montero and betances but no banuelos…I see something there. And I would love to see him come up the organization. Cashman is awfully patient. Maybe he knows something we don't.

    • Well to each his own, but I really don't see how that's anywhere near the ballpark of what Ubaldo is worth in a trade. If I'm the Rockies GM and Cashman tells me I can't have Montero AND Banuelos, I just hang up the phone then and there, because he's only wasting my time.

      • Brien, this is the LEAST objective I've seen you. You don't at ALL cite any of Ubaldo's recent struggles. Sure, he was one of the best if not the best pitcher in baseball for half a season, yet consistency is not his game. He's picked it up as of late, but he is pitching in the NL West. The guy can come East and be hyped up with all of his stuff. You know who also had great 'stuff' and has a similar body type? Daniel Cabrera of the O's. That is not worth a middle of the order bat, two possible #1-2 quality rotation guys, and a guy who is a mid-rotation starter in the AL East, but could do much better in the NL (look at Nova's game vs. the Reds). It is absurd how you undervalued the Yankees' prospects and overvalued Jimenez. In your attempt to be 'objective' you instead are just biased against the Yankee prospects. That is not being objective, that is being biased. Ubaldo is a great pitcher, but saying that he has not struggled this year in the NL when HE IS NOW in the prime of his career and saying the Yankee prospects will turn out to be middling MLB players is not analysis, its bias. Sure you can talk about Yankees over-hyping prospects, but it doesn't mean some don't turn out well. Remember everyone calling Kennedy nothing? Now he's pitching better than Jimenez in the same division. It's a freaking joke.

        • You just did the exact thing you are accusing Brien of, except with bias toward Yankee prospects… just sayin'

          • Except I'm also offering proof that one of the players, Nova, actually has success in the league he would be going to. Montero, Betances and Banuelos could turn to be garbage. I don't have a problem saying that. What I do have a problem with is not acknowledging the fact Ubaldo could come to not just the AL, but the AL East, and stink it up. He's not Josh Beckett when the Sox traded for him when he was with the Marlins. It is this continual bickering about how many flaws the Yankees' prospects have without acknowledging the mediocre pitching of Ubaldo this season as well as his switch to the AL East that drives me up the wall.

          • The point is that everything is theoretical… Montero might become the second coming of Barry Bonds, he may become a gap hitter at a non-premium position…Ubaldo might put it all together as he enters his prime and becomes a consistent 6-7 WAR pitcher, or his arm might explode and he never picks up a baseball ever again…you have to weight the risks of all scenarios against what the teams current and future needs are and where these guys logically fit into the plans of the organization…you may not agree with the decision to pull the trigger on the trade, but its not anti-prospect bias nor is it an irrational position to take

          • If your standard of proof is one game, doesn't Ubaldo's 7 inning, 7 strikeout, 2 runs allowed performance at Yankee Stadium last month "prove" he can handle the A.L. East?

        • Yes, yes that's exactly it. The guy who thinks Montero should probably be starting at catcher for the Yankees tonight is just hopelessly biased against the Yankees' prospects. You've pretty much nailed me indeed.

          • Well that wasn't me. I don't think Montero should be starting catcher now. I think he should have a chance next year, and at 21, it is not asking the world for a guy to improve by the time he becomes 24-25. And going back to the AL East for Jimenez, he didn't pitch well against Boston. I just feel like you are taking away any type of developmental potential Montero, Banuelos, Betances, and Nova still have, granted Nova's is shorter than the others. Jimenez, however, has pretty much reached his potential. You plug him in the AL East and hope for the best. And the fact that he has lost 3 miles on his fastball is not the best news. Also, why would O'Dowd trade a pitcher, who as you say, is a top 20 pitcher if there were not concerns? He is under contract, so why would they trade him? I just feel these things were not addressed at all in your piece.

  3. Javier Vazquez was 27, had a better k/9, bb/9, and WHIP than Ubaldo. (Yes, I know Coors Field is a hitter's park, but NL West offense is the worst in the league, so that evens out a bit). Vazquez was also more durable, pitching 217+ innings the last four season before he became a Yankee. On a side note, Vazquez's control was arguably better back then with lower HBP and WP.

    We obviously do not know what the young Nova will show in the future and we have even more questions marks on our prospects. But honestly, Javy was as good as (or better than) Ubaldo. I don't think this trade should take place. The potential our prospects give is high right now, and I would rather prefer to see the young guys fail within the system than see Ubaldo falter and hurt the team. If these prospects are given opportuntiies, how much are they going to damage the team during the season? We can easily replace them without too much bleeding taking place. But replacing Ubaldo after pitching several games not only hurts the team during the season, but also in the near future, as there are no prospects like Banuelos to replace him.

    • Javier Vazquez was better than Ubaldo. Wow. That's just too stupid to merit a reply.

      • It seems like you can't even look at stats. Check Vazquez's numbers before he came to the yankees. If you can't see the difference, then i'll assume that your eyes are only fixed at Ubaldo's 2.88 ERA or 19 wins from last year.

        • Um…I just cited the difference between the two in terms of HR/9. That seems pretty relevant, no?

          • Thanks for the clarification hugh. That comment was not intended to Brien, sorry about that.

    • You realize if the prospects fail such as Many, there will be no prospects to replace them too right, as they will be playing…just saying.

  4. Why exactly is Javier Vazquez relevant here?

    To be frank, the Vazquez trade only further proves Brien's point, that is, unless you're going to argue that the Yankees really missed out on the careers of Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, and Randy Choate.

  5. I keep hearing about how none of these prospects are sure things, but whats to say that Ubaldo is either? I am sorry if I am not confident that half of an amazing season in the NL West will translate easily to the AL East. This guy is not the proven commodity that Cliff Lee was last year. This is definitely a case of supply and demand where there really aren't any ace pitchers on the market this year. The Rockies are smart to take advantage of that situation to try and get the most out of what they have, but the Yankees should not give up the farm for this guy.

    • How exactly is Ubaldo a giant risk if Cliff Lee was a sure thing this time last year? Not that he isn't a risk, all pitchers are, but that statement makes no sense to me.

      • You can't compare Lee and Ubaldo. One was consistently one of the two or three best pitchers in baseball. The other has had streaks of being that good, but also has experienced periods of just being good. Plus, there's the fact he's lost a bit on his fastball this year. Can he be as effective with a 93 mph heater as he was sitting at 96? Is it a sign of an undiagnosed injury that could become a big problem in the future? And Lee was coming from the AL where he more than proved his value. Jimenez is in not just the NL but its weakest-hitting division. Yes, he could be a second ace, but like the prospects you'd trade for him, there's quite a bit of risk involved. Ubaldo would be worth a pretty significant package even if we think he'll only be a 2/3 guy. But all those guys? No way.

      • I didn't say "giant risk" but I think it is fair to say that Lee was much closer to a sure thing last year. He had a proven track record of winning in the postseason as well as winning in the AL. In fact I can't think of many pitchers that are as close to a sure thing as Lee was/is. I could be completely wrong but I just don't think there is enough of a track record on Ubaldo to warrant this kind of trade.

  6. My hesitation, as I wrote in a comment on a previous Ubaldo post, is that he may already be in his decline. Some pitchers peak early, and to recycle the numbers already posted before the average fastball velocity dropped 2.8% last year. This may also correlate as to why the Rockies are willing to move him. Don't get me wrong, I'd probably pull the trigger on a deal, but certainly not at the Rox current asking price. I think it's a bit naive to think they are just willing to trade a cheap, reliable, ace pitcher unless they know something is up.

  7. Not a fan of the Yanks or Rocks, so I'm probably talking out of my hat, but I don't generally think of WAR when I think of the Yankees b/c recent (~10-15 years) history shows that they're going to end up in the playoffs. Are any of the prospects going to contribute at all in the next 3-4 years to a playoff series? Montero is a 1B who's blocked at 1B. Nova's not starting a game in the ALCS or Series unless someone's injured. Banuelos looks good, but again, probably isn't starting a playoff game in the next 3 years. CC/Ubaldo is an elite 1-2 punch, and then hope for the best from Garcia and Colon and Hughes.

    • I love how Hughes' career is written off already and he is a #5 pitcher according to you. He's 24 and had intense fatigue because he pitched the most of his career. The same thing happened to Joba. It isn't just the Yankees inability to wait for Yankee players to develop as starters, it is the rest of the MLB as well. Unless you are Andy Pettitte and win 21 games in your first full year as a Yankee, you're a failed prospect. Really would like people to look back and see how Maddux and Glavine did their first 2 years and get back to me. The standards that Yankee prospects have to meet within a certain amount of time (ie on a per start basis where their futures are written for them) is absurd and irresponsible. It also goes against how baseball is played. Morons

  8. Ubaldo is a good pitcher but not one of the best 15-20 pitchers in the game. He currently ranks 35th in FIP, and 41st in xFIP. Yes, he is doing this while pitching half his games in Coors, but he also gets to pitch against the weak NL West lineups.

    What really makes him attractive is his contract. While the Yankees have a budget too, team friendly contracts are relatively less valuable to the Yankees than to your typical team. I understand why Ubaldo with a low salary might typically demand a Montero-Baneulos-Bettances-Nova package, it doesn't make as much sense for the Yankees.

    • Of course it matters. A comparable pitcher on the free agent market would be in a position to demand a nine-figure offer. The difference here is non-marginal, even to the Yankees, as it allows them to deploy even more resources somewhere else, while also getting a better pitcher than will be available in free agency for the next couple of years.

      Put another way, would you REALLY rather give C.J. Wilson an A.J. Burnett type of contract? Or an even larger one?

  9. I'm wary of Ubaldo because of small sample size and the fact that a team still contending is willing to trade him in his prime. The Rox may be pulling a TB here and getting out at the right time on a declining young pitcher.

    That said, I have no issue with the Montero part of the deal, not because I don't think Montero will hit, or even because he doesn't project as a catcher, but because a bat can always be purchased on the market (e.g., Fielder), but a top of the rotation starter cannot. My issue is with giving up 3 pitching prospects. I would do Montero, Nova (also replaceable in FA or on waiver wire), and either Betances or Banuelos (preferably the former), but no more.

  10. I think this trade is very fair. The rockies aren't going anywhere this year and need to start over. Their starting rotation this year has been terrible with the exception of some quality starts and not alot of them have been from Ubaldo. We need young pitching talent like we do with Chacin and Nicasio. Maybe the rocks can add Wigginton into the deal since the yanks need a third baseman. This trade would benefit both sides and I hope Cashman/O'Dowd pull the trigger