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Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Olney: Teams hesitant to deal prospects

By Richard Durrett

ESPN.com's Buster Olney talks about some of the roadblocks to potential deals in a recent blog (insider). One of those: Teams are reluctant to trade their top prospects. Part of what he wrote:
2. The Prospect Love
Twenty years ago, most teams probably would've swapped a young, unproven minor leaguer such as Jurickson Profar for an established star such as Justin Upton without hesitating. Remember the day when the Mariners aggressively dealt for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb, dealing a couple of unknowns (at that time) named Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek?

Times have changed, and the perceived value of prospects has skyrocketed, almost to a point that some executives believe teams have started to cling too tightly to young players. "They're still prospects," one GM said this week, "meaning that anything can happen. You still don't know whether they can play in the big leagues."

A recent example: The market value of Texas infield prospect Mike Olt soared during the summer as teams scrambled to identify trade targets. The Rangers -- who have built a championship-caliber team through their player development -- kept Olt through the July 31 trade deadline, then called him up in August. Olt struggled in 40 plate appearances, going 5-for-33 with one extra-base hit, and rival officials believe his value on the open market took a major hit just from that that first brief showing.

Speaking generally -- and not specifically about Olt -- an NL executive said, "Sometimes, keeping a prospect feels like the safe thing. But that doesn't mean it's the right thing [to do.]"

Upton is an established big leaguer, and he is available, in the right deal. But to date, nobody has come close to meeting the Diamondbacks' asking price.

Olney talks about why teams like Texas would be hesitant when he notes that they've built contenders through development. Even for a team that has more money to spend than it did a few years ago, the Rangers understand that it's also about smart financial decisions. Younger players with upside are not only with the club longer, but they are considerably cheaper in the early going. Texas would rather find some young players that could be members of their core for years to come rather than grab a high-priced free agent. That's not to say free agents aren't necessary. They are. Texas paid Adrian Beltre in 2011. They spent big bucks on Yu Darvish and will supplement parts of the club this season with free-agent money. But you can't make the "big" signing every season. To have a competitive team for the long haul, it takes a combination of development, shrewd trades and the right free agents.

Sometimes trading prospects is necessary. But as free-agent money continues to escalate (it was just last offseason that Albert Pujols got his 10-year deal and Prince Fielder got his nine-year contract), having a wealth of talent in house that's young and affordable is critical.

One more random thought: Olt has barely any time in the majors. It's extremely difficult to map out his future based on a few months as a rookie. He doesn't have the value now that he did six months ago, which is why the Rangers won't just trade him for anything. If he starts 2013 well, that value will go right back up. That's part of trying to go from "prospect" to "player."

To check out Olney's other reasons, click here (insider).