August 5, 2012 in Sports

Major league teams guarding their pitching prospects

Tom Haudricourt Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
 
Associated Press photo

Pitcher Ariel Pena and two other minor league prospects were the best the Brewers could get for star pitcher Zack Greinke.
(Full-size photo)

One thing the Milwaukee Brewers learned as they were shopping Zack Greinke around before the trade deadline is that teams were being stingier than ever with their top pitching prospects.

Last July, San Francisco sent top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to the New York Mets for Carlos Beltran. Cleveland also traded away its best minor league arm, Drew Pomeranz, in the big swap with Colorado for Ubaldo Jimenez.

Neither of those teams made the playoffs, giving other clubs reason to pause this year as potential trading partners tried to pry away their top prospects. With salaries continuing to soar, particularly for pitchers, teams are more guarded than ever in trading away their best young arms.

Changes in the new collective bargaining agreement also made teams think twice about surrendering prospects. Clubs that trade for upcoming free agents no longer qualify for draft-pick compensation if they sign elsewhere over the winter.

How much has that rule change altered the landscape? Consider that after losing “rental player” Mark Teixeira to the New York Yankees in free agency after the 2008 season, the Los Angeles Angels received as compensation the pick used to select Mike Trout, perhaps the best consolation prize in big-league history.

“Teams don’t want to trade their top prospects because they don’t get one back at the other end,” said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who was unable to get Texas or Atlanta to part with their best young pitchers for Greinke.

“Plus, when you have younger players on your roster who aren’t making big salaries yet, it helps you control costs.”

Under those circumstances, the Brewers felt they did the best they could in sending Greinke to the Angels for three minor-league prospects – shortstop Jean Segura and right-handers Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena. All three were assigned to Double-A Huntsville.

Baseball America magazine had Segura, Hellweg and Pena rated among the top 10 prospects traded before the July 31 deadline.

The top prospect traded was right-hander Jacob Turner, Detroit’s best young arm. The Tigers sent him to Miami in a deal for right-hander Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante. With Alex Avila solid behind the plate, Detroit also parted with catching prospect Rob Brantly in that trade.

When the Cubs couldn’t work out a deal with the Braves involving right-hander Ryan Dempster, who vetoed a proposed swap, they sent lefty Paul Maholm instead to Atlanta. The chief return was right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, a highly regarded prospect who had Tommy John surgery in March and will miss the entire season.

Though Pittsburgh is in its best position in many years to shoot for the playoffs, the Pirates refused to trade prospects for “rentals.” Instead, they made more modest moves for role players Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez.

“We just did not see the value in trading our top prospects,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. “You have to remember there are no sure things. If we would have traded for a veteran player, there were no assurances that he would be any more successful than the players we acquired.”

The Phillies learned how difficult it was to pry away prospects when they sent outfielder Hunter Pence to San Francisco. To get Pence from Houston last year, Philly parted with prospects Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart and Domingo Santana. In the deal with the Giants, they got one legitimate prospect, catcher Tommy Joseph, and backup outfielder Nate Schierholtz .

With David Freese expected to hold down third base for St. Louis for years to come, the Cardinals parted with Zack Cox, their first-round pick in 2010, to acquire reliever Edward Mujica from Miami. Cox got off to a poor start at the Triple-A level but still has a chance to start in the major leagues.

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