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AngelsWin.com Today: So, You Want to Make a Trade? Part 1—It’s a Lot More Complicated Than You Think

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By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

In Part 1 of this 2-part series, I’ll discuss some of the complicating factors involved in making a trade. I’ll share some insights into all those involved in the process and how they all work together to make a trade happen or how they can each individually prevent a trade from occurring.

It’s the July trade deadline, and baseball fans are in fever pitch about making trades. On any given day right now, fans are logging millions of visits on sites like MLBTraderumors.com, and posting thousands of trade ideas on sites like AngelsWin.com.

Personally, I like reading Robert Cunningham’s articles for Angels trade ideas, as he does a thorough job analyzing the needs and values of trades from multiple perspectives. His ideas are sound and well-reasoned, and about as logical as any on the internet. They are definitely more thought-provoking than most.

But, for all the other keyboard GMs out there, I thought I’d share some of the insights I’ve gained over the years to show just how complicated it is to make a trade.

So, you want to make a trade? Great! Quick question: how do you do so? If you really think that GM “A” from Team “A” calls up GM “B” from Team “B” and proposes a deal, and gets it done in a single phone call, like in “Moneyball”, then you’ve been duped by Hollywood. Just like no one who lives in Southern California believes that Jack Bauer could drive from West LA to Simi Valley in less than 20 minutes of “real time”, no one I’ve ever talked to within the industry has ever said an MLB team would make a trade of any significance in just 1 phone call and no advance work.

If that’s not how it’s done, then how is it done? To answer that question, you have to really answer two different questions: First, how many individuals/groups within an MLB club need to approve a trade before it gets done? Second, how do you get them all to agree to the trade?

By my count, in talking with many within the industry, before any substantial to quasi-substantial trade happens, there are at least 8 different groups/individuals within every MLB organization who need to approve it. And for many cases, that list can grow to 10 or more groups and individuals. These groups/individuals are: the external scouts (those who watch other organizations), the internal scouts (those who scout their own organization), the analytics team, the director of player development, the MLB team management (field manager and coaches), the medical staff, the financial/contract managers, and the GM. In many cases ownership, and some special advisors to the GM are often very much involved in the decisions.

That’s just for both of the teams involved in the trade! If the player has any limited trade clauses in his contract, add the player and the agent into the mix. The player may have strong preferences as to where he ends up playing, and through his agent, may try to exert some leverage for a contract (such as having an option picked up or not exercised by the team).

So, before any trade actually happens, all of these independent and moving parts have to come together in consensus to make a trade.

Knowing all of this, it’s actually somewhat surprising to see how often trades actually occur throughout the year. Each individual/group plays a substantial and different role in the process, and many trade ideas fall apart because all the groups can’t come to agreement.

I will give you some examples in generality. I will not mention names, teams, etc. You can choose to believe these examples or not, but they are entirely true based on actual discussions that I’ve had with people within the industry.

Many times I’ve talked with people within the industry about certain players that are listed as “available” by fairly reliable sites or reporters. Sometimes, I’ve had scouts tell me “I really like him, but I can’t get the analytics guys to sign off on him.” In that situation, the scouts–the eyes of the game—can’t convince the sabermetrics team (every club has a group dedicated to statistical analysis) to believe that what they are seeing on the field is better than what the numbers are telling them. I’ve heard of many trades killed for players that scouts want because the sabermetrics might say that the player “won’t play as well in our ballpark” or might have some flaw that their analysis found, such as “too much swing and miss in their swing”.

In other cases, I’ve talked with management types who would love to acquire a player but can’t get it done because there is a clause in that player’s contract that the financial people don’t want. The GM may even send one or more scouts to watch that player in every game and will call the scout asking if the player did anything to impress enough to justify the trade. The scout may nix the deal because he’s determined that the proposed player is playing with an “unreported injury,” or “not doing enough to impress him [the scout],” even though the numbers might imply otherwise. And of course, there’s always the possibility that the player’s personality “won’t work in the [new team’s] clubhouse”.

There are times when the team’s manager may be desperate to acquire a player to fill a role on the team, but the internal scouts or player development won’t approve of giving up the talent that it would take to acquire him. This might push a team to making a lesser deal, or even no deal, if the asking prices skyrocket.

Lastly, teams with very involved owners, or owners who have placed firm financial caps on a club has to always get ownership to approve of any deals. That’s not always easy. Trying to convince an owner to go over those limits, or take on a player that ownership doesn’t want, is always tricky. The bigger the move, the more the ownership will be involved in the decision. Even clubs going through a complete rebuild might be reluctant to trade off a key piece if they perceive the player to be an integral part of the team’s marketing.

As for getting all of these individuals and groups to agree, that’s an unbelievable complication that can’t be summarized in any single article. Every trade and non-trade has its own story and nuance. There are so many factors that come into play. Each individual/group involved in the decision has its own interests and goals that may be separate from actual baseball decision. For example, larger market teams are under greater pressure to never do a full rebuild, so even if a team can benefit long-term from a trade, the short-term marketing/financial consequences may prevent the ownership and management from agreeing to it.

Far more trades get into the exploratory phase than ever get reported. Every team is constantly looking for ways to improve on this season and into the future. The amount of information available to organizations is rather staggering, and by the time a trade is completed, has been thoroughly vetted by numerous individuals and groups within an organization. If you, as a fan, are wondering why deals that appear to make obvious sense aren’t getting done, it’s probably because somewhere in the process, one or more parts failed to come together.

So, now that we’ve seen just how many different individuals and groups are involved in making a trade, and how complicated it is to get them all to agree to a trade, in Part 2, I’ll share some insights as to how trades are actually done according to those who have made them.

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Uh, it's actually really easy. 

You find a star player you need and want, preferably a guy under control for at least 2 full seasons. Then you call their GM, and offer 2-3 prospects. But these are prospects we are OK with giving up. Our top 5 guys are untouchable. If they ask for even 1 of our top prospects for their young, cost-controlled star, we laugh and walk away.

It's really, really simple.

*This post brought to you by Chuck Richter*

Edited by tdawg87
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20 minutes ago, Angel Oracle said:

Thank you Dave, it does make me wonder if the Halos didn't follow all of that, when they made the Wells trade and the various FA signings since 2007 that have backfired on them.  

When one group/individual overrides many or all of the other groups/individuals that I identified, you get things like the Wells deal. Talk with enough people in the industry, and you'll hear stories about deals like that for almost every club. It's not just the Angels. There are many factors as to why it happens. And it does happen in every organization. 

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I’ll add that the other complicating factor is there are 30 teams. 

So you are juggling multiple negotiations all ongoing at the same time. 

Maybe you have your eye on a pitcher from team A and a pitcher from team B. You like the team A guy better but the one from team B costs you lesser prospects. So it’s not just “can you get a fair deal for player A”? But “what is the best deal you can get”? What will be available if you wait 3 days? Or 2 weeks? Or 3 months?

And while you’re juggling all that, each of the other teams is doing the same thing. 

It’s a miracle a trade ever gets made. 

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who here thought it was as simple as: "GM “A” from Team “A” calls up GM “B” from Team “B” and proposes a deal, and gets it done in a single phone call, like in Moneyball" ?

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1 hour ago, REDneck said:

While a system of checks and balances should be in place the ultimate and final decision should rest with the GM, regardless of what a scout or coach thinks.

The only one that should be able to veto is a owner.


Ultimately, the GM will be held accountable for all trades or non-trades, to say that the final decision rests solely there is not accurate. Many players have limited trade protection or full non-trade agreements. The deal can be done and the player nixes it. That's not the GM's fault, even if the GM will be held accountable. 


A deal can be done, but slightly takes the team over on payroll, and it gets nixed by ownership. Or, ownership can override a GM to make a move for a variety of factors other than the most sound baseball decision. 


The deal can be agreed to in theory, and when medicals are exchanged, the medical staff, which gets additional information won't sign off anymore. Similarly, deals can be close to done and an injury happened in the meantime that makes one team back out or no longer interested in making the trade. The injury might not have to be a part of the trade, but, if an injury to another player forces a team to go in a different direction, that happens. 


As @JeffFletcherOCR pointed out, there are 30 teams all working to improve, and a new possibility opens up, and one team goes in a different direction.


Basically there are so many working and moving parts to any deal, it truly is amazing when they all come together to result in a trade. It's not as easy as so many armchair GMs want it to be, even if they do an extensive analysis to come up with a "fair" trade. 


While I love reading trade proposals, especially those from @Ettin, and am always checking for Angels rumors, the more it seems that fans need to understand how much more complicated the whole process is of making a trade. 

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57 minutes ago, Tank said:

Thanks, Dave. Interesting stuff.

id love to know what kind of conversations are going on right now prior to next weeks' trade deadline.

Thanks. In part 2, I will talk a lot more about the process of how trade discussions start and get done, but I can't mention any specific player or teams. Rest assured, the process is in overdrive right now, and large amounts of discussions are happening on an hourly basis. 

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20 hours ago, fanfromday1 said:

Thanks Dave Saltzer, very interesting read. Guess that's why GM's appoint people they have worked with before to their staff so they can get the swing votes on their side.

It's not that easy for the scouts to just go along with a GM. They are almost all on 1-year contracts, and have their long-term reputations to be concerned about. It's not so easy for them to hitch their star on just 1 GM. If they were just "yes-mean", that's all their career would be. 


Personally, if I owned a team, I'd more than double my scouting budget, pay top dollar for the best scouts (I'd do the same for the player development people and minor league managers/coaches), and would reap the rewards. 

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22 hours ago, Lou said:

who here thought it was as simple as: "GM “A” from Team “A” calls up GM “B” from Team “B” and proposes a deal, and gets it done in a single phone call, like in Moneyball" ?

high school GIF

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