Major League Baseball organizations are limited in how they can improve, and in most cases, the improvement either takes years to show up at the big league level (amateur drafts, international free agency, etc.) or doesn't carry a lot of significance (waiver claims, Rule 5 draft).
But there's one method that can make a big league team -- or an organization -- immediately better: trades.
I made my share of trade acquisitions in my career, including big names such as Ken Griffey Jr., Alfonso Soriano and Sean Casey. But my all-time favorites came at the 1995 trade deadline. Late July (i.e., leading up to the July 31 trade deadline) is the most important time for a contending team to make a deal because a GM can really make a huge difference in giving his team a chance to win. Exactly two decades ago, I made two trades within a 10-day period that gave us three new starting pitchers for the big league club, trades that would help us get all the way to the National League Championship Series. I first traded Mark Lewis and C.J. Nitkowski to the Tigers for David Wells, then sent a package including Deion Sanders and four fringe prospects to the Giants for Mark Portugal, Dave Burba and Gold Glove center fielder Darren Lewis.
This year, thanks to the parity and competitive balance in major league baseball, there are more teams needing to make deals to remain contenders. But, contrary to the popular perception, it isn't just a matter of picking up a phone, agreeing on the players themselves and calling it a done deal. There are more than just the GMs involved, and a lot of factors. Although some deals can be completed in hours (like my Sanders trade), others take months (like my Wells and Edwin Encarnacion acquisitions) or even years (Griffey).
So how are trades made? Let's look at the more detailed process:
The valuation of the players themselves is obviously the most important factor when deciding whether to even consider a deal, and I'm not just talking about the valuation of the players involved in a potential trade. A major league franchise must know at least a base valuation of every player from rookie ball to the major leagues not just for their organization but for the other 29 orgs, as well, as well as understanding how it all fits together. There are five factors that go into player valuation:
1. Scouting reports: We're talking reports from high school to present, with the goal of having at least five different opinions per player per season, including at least two elite evaluators in the current season whose weight of opinion is considered heavily in the scouting summation.
2. Statistics and analytics from high school to present: This department will be able to give its best projections for how each player will perform over the next five years based on past numbers and metrics, age, experience and levels of play relative to age.
Combining them: You then blend the scouting reports and analytics. Adjustments are made, and the organization now should have a strong idea of what it expects from each player going forward, as well as what to look for regarding each player. Also part of this process: "comps," or comparable player equivalencies, are made. It's much easier to determine a prospect's value when he's compared to a current major leaguer