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I’ll Be Better If You’re Not As Good

July 15, 2010

Why did the M’s pick what the Rangers had to offer instead of what the Yankees had to offer for Cliff Lee?  If you break the deal down, you’re left with the surprising conclusion that the M’s think Justin Smoak is better than Jesus Montero, even though that’s not what the vast majority of scouts believe and Montero may even be the better value.  Are they just stupid, or, as Byran Smith hypothesizes, do they “evaluate potential commodities from the context of potential performance during team-controlled seasons only”?  I have no idea because I’m not Jack Zduriencik’s secretary (by the way, that job must suck — how can you possibly remember how to spell that guy’s name every time you have to write it down?).  But Brad Johnson has another idea about why the M’s chose Smoak that doesn’t sound like it came out of an economics textbook:

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably already seen enough articles comparing Jesus Montero to Justin Smoak.. Two articles on Fangraphs yesterday seem to pretty much sum up the prevailing mood. But there’s one aspect to this that I haven’t really seen covered: the Texas Rangers are in the AL West. What I really mean by that is the Mariners just raided the cupboard of a divisional foe.

That could prove valuable in time. Prior to the season, the Rangers were widely considered to have the top farm system in baseball. You’d be hard pressed to find a legitimate analyst that rated them below #3 overall. And the Rangers already had a solid grip on the division. Cool Standings gives them a 77.5% chance to win it. With all the goodies Texas has stashed in the minors, they’re going to be a tough team to beat over the next 3 or more years. By trading for Smoak and a couple decent prospects, the Mariners effectively sapped some of that future value from the Rangers in return for a commodity that won’t be helping them down the line. That is unless they pay free agent dollars for him, which is an article for another day.

My point is simple. While it’s worthwhile to compare the offered deals in a vacuum, let’s also remember that there is value to the Mariners in making the 2011-17 Rangers a little bit worse.

Good point.  It’s possible that Zduriencik sized up both offers, saw that they were pretty comparable — even if the Yankees’ was better, it might not have been thaaaaaat much better — and decided that if he were going to take some prospects, he’d prefer to take them away from a divisional rival.  I don’t really think that’s a good idea — I think, as a GM, your try to build the best organization you can regardless of what your opponents are doing, a philosophy to which teams like the Red Sox subscribe — but it is certainly defensible.  The Wild Card always comes out of the AL East, so if the M’s are going to make the playoffs, they have to win their division.  And the best way to win your division is to beat the other teams in your division, because that’s who you play the most.

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