The New York Mets yesterday traded All-Star outfielder Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for pitcher Zack Wheeler, widely considered the best pitching prospect in a pretty decent Giants organization. Beltran, age 34, was hitting .289/.391/.513 with 15 HR and 66 BI. The Mets agreed to pay $4 million of the remaining $6.5 million owed him.
In 2004, despite coming off a surprisingly good year and a winter off-season push to compete for a division title, the Royals stunk and were out of it by May. Everyone in baseball knew they were going to trade 27 year old impending free agent Carlos Beltran. Beltran was hitting .278/.367/.534 with 15 HR and 51 BI when on June 24 he was traded to the Houston Astros in a three way trade with the Oakland Athletics that netted the Royals third baseman Mark Teahen, catcher John Buck and pitcher Mike Wood.
Beltran's numbers in 2004 and 2011 at the time of his being traded are remarkably similar. In both instances, he had 2-3 months left on his contract. Who got the better haul? Let's rewind ourselves.
We have the benefit of hindsight with the earlier Beltran deal, and we know that Teahen and Buck turned into barely above replacement level players. In five seasons in Kansas City, Teahen produced 4.5 WAR (per Fangraphs. Per BBRef, he produced -0.5 WAR) and Buck produced 4.0 WAR (3.5 per BBRef). But what did people think of the players at the time of the trade?
Teahen was also a former first round pick, and was in AA hitting .335/.420/.543 at the time of the trade. Teahen was mentioned in the famous Michael Lewis book "Moneyball."
"Why haven't we talked about this guy before?" asks the old scout.
"It's because Teahen doesn't project," says Erik. "He's a corner guy who doesn't hit a lot of home runs."
"Power is something that can be acquired," says Billy quickly. "Good hitters develop power. Power hitters don't become good hitters."....
Everyone stares silently at Teahan's name for about thirty seconds. Erik says, "I hate to say it but if you want to talk about another Jason Giambi, this guy could be it."
A few months after the trade, John Sickels gave Teahen a "B" grade, listing him as the fifth best prospect in the Royals organization (after Justin Huber!). Baseball America listed Mark Teahen as the 85th best prospect in 2005.
John Buck was a seventh round pick by the Astros in 1998. Sickels gave Buck a B- grade in 2001, a B+ in 2002, but downgraded him to a C+ in 2003 due to injuries. John Buck was the 43rd best prospect in 2002 and the 67th best prospect in 2003 according to Baseball America. In 2004, Buck was hitting .300/.368/.507 in AAA before being dealt to the Royals.
Not much was written about Mike Wood, although he was listed as the best prospect in his apartment complex.
We do not have the benefit of hindsight with Zack Wheeler. He could be anything from the next great ace to the next Kyle Davies.
Wheeler was a former first round pick by the Giants in 2009. He has struck out 168 in 146.2 innings in two seasons between low A ball and high A ball, but has also walked 5.2 hitters per nine innings. He has not allowed many hits though and has been successful inducing groundballs. Here's what John Sickels wrote about him a month ago:
Drafted in the first round in 2009 from high school in Dallas, Georgia, he was limited by pitch counts, command problems, and a fingernail injury to just 59 innings last year for Low-A Augusta, where he fanned an impressive 70 hitters but also walked 38 and posted a 3.99 ERA. He's already exceeded the innings count this year with 61 frames in 11 starts for High-A San Jose, resulting in a 68/33 K/BB, 45 hits allowed, and a 3.26 ERA. Despite the reduction in ERA compared to last year, his component ratios are actually very similar and his FIP (3.60) is actually not as good as last year's (3.11), although in general he's pitching impressively.
Sickels gave him a "strong B" grade. Baseball America ranked Wheeler as the 55th best prospect in baseball last year, and 49th the year before that.
So, for three months of Carlos Beltran in 2004, the Royals received a B grade third base prospect and a B-/C+ grade catching prospect. For two months of Carlos Beltran in 2011, the Mets received a B/B+ grade pitching prospect.
Who got the better deal?