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A defense of the Touki Toussaint trade

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In which I strap on my asbestos underwear, and dig in to finding a rationalization for yesterday's deal.

Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports

First things first, and bold font please. I do not like this trade. I would far rather we hung onto Touki Toussaint, ate the money we owed Bronson Arroyo and continued on. However, it is very easy for people to condemn it, when it is not their $10 million being handed to a 38-year-old pitcher with an elbow which, according to reports, is no better than it was before Tommy John surgery. So, if you want to blame anyone, it should probably be Kevin Towers, for signing Arroyo to the multi-year deal which, it appears, made yesterday's trade necessary as far as new management was concerned.

We should remember, we have close to no insight into the vital financial aspects, and don't know how this plays into things. For I'm sure it does. Stewart said there was no edict from ownership to save money, but also said the deal would  "give ourselves [a] chance to have some savings so we have an opportunity to do things at [a] later date." So, here's pure speculation. Trade deadline move for a long-term TOR starter - say with the out of contention Reds for Johnny Cueto - and sign him to an extension, avoiding the need to compete in free-agency: 2016 on is covered with the new television money: the $5.5m saved on Arroyo, covers the cost of Cueto for the second half of this season.

The change in the front office perhaps also explains the apparent lack of interest in retaining Toussaint.  Last year, under Kevin Towers, every one of our first five picks was out of high-school, including pitchers with our first two selections. But this month, under Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa, our first HS pitcher wasn't taken until the fourteenth round. It's extremely clear the new management does not think anywhere near as much of high-school arms. But I guess I missed the memo where the much-despised Kevin Towers suddenly became a Jedi master of baseball wisdom, and Hall of Famer La Russa a know-nothing, flinging his excrement at the draft board.

Because judging by the reactions last night, that seems to be the opinion of some. Let's review a few of the more... ah, extreme reactions, which will also save me time when I need to find them in five years. :) Hopefully it's to bury the commenters concerned, not to praise them!

  • "Welcome to the worst day in Diamondbacks history" - aricat
  • "You’ve essentially made one of the five worst trades in baseball history" - piratedan7
  • "Its like the Expos trading Randy Johnson to the Mariners" - AzRattler
  • "Worst trade in D-backs history" - preston.salisbury
  • "Almost as bad as the Red Sox selling Babe Ruth to pay for a Broadway play..." - smurf1000
  • "A dead pig. The corpse is rotting. It really stinks. It’s blackened and maggot infested." - shoewizard

While certainly evocative - the last needs to be submitted to Readers' Digest for their "Towards More Pictureseque Speech" section - you would think we lost a minimum-wage version of Clayton Kershaw here, not a 19-year-old who hasn't played above A-ball, with a career minor-league ERA so far of 5.75. [See, I can do this "hyperbole" thing too!] Now, certainly Toussaint, has potential. But I don't think it's as much as is implied, by what seems like a bit of an over-reaction. Toussaint was only #98 on MLB.com's top prospects, didn't even make John Sickels' top hundred, and 39 innings since won't have moved that needle much.

Make no mistake: it's a very good thing to value prospects. But the above comments make me wonder if the pendulum has swung back too far, with fans now over-valuing their own team's prospects. Anointing a player who was barely scraping into the top hundred prospects on one list and missed it entirely on another, as a top of the rotation guy on his 19th birthday certainly seems a stretch. As blue bulldog pointed out in the comments, analysis has been done into the financial value of prospects - and if Toussaint is outside the top 50 pitchers (as John Sickels, for example, reckoned), his surplus value is likely no more than... $10 million.

For further context, let's look at high-school pitchers selected at the same slot as Toussaint, #16. There have been 11 in total. If we discount the three latest as being too recent, the others were all taken before 2007, so have had a good chance to mature and make an impact. But of those eight, three never played in the majors, two were below replacement level, and just one - Brian Holman in 1983 - had a career worth even three wins (9.3). None were even remotely what you might call a "staff ace". That's the cold fact of the historical record. If Toussaint becomes a top of the rotation guy, he'll be the first high-school pitcher drafted in his spot ever to do so.  "Babe Ruth"? Unlikely.

For a tl;dr of the above, let's turn to the man who broke the trade, Ken Rosenthal. He wrote:

The mass condemnation of the D-Backs, at least by some writers and analysts on Twitter, makes me suspicious...  This idea that [Atlanta] snookered the DBacks on Toussaint ... well, let's wait to see how it plays out. Let's see how Toussaint develops. Let's see how the DBacks reinvest their savings. Let's take a deep breath before acting so sure that yet another hyped prospect is guaranteed to succeed.

Yes: let's see. For things have a way of working out unexpectedly, e.g. there's a decent chance the best player we received in the Upton deal could end up being Nick Ahmed. Who saw that? And any kind of immediate analysis of a trade involving a teenager in A-ball has error-bars so large, they dwarf the results. Maybe by 2019, when Toussaint will just have turned 23, we might have some idea. But for now, I'm abstaining from any rush to judgment. There'll be plenty of time for that later, as necessary.