Tracking real-life trades, or: BTV vs. A.J.

In the interest of transparency, it’s time for an update on how the BTV model is doing this offseason relative to real-life trades -- with one caveat: A.J. Preller.

Our model assumes most GMs will act rationally, and seek to get the best overall value possible in a deal, just as in most other walks of life, which means most deals are pretty close to fair. But we also know that’s not always the case. GMs have different motivations depending on where they are in the win cycle, and the most notable example this offseason is A.J. Preller of the Padres.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in late September that Padres Executive Chairman Ron Fowler has mandated that the time has come for the Padres to have a winning season in 2020 -- or else “heads will roll.” The implication there is that Preller will lose his job if he doesn’t produce. He’s clearly gotten the message.

So far, every trade Preller has made this offseason has been imbalanced in favor of the other team, as you may have noticed. This is not a coincidence. He’s in win-now mode, and every other GM knows it. He cares far more about upgrading his MLB roster than winning a trade. 

And because he has so much prospect capital to use, he’s spending it like a drunken sailor.  Trade a top infield prospect for a 4th outfielder? Here you go. How about two prospects (one a legit hitter) for a guy who was about to be non-tendered? No problem. Trade a solid outfielder with four years of control for a pricier one with only two years of control? Sure -- AND have one of my top prospects to boot.

He’s a little nuts right now.

And according to the MLB Executive Burner Twitter account (which appears to be an anonymous front office source), "Teams w/ trade assets hoping Padres GM AJ Preller calls or will place outbound call. Everyone around game knows Preller's seat is hot & willing mortgage future assets of leagues top 3 farm system to win now. Told "He's not consolidating prospect base, he's giving away players."

So we think it’s fair to show our numbers two ways: with A.J. and without AJ.


With A.J. (all trades from late October through Dec. 6, 2019):

Percentage of all trades accepted by our model: 76.4%

Average variance: +/- 5.4

Without A.J.:

Percentage of all trades except Padres accepted by our model: 86.7%

Average variance: +/- 1.3


So we’re doing okay with A.J. We’re doing much better without him. We know he’s going to do a few more spendy trades, so we’re just gonna roll with it.

A few other trade observations:

Narvaez: We consider this a strong win, as his BTV value ($5.1M) closely matched his return (estimated at $4.1M, but variable due to the draft pick). Lots of baseball writers were surprised by the low return, but we weren’t.

Villar: Similar story. We had his value at -0.1, and he returned a non-prospect (estimated at 0.1). There was never any surplus there, and the preponderance of cheaper 2Bs on the market suggested no one was going to pay much for him.

Marisnick: Again, no surplus. We had him at 0, and he returned two non-prospects (we added both to the database at 0.1 each, but that may be generous).

In addition, the model feels like it’s working well in other types of transactions: non-tenders and free agent deals:

Our non-tender predictions did well, as you can see: we predicted quite a few big names would be non-tendered, and we were right.

And so far, most of the free agent deals are tracking well relative to the model’s fair value lines (we publish each player’s trade value after each deal is announced, and it’s usually close to zero, which means the salary was fair; however, we can’t take credit for these since we don’t publish the predictions in advance, as we’re not in the free agent salary prediction business). Examples include Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud, and Jake Odorizzi.

All told, so far so good. Except for A.J.

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It surprises me how many Padre fans fall in line with Preller despite the apparent imbalance in the values of each of their trades. The Profar one in particular surprises me on the positive response of Padre fans. Profar was horrible last season. We shall soon see, but Preller seems to going for broke.

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Yeah, A's fans were of course delighted with the Profar trade, since he was terrible last year and everyone knew he would be non-tendered. So the fact that Beane and Forst managed to get a 45 FV prospect for him AND a PTBNL was striking, and points out how much Preller really wanted Profar. He seemed to be trading with his heart rather than his head on that one.


Both are fair assessments.. However, as you point out in the article, the situation isn't as straight forward as most writers would like to admit. All last year we heard (read) that Preller has stocked up an impressive prospect capital and it's time to use it. Now he starts using it and the writers are all "what is this guy thinking? he's getting fleeced!". Well what good does it do the Padres to have 4 hot prospect catchers? That's without considering the youthfulness of the current MLB catchers. If you look at these "over-pays" closely, you see that Preller dealt from his depth. Even after losing Urias and Edwards there are still plenty of middle infield prospects in the system. And again, the MLB roster has two stud SS's.. Even with the hole at 2nd base this trade still doesn't hurt the Padres as much as people would like to claim. Sure Urias is a top prospect and so was Edwards, can't argue that. But Urias was given a lot of time to prove himself here and fell short. I'm a Padre Homer and had really high hopes for Urias... But still the point here is an easy one to see. Preller needs to improve this team now. Prospects about to be stars does this guy no good, he needs to win now. The guy had been shopping Renfroe for over a year with no takers. Turning him into Pham shouldn't be considered a loss. At least not until Renfroe goes off for 50 hr's in a Rays uni instead of a Padres one I think the industry as a whole (baseball writers & fans) have just grown accustomed to hating on A.J. It's easy and group dynamics just love to have an "Andre" to pick on, to pass the time..

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Thanks for your comments. I agree that A.J. is dealing from depth, and when you're in that situation it's less painful, because you get to a point where you can have too many prospects. And since everyone in baseball knows his situation, he has less leverage. Don't mean to sound like I'm picking on him, though. It'll be interesting to see if all his moves end up working.