Making the farm system productive for the big league team

When it comes to the young talent in a big league club’s organization – the prospects – there are several ways they can help you. The most obvious one would be to make the team and help you win games. That is the first goal. But they can also help bring talent to a team via trades.

Sometimes when we take a look at how a winning or championship team was built, a story will list the home-grown players, but they seldom list players that were acquired through trades of home-grown talent.

In my recent conversation with’s senior writer Jim Callis, he pointed out yet another way those prospects help. Young talent with little service time is often at the lower end of the salary spectrum. So amassing such talent can save the big league club money to spend elsewhere on other needs.

So yeah, young talent is quite important and coveted. Maybe now more than ever. 

“The teams with the very best farm systems almost always contend about a year earlier than you expect,” Callis pointed out in our recent interview. “And the Orioles did that this year. Sometimes they take a step back the next year and then they are good to go, smooth sailing from there. The Astros are a team that comes to mind. The Cubs come to mind. It happens a lot.

“In 2023 with the Orioles we will see more of the long-term pieces kind of fit into place in the big leagues and then be part of that lineup. From that point on, maybe they don’t have room for all their talent and they trade players from the farm.

“Nobody ever has too much talent. If you don’t have places for everyone to play on your big league team, you consolidate prospects and trade them for a bigger piece.”

Prospect capital may be as valued as it ever has been in the big leagues. The smaller-market teams that are rebuilding need young talent, of course. Even the big money boys need young talent to help balance out the payroll and to keep the pipeline flowing.

“Even if I’m the Dodgers, who do a great job of churning out young talent, if I don’t have room for everyone to play, I can go trade three young players for Mookie Betts,” said Callis. “Or I can trade four young guys to get Trea Turner and Max Scherzer. If you have attractive prospects you are going to be in play for anyone you want on the trade market. Maybe there is a team that has a starting pitcher that is getting too expensive and the Orioles could go trade three prospects and get a starting pitcher.”

Or as teams get close to championship level, they can use the farm to get over the top.

“Mike Elias was in Houston. They were terrible and then drafted well and built a juggernaut. When they got good, they went out and traded - I believe it was three prospects - to get Justin Verlander. They traded four prospects in a package to get Gerrit Cole. Then they trade four or five to go get Zack Greinke.

“I think prospects are in demand more than ever from both sides (large- and small-market teams). It allows you to spend money elsewhere on your big league payroll and allows you to be in the running for basically any player. If you have enough prospect capital, you can get about anyone on the market.”

It was on Aug. 31, 2017, that Houston acquired Verlander from Detroit for three prospects. Houston traded its then-No. 3 prospect, a right-hander named Franklin Pérez, who was a top 100 prospect, but not top 25 or 30. They traded outfielder Daz Cameron, the No. 37 overall pick in the 2015 draft and a one-time back-end top 100 prospect. He was their No. 9 prospect. And they also dealt catcher Jake Rogers, their No. 11 prospect, for Verlander.

Verlander, who had a 3.82 ERA for the 2017 Tigers, has now gone 61-19 in five seasons with Houston since that deal with a 2.26 ERA in 102 regular-season starts. 

Since that trade, Houston has played six straight seasons in the American League Championship Series and in four World Series, winning two championships.

The Orioles, the way, selected Cameron earlier this month off waivers from Detroit. He is now a member of Baltimore's 40-man roster. 

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