Trading Within The Division Can Be A Good Thing


It’s no secret that the Chicago White Sox are in a position to sell a number of relief pitchers and that the Detroit Tigers could use some relievers.

The decision to deal the relievers makes a ton of sense. Matt Thornton is getting less effective as he ages into his late 30s – this is not unusual at all. Jesse Crain is on the last year of his deal and becomes a free agent after this season. Matt Lindstrom has a roughly market value club option for next year at $4 million. The White Sox are not competing at all this year, so it makes sense to trade these assets – whose value is only for this year, really – into assets that help you next year and beyond.

There’s generally a taboo against trading within your division. I’m not sure what the reasoning is for that other than fear. Losing a trade is a pretty bad thing for a GM, and losing it to a division rival is even worse. But think about it this way in terms of the White Sox or other teams that are rebuilding or have given up on contention for that particular season: You trade players away because you think that you are getting better long term assets at the expense of short-term assets. That means on the other side of the deal, they are giving up long-term value for short term value.

So what if Jesse Crain makes the Tigers better this season? The success of the 2013 Tigers has virtually zero effect on the White Sox. It doesn’t hurt the White Sox to have a good Tigers team in the division because they’re a bottom 5 team in the majors and aren’t going to make the playoffs anyway. Therefore, if the White Sox managed to get a quality minor leaguer from the Tigers it would actually help the White Sox in two ways. It strengthens the White Sox long term with the ability of that player – and subtracts the value of that player from the Tigers. What if that player helps the White Sox in 2014 or 2015 instead of helping the Tigers? It will matter a whole lot more than a reliever who’s leaving anyway helping the Tigers in 2013.
Notice the first name of this photographer. (Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)
I have seen the fear expressed, “What if the White Sox trade Crain to Detroit and the Tigers sign him to a long-term deal?”

Well, I suppose while you’re on a team it gives that team a temporary window where they can negotiate with you exclusively. But they’d also have to make him an offer that makes it worthwhile for him to forgo entering the Free Agency Market and having a bidding war for his services – likely some sort of overpay. This is also by far the best year of Crain’s career, and as we’ve seen, he has some durability issues. Crain will be at the peak of his value. If our division rivals want to dump a whole bunch of money on Jesse Crain either:

A) The White Sox weren’t going to stop them in Free Agency anyway; and

B) Their division rival Tigers just spent a ton of money on a set-up man entering his age-32 season.

Jesse Crain is great, and I’m a big fan – but if they get something of value from Detroit for him it could be even better than if they traded him elsewhere.