Well, I think we're all glad that's over. Now we just need to make sense of it all.
One of the prevailing storylines of the 2014 MLB trade deadline seems destined to be a return to sanity by major league front offices. The implication is that, in recognizing the value of players on the 25-man roster and dealing them -- both acquiring them and trading them away -- the pendulum is swinging back towards valuing veterans over prospects. I think that's a fairly faulty reading; if teams were actually valuing their prospects less, you'd see more teams doing what Billy Beane did in Oakland when he sent Addison Russell to Chicago for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. By the time 4 p.m. rolled around, however, the only prospects of major note to have actually been dealt besides Russell were Jake Marisnick and Colin Moran of the Miami Marlins, who went to Houston in a completely bizarre deal that landed the Marlins a package headlined by Jarred Cosart (4.41 ERA this season for the Astros) -- and it's never a good idea to take anything the Marlins front office is doing as representative of a broader league trend.
No, most of the major moving pieces in this deadline's trades were active roster players for other active roster players: Drew Smyly and Austin Jackson in the Price trade, with the major "prospect," Nick Franklin, being big league-ready and having already made his MLB debut. Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes for Yoenis Cespedes. John Lackey for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. Asdrubal Cabrera for Zach Walters, who has appeared in 40 MLB games for Washington over the past two years. Tommy Milone for Sam Fuld. The list goes on.
In trades where the major return was prospects, they were usually for secondary or specialty players, such as relievers (Huston Street, Andrew Miller) or utility players (Emilio Bonifacio). Joakim Soria returned a good minor-league haul for the Rangers, but the fifth- and seventh-best prospects in a weak Detroit system (one top-100 player going into the season, zero in the top 50 after Baseball America's midseason update) aren't big chips. Martin Prado is a good jack-of-all-trades position player that the New York Yankees bought low on, but the guy they sent the other way -- Peter O'Brien -- is a flawed prospect whose skill set is very shaky outside of his undeniable raw power.
That's the sort of prospect that's being traded these days: The guy who's having a down season or who has an unbalanced/questionable set of tools; who would be elite except for this or that problem with his game or this or that problem translating his natural abilities onto the field. Prospects in the bottom half of their organization's top 10 are where most teams are now drawing the line -- and fans who follow their team's minor-league system still scream bloody murder when one of those guys gets dealt, because he was just such-and-such period of time away from putting it all together. And maybe that player, specifically, was; but the odds are against more than one or two of the prospects in today's trades being impact guys at the MLB level for even a single season. They just don't have that level of surety to their future success. If they did, their parent organization wouldn't be trading them.
This seems like less of a renaissance of veteran value and more an admission that elite prospects are so valuable to most modern front offices that they are no longer credible currency. That's really the only context in which the returns for some of the Boston moves -- and certainly the Price move -- make much sense. When the pool of young talent that teams are willing to deal includes none of their great, interesting young players that selling teams would actively want to acquire, there's no reason to keep fishing there. You might as well go looking for guys like Cespedes, who are under some semblance of control while also being proven MLB players, and trade for them -- because if worst comes to worst, you can always go fishing again with those guys later, whether that's at the deadline next year or even this offseason.
This, of course, makes it easier for teams that are willing to deal elite prospects -- like Beane's Athletics -- to get what they want on the open market. (As a sidenote regarding Price's rather dismal return for the Rays, one imagines they're somewhat regretting not doing Price for Russell when that was an option -- unless they're really in love with Smyly, Franklin and Willy Adames for internal reasons). Of course, they're going to be pilloried in some circles for failing to extract the maximum value from their trade asset, but the point of a midseason trade is not actually the ruthless maximization of return value -- it is addressing the specific need your team's roster has this year, so as best to prepare the team for the second half and the playoffs. This is just as true about trading Addison Russell as it is about trading Tommy Milone, who the A's sent to Minnesota in return for Sam Fuld, who is insurance for Coco Crisp and a competent bench outfielder. Getting maximum value in trades is only a virtue insofar as it leads to success on the field in the short or long term. Dealing Russell for the two Cubs pitchers on the market gave the Athletics the chance to address their rotation concerns in early July as opposed to at the deadline, and their mental flexibility and market adaptability let them move on Jon Lester as the clock ticked down.
In the end, 2014 was one of the craziest, most interesting deadlines in recent memory, but it didn't represent a sea change -- or at the very least, not a change in direction. Prospects are still very valuable, perhaps more valuable now than ever before -- and the fact that most of the guys changing hands today were active roster players only reinforces that.