ottoneu Trade: When Should You Trade Youth?

As Chad Young already spelled out in his piece earlier today, the two of us recently completed a trade in the second FanGraphs Staff LeaguePablo Sandoval and Hong-Chih Kuo for Matt Thornton and Paul Goldschmidt.

I was on the end receiving Sandoval, and as far as overall trade analysis goes, I have to agree almost entirely with Chad. Due to the relative strengths and weaknesses of both our teams, I think this was one of those trades that — right now, at least — rates as a win-win. Both of us are dealing from depth; I get the third baseman I desperately need without destroying my bullpen or offensive depth, and Chad improves his bullpen considerably and gets a young, high upside first baseman without hurting his offense. Only time will tell exactly how this works out, but in the moment, both of us left feeling quite happy with our returns.

But when contemplating this trade, I found myself coming back to one question over and over: how exactly should we value prospects in ottoneu leagues? I was loath to give up Goldschmidt in this trade, but in the end, I had to pull the trigger based on my team needs. But still, when focusing in on the position players involved here, I found myself going back and forth:

Sandoval ($24): 25 years old, already an all-star third baseman.
Goldschmidt ($6): 24 years old, tremendous power potential, plays in Arizona.

Sandoval plays a weak position, he’s still quite young, and his salary isn’t even that high; depending how this year goes, he’s still a keeper candidate. I’m excited that I acquired him…but then I look at Goldschmidt. There is risk involved with Goldschmidt, considering that he’s a relatively unproven commodity at the major league level, but he’s also not exactly that risky a pick. He’s going to hit for power — it’s the contact issues that are the biggest question mark — and he has the potential to become a perennial 30+ homer threat out in the Arizona air.

Even if Goldschmidt only becomes around an 850 point/year player — which seems like a relatively safe bet, considering he’s projected at 790 points this season — he’s a heck of a bargain at $6. Keep him for next season and he’s $8. The season after that? $10. In our league, people paid around $15-20 for first baseman that finished last season with between 850-900 points. Even if Goldschmidt never reaches that level, he’s a great value at his price and there’s little risk that he won’t be worth his salary. And then if he reaches his upside….well, then you have a dynasty keeper and you never, ever let go.

So which way do you go: do you value the present day more, or do you prefer to take the long-term view and gamble on upside? I’ve struggled with this same question when discussing trades in my other ottoneu league, and this format really makes you stop and consider the risks and value of prospects. Dollars are a valuable commodity in ottoneu leagues, so if you can acquire one prospect that blossoms into a star, you’re giving yourself a huge competitive advantage.

In part, your answer to that question probably depends on where your team stands on the Win Curve. If you think your team is good enough to compete that season, then it makes more sense to take the short term value gain while cashing in on a prospect. Is my team at that point? I’m not sure, but I think it’s good enough to make a run at least. If it turns out I’m toward the bottom of the league by July, though, I’m going to be sorely regretting this trade.

Am I overvaluing prospects like crazy? Or does this jive with what other people have experienced? I’d love to hear.

We hoped you liked reading ottoneu Trade: When Should You Trade Youth? by Steve Slowinski!

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

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You pick which years you’re going to try and win in advance. I tried last year, looked destined for third, blew everything up for prospects. Now I’m throwing this year and planning on winning next year, the year after that, and every year after until I can’t get anyone into my league because I have all the players.