I was surprised yesterday when the trade deadline passed and Will Ohman was still a part of the Braves. Ohman is a lefty specialist capable of throwing a lot of innings, and he’ll be a free agent after this season. He’s a good candidate for deadline deal. So why wasn’t he moved? According to General Manager Frank Wren, the available offers were not sufficient to compensate for his worth to the Braves.
Wren said the Braves planned to keep Ohman for the rest of the season after getting trade offers for the veteran left-hander that included only fringe prospects.
Ohman is projected to be a Type B free agent who would bring the Braves a “sandwich” draft pick — somewhere between the 30th and 45th overall selections in the June draft — as compensation from any team that signed him this winter.
Wren said it would have taken a solid prospect in an offer for Ohman to make it worth giving up that draft pick. Asked if that meant they wouldn’t consider trying to re-sign Ohman as a free agent, Wren said no, the Braves hadn’t ruled out that possibility.
Ohman is worth his services for the rest of this season and a probabilistic draft pick. Ohman’s performance could be worth three potential levels of compensation in next season’s draft. Here’s a primer by Keith Law, and a non-gated summary by Tim Dierkes. If Ohman is considered to be Type A free agent—in the top 20 percent of major league relief pitchers—he’ll garner a first-round pick and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds when signed by another organization. If he is a Type B free agent—in the second quintile of relievers—he’ll produce a sandwich pick only. If he’s not in the top 40 percent, the Braves will receive no compensation if he signs with another team. Though Ohman has pitched well this season, there is still time for things to go very wrong. Relievers’ performance statistics can move quickly as a result of their limited playing time.
Draft picks are nice, but I’m not sure if the Braves have them valued right, and it’s not because I’ve conducted an extensive study on the value of draft picks. Any team that acquired Ohman would also have acquired the right to the same draft picks; therefore, any acquiring team would value Ohman for this season’s performance plus the probabilistic picks. It is likely that any acquiring team would be a contender—a team whose winning increases its chance of reaching the riches of the post-season. The Braves have no shot at those riches, and will probably not see similar returns to Ohman’s performance. This points to an asymmetric valuation of picks.
If the Braves valued Ohman more than the offers that the team received, than the team must value the draft picks more than any other team. And this leads to the next question: have the Braves overvalued those picks? Several teams apparently think so, and this is a bit disconcerting.
Maybe the Braves are right and the rest of the league is wrong? I doubt it. All organizations are aware of the value of draft picks. Some may be better than others, but in this area I don’t consider the Braves to be the best.
However, another possible explanations doesn’t require different valuations by teams. Maybe the market suffers from some inefficiency. In this case, we had a few contenders vying for a few players. Each team has bundles of prospects that may or may not suit a trading partner. Teams are limited in the types of compensation they can use—straight trades of draft picks are disallowed and pure cash transfers are normally frowned upon by the league. Plus, we have the transactions costs of making this deal. The Braves potential trading partners were negotiating many complicated transactions. Devoting organizational resources for bullpen help isn’t that high a priority when you’re chasing Manny Ramirez and Jason Bay. In a 29 team auction for Ohman’s services with no other distraction, I suspect he gets moved.
I think the latter reason largely explains why no deal went down. The moderate inefficiencies of the free agent market also make me wary of using free agent market valuations the preferred method for estimating player marginal revenue products. This method is useful, and I use it on occasion; but, I do worry about the barriers to exchange in this market.
Did the Braves value Will Ohman? I think that’s part of the explanation, but we really shouldn’t be surprised the deal didn’t go down. A bigger puzzle is why the Reds held on to Adam Dunn.