For the exception of a few instances, it is not the manager that determines whether a team is competitive or not. The manager sets the lineups, rotates the 25 players he is given- the way he wants, sets his pitching rotation and makes pitching changes. While the responsibility of the manager is at a level where the difficulty of the job is understood, the manager is only as good as the talent of the team he is managing. He is given a group of players, good or not, and is expected to win no matter what. I love the statement, "he is getting the most out of his players." In other words, the manager is given credit for the fact that the players are playing over their heads. As if he made them better. Conversely, if the manager is given a group of over-the-hill veterans and young players who do not belong in the major leagues, his ability to manage is always put into question. In conclusion, I think the manager gets too much credit and blame for the performance of an assembled group of players- good or not.
Once again, I digress. Many fans and people associated with the game of baseball think it is just as simple to make a trade for a significant player as it is to sign a free agent. Of course, having the discussion with the free agent player that can fill a particular need is the hardest part. But, if the player feels like the new venue is a good opportunity and is compensated well, the process gets much easier. Landing a big free agent is a lot like landing that supermodel girl. You can woo them all you want... but if they like you, you likely don't have to do anything. And of course the opposite is true. Think about the amount of money that is over payed in both situations just to get the player (or girl) to talk to you.
Making a trade is not as easy as many people think. All you have to do is listen to the local radio stations in New York, Philadelphia or Boston to know how out of touch fans can be in regards to what a fair trade is. These mongos can do no wrong since they are never taken to task for their own town foolery. (But that is for another discussion.) Fans of all sports teams think of their own team's interest... and nothing more. This can be expected because the rebuttal question can be asked, "Why do I want to see another team get better on my team's account?"
However, that is the exact reason these "dream" trades never happen in real life. The other teams in MLB do not work for you and your favorite team. They have their own interest in winning baseball games and building a successful team. Because of the fact trades are made for the reason of giving both teams a different look, many mistake that for the misconception that trades are made to make one team better at the expense of the other team. You can go back to the whole "buyers and sellers" concept all baseball analysts and show hosts are so obsessed with. Buyers are supposed to get better while sellers are not supposed to care about the well being of their own team. The thought is almost like having a winning team in July is worthy of the reward of good players from other teams for no reasonable cost whatsoever.
Another thing that gets lost in the whole discussion of trades is the fact that "prospects" are not so easy to obtain. In few instances, teams are willing to part with players who have a high ceiling. Look at where the majority of the top ranked minor league players in all of baseball happen to be playing for. In most cases, the higher ranked prospects spend their entire minor league career with one organization, generally the one that drafted or signed them. In the majority of the other cases, the top level prospects were traded while they are at the A Level or below. In these cases, the player spends the majority of their minor league career with their new organization. The value of the top prospects in all of baseball are up there with the best players in the game of baseball. And in most cases, the teams that have the top prospects are not willing to take on the contracts of even the best players in MLB.
The attempt of a fair trade in baseball has so many more obstacles today than in past years. The fact that just about all the top young players in the game of baseball are signed to long term extensions at a young age elongates the time before they can reach free agency. In some cases, these young players never make it to free agency at all. Teams looking to make the big splash sometimes sign a player in his early to mid 30s to a long term contact. This happens more than in the past because of the fact that there are so few young star players hitting free agency in their 20s. And because a lot of these deals have not worked out, teams are staying away from committing to this type of free agent. That has led to more teams looking to make that same splash through a trade.
The team that wants to make this splash has a group of top young players that they have already deemed "off limits." Yet, they still want to add the big power hitter or top starting pitcher. Of course, the other team is going to question why they would want to part with their top player without getting anything of major value back. These are generally deals that never get made. Sometimes with some animosity between either one GM with another or in some cases, both GMs holding onto some animosity.
For a team that is looking to trade a player, it makes plenty of sense to get an idea of what other teams value as the return. While initially it makes sense to ask for the highest return possible, it also makes sense to see what another team is willing to give up. Usually, the middle ground is where the fair deal can be made. It makes sense for the team that is trading the player to want more than the expected return, while the team trading for the player wants to give up the least amount possible in regards to players. A productive question that can be asked during these negotiations is, "What would you be willing to give US for the services of this player?" This works especially is there are a number of teams in the running for the trade of this player. Take note of what the proposed return for the player is and compare it to what the other teams are offering. Perhaps something gets offered to you that you were looking for in the first place or maybe the determination is that no team is willing to part what your needs are for the trade of this player.
Now if you are a team looking to trade FOR a player, it makes just as much sense to want to give up as little as possible. Of course, that approach by itself will seldom land you the player you are looking for. Similar to the team that is looking to trade a player, the team that is looking to trade for a player should have an idea of what another team is looking for. Not just for the- I want to give up nothing and you want the moon, meet somewhere in the middle- philosophy. One team has a direction they are looking to go in and has the idea of which players they are looking to trade and which ones they are not looking to trade. If the other team suggests a player the first team is not looking to move, the first team can evaluate its own situation and imagine what their team would look like without the suggested player(s). By doing this, it allows for the GM to look at his own baseball team with an open mind.
In addition, it reiterates the well mentioned fact that, "few players are untouchable." Because of this, it is always a good business practice to have an idea of what every one of your players would demand on the trade market. Perhaps a notebook or excel spreadsheet (kept private of course) can serve as a reminder from these open minded discussions. And you never know- maybe the other side asks for a player that is expendable that you were not even thinking about.
The last thing I wanted to talk about is teams that make a deal just because they are desperate. Sometimes circumstances make it seem like there is a sense of urgency to trade a particular player. Maybe its the July 31st trading deadline and the player is a free agent after the season. Baseball has set it up to where teams have the best chance of being compensated for their players leaving as top free agents to go elsewhere. Because of that, few teams need to feel that sense of urgency and are less likely to give a player away for little return just to get "something" for them. Because of that, the chances of a "dump trade" or the dealing of a player just to tell its younger fans they got "something" back in return has decreased to where we have seen as few of these deals as ever. Those who support these trades can tell me how Royce Ring, Alex Ochoa and Seth Rosin are going.