Here he is again, though without nearly the shine. Three years ago, when Brandon Wood's(notes) name came up in trade conversations, it did so preceded by some kind of all-caps title: Minor League Home Run Champion or 100 Extra-Base-Hit Wonder or, very simply, Slugging Monster. To sell a prospect of Wood's caliber short would be a grave mistake indeed.
Guys like Wood – they just don't miss, or at least it seems that way when they're tearing up the minor leagues like a rototiller through sod. He had everything: the size, the body, the power, the arm, the swing. There was a reason his name surfaced as the proposed booty for Manny Ramirez(notes) (December 2005 and again November '06), Alfonso Soriano(notes) (July '06), Miguel Tejada(notes) (July '06 and December '07) and Mark Teixeira(notes) (July '07 and July '08). And a reason, too, he still wears an Angels uniform despite the hundreds more trade requests that began and ended with his name.
Brandon Wood is on plenty of lips again, as the Angels try to back into the Roy Halladay(notes) and Cliff Lee(notes) sweepstakes. Only it's different this time. He isn't the headliner. Wood is the complementary piece, the extra guy, the one who is certainly replaceable, the antithesis of what he once was: untouchable. He's a prime example of a player a team held onto for too long because an honest evaluation of his ability was clouded by excess hype.
"Teams love their prospects," Wood said. "But I realized very quickly that being a prospect doesn't make you a major leaguer. A lot of prospects don't pan out. A prospect is a label for a talented minor leaguer who hasn't proven a thing in the big leagues."
Wood is halfway right. Teams do love their prospects. But it's not a normal sort of love. It is irrational. It is tainted. It is downright incestuous. Executives who pride themselves on objective analysis lose their wits because of homegrown prospects. The team drafted the player. It developed him. It watched him grow. He is the team's kid, and he should wear their uniform, no matter what, right?
And so again this debate makes its yearly July 31 appearance: How can a team properly valuate its own prospects, especially when trading them may bolster or even ensure its postseason chances? More and more have skewed conservative, the love of their own outweighing their coveting of others'. For every Brett Wallace(notes) – a top hitter whom St. Louis sent to Oakland in the Matt Holliday(notes) deal – there are a dozen Madison Bumgarners and Mike Stantons and Jason Heywards, guys deemed off limits by their teams (San Francisco, Florida and Atlanta) because of … numbers they put up at Double-A.
Well, that and projection and the perceived value of youth. Certainly a player under team control for his first three years at around $400,000 a pop is a bargain for a high-revenue team and a necessity for those with low revenues. And a pair of lopsided blockbusters (Cleveland getting Grady Sizemore(notes), Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips(notes) for Bartolo Colon(notes), and Baltimore trading Erik Bedard(notes) for Adam Jones(notes), George Sherrill(notes) and pitcher Chris Tillman(notes), who debuts against Zack Greinke(notes) tonight) exacerbates the worry of being fleeced.
Which leaves the Halladay proceedings a game of chicken, with Philadelphia prospect Kyle Drabek the proverbial pixie waving the flag. On one side is Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi, insisting on Drabek's inclusion. Barreling toward Ricciardi is Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr., shaking his head no and trying every workaround possible.
"They're going to lose out on the best pitcher in baseball because of one kid who's at Double-A?" an NL general manager said.
"The Phillies would be nuts to include him," an AL scouting director said.
It's not necessary to tap the parties' cell phones to understand the issue. Both sides love Drabek. The Blue Jays have every right to. They are trading a Cy Young-winning ace and deserve a huge package. The Phillies can't let go, even if refusing Drabek's inclusion is allowing your foot to go gangrenous, then shooting it for good measure.
Gary Huckabay, the founder of Baseball Prospectus, coined an acronym in the late '90s: TINSTAAPP. It stands for: There is no such thing as a pitching prospect. There is such a thing, of course. It's just that arms are so fickle, it's far easier to predict an everyday star than it is a pitcher.
Though that isn't exactly science, either. Following Wood's breakout 2005 season in which he hit 43 home runs and tacked on 53 doubles and five triples, he was the first player teams asked for in trades. The Angels refused. Such was former GM Bill Stoneman's way and the greatest criticism against him: He fell too hard for his own guys, laudable in a way but counterproductive in another.
Now, the Angels find themselves wondering what to do with a 24-year-old who has proven time and again he's too good for Triple-A. Wood hit 17 home runs in 272 at-bats there this year after going deep 31 times in 395 at-bats last year. Los Angeles simply has no at-bats for him, with Chone Figgins(notes) at third base, the hot Erick Aybar(notes) at shortstop and .560-slugging Kendry Morales(notes) at first.
But the primary problem is Wood's inability to touch major league pitching. In 208 at-bats, he's hitting .188. He has struck out 64 times and walked six. The power fades.
"I know people think I've gone downhill," Wood said. "The sooner you realize being a prospect gets you nowhere, the better you'll be. I've still got to transfer myself from a prospect into a big leaguer. I want to shed that label."
If Figgins leaves via free agency this offseason, Wood could finally get his shot at third. Or maybe the Angels get him at-bats before then through a trade.
"Hey, I'm glad people are still interested," Wood said. "I try not to get all worked up. You realize how few of those trades ever get made."
Brandon Wood, the fading-luster prospect, laughed. He was living proof. For now.
- Brandon Wood