When should we evaluate transactions?

USA Today Sports

The age old question: can we truly gauge trades and signings in the moment?

With the onslaught of action across Major League Baseball in the last ten days, Beyond the Box Score has written detailed analysis on the majority of the transactions we have seen. In each piece, our writers have reasoned and presented their thoughts before finally drawing a conclusion as to whether the move was right or not. What I think divides some people, however, is the question of when we should actually be evaluating these deals?

Some will argue that grading a deal in the present is foolish, especially a multi-year contract, or a trade that involves prospects who have yet to reach the big leagues. That seems reasonable -- for example, how can we truly know who got the better end of the Doug Fister trade until we see how Fister pitches in Washington and how Robbie Ray develops for the Tigers? Outside of keeping up with the news, it almost seems foolish that we spend so much time analyzing transactions that will play out in front of us over the next several years.

Then again, I'm not a big believer in evaluating decisions by the end results. I'd much rather judge a contract or a trade based on the process, which means instant examination. Maybe this is just the (former) gambler in me speaking, but those of you that play poker understand that calling $100 into a $20 pot on a diamond flush draw is a poor bet, regardless if the river card is the nine of diamonds or not. The smart money says to throw that hand away and play another day, even though you can see after the fact that you would have collected the pot.

Transactions are no different. We can't predict what will happen with players four or five years into the future with any real certainty, so we shouldn't wait to see if teams hit their proverbial flushes. Instead, we should use the information that we do have to measure the process -- a term that KC fans might hear in their sleep at this point.

That said, it's undoubtedly true that we know next to nothing compared to the big league clubs making these moves. They have access to mounds of data and information that we'll never have the privilege to see, a point that our own Julian Levine made when talking about process and results just over a year ago:

There's a wealth of data out there -- on Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, et al. -- and I'd hate to understate its value. The scope of information freely available to the public is astounding. But it pales in comparison to what front offices have. They have a much broader understanding of all of this, whether through scouting or FIELDf/x technologies or other various sources. And we'd be arrogant and ignorant to think otherwise.

We owe it to ourselves to realize and recognize just how little we know. This means giving teams the benefit of the doubt. This means approaching analyses with a level of calculated uncertainty. And this means keeping an open mind.

But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't use the information that we do have to weight transactions in the moment. What it does mean, is that maybe we need to view them in a more Bayesian manner. Transactions, like most pieces of life, aren't black and white, they're just ranges of probabilities. Bayes's theorem allows us to embrace that uncertainty and update our assessment as we add new information to come to a conclusion. Yesterday I said that the Yankees decision to sign Jacoby Ellsbury was a good one, but, more correctly, I should have said I think New York made a sound bet because I think it's 65% likely that Ellsbury outplays the contract and 15% likely that he's roughly worth the money with just a one in five shot at not producing enough to warrant the money.

In any event, the evaluation of transactions should come at the time the deal is signed, not years down the road. And if you disagree with that, well, I'd love to play cards with you some time.

. . .

All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

Andrew Ball is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and Fake Teams.

You can follow him on twitter @Andrew_Ball.

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