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Did the Blue Jays Get Fair Value for John Farrell?

Taking a look back at manager trades throughout history, it appears teams can't expect to get much in return. Was Mike Aviles fair value?

It had long been rumored that the Boston Red Sox and John Farrell had a mutual interest in Farrell managing in Boston for the coming year. When Bobby Valentine was relieved of his duties, speculation began to run rampant that Farrell, the tight-lipped, straight-faced Nelson Van Alden look-alike would seek a way to leave the Toronto Blue Jays to join the Red Sox.

And so it has come to pass, as the Jays orchestrated the rare trade of a manager this past weekend. The Jays have sent manager John Farrell and non-prospect reliever David Carpenter to the Sox for the infielder with the thousand-watt smile, Mike Aviles.

For the Red Sox, they give up what was sure to be a bench player to acquire "their man" for the bench. For the Jays, they were in a tough position and got what they could. Aviles is a serviceable player and, while he isn’t likely Plan A at second base for 2013, he would provide an upgrade at a discount on Kelly Johnson.

It’s difficult to evaluate the return the Jays got considering Farrell more or less had their backs against the wall. Sure, he had a year left on his deal and the Jays could have simply said "no," forcing the Red Sox to go another route or find a one-year interim solution, but it would have been a clubhouse and public relations disaster to trot out a manager who wanted to be elsewhere. It would be the baseball equivalent of staying with a girlfriend who is clearly still in love with her ex (although since we’re all computer baseball nerds, we, of course, don’t understand this "girlfriend" analogy).

Even with the difficulty in evaluating the trade, the return seemed small given Farrell’s (possibly unwarranted) reputation as a good manager prospect. This whole scenario forced me to consider the actual value of a manager in terms of wins – while some managers are qualitatively good or bad, there isn’t a lot of evidence suggesting just how much a manager is worth to a team. Since any impact would be difficult to quantify anyway, it might be a fruitless endeavour to investigate. Chris Jaffe, author of Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, even admitted it’s difficult to separate from other factors and might not be worth more than a couple of wins in either direction.

But perhaps this Farrell trade could give us some insight into how teams value their bench bosses in terms of wins, especially compared to players.

Managers Traded Throughout History

Evaluating the Manager Trade Market

The table below shows each of these managers traded with their record in the previous season, their career winning percentage (at the end of their career), and their record the following season. It also shows the Wins Above Replacement for the players they were traded with and for.


This table obviously doesn’t tell us a whole lot, except for that the trading of managers seems to be very situation-dependent.

For the White Sox, Guillen has recently won a World Series but had worn out his welcome, netting them just a relief prospect, albeit one who looks like a potential major league contributor. The Rays got hosed on the Piniella deal, giving up a player entering the prime of his career for a manager who would last just three seasons with the team.

The older trades are tougher to contextualize given I wasn’t yet born, but both Tanner and Hodges won World Series championships with their new teams within a few years. Tanner netted Sanguillen at the tail end of his productivity, while Hodges cost a nobody. Gordon and Dykes appeared to be a shuffling of deck chairs.

So if we evaluate the deal based on past precedent, it appears the Jays made out as well as could have been hoped. Mike Aviles is unlikely to have the peak that Randy Winn had, but he is a useful, league average player nonetheless.

For Toronto, Aviles temporarily slots in as their starting second baseman. Last season, Kelly Johnson was worth just 0.7 wins and made $6.4M. Aviles was worth1.8 wins at shortstop, and while a move to second would lower his positional adjustment for WAR, his positive fielding value could reasonably be expected to improve with a move to second (a study for another time?). More importantly, perhaps, is that Aviles is controllable for two more seasons and made just $1.2M last season. The Jays will save about $5M and add about a win to their roster even if they don’t add a new second baseman.

Of course, the trade also allows the Jays to explore trading Yunel Escobar who is now a pariah in town after his homophobic eye-black black-eye, or acquire a free agent second-baseman (Scutaro!) and keep prospect Adeiny Hechavarria in the minors for another season of fine tuning.

The situation was a no-win, but the Blue Jays seem to have made out alright, given historical precedent.