Patience can pay with players to be named
Essential component of many Deadline deals comes with waiting game
If often-traded players were to organize a support group, one in particular could spin quite the tale of nomadic woe. The subject of numerous deals per year, this weary traveler is by definition an afterthought.
He is the player to be named, or PTBN for short.
He is always a Minor Leaguer, although he occasionally has previous Major League experience. He typically spends the rest of his career in a state of anonymity befitting his vague designation, but once in awhile, he makes a real name for himself. A handful of All-Stars both past (Moises Alou, Jason Schmidt) and present (Gio Gonzalez, David Ortiz ) once were "to be named."
The PTBN is commonly used -- especially ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline and Aug. 31 waiver Deadline -- to grease the wheels of time-sensitive deals and to get around some of the complicated rules governing trades. He gets nothing in return, other than a change of address and sometimes a significant headache.
"The player to be named later is usually when you have a group of players that the other team hasn't decided upon, but that you would allow to go in the deal," said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who made his fourth swap of the year involving a PTBN when he acquired David DeJesus from the Cubs on Monday. "So it gives them a little more time to evaluate the player to kind of get a deal done when they're not sure of what player they want back. It allows them to choose out of a pool instead of a [specific] player. And there's always a cash component, in case all the players that are in the player-to-be-named deal get hurt or something like that."
The most basic sort of PTBN deal plays out something like the one Rizzo made before this season. On Jan. 16, Washington sent Michael Morse to Seattle and received two Minor League pitchers and a PTBN from Oakland in a three-way exchange. On March 20, the A's sent another pitching prospect, Ian Krol, to the Nationals to complete the trade.
Krol was one of two players the Nats could have picked, Rizzo said. The two-month lag time allowed them to "to do a little more work" on the left-hander. Krol made his big league debut in June and has pitched out of their bullpen since.
While the Nats watched Krol closely, the 22-year-old remained in the dark. While he knew that a couple of his friends, A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen, had been traded to the Nats earlier, he didn't consider the possibility that he might soon join them. When A's director of player development Keith Lieppman called Krol into his office a few weeks into Spring Training and informed him of the trade, Krol was caught off-guard.
"Honestly, I was sad to see those guys go, but then I kind of just brushed it out of my mind and didn't really think too much of it," Krol said. "Kind of forgot about the whole player-to-be-named thing."
In some cases, players to be named experience the opposite problem. They know of their possible involvement all along, but they end up floating in a state of limbo until it becomes official.
This is the situation that currently faces Rangers pitching prospect Neil Ramirez. When Texas acquired Matt Garza from the Cubs on July 22, it included a PTBN. The Rangers will complete the deal -- within the six-month limit -- by sending either Ramirez or two other pitchers to Chicago, depending on the Cubs' view of Ramirez's health, in light of a recent shoulder injury.
"You hear stuff from the Internet, but I'm just trying to get healthy," said Ramirez recently, upon his return at Double-A Frisco. "Whatever happens, happens. It's one of those things you can't control, so there's no use in worrying about it."
Indians outfielder Michael Brantley likely could sympathize with Ramirez. When Cleveland dealt CC Sabathia to Milwaukee in July 2008, the Brewers were reluctant to give up Brantley, then at Double-A. The teams worked out a creative solution, including a PTBN that would become Brantley if Milwaukee reached the postseason -- or fellow prospect Taylor Green if it didn't.
Brantley knew of his potential inclusion long before Oct. 3, when he was sent to Cleveland after Sabathia pitched the Brew Crew into the playoffs.
"There were a lot of rumors going around," Brantley said a few months later. "Players were coming up to me and saying, 'You're gone.' I would say, 'I don't know anything yet. When I know, you'll know.'"
A couple of MLB's trade rules can thrust prospects into even more bizarre situations.
Three years after parting with Sabathia, the Indians acquired Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez ahead of the non-waiver Deadline in 2011. They agreed to include highly touted left-hander Drew Pomeranz in the return package, but there was a problem. Players must be a year removed from signing their first professional contract before they can be dealt, and Pomeranz had not put pen to paper until the previous Aug. 15. Thus, a thinly veiled PTBN went to the Rockies.
Pomeranz's status was widely known, with Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti calling it "certainly one of the lesser-kept secrets." Not wanting Pomeranz to suffer an injury in the two weeks before the trade could become official, the Indians moved him from their Double-A affiliate to their Rookie-level club in Arizona, where he threw only bullpen sessions, simulated games (with no swings allowed) and long toss.
"It was a confusing time for him and for everyone, but he handled it very maturely and professionally," Indians assistant director of player development Carter Hawkins said at the time.
During the August trading period, players on 40-man rosters must clear waivers before they can be moved. This won't happen with the type of young players the Dodgers needed last year to pull off their blockbuster with the Red Sox. Therefore, Boston's haul included a pair of PTBN, who were placeholders for outfielder Jerry Sands and pitcher Rubby De La Rosa.
De La Rosa, a well-regarded right-hander, made two more appearances for the Dodgers' Double-A affiliate, the last on Aug. 31. But with the Red Sox wanting to protect their investment, he was sidelined for the rest of the season, able to throw only long toss and bullpen sessions.
"For me, I was sick," De La Rosa said in January. "I was not allowed to be around and play. I was there for a few weeks. At Double-A, I couldn't do nothing -- just run, condition, work out. That was sad for me. I wanted to go home. I talked to my agent and said, 'I want to go home, because this is bad. Everybody is playing, and I'm not playing.' So I needed to focus on other things. It was a bad experience for me."