OK, with the Burnett rumor that had Penn or Cabrera leaving, it seems to have gotten a lot of people going one way or the other. Most of the issue centers on the fact that Penn is a prospect and Cabrera is still kind of one, and people are worried about trading prospect pitchers.
Well, why? The vast majority of all prospects never again have the value they did when they were peak prospects. Even if they become a solid player, like say Cliff Floyd. Was Floyd ever worth more than he was when he was the #1 prospect in baseball? Floyd had some damn good years, but I would bet not.
Pitching prospects are especially unpredictable. Yes, we traded Schilling and Harnisch (and Steve Finley) for Glenn Davis. But here are some other names, and this is just since 1990. All of these players appeared on at least one Baseball America Top 100.
Ben McDonald (2, 1990)
Manny Alexander (59, 1990; 39, 1992; 57, 1993; 65, 1994)
David Segui (93, 1990)
Arthur Rhodes (6, 1991; 5, 1992)
Mike Mussina (19, 1991)
Leo Gomez (61, 1991)
Ricky Gutierrez (82, 1991)
Mark Smith (57, 1992)
Luis Mercedes (80, 1992)
Brad Pennington (18, 1993)
Jeffrey Hammonds (19, 1993; 3, 1994)
Alex Ochoa (89, 1993; 42, 1994; 35, 1995)
Armando Benitez (71, 1994)
Jimmy Haynes (45, 1995; 38, 1996)
Curtis Goodwin (68, 1995)
Rocky Coppinger (19, 1996)
Billy Percibal (99, 1996)
Nerio Rodriguez (96, 1997)
Sidney Ponson (98, 1997; 78, 1998)
Darnell McDonald (21, 1998; 74, 1999)
Ryan Minor (35, 1998)
Matt Riley (20, 1999; 15, 2000)
Cal Pickering (38, 1999)
Jayson Werth (52, 1999; 48, 2000)
Keith Reed (96, 2001)
Erik Bedard (90, 2002)
Adam Loewen (13, 2004)
John Maine (54, 2004)
Denny Bautista (59, 2004)
Nick Markakis (90, 2004; 65, 2005)
Hayden Penn (94, 2005)
So look over that list, and obviously disregard the guys from Bedard and on.
How many star players do you see? There are two: Mike Mussina and Armando Benitez. It's not to say all of them are without merit, but I don't think Arthur Rhodes having a couple years as a premier setup man for the Mariners was what BA had in mind when they were touting him as one of the ten best prospects in the game two years straight. Rhodes never panned out, but he did find a new career for himself in the same field.
Injury guys? Hammonds, but Hammonds wasn't a star player anyway. Ben McDonald sticks out, because Ben really did have the ability, but couldn't stay healthy, and his career was over before he was 30. Segui of course could hit when he wasn't on the DL.
But a lot of the listed players are just duds. So when considering whether or not to trade prospects, don't be so quick to rush to judgment about how it's just a huge mistake to trade them. If we had dealt Matt Riley a few years ago, we'd have gotten a hell of a lot more than Ramon Nivar for him. I'm not saying we should have dealt Riley, and especially because it wouldn't have made sense then with the Orioles as a non-competitive franchise.
But what I am saying is just because we gave up a bounty for the lemon that was Glenn Davis, that is a big exception. How about the Ponson trade with the Giants? Remember what we got? Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth and Ryan Hannaman. Now Moss was no real prospect and had established issues, but Ainsworth and Hannaman were guys that were, and are guys that have gotten hurt. Ainsworth has had so many problems that his next comeback attempt in spring of 2006 may well be his last.
So, really - don't be so quick to paint Penn, Cabrera or anyone else as the savior or the future or any of this. For one, neither of them are great prospects. And for another, even if they were, Matt Riley was too. Brad Pennington was too. Rocky Coppinger was too.