Every offseason, teams look to improve themselves (well, unless they’re the Orioles). Teams do this in two primary ways: by signing free agents and through trades. In theory, any team can sign any free agent, but for the big-ticket free agents (think Harper and Machado), there’s really only a few teams with the financial resources to acquire them. But any team can and does make trades. A trade can consist of only major leaguers being moved, but more often than not minor leaguers are involved. Here we get to the issue of prospects and their value.
When I was watching baseball as a kid (the 1970’s and 1980’s) prospects were essentially hidden from public view. Sure, a team’s front office knew the top young players in its organization, and so did a few zealous fans, but for most of us, we never heard of a player until he stepped foot in the big league stadium. That of course has radically changed. Even a relatively casual fan today knows the names of the top prospects in his favorite team’s system. For struggling teams, it’s often the promise of prospects coming down the pike that keeps fans interested. Just look at the Houston Astros: they were abysmal at the major league level earlier this decade, but most Astros fans knew that talented players were moving through the system and held out hope for better days. We know how that turned out for them.