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Is Ed Wade inept with free agency?

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Does Roy have that inquisitive look on his face because he can't figure out what Wade's M.O. is either?
Does Roy have that inquisitive look on his face because he can't figure out what Wade's M.O. is either?

Nearly three months ago, I wrote my coup de interent nerd defense of Ed Wade. Reading through it with the hindsight of the the Astros' 2010 that has played out, I feel only a mild sense of chagrin. What I am struck by, though, is that every piece of Wade criticism, in his Astros tenure, is related to signings—not trades.

I suppose this is good news, given that Ed Wade has just been handed the task of his career in Roy Oswalt, but I want to explore this issue more than just superficially. I readily admit that I have no definitive answer to this question, but I have had an overwhelming urge to seek something akin to the truth since I got a plane to Vegas last week. The desire started with a thought exercise like this:

Twenty years from now if someone google'd Ed Wade's free agent signings they would have to assume the answer to this post's title is yes. Brian Moehler, Geoff Blum, Pedro Feliz, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Oscar Villareal (acquired by a trade, but them signed to an extension), Shawn Chacon, Ivan Rodriguez, Brandon Lyon Brett Myers. None signed to exorbitant contracts, but only one, maybe two, signing(s) listed could be called good, and the vast majority not even worthwhile.

At this point, our future googler has to wonder, "how is it possible that a GM goes on this spree in three years and keeps a job?" 

If, in 2030, our intrepid googler digs further to see just what Ed Wade might possibly have brought to the table, they would come across his trade history (thought: will Google exist in twenty years?). Because standing in stark juxtaposition of his free agent signings are his trades acquisitions of Bourn, Tejada, Valverde, Hawkins, Wolf, Fulchino, Keppinger, and Lindstrom. Few of these trades could be called exceptional, but none of them could be called bad.

It is as if the man has a doppelganger. Or at least I wish it were that simple.

The more I mulled over the contrast in Wade's strengths and weaknesses, the more confused and agitated I became. Wade is not just bad at signing free agents, I have also disagreed with the majority of the decisions he has rendered regrading arbitration. It is almost as if the man has allergy to market-based analysis with a y-axis in dollars. Make the man peg a dollar valuation on something and he can't. Tell him to make a paper clip into a duplex, though, and he might just do it.

I spent the entire plane ride to Vegas (which involved stops in Dallas and San Antonio first) jotting out ideas on my Blackberry. My edited for comprehension list is as follows:

  • Does Drayton McLane have a greater influence in the apportioning of dollars through contracts than through trades? i.e. Has McLane given Wade stricter mandates such as "you have $5 million to spend on a player that better be a veteran-y guy," whereas trades have been an opportunity for Wade to sell McLane on buying something.
  • Are there different inefficiencies to exploit in the two different marketplaces? Something akin to Matt Swartz's idea that teams that have had players through their maturation to free agency know when to hold'em and when to fold'em? It has become widely known that Wade prizes the insights he gets from scouts. Perhaps the teams of free agents have had an opportunity to compile a comprehensive enough body of knowledge that limits Wade's avenue of attack that is not as closed off in the trade market?
  • Is it that we just have unrepresentative sample sizes? Or just meaningless ones? It is not like Wade has ever done anything truly blockbuster as an Astro (Tejada coming the closest, but probably more so because of the report that starts with an 'M' and ends with in 'itchell'). Trying to pick guys off of the scrap heap in free agency is tough (admittedly Wade is not doing a very good job of this), but perhaps it is easier to find written-off guys through trades who can then be polished into serviceable players.
Thought number three seems imperative to think through at this juncture given that I spent the entire return trip from Vegas contemplating the bounty Ed Wade will receive from trading Roy Oswalt. However, so does thoughts one and two due to the fact that during his contract with the Astros, Ed Wade will have a lot of money to spend.

I cannot shake the lingering notion that perhaps thought number one may be the driving factor. The decisions that are derided from all corners of the interweb, the ones that we don't necessarily jump for joy at, are the ones in which I believe Drayton McLane would have the most say. This seems especially plausible to me when we pair Wade's missteps regarding arbitration decisions with his checkered free agent signings.

This feels too simplistic, and perhaps unfair, but I have nothing better to offer. Thus, the questions that I am now forced to beg of you are:
  1. Am I heaping too much blame on Drayton McLane?
  2. Is it possible to even have a system in place that would so strongly peg the trade market, yet miss the mark on the free agent front?
  3. Is it possible that Wade just misses the mark on the valuation of talent available through free agency (i.e. he cannot read the market to infer market price)?
  4. What avenues haven't I explored?
  5. Am I just wrong with the entire premise, yet have deluded myself into believing there is a true differentiation in Wade's skill-set to be analyzed?