Earlier this month, Jonah Keri of Grantland rolled out his MLB Trade Value rankings (part 1, part 2), which is a tremendous read, and even better than last year’s list. Only one D-backs contract made the list, although if you’re going to have just one player among the top 50, it’s nice to have number 3. One of the overarching lessons from Keri’s work, though, is that there are a ton of super-valuable assets in MLB; even his #50 guy (Devin Mesoraco) is a borderline franchise cornerstone, at least from a contract perspective.
In other words: having one player among the top 50 does not mean that the D-backs don’t have a ton of super-valuable assets. In putting together this list, I found that I could make a good case for at least sixteen players — anyone of whom could demand a top-flight talent in trade on a short-term deal (or someone good under a longer period of control, or a lot more). This isn’t science, it’s just one man weighing the things he thinks are understood to be valuable — there’s a lot of room for disagreement.
“Surplus value” is not the only calculus for trades. We know this because sometimes a contract that has arguably no surplus value is traded for something of value (think: how much you’d pay for lemonade when extremely thirsty on a hot day). Offseason trades tend to be less about glaring needs than midseason ones, however, so let’s use “surplus value” as the starting point, and we can argue after that about other factors that should bump these guys up or down. Throughout, let’s assume that a win costs $6.5M this winter, escalating by a quarter million every year (so wins for the 2019 season are $7.5M).
#1: Paul Goldschmidt, Est. Surplus Value: $135M
You can’t have been expecting anyone else here. Goldy and his contract were #3 overall for Keri, and when Dave Cameron did his midseason trade value list in July, he had Goldy exactly third, too. When Goldy signed his extension in March 2013, he got a few things: an extra $500k or so in 2014 salary, lifelong financial security in the form of $32M guaranteed, and, I suppose, peace of mind. What the D-backs got was salaries that would have been at a discount even if Goldy was merely good and the ability to delay his entrance to free agency by two years. In 2014, he was on a similar pace — if not an equal pace — to his MVP-caliber numbers from the year before. He was on track for maybe 6 wins in terms of fWAR, after putting up 6.4 in 2013. Call him a 5-win player for the next five seasons (which is a lot, but we’re talking about what Goldy’s perceived value in the market could be, not a hindsight value). If we say a win costs $6.5M in free agency this year, but assume that figure goes up a quarter million per year, Goldy’s contract has a surplus value of $132M. I’ve listed it as $135M because the last year, 2019, is actually an option, with a reasonable $2M buyout on a $14.5M salary. Chances are, he’ll be worth it and it won’t matter that it’s an option. But there’s some extra value to the final year being an option (I’m estimating $3M), since the team would save $12.5M in the event of catastrophic injury, and maybe some other amount (with a negotiated extension) if he suffered an injury that was less threatening.
#2: A.J. Pollock, Est. Surplus Value: $75M
Surprise! And this is a surprise. In 2013, Pollock was thrust into a psuedo-starting role because of injury, with a probable outcome of fourth outfielder. His slightly-above-average offensive numbers in the minors seemed propped up by unsustainably high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) numbers in the .350 range. We might expect a player of Pollock’s speed to have a higher than normal BABIP, but “higher than normal” means something like .320. In his 98 wRC+ season in 2013, he had a BABIP we might have expected: .314. In his injury-shortened breakout year last year (134 wRC+), he enjoyed a .344 BABIP. The truth is probably in between going forward, but still closer to the .320 range. That still makes him an above-average hitter. Superlative defense at an important defensive position makes him a star. Call me crazy, but I think Steamer’s projection of a 2.3 win 2015 is crazier than me. It involves a heavy regression of his defensive numbers — fair, given he less than a year and a half of defensive innings — but when our eyes match the existing numbers, it’s time to believe. Tom Tango’s Fans Scouting Report gives Pollock a plus-plus (with a little more plus) grade. Let’s say 4-win seasons are a stretch to count on as an average (although it certainly is attainable). I’ll plant my flag at 3.5. The D-backs haven’t signed Pollock to an extension (though maybe they should), so we have to guess his value and his compensation. Let’s call his value $96.25M, and going year to year, a player of his profile could expect to get $25M or so over the next four years. We’ll add an extra dash of cash for the year-to-year flexibility, since another team would be buying that (including the option to try to extend him), and you’ve got yourself an outstanding asset.
#3: Patrick Corbin, Est. Surplus Value: $65M
Speaking of three and a half wins, that’s almost exactly what Patrick Corbin did in 2013 before elbow woes led to a lost year. Now consider that of the 79 earned runs he allowed in his 208.1 innings (!), 32 came in his final 36 innings pitched. He won’t pitch a full year in 2015, and he might not be as good, especially if he throws his slider less frequently. He’s also very unlikely to approach 200 innings in 2016. Call it a good bet for 3 wins in each of his final two seasons with a decent shot at more, and 5 wins combined in the next two years. That’s about $75.5 million, and the timing of his injury is such that a shortened 2015 will greatly affect his first arb salary in 2016 — which will cascade. In the end, he may only receive $18M or so over the next four years if he goes year to year. Dash of cash for year to year, which is a bigger benefit to the team for pitchers than it is to position players (see: Daniel Hudson situation if you don’t think there’s a team benefit to going year to year on pitchers), and we’ll bump Corbin up to $65M in surplus value.
#4: Archie Bradley, Est. Surplus Value: $60M
The D-backs control Bradley for the equivalent of three more years than they do Corbin, and even Corbin is not close to a guarantee. But if Bradley turned into as good a bet as Corbin is right now, the front office would have to do cartwheels to celebrate. Bradley’s star has fallen pretty hard, and he’s no longer one of the few best pitching prospects in baseball — but he’s still probably in the top ten, or in the top 50 overall. Realistic ceiling at this point is a pitcher in the 3.5-4 win range, realistic floor is “quite useful reliever,” something like 1 win. A pitcher with a chance at 3.5-4 win status is worth more than a pitcher who promises to be right at 2.5 wins, because upside is harder to find and more valuable once found (one 4-win player being worth more than twice as much as two 2-win players). Split the difference and say 2 wins per season for almost 7 seasons, and we’re looking at $101.5M in value. Take out an almost-certain year of injury, and we’re back to around $85M. The premium for upside and the fact that he might not yet be ready might cancel each other out. Year to year, he could be looking at $25M or so in salary (keep in mind, if he’s not a Super Two, we shouldn’t credit him for seven seasons of value). Pretty great asset.
#5: Josh Collmenter, Est. Surplus Value: $35.5M
This is probably another surprise. It’s not that Collmenter’s value is likely to be higher than some further down the list; it’s that he’s pitched enough that we know who he is, and that his contract, even accounting for service time and the fact that he’s not an outstanding pitcher, is proportionally one of the very best in Major League Baseball. The D-backs could control Collmenter for as little as $5.475M for the next three seasons (total!), and on top of that, both of the last two seasons are options (bonus for flexibility), with miniscule buyouts. Collmenter is probably not a great fit for Chase Field, and his overall numbers could fluctuate quite a bit depending on luck with home runs. Still, I like his chances of sustaining a lower-than-average BABIP, maybe in the .270s, considering the deception in his delivery. And although I don’t have the data to back it up (yet!), I’m going to err on the side of greater value for Collmenter because of a possible After-Dickey Effect. Call it two wins for each of the next three seasons, and you have about $40.5M in value at an effective price of $5M. Where do we send Kevin Towers’s commission?
I’ll refer you to Jeff’s Top 10 Prospects List for a full breakdown of who Shipley and Blair right now, but as great as these guys may be, being farther from the majors means more could go wrong, and betting on production is betting on a fair bit more development. Shipley’s ceiling may be higher, but Blair might make that up with a slightly higher floor; there’s a non-zero chance that either of them could be a true #2 starter, but still a wide range of outcomes for both guys. If I made a wild guess on how much each of these guys would fetch at auction, I’d guess something like $50M for each. With the type of calculus we’re using today, I’m going to call a “medium” outcome of slightly below 2 wins per season for both. That’d be $70M or so in value, even accounting for inflation, and at the point they’d hit arbitration, awards will be high enough that we might bump them to close to $30M in salary.
#8: Mark Trumbo, Est. Surplus Value: $2M
If you left it up to me, and if there was no such thing as a baseball trade, I would pick several other D-backs over Trumbo, including the other two guys on this list and a few others, including a good reliever like Evan Marshall. But there are such things as baseball trades, and while I’ve been looking at this exercise from the lens of “average perception of value,” we should account for how polarizing Trumbo is. If a team were to trade for Trumbo right now, it would probably be one of the few teams that values him highest, a variant of the winner’s curse that we see with free agents. If there is a fairly high likelihood that some team will value Trumbo higher than they should, does that mean we should bake that into our trade values? I think yes. If public perception of Trumbo is higher than it should (for instance, home runs selling more tickets), does that make him a better asset? I’m less sure about how to handle that in this exercise. Suffice it to say: Trumbo is a 1 win player who offers some marginal surplus value for 2015, but whose arbitration award for 2016 will probably be higher than his true baseball value. I’m comfortable putting him eighth on this list as a recognition that he would fetch something real in return right now, even if he’s not the asset some might believe.
#9: Ender Inciarte, Est. Surplus Value: $60M
If we’re going to give Trumbo a bump for the idea that some team(s) might value him as more than he is, is it that outlandish to give Ender Inciarte a bump for being more than the D-backs might think? All it takes is two bidding teams to set a new price for Inciarte. His ceiling might be a three-win player (2.9 in 2014), offering a league-average bat and superlative defense. His floor might be a strong claim for “best fourth outfielder in baseball,” the type of thing that caused the Brewers to just risk paying Gerardo Parra about $10M for next year. At his ceiling, he’s worth approximately $125M in value, and at his floor, it’s more like $50M. Two years of playing at the minimum and four arb years with a skillset that’s traditionally underrecognized in arbitration could mean the team pays between $20M and $35M. We’ll split the difference for surplus value. Sign me up.
#10: Chris Owings, Est. Surplus Value: $50M
There are probably six players with a legitimate argument for this slot, but we’ll side with Owings given the chance that his misdiagnosed shoulder injury makes his career trajectory look a little worse than it should. He’s probably not as good a shortstop as he is a second baseman, but that’s why we have positional adjustments in WAR calculations. He could be a 2.5 win player year in, year out; he could slip to 1.5 wins, which would put him in “should we replace this guy” territory. Call it in the middle with $71M in value for the next five seasons, and year to year I think a $22M projection for his salaries over that span is reasonable. As with the next few guys who didn’t quite make this list, there’s a range of outcomes wide enough to allow for a wide range of opinions.
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