In this section, we deal with three pitchers at different points in their careers, but all highly coveted by the teams that don’t own their rights at the moment. We also look at two position players who couldn’t be more different, both in terms of on-field attributes and the ramifications of their contracts.
Rank – Player – Position – Team – Past 3 Calendar Year WAR
#35 – Trevor Cahill, RHP, Oakland: +4.3
If this list were just on field value, Cahill would probably not crack the top 50. But Cahill’s early career excellence and the quality of his sinker make him one of the most coveted young pitchers in the game even if his peripherals aren’t quite as good as his ERA. Teams look at his results and his stuff and believe that he’s a front-line guy, even if the walks are a bit higher than you’d like and him not being a dominant strikeout guy. When you add in the contract he just signed (4 years and $29 million left after this season, plus two team options), his value as a trade chip is very, very high.
#34 – Alexei Ramirez, SS, Chicago White Sox: +10.3
Ramirez might not be the most exciting player in baseball, and almost certainly doesn’t come to mind when you think of a franchise player, but given the dearth of shortstops in the Major Leagues, he could fetch a small ransom for the White Sox if they wanted to move him. He’s a solid average hitter who plays terrific defense at the most important position on the field, and it’s getting harder and harder to find that particular skillset. The White Sox were able to lock him up to a 4 year, $32 million contract that kicks in next year, so he’s both good and cheap for the foreseeable future.
#33 – Tim Lincecum, RHP, San Francisco: +20.7
Again, we see another example of placement due to something other than on field value. Lincecum is going to blow up the arbitration system this winter, and it’s widely expected that he’ll land a salary in the range of $20 million for 2012, an unheard of number for a guy with his service time. Even with two more years of team control after this season, Lincecum’s wages are at the point where most teams would be priced out of the bidding. Certainly the teams with the payrolls to have him would be interested, but, realistically, there’s a shallow pool of teams who could say they’re in for $20 million in 2012 and maybe $25-$30 million in 2013. Those organizations would pay a lot to get Lincecum if the Giants ever decided to move him, but Brian Sabean wouldn’t have his pick of teams to deal with.
#32 – Michael Pineda, RHP, Seattle: +2.4
Pineda has burst onto the scene in his rookie season, even getting named to the All-Star team and impressing everyone with a dominant inning on Tuesday night. With a power fastball and a breaking ball that serves as a true strikeout pitch, Pineda has the tools to be a front-of-the-rotation guy, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s 6’7, which causes hitters to have trouble picking the ball up out of his hand. With five more years of team control after this one and a league minimum salary through at least the next two years, Pineda is also one of the most cost effective players in baseball. At this point, only questions about his long term durability would hold teams back from giving up significant packages to acquire Pineda.
#31 – Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee: +15.8
A year ago, Braun placed 12th on this same list, and he’s now enjoying the best season of his career, so why did he fall nearly 20 spots on this year’s version? Look no further than the extension the Brewers gave him that doesn’t kick in until 2016. While Braun’s current contract is a huge bargain, the $105 million extension that runs from 2016-2020 is a risk that many franchises simply wouldn’t be willing to absorb. They’d love to have Braun, especially at the wages he’s being paid now, but owing him money for nine more seasons after this one is a rightfully scary proposition. The Brewers clearly signed Braun with the intent to keep him in Milwaukee for the long haul, which is good because the deal almost certainly did more harm to his trade value than anything else.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.