We move on to the next tier of players, and this group ends up being mostly about the contracts. We look at three pitchers whose deals are so team friendly that their trade value exceeds their on-field value. We also look at an example of when a long term contract is not always a great idea and a pitcher who is so good that his high price tag isn’t as big an obstacle as it would be otherwise.
Rank – Player – Position – Team – Past 3 Calendar Year WAR
#40 – Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado: +11.3
Another guy who was tough to place for me – I’m pretty sure Rockies fans are going to think that he should be much, much higher. He’s just 25-years-old and already established as one of the better outfielders in the game, and Colorado signed him to a long term contract in January that will keep him in Denver through 2017. But that contract is actually part of the problem for me: after this season ends, he’ll be owed $76 million over the next six years. There’s certainly significant value at the front of the contract while his salaries are well below market rates, but he’s getting paid some pretty significant salaries in the second half of the contract, and there are enough questions about his game that I’m not sure those years provide a ton of value. He’s more of a good hitter than a great hitter, and if he’s a corner outfielder, that makes him a nice player but not a star. Given the money he’s been guaranteed, there are certainly teams that would love to have him, but the deal might also scare others off and depress demand for his services.
#39 – James Shields, SP, Tampa Bay: +10.9 WAR
Now this is how you have a comeback season. After posting a superficially high ERA last year, Shields has made the leap this season and is establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. His home run rate is still a bit higher than you might like to see from an ace, but even that would likely fall if he was traded out of the AL East. But his inconsistency likely means that teams would be reluctant to commit to him long term, but lucky for them his contract ensures that they don’t have to – the final three years of his deal are all team options, and even if they are all exercised, he’ll only be paid $28 million through 2014. Quality pitching at below market rates with the ability to opt-out if something goes wrong? That’s the kind of asset that every team would want.
#38 – Yovani Gallardo, SP, Milwaukee: +8.8 WAR
Despite good stuff and the ability to rack up strikeouts, Gallardo has never quite developed into a true front-line starter, and he’s taken a bit of a step back again this season. But teams continue to covet guys who can generate swinging strikes, and Gallardo is under contract through 2014 at a total of just over $25 million, and his contract contains a $13 million team option for 2015 as well. At that price, Gallardo is a good value even for what he is now, and if a team thinks he could improve his command and begin to live up to the stuff, they would likely give up a significant haul to acquire him.
#37 – Ricky Romero, SP, Toronto: +8.4 WAR
While Romero’s career-best ERA might suggest he’s making the leap to ace-level starter, his peripherals suggest that he’s the same good-but-not-great starter he’s been the past two years. He’s not a standout guy at any one thing, but he gets enough ground balls and strikeouts while keeping his walks somewhat in check, so the overall package works. But the best thing about Romero is his contract – he’s due just $5 million next season and $7.5 million in each of the three following seasons, and then the Blue Jays have an option on him for 2016 at $13 million. Like Shields, Romero might not excite everyone as a guy who pitches off an excellent changeup, but he’s a good pitcher with an excellent contract, and those are few and far between.
#36 – Roy Halladay, SP, Phildelphia: +22.4 WAR
He’s 34. He makes $20 million per year. When he actually was put up for trade, the offers weren’t that amazing. I made all these same arguments a year ago in leaving him off the list, but have spent the last 12 months mostly regretting that decision. Halladay is one of the best pitchers of all time, and even heading into what should be the beginning of his decline phase, he’s having the best season of his career. He’s basically the perfect pitcher, and even with a contract that prices him out of some teams budgets, he’d still command a pretty massive haul if the Phillies were actually crazy enough to part with him.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.