Now that we’ve looked back at last year’s Trade Value list, we’re ready for the 2012 version. Before we get to the rankings, here’s a quick recap of the idea behind the list, and what we’re trying to measure:
If every player in baseball was made available for trade, who would generate the most in return for their current club? Since it only takes two clubs to start a bidding war, we’re not trying to measure who has the most value to all 30 clubs, but rather who which player has so much value that they’d command a larger return in trade from one team than any other player. Some of the players on this list will be guys that many franchises can’t afford, but they still have significant trade value to high revenue clubs. Others are not quite as strong of performers on the field, but they’ve signed contracts that are extremely team friendly and would be franchise building blocks for lower revenue clubs. I’ve tried to balance out the value of performance and cost over the number of years that a team would control a player’s rights in order to determine which players have the most value as we head towards the 2012 trade deadline.
As a reference, we’ll be listing the years and dollars that a team has a player under control for including all team option years, as the assumption is that those are all seen as positive net value years, and would be seen as such by an acquiring team. The amount remaining on the contract includes half of their 2012 salaries and all future guaranteed salaries plus base salaries covered by the team options, though many deals have complicated option structures, buyouts, and bonuses that make these more of a ballpark figure than an exact accounting of what they’ll make going forward. For players who have remaining arbitration years, it is obviously impossible to know exactly what they’ll make in those years, so we’ll just list how many more trips through arbitration they have coming.
So, without further ado, let’s get to the last five guys on the list.
50. Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas – Signed through 2014 for $12 million.
After coming up as a defensive specialist, Andrus has continued to make progress as a hitter, and is now one of the best all around shortstops in the game, and he doesn’t turn 24 until August 26th. The combination of youth and productivity at a premium position make him one of the game’s best young players, but the Rangers weren’t able to buy out any of his free agent years when they signed him to a three year, $14.4 million contract last offseason. While he’s young, he doesn’t have enough years of team control to rank as highly as his performance might otherwise suggest, and glove first players still don’t command the types of return that guys who can create runs at the plate can. While Andrus is one of the best young players in baseball, his skillset and short contract serve to keep him at the very end of this list.
49. Yovani Gallardo, SP, Milwaukee – Signed through 2015 for $35 million.
Still just 26, the idea of Gallardo developing into an ace seems to become less likely each year. He’s actually taken a bit of a step back with his command this season, and while he still misses bats, the combination of walks and home runs keep him from being a true front of the rotation hurler. He’s got two more years and a team option left on the deal he signed in 2010 at more than reasonable salaries, so he’d be a coveted asset, but he’s more good player at a good price than a young ace-in-the-making.
48. Matt Cain, SP, San Francisco – Signed through 2017 for $128 million.
So much for being overpaid. The best way to show you’re worth your shiny new contract is to dramatically up your strikeout rate while cutting your walks at the same time — well, as long as you’re a pitcher, anyway — and post career bests nearly across the board. Cain has transformed from durable innings eater into a legitimate ace, and even with salaries of $20 million per year kicking in, he’s the kind of guy that contenders would love to add to their rotation. He’s not cheap, but he’s good enough to still command a serious haul even with his new contract.
47. Alcides Escobar, SS, Kansas City – Signed through 2017 for $21 million.
Yes, this might be too aggressive of a ranking for a guy who was an abysmal Major League hitter before the 2012 season began. Any team paying a high price for Escobar would have to hope that the big step forward offensively is at least somewhat sustainable, and would be taking on a serious risk that the BABIP comes crashing down and he’s more of a decent starter than any kind of serious core building block. However, scouts still love his defensive abilities (even if UZR disagrees this year) and the Royals have him locked up for five more years at bargain basement prices, so there’s legitimate value there even if he doesn’t keep hitting like he has in the first few months of this season. While there’s a lot of regression risk here, he should at least be an average shortstop making peanuts through his prime, and there’s certainly upside beyond that.
46. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York – Signed through 2013 for $22 million.
Yes, there’s only a year and a half left before he’s eligible for free agency, and he’s going to command a monstrous contract pretty soon, but he’s performing at a level that makes him one of the very best players in baseball. He’s turned some of his doubles into home runs and is drawing more walks than ever, transforming himself from a good-hitter-for-his-position into just a great-hitter-period. Cano’s one of the few guys in the sport who can play a premium position and hit like a first baseman, and he doesn’t turn 30 until October. The short term team control and high expected cost to re-sign him drive down his trade value to some degree, but there are certainly a few big market clubs who would love to have the chance to sign Cano long term, and would have give up significant talent for the right to do it.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.