2014 Trade Value: The Top 10 by Dave Cameron July 18, 2014 Welcome to the final section of this year’s Trade Value series, the top 10. If you haven’t already, read the intro and get yourself acquainted with what question this is trying to answer, as well as an incomplete list of guys who missed the cut for one reason or another. You can see all the posts in the series here. A few quick notes on the columns listed for each player. After the normal biographical information, I’ve listed Projected WAR, which is essentially a combination of ZIPS and Steamer’s current rest-of-season forecasts extrapolated out to a full-season’s worth of playing time. For non-catcher position players, this is 600 plate appearances; catchers are extrapolated to 450 PAs. For pitchers, this is extrapolated to 200 innings. It is not their 2014 WAR, or their last calendar year WAR; it is a rough estimate of what we might expect them to do over a full-season, based on the information we have now. For contract status, we have two pieces of information. “Controlled Through” includes all years before a player accumulates enough time to be eligible for free agency, all guaranteed years of a contract already signed, and any years covered by team options that could be exercised in the future. Player options and mutual options are not included, as the assumption is that players of this caliber will generally opt-out of their current contracts if given the chance. The “Contract Dollars” column includes the base salaries of each player in the controlled years going forward, starting from 2015 — the 40% of 2014 salary remaining is not included in the calculation — including the value of team options, since we’re assuming that they will be picked up. In many cases, players have incentives for various accomplishments that affect the base salaries, but those are not accounted for here, simply because of the tedious work of calculating all those incentive prices and the fact that $100,000 for an All-Star appearance or $500,000 for an MVP-finish there aren’t going to change the overall calculations. This column is not an exact representation of their future earnings, but should be close enough for our purposes. For players who are under team control but not under guaranteed contract, I’ve listed out which arbitration years they still have remaining. There are a few players who have both guaranteed contracts and arbitration eligibility remaining, but we’ll deal with those cases in the article when a simple line in the chart doesn’t explain their situation perfectly. Finally, “Last Year” notes where a player was ranked on this list last year, or if he wasn’t on the 2013 Trade Value series, then he is denoted as unranked. As you can imagine, there’s a lot more turnover at the end of the list than the beginning. Now, for the cream of the crop; the most valuable players in the game. Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year 10 Jose Abreu 27 CHW 1B 3.9 2019 $51,000,000 Unranked Yes, this is an aggressive ranking for what amounts to half a season of performance. Yes, this might very well look bad in a year if Abreu is this year’s Chris Davis. But, unlike with Davis, we’ve never seen Abreu not hit like this. The models that attempt to translate Cuban statistics to MLB equivalents projected Abreu as a monster even before the season began. Dan Farnsworth wrote up a glowing report on his swing last October. There are reasons beyond just 400 good plate appearances to think this is what Abreu is. And that makes him, essentially, an older version of Giancarlo Stanton. This is top-of-the-scale power, and 29 teams are likely looking back and kicking themselves that they didn’t bid more for Abreu last winter. If Abreu were made a free agent after this season, I would guess that the bidding would climb over $200 million; after all, he projects to be a similar caliber of player as Prince Fielder did when he hit the market, and Fielder got $216 million two years ago. Instead, Abreu will not free agency for another five years, and he’ll make an average of $10 million per year for the remainder of the contract. The White Sox are going to essentially be enjoying the prime years of one of the game’s best hitters for about 40 percent of his market salary. The deal doesn’t come with any long-term risk, really; even if Abreu regresses heavily, he’ll still be worth the contract unless he gets injured. Kudos to Rick Hahn for aggressively pursuing Abreu last winter, as Abreu’s signing breathed life into an organization that badly needed it. Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year 9 Evan Longoria 28 TB 3B 5.1 2023 $152,600,000 5 The former king of this exercise, Longoria’s slide continues, as he falls out of the top five for the first time since signing his original contract back in 2008. In order to keep him in Tampa, the Rays had to guarantee him real money this time around, and Longoria is having the worst offensive season of his career, so the two factors that drive trade value are both trending the wrong way. However, let’s not overstate the decline here; a down year from Longoria is still going to result in a +3 WAR season, and there’s no reason to think this is his new level of production going forward. And that more expensive contract? He still won’t make more than $15 million in a year until 2021. Longoria remains one of the game’s best players and most underpaid players, and while he might not be as good or as underpaid as he used to be, he’s still a massive bargain compared to everyone else in baseball. Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year 8 Manny Machado 21 BAL 3B 4.2 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 3 Since Machado ranked third on this list a year ago, he blew out his knee, had surgery, has failed to take a step forward offensively from where he was last year, and threw a bat at an opposing player. I know it’s tempting to have a negative view on Machado right now, but let’s keep some perspective here; Machado just turned 22 years old. He’s six months younger than Kris Bryant and 10 months younger than Gregory Polanco. Machado would be age-appropriate in Double-A, and young for the league in Triple-A. Instead, he’s a big leaguer who is pushing +10 WAR for his career. Yes, that’s because defensive metrics love his performance in the field, but it’s not like that’s an outlandish claim; everyone who watches him loves the defense as well, and if the Orioles did make him available for trade, nearly every suitor would likely plan on moving him back to shortstop. And there just aren’t that many shortstops who can be league average big league hitters before they can legally drink. Guys who can hit like in the big leagues at this age often turn into monster offensive performers as they get older, and Machado projects to be something not too different from what Evan Longoria was in his prime if he stays at third base. If he moves back to shortstop and shows above average range there? The sky is the limit. Don’t let the last few months distract from what Machado has done to date, and what that performance says about his future. Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year 7 Salvador Perez 24 KC C 4.0 2019 $18,500,000 36 If there’s one piece of feedback I got more clearly than any other last year, it was that I was too low on Salvador Perez. I had one friend in the game tell me should have been in the top five, and I had him at 36. My bad, Kansas City. Consider this a mea culpa. Perez might not yet be the best catcher in baseball, but there are a lot of people convinced that he’s going to be in the near future. He’s basically a power spike away from being Jonathan Lucroy, only he’s four years younger than Milwaukee’s backstop, and at a point where many catchers are still honing their craft in the minors. And while framing metrics don’t love him the same way they do Lucroy, his defensive reputation is still stellar, as he shuts down the running game as well as anyone. And then there’s the contract. Because the Royals locked up Perez after just 39 big league games, he’s set to make $2 million each of the next two years, and then they have team options for three additional years at $4 million, $5 million, and $6 million respectively. It’s $19 million over five seasons, or an average of $4 million per year. The best catcher in the American league is signed to the kind of deal you give a decent middle reliever. Perez doesn’t even have to get any better to be one of the biggest steals in baseball. If he does improve, though, he might eventually challenge for the top spot on this list. Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year 6 Troy Tulowitzki 29 COL SS 6.4 2021 $129,000,000 13 For the most part, the top half of this list is full of guys whose trade value is basically unknowable, because they’re just too valuable to get traded. Guys this good, on contracts this reasonable, don’t get moved. Depending on what the Rockies decide to do this winter, though, we might just find out what the trade value of the game’s second best player really is. It’s going to take a ridiculous haul to get him out of Colorado, though, and rightfully so. Even with $130 million left on his deal, Tulowitzki is making about a little more than half of his market value. As a six win player, Tulo is worth something in the range of $35 to $40 million to per year, so while he might not be cheap, he’s still an amazing value, even while making $20 million per season. It’s legitimately difficult to imagine what a package for Tulowitzki might cost an acquiring team. There’s basically no such thing as an off-limits player in that kind of deal. If Colorado decides to move him, we might end up seeing baseball’s version of the Herschel Walker trade. Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year 5 Yasiel Puig 23 LAD OF 4.4 2018 Arb2 – Arb3 24 This is another instance where the table doesn’t adequately explain the contract. Puig has four years left on the seven year, $42 million contract he originally signed with the Dodgers, and will $5 million next year and $6 million the year after that. However, the contract gives him the right to opt into arbitration after three years of Major League service, and he’ll almost certainly void the final two years of his deal and receive arbitration salaries rather than $14 million combined he’s slated to make in the last two years of his contract. Assuming Puig keeps playing well, he could easily land $30 million in arbitration in those two years, so his total cost over the next four seasons is probably closer to $40 million than the $24 million he’s scheduled to make under his contract. But $24 million, $40 million, it’s all just peanuts compared to what Puig does on the field. Even with a recent slump, Puig’s wRC+ is down to just 160, matching the same number he put up last year. And he’s doing it without fully developed power yet; he still hits the ball on the ground too frequently, and only 13% of his fly balls have gone over the wall this season. Puig’s obviously filled out physically, but as he learns to adapt his swing to take more advantage of the value of getting the ball in the air, there’s room for even more power than he’s showing right now. He might not be the all around force that some players are, but offensively, there are few better young hitters in baseball than the Dodgers right fielder. And even with the potential for two arbitration salaries down the line, he’s still going to remain a ridiculous bargain. Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year 4 Bryce Harper 21 WAS OF 4.0 2018 Arb1 – Arb3 2 Like with Machado, it’s important to take a bigger picture view than focusing solely on the last couple of months. Harper is actually even younger than Machado, in fact, and even with his 2014 slump, he owns a career 124 wRC+ despite playing in the big leagues at ages when most players are fighting their way through A-ball. Yes, there are injury and maturity questions with Harper, but he remains a generational talent, and one who has established a track record that tells us more than a bad couple of months. Going forward, there are few hitters in baseball you’d rather have than Harper. He might not be a premium defender or a great baserunner, but the bat is still a potential Hall-of-Fame tool. As a reminder, Miguel Cabrera’s career wrC+ through age 21 was 121. Hank Aaron was at 127. We’ve been spoiled by the greatest performance of a young player in the history of the game, and Harper has been overshadowed by the player he came up with, but let’s not forget that what Harper has done to this point is an historical rarity as well. He’s had a rough couple of months, but he’s still a franchise player, and the struggles will also serve to reduce his arbitration costs. Harper is still a fantastically valuable asset with remarkable upside, and that’s what teams would focus on if the Nationals ever made him available. Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year 3 Paul Goldschmidt 26 ARI 1B 4.1 2019 $43,000,000 9 Goldschmidt’s place here is a reminder of just how hard it is to scout hitting talent. He was an 8th round selection in the 2009 draft. Baseball America never even ranked him as one of the Diamondbacks 10 best prospects, much less considering him for their Top 100. In their final scouting report on him from before the 2011 season, they wrote that “some scouts see (the strikeouts) as an indication that he may struggle against better pitching as he moves higher in the system.” This isn’t a knock on BA. They were reporting what they were being told by the professionals. The same ones who didn’t see him as a serious prospect out of college. And now, he might be the best hitter in the National League. And yet, he’ll make a grand total of $43 million over the next five years. $8 million per year. It’s enough money to live on, certainly, but it’s probably about 25%-30% of his market value. There are a lot of things wrong in Arizona, but drafting, developing, and extending Paul Goldschmidt covers a multitude of sins. They might need to make some serious changes, but at least they have a franchise first baseman to build around. Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year 2 Andrew McCutchen 27 PIT OF 5.7 2018 $51,500,000 4 There’s an argument to be made for McCutchen to take the top spot on this list. He’s not the best player in baseball, but at just $52 million for the next four years, he’s a remarkable value. From the beginning of next season through the end of his deal, McCutchen’s remaining contract will pay him what the Cubs gave Edwin Jackson as a free agent a couple of years ago. Yeah. That said, when comparing McCutchen to the guy who we all know is coming next, we have to factor in the fact that he “only” has four years left of team control, and the next contract for McCutchen isn’t going to come so cheaply. He gave the Pirates a huge discount on his first deal, and they probably can’t count on getting another steal next time. Enjoy him, Pittsburgh. He might not stick around forever, but appreciate him while he’s there. McCutchen is truly one of the game’s very best players. Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year 1 Mike Trout 22 LAA OF 7.6 2020 $139,500,000 1 I guess this was probably obvious, given the title of the post I wrote when he signed his long-term deal with the Angels. To be honest, I tried to talk myself into ranking McCutchen or Goldschmidt #1, because the list is less interesting when it’s the same guy at the top every single year. I tried to see if there was a way to argue that the reduced cost made either one more valuable, given the savings that could then be reinvested back into the roster. The math just doesn’t work, though. Over the next six years, Trout projects to be worth something like +50 WAR, and he’ll earn $140 million for that production. Even if you don’t start aging McCutchen for a few more years, he projects at around +30 WAR over those same six years, two of which he isn’t under contract for. Even if we conservatively estimate that he’ll earn $30 million per year in those two years — ignoring the rest of the contract that would be required to get those two seasons in the first place — then he’d make about $110 million for that +30 WAR. In other words, having McCutchen instead of Trout might save you $30 million but cost you +20 WAR in the process. Good luck buying a +3 WAR player at $1.5 million per win in order to make up the gap. Whether it’s boring or not, Trout is just on another level. He’s our generation’s Mickey Mantle. He’s the best young player we’ve ever seen. And when it came time to get paid, he gave the Angels a significant discount anyway. Eventually, baseball will give us an alternative at the top of this list. He’ll get more expensive, and maybe he’ll get worse — though, again, he’s only six months older than Kris Bryant — and some other great young player will come around and offer more years of team control at lower prices. Trout won’t be a despot, ruling over the Trade Value list until he dies. But it’s going to be a while before he gets dethroned. Andrew McCutchen is amazing and insanely cheap. Paul Goldschmidt is incredible, and signed a ridiculously team friendly contract. And neither one can even make a validargument for the top spot. It’s Trout, and then 49 guys fighting for #2. All hail the King of Trade Value. And now, for the list in its entirety. Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year 50 Yan Gomes 26 CLE C 3.4 2021 $40,950,000 Unranked 49 Starling Marte 25 PIT OF 3.0 2021 $52,500,000 31 48 Kyle Seager 26 SEA 3B 3.4 2017 Arb1 – Arb3 Unranked 47 Alex Cobb 26 TB SP 3.1 2017 Arb1 – Arb3 Unranked 46 Edwin Encarnacion 31 TOR DH 3.7 2016 $20,000,000 45 45 Julio Teheran 23 ATL SP 2.3 2020 $41,600,000 Unranked 44 Chris Archer 25 TB SP 2.4 2021 $42,250,000 Unranked 43 Devin Mesoraco 26 CIN C 3.0 2017 Arb1 – Arb3 Unranked 42 Corey Kluber 28 CLE SP 3.8 2018 Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked 41 Michael Brantley 27 CLE OF 2.6 2018 $30,000,000 Unranked 40 David Wright 31 NYM 3B 4.1 2020 $107,000,000 21 39 Dustin Pedroia 30 BOS 2B 4.2 2021 $107,500,000 25 38 Byron Buxton 20 MIN OF 1.2 TBD Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked 37 Jose Quintana 25 CHW SP 3.3 2020 $40,650,000 Unranked 36 Billy Hamilton 23 CIN OF 2.7 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked 35 Matt Carpenter 28 STL 3B 3.9 2020 $66,000,000 Unranked 34 Jose Fernandez 21 MIA SP 4.8 2018 Pre-Arb – Arb3 17 33 Carlos Gomez 28 MIL OF 4.8 2016 $17,000,000 33 32 Yordano Ventura 23 KC SP 2.8 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked 31 Sonny Gray 24 OAK SP 3.0 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked 30 Gregory Polanco 22 PIT OF 1.5 2020 Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked 29 Kris Bryant 22 CHC 3B 2.8 TBD Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked 28 Andrelton Simmons 24 ATL SS 3.8 2020 $56,000,000 Unranked 27 Jose Bautista 33 TOR OF 4.8 2016 $28,000,000 35 26 Stephen Strasburg 25 WAS SP 4.4 2016 Arb2 – Arb3 14 25 Matt Harvey 25 NYM SP 3.8 2018 Pre-Arb – Arb3 7 24 Freddie Freeman 24 ATL 1B 3.7 2021 $123,500,000 Unranked 23 Xander Bogaerts 21 BOS SS 2.0 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 29 22 Yadier Molina 31 STL C 4.5 2017 $43,000,000 11 21 Buster Posey 27 SF C 4.9 2022 $165,500,000 6 20 Adam Wainwright 32 STL SP 3.9 2018 $78,000,000 23 19 Felix Hernandez 28 SEA SP 5.7 2019 $129,000,000 22 18 Madison Bumgarner 24 SF SP 3.3 2019 $52,000,000 19 17 Josh Donaldson 28 OAK 3B 4.5 2018 Arb1 – Arb4 Unranked 16 Yu Darvish 27 TEX SP 5.1 2016 $20,000,000 20 15 Giancarlo Stanton 24 MIA OF 5.0 2016 Arb2 – Arb3 8 14 Jonathan Lucroy 28 MIL C 3.9 2017 $12,250,000 Unranked 13 Anthony Rendon 24 WAS 2B 3.5 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 44 12 Anthony Rizzo 24 CHC 1B 3.3 2021 $64,000,000 37 11 Chris Sale 25 CHW SP 5.0 2019 $53,150,000 16 10 Jose Abreu 27 CHW 1B 3.9 2019 $51,000,000 Unranked 9 Evan Longoria 28 TB 3B 5.1 2023 $152,600,000 5 8 Manny Machado 21 BAL 3B 4.2 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 3 7 Salvador Perez 24 KC C 4.0 2019 $18,500,000 36 6 Troy Tulowitzki 29 COL SS 6.4 2021 $129,000,000 13 5 Yasiel Puig 23 LAD OF 4.4 2018 Arb2 – Arb3 24 4 Bryce Harper 21 WAS OF 4.0 2018 Arb1 – Arb3 2 3 Paul Goldschmidt 26 ARI 1B 4.1 2019 $43,000,000 9 2 Andrew McCutchen 27 PIT OF 5.7 2018 $51,500,000 4 1 Mike Trout 22 LAA OF 7.6 2020 $139,500,000 1 Thanks for tolerating my experiment early in the week, and for enjoying this series every summer. We’ll do it again next year. Trout will probably be #1 then too.