2015 Trade Value: #30 to #21 by Dave Cameron July 15, 2015 Introduction Players #50 to #41 Players #40 to #31 We’re halfway through the list, and are heading towards the game’s most valuable assets. Today, we mix in a few of the best players in baseball with a few very good young players on some highly team-friendly deals. As a reminder, in addition to the player’s biographical information, I’ve added a summary of his contract situation, and as a new feature this year, Dan Szymborski has provided me with five year ZIPS forecasts for all of the players on the list, which I’ve listed along with their 2016 projection. Of course, not every player listed is under control for the next five years — some are locked up well beyond that time frame — but this should offer you a pretty decent view of what a player is expected to do both in the short-term and the longer-term, according to Dan’s forecasting system. For the contract details, I’m only displaying future obligations beginning with their 2016 salary. I’ve tried to ensure that these are as accurate as can be, but they were also collected manually, so there probably will be some mistakes; there are plenty of weird clauses and options that make aggregating all this information particularly annoying. Also, we’re not including things like All-Star bonuses or incentive escalators, as this is intended to give more of a big picture view than be a precise accounting of the exact cost of a future player. A few hundred thousand here and there won’t change the rankings. Also, keep in mind that some players have contracts that give them a guaranteed minimum, but they are also able to opt-into arbitration when they are eligible. This is pretty common now with prominent international signings, and so some of these guys will probably earn more than their contracts currently call for, but I’ve still just included the guaranteed minimum in the future salary commitment because we don’t know for sure that they’re going to opt into arbitration yet. Finally, we’ve also included a nifty little graphic at the bottom that visualizes a lot of the information contained below, so if you want to see the projections and contract status for everyone together, you can get a summary of that at the bottom. The chart goes out five years, so some players have additional value beyond what’s displayed, but it should give you a good overview of what each player offers going forward. Alright, on to the list. #30: Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Controlled Through: 2020 Guaranteed Dollars: $53 million 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.6 Five year ZIPS WAR: +17.5 Last Year: #28 Simmons is always tough to place on this list, because while he’s the very best defensive player in baseball — and plays a position where everyone values defensive contributions — he’s just not much of a hitter, or at least, isn’t yet much of a hitter. Even with elite contact skills and an improving batted ball profile that has reduced his number of infield flies, Simmons continues to be a poor hittter, making his present value solely dependent on his work with the glove. But the glove is so good that Simmons remains a high-caliber player even without much offensive contribution, and at 25, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that there’s some offensive growth yet to come. I’ve had more than one front office member point out that Simmons’ early career numbers look remarkably similar to that of Ozzie Smith. And if Simmons takes any kind of step forward at the plate, he’s a superstar. As it is now, he’s more of a very good player than a great one, and while his contract isn’t as cheap as some of the others in this area — he’s due $53 million over the next five years — he’s still making a fraction of what he’s actually worth. But if there was no growth potential and this is what Simmons was, he’d belong 10 or 20 spots lower, so putting him in the top 30 reflects some belief that teams see additional upside, and might project him as more of a +4 to +5 win player with some slightly improved offense. I think there are enough teams in baseball that would bet on his bat improving faster than his glove slows down to generate a lot of interest if the Braves decided to put Simmons on the market. #29: Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago Controlled Through: 2019 Guaranteed Dollars: $44 million 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.1 Five year ZIPS WAR: +13.1 Last Year: #10 I caught a decent amount of flak for putting Abreu in the top ten a year ago, and in retrospect, that skepticism was well deserved. Abreu is a very good hitter, but he’s about as one dimensional as a player can get, and when he’s not slugging .600, he’s more of a good player than a true star. Abreu’s better than his first half numbers would indicate, but that five year ZIPS projection is harsh — Abreu has the lowest projected WAR over the next five years of anyone on the list, in fact — and a reminder that this is a big-bodied 28 year old who might not age particularly well. There’s no question that teams will pay a premium for power in this day and age, and Abreu is still one of the game’s most impactful hitters, but he’s not quite at the level of the other franchise players who actually belong in the top 10. A complicating factor is his ability to opt into arbitration after next season, though with a $10 million guaranteed salary for 2017, it seems highly unlikely that he’ll do so the first time. But perhaps in 2018 and definitely by 2019, Abreu should be able to argue for higher salaries than his original contract calls for, so the $44 million in remaining commitments is a floor, not a ceiling. With a few more good seasons racking up homers and RBIs, those last couple of arbitration years could cost an extra $15 million or so, pushing the total closer to $60 million over the final four years of Abreu’s deal. That’s still a huge bargain relative to what he’d get as a free agent, but he fits better in this range than in last year’s aggressive placement. #28: Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Controlled Through: 2019 Guaranteed Dollars: $19.5 million 2016 ZIPS WAR: +4.6 Five year ZIPS WAR: +22.4 Last Year: #5 Speaking of difficult assets to value, Puig offers both some very strong positives and some pretty big negatives, and how an organization feels about him will likely depend on how they weight those variables. On the plus side, Puig is a 24 year old with a 147 wRC+ in the big leagues, and all the tools to suggest that he could be one of the game’s best outfielders for years to come. On the downside, his early success was built on the back of unsustainable BABIPs, and he’s at a 119 wRC+ this year while running something a bit closer to a reasonable level. His power is also going the wrong way, as his ISOs have gone from .215 to .185 to .168 during his three big league seasons. Even going back to the last calendar year, Puig has hit just .270/.356/.421 over 433 plate appearances, and nagging injuries have caused him to miss significant time during that stretch as well. An optimist could say that the health issues have caused the struggles and he’ll get back to crushing the ball once he gets healthy, but lingering injury issues for a big guy in his early-20s also isn’t a great sign for long-term durability. And then there’s all the off-field stuff, which would be a big factor to some organizations, and would probably drive at least a few potential buyers out of the market. His contract also isn’t quite as team friendly as the chart makes it look, as he’ll be able to opt into arbitration after next year, and his costs over the final three years are quite likely to be higher than the minimum guarantees stipulated by his contract. Of course, all those negatives look like small potatoes when Puig is crushing the baseball, but he hasn’t done that consistently for a while now, so it’s become somewhat easier to pick out the flaws in his game. It’s very possible that Puig is in store for a monster second half that will remind everyone who he was one spot behind Bryce Harper a year ago, but right now, his value is down, and the Dodgers would be selling low if they moved him. #27: Matt Harvey, SP, New York Controlled Through: 2018 Guaranteed Dollars: None 2016 ZIPS WAR: +4.2 Five year ZIPS WAR: +20.0 Last Year: #25 After a year of rehab, Harvey is back on the mound, but he doesn’t yet appear to be the same Matt Harvey that was destroying opposing hitters before tearing his UCL; the walks are up, the strikeouts are down, and he’s giving up more than his fair share of home runs. This isn’t unusual for a guy working his way back from surgery, but it does mean that his present value is a little bit diminished relative to his potential, and a team acquiring him would have to expect perhaps more good performance now with the hope of great performance down the line. But the rehab year also cost him a year of service time, so if you’re acquiring Harvey for long-term value, you also have to keep in mind that he’s only under team control for three more seasons after this one, and with Scott Boras representing him, you’re probably not keeping him out of the free agent market. So Harvey’s more of a medium-term play, a guy you definitely want for the next few years but not someone you can count on having long-term. But the upside through 2018 is obvious, and the DL time will serve to keep his arbitration prices down at reasonable levels, so there’s still a ton of value here. Which is why the Mets will keep him. #26: Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Controlled Through: 2022 Guaranteed Dollars: $49 million 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.8 Five year ZIPS WAR: +19.7 Last Year: Unranked In what was probably the biggest oversight in putting the list together a year ago, I whiffed on Yelich, and even after a rough start to the 2015 season, he still belongs in this group. His absurdly high ground ball rates mean that he’ll probably never hit for a ton of power, but avoiding hitting the ball in the air also keeps his BABIP quite high, so combined with his walks and speed, Yelich remains a very good offensive player. Toss in plus defense in a corner outfield spot, and Yelich is an excellent player, even if not exactly the prototypical slugger teams often want in a corner spot. The game is changing, though, and Yelich’s broad base of skills are valued now even as a left fielder. And the contract he signed with the Marlins this spring doesn’t hurt his value either. In exchange for long-term security, he sold his three arbitration years (2017-2019) for a total of $21 million, plus Miami bought out two free agent seasons at a total of $26 million, and got a team option for a seventh year at just $15 million to boot. Assuming that option gets picked up, Yelich is controlled for the next seven years at a total of just $62 million. Even if he never develops big time power, he’ll be worth that deal many times over, and if he does figure out how to elevate the ball eventually, he could be one of the game’s biggest bargains for years to come. #25: Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Controlled Through: 2021 Guaranteed Dollars: $28.5 million 2016 ZIPS WAR: +4.0 Five year ZIPS WAR: +17.9 Last Year: #49 At publication last year, Marte was hitting just .256/.324/.383, good for a 104 wRC+. He snuck onto the end of the list based on his speed, defense, and upside, but the limited offensive performance kept him from climbing any higher. Over the last calendar year, however, Marte has hit .305/.358/.497, good for a 141 wRC+, and his +4.9 WAR is tied for 19th best among position players. He’s still a bit unpolished, hacking too often at pitches he can’t hit and not utilizing his speed well on the bases, but Marte has developed into an excellent player on both sides of the ball. And his contract was essentially the template for Yelich’s deal, though because it was signed a year earlier, it also expires a year earlier. Assuming both team options are exercised, the Pirates have Marte signed up for six years at a grand total of just $49 million, a relative pittance for the prime years of one of the game’s best outfielders. While the more famous outfielder playing is the biggest reason the Pirates are one of baseball’s best teams, their left fielder is a big part of the success too, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Neil Huntington would give him up. #24: Anthony Rendon, 2B, Washington Controlled Through: 2019 Guaranteed Dollars: None 2016 ZIPS WAR: +5.2 Five year ZIPS WAR: +24.2 Last Year: #13 This one is all about health. When Anthony Rendon is on the field, he’s among the very best players in the game, offering high-level offensive output with defensive value at either second or third base. He’s even a wildly under-appreciated baserunner, and few players can match his value across the board. But he slipped in the 2011 draft because of lingering health problems that had dogged him throughout his college career, and now he’s spent nearly all of the 2015 season on the DL with various lower-half injuries. He also appears to be a particularly slow healer, with his returns usually taking longer than originally estimated. For the risk-averse, this ranking is likely too aggressive, as you simply don’t have the security of knowing what you’ll be getting from Rendon over the next four years. But I think his risk/reward combination puts him on par with most of the best young pitchers in baseball, and that’s a group that’s pretty well represented in this list, so while he’s certainly high-risk for a position player, I don’t think the health concerns are enough to drive him any lower than this. Especially because he doesn’t have the kind of gaudy numbers that will drive his arbitration prices through the roof, so his remaining four years of team control should be reasonably priced. #23: Jose Fernandez, SP, Miami Controlled Through: 2018 Guaranteed Dollars: None 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.8 Five year ZIPS WAR: +20.4 Last Year: #34 Fernandez and Harvey are similar in so many ways, from the ridiculous dominance pre-injury through their recovery from Tommy John surgery. Both are heading to arbitration for the first time this winter, and both are represented by Scott Boras, so expect no long-term deal here either. Fernandez is four years younger, which is the primary reason he’s ranked ahead of Harvey, but age for pitchers doesn’t matter as much as it does for hitters, so the gap isn’t that large. Fernandez has only made two starts since being back, so we have less information about what he is in the short-term, but if he keeps pitching like he did in those starts, there’s a case to be made that he should be even higher than this. He’s a pretty special pitcher, and even with just three years of team control remaining, the price to pry him out of the Marlins hands would be remarkably high. #22: Noah Syndergaard, SP, New York Controlled Through: 2021 Guaranteed Dollars: None 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.1 Five year ZIPS WAR: +16.8 Last Year: Unranked Syndergaard’s first few months in the big leagues could have hardly gone better; he’s still sitting at 97 and throwing a dominating curveball, but he’s also pounding the strike zone in a way that he didn’t in the minor leagues; the total package has resulted in ace-level performance from the 22 year old. With top-shelf stuff, Thor’s future has always hinged on how well he could command his stuff, and the early returns have been nothing short of exceptional. Of course, it’s a very short track record, and there are few assets as volatile as young pitching, but Syndergaard is one of the best young pitchers in baseball, and is showing why the Mets were not willing to move him for a bat over the winter. Nor should they do so now. With six years of team control remaining — although he likely will be a Super Two guy, getting four bites at the arbitration apple — Syndergaard is both a very good pitcher now and an excellent long-term asset. He comes with all the trappings that accompany every pitcher in baseball, but if you were looking for a young arm to build around, you won’t find many better options than this one. Considering he’s theoretically the Mets #3 starter, that’s not a bad little group being assembled up in Queens. #21: Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Controlled Through: 2020 Guaranteed Dollars: $318.5 million 2016 ZIPS WAR: +5.5 Five year ZIPS WAR: +26.2 Last Year: #15 There might not be a player on this list who would generate a wider range of responses from the other teams if he was actually made available for trade. Given the sheer size of the long-term commitment, it’s likely that at least a few franchises would have no interest, while those with some financial flexibility and the incentive to win now would be thrilled to acquire the game’s premier slugger. This isn’t a guy who would appeal to everyone, but to those with interest, it would be intense. The key to determining Stanton’s trade value really turns on the odds of him exercising his opt-out clause; if you’re convinced he’s going to use it to re-enter free agency after the 2020 season, then an acquiring team would only be on the hook for $100 million over the next five years, a pittance for one of the game’s superstars; even low-revenue clubs would sign up to take Stanton at 5/$100m. But if his continual string of injuries begin to break his body down prematurely — or the injuries are simply a sign that a guy this size might not be able to stay on the field regularly in his thirties — then the remaining $218 million over the final seven years could be a very stiff tax to pay for getting his the remainder of his productive years. If you think the injuries are no big deal and he’s going to remain a +5 win player for the next four or five years, you can give up the moon to get him and not worry about the end of the contract, because he’ll void it for you. But there’s a lot of risk in that bet, and if he keeps getting hurt, then he’s probably not worth trading a lot of good assets for. Both the risk and reward are quite high, so I’ve ended up placing him here, though your own risk aversion might dictate that he be 10 spots higher or not on the list at all, with nearly any ranking in between being justifiable. He’s just a very hard asset to value.