2015 Trade Value: #40 to #31 by Dave Cameron July 14, 2015 Introduction Players #50 to #41 We covered the last 10 guys on the list yesterday, so today is the next group up. In many cases, these guys are similar performers to yesterday’s group, just with better contracts or more years of team control remaining. In one particular case, there’s an exceptional performer with a somewhat larger contract, but we’ll get to those specifics in the write-ups. 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. #40: Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Controlled Through: 2021 Guaranteed Dollars: $118.5 million 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.6 Five year ZIPS WAR: +16.6 Last Year: #24 Still just 25 years old, Freeman has established himself as one of the best hitters in baseball over the past few years, consistently posting excellent numbers despite not being a traditional slugger. He started to flash a bit more power in the first half of 2015 before a wrist injury forced him to the DL, and while ZIPS might not see a lot of future growth here, it’s not at all uncommon for power to develop a bit later, and if you add a few extra homers to his overall line, Freeman quickly becomes an elite player. His contract with the Braves is both a positive and a negative. On the one hand, any team acquiring Freeman would be picking up six more years of his services, which covers the years he’s most likely to produce at a high level without extending into his decline phase. On the other hand, the price for those years runs at nearly $20 million per season, so Freeman costs quite a bit more than a lot of the players on this list. But he’s clearly worth a good deal more than the $120 million he’s due over the next six years, and he’s still young enough to have a significant breakout and make this contract look like a massive bargain. The combination of real offensive value now plus some remaining upside would lead to a strong market for Freeman’s bat if the Braves put him on the market, but they’ll almost certainly just build around him instead. #39: Carlos Carrasco, SP, Cleveland Controlled Through: 2020 Guaranteed Dollars: $20.25 million 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.2 Five year ZIPS WAR: +15.2 Last Year: Unranked A year ago, Carrasco was getting his career back on track as a reliever, but wasn’t on the radar for this series; busted prospects who can pitch out of the bullpen are nice and all, but they aren’t exactly franchise cornerstones. But his success in relief prompted the Indians to move him back into the rotation, and in 28 starts since then, he’s ran a 2.99 ERA/2.35 FIP/2.50 xFIP in 177 innings. By xFIP-, the only pitchers better over the past calendar year have been Clayton Kershaw and Corey Kluber. Carrasco is almost certainly not going to keep this up, of course, and his career trend of underperforming his peripherals make him less valuable in the trade market than xFIP would suggest, but there’s no question that teams would be lining up to see what Carrasco could do with a better defense behind him, especially considering that he took a cut-rate deal from the Indians this spring. The deal calls for Carrasco to make just $20 million over the next three years, then gives the team two cheap team options; if both options are exercised, the deal is still just $38 million over five years. His sketchy track record and short time performing at this level make him a risky asset, but the upside is obvious, and if he does put it all together, he’ll be one of the most valuable assets in the game. #38: Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Controlled Through: 2019 Guaranteed Dollars: $104 million 2016 ZIPS WAR: +5.6 Five year ZIPS WAR: +26.0 Last Year: #20 In his 11th year in the big leagues, the King remains an elite pitcher, one of the true aces the game has to offer. While most of the rest of the players in this section of the list are either somewhat flawed on the field, or remain more potential than performance, there are no quibbles to be had with what Felix does on the mound every five days. He just dominates, just as he has for over a decade now. But the sustained workload he’s put in will eventually catch up to him, and perhaps some signs of that eventual decline are starting to show. His velocity and strikeout rate are both down a tick this year, and he’s been a bit more mortal in the first half of the season. So while the four years left on his contract are certainly still way below market value, Felix falls from the #20 spot last year to #38 this year, as the $26 million per year price tag becomes a little harder to swallow if he’s not a cut above the rest of the arms available. He’s still clearly a top-tier guy, but he won’t be forever, and Felix is now more of a short-term asset than a long-term building block. ZIPS remains bullish on Felix going forward, but any time a pitcher racks up this many innings, risk becomes a legitimate concern, and while Felix is still great, he might be a little less great going forward. #37: Michael Wacha, SP, St. Louis Controlled Through: 2019 Guaranteed Dollars: None 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.4 Five year ZIPS WAR: +17.7 Last Year: Unranked Hey, look, a Cardinals pitcher. The player development factory in eastern Missouri simply keeps churning out high-level performers, and Wacha looks like the heir apparent to Adam Wainwright’s role as the organizational ace. No, he’s not quite at that level yet, but his stuff is again trending upwards, and after posting some lower strikeout rates early in the season, Wacha is now blowing opposing hitters away the last few months. Toss in excellent command and good secondary stuff, and Wacha is legitimately one of the best young pitchers in the game. So why is he this low? The shoulder issue that shut him down in the second half of 2014 has to remain a bit of a concern, and the Cardinals haven’t yet been able to get him to sign a long-term extension yet, meaning that he could get a bit pricey when those arbitration awards start adding up. In the short-term, he’s going to be an absurd bargain for the next few years, but if he goes year to year and continues to pitch at this level, those last couple of arbitration years are going to cost St. Louis some significant salaries. But even without that cost certainty, Wacha’s simply too good to end up lower than this, and if you’re not worried about the shoulder, there’s a strong argument that he should be even higher. #36: Yordano Ventura, SP, Kansas City Controlled Through: 2021 Guaranteed Dollars: $21.25 million 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.1 Five year ZIPS WAR: +18.0 Last Year: #32 Ventura is western Missouri’s answer to Wacha, as a 24 year old who has already shown he can get big league hitters out while offering potential for improvement as well. In the short-term, I think the league mostly prefers Wacha, as Ventura’s inability to turn his velocity into strikeouts makes him more of a good pitcher than a great one. But he’s also still quite young, and there’s still plenty of room for the strikeouts to come later, which is why ZIPS sees a nice step forward coming in the near future. And if that step forward happens, the Royals won’t have to pay for it, having already locked Ventura up to a long-term deal that covers the next six seasons, the last two of which are in the form of team options. The Royals are only on the hook for a little over $20 million over four guaranteed seasons, and if both options are exercised, they’re still only out $44 million over six years. But given Ventura’s size and a few elbow scares already, we shouldn’t count on those options absolutely being exercised; he might end up more of an early-peak guy if his arm doesn’t hold up or the stuff doesn’t come all the way back after rehab. But given the upside his contract offers if he does stay healthy and develops, that’s a risk worth taking for every team in baseball. #35: Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Controlled Through: 2019 Guaranteed Dollars: $8 million 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.9 Five year ZIPS WAR: +17.8 Last Year: Unranked Altuve hasn’t been able to match his breakout 2014 from an offensive standpoint — sustaining a .360 BABIP is hard, after all — but he’s showing the same improvements in both power and strikeout rate that made it possible in the first place, and those core skills make him more than just a height-challenged curiosity. The lack of walks means that he’s probably always going to be more of an above average hitter than an offensive force, but with improved defense at second base and the value he adds from stealing bases, Altuve should continue to be a very good player for years to come. And thanks to the contract he signed before his breakout, he’s going to make bench-player money through the prime of his career. Altuve is signed for the next two years at a total of $8 million, and then the Astros hold two options that would pay him another $12 million between both years, so the remaining four years on his contract will cost the Astros just $20 million, assuming those options are exercised. And combined with his quality performance, that contract makes Altuve one of baseball’s best bargains. #34: Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Controlled Through: 2019 Guaranteed Dollars: $5.75 million 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.5 Five year ZIPS WAR: +17.1 Last Year: #7 When this list was published a year ago, Perez ranked in the top 10 in large part because of what looked like a real step forward in the first half; he was hitting .283/.329/.437, good for a 116 wRC+, and his improving walk and strikeout rates looked like the maturation of a 24 year old coming into his own. Since that time, Perez has hit .246/.257/.408 (an 80 wRC+), and that doesn’t include his disastrous postseason, when he ran a 40 wRC+ and looked helplessly overmatched against quality pitching. Perez serves as a nice reminder of our need to not overreact too much to the most recent half season of performance, and I was too aggressive in moving Perez from 36 to 7 last year. But even with a .273 OBP, Perez remains an asset on the field, thanks to his contact and power; it’s also a testament to the current run environment that a guy who makes that many outs can still be running a league average wRC+. But he is, and when you add in the fact that he’s a catcher who excels at blocking pitches in the dirt and shutting down the running game, and you still have a quality player despite the one glaring flaw in his offensive game. And his contract situation is nearly identical to Altuve’s, especially because his 2015 all-star selection triggered the maximum incentives, so he’ll earn an additional $5 million in the last three years of the deal, pushing the grand total to just over $21 million over the next four years. Perez might make a lot of outs, but he does almost everything else well, and that makes him a significant part of the Royals success. #33: Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Controlled Through: 2019 Guaranteed Dollars: None 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.7 Five year ZIPS WAR: +20.1 Last Year: #24 Two years ago, Bogaerts was the prototypical slugging middle infielder, a guy who might not be able to stick at shortstop but would hit for enough power and draw enough walks to be valuable at a corner spot if need be. Now, Bogaerts is a contact-oriented slap hitter who has improved dramatically on defense but is offensively comparable to Jose Iglesias, the glove-first shortstop the Red Sox traded because they had Bogaerts waiting in the wings. Baseball is weird. Also, though, Bogaerts is 22, and he pretty clearly is not a finished product. Transitioning into hitting for more contact has helped him stay afloat in the big leagues without the power necessary to make up for his earlier strikeout problems, but it seems possible that Bogaerts could trade some of that contact to get more power as he fills out and gets a little stronger. I wouldn’t give up on Bogaerts becoming a slugging shortstop just yet, and the fact that he’s found a way to succeed even without power is an encouraging sign for his future abilities. That said, Bogaerts early promotion means he might not really come into his own until he’s into his arbitration years, and he’s close enough to free agency now that it might behoove him to just go year to year. If the power doesn’t come for a few more years, Bogaerts might not quite get to the star level he was projected for while he’s still under team control, so any team attempting to trade for him would probably be better off focusing on his short-term future than his long-term upside; he might not hit that kind of peak before free agency. Still, there aren’t many good shortstops in baseball right now, and there are even fewer who offer Bogaerts upside, so if the Red Sox did put him on the blocks, they’d have 29 teams lining up to check the price tag. #32: Addison Russell, 2B, Chicago Controlled Through: 2021 Guaranteed Dollars: None 2016 ZIPS WAR: +2.8 Five year ZIPS WAR: +22.0 Last Year: Unranked Obviously, the fact that Russell was traded as part of a package a year ago — for 1 1/2 seasons of Jeff Samardzija and half a season of Jason Hammel — is going to make this ranking (and this whole series) somewhat controversial, no matter where I put Russell on the list. On the one hand, he was traded for the kinds of short-term upgrades that aren’t included in this series, so perhaps Russell is evidence that I’m overrating youth long-term value relative to short-term upgrades. On the other hand, it’s an n of 1, and the general consensus seems to be that the A’s shouldn’t have made that trade in the first place. Does the A’s decision a year ago mean that Russell doesn’t actually have this much trade value, or did the A’s overpay for Samardzija and Hammel last summer? By putting Russell this high, I’m placing myself pretty firmly in the latter camp, and I bet if we could slip Billy Beane some truth serum, he’d say he’d like to have that one back. I might not be quite as high on Russell as ZIPS is — seriously, those are some bullish forecasts — but six years of a quality middle infielder with significant offensive potential is a scarce asset, and I’d bet the Cubs would demand a much larger haul to get him off their roster at this point. Even if Russell is more of a good player than a star in the making — his contact problems are legitimately concerning for a guy who isn’t likely to be a big time power hitter — he’s still a plenty valuable piece, especially with a few league minimum years still to come. And if he’s the potential superstar that ZIPS is forecasting, then this is too conservative a ranking, and Russell should actually be 10 or 20 spots higher. #31: Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Controlled Through: 2022* Guaranteed Dollars: None 2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.1 Five year ZIPS WAR: +20.3 Last Year: Unranked * This assumes the Dodgers hold Seager down until next May, pushing his free agent clock back a year. If they promote him later this summer and he sticks as their everyday shortstop heading into 2016, then he’d only be controlled through 2021. The last of our trio of upside shortstops, you could realistically take any of the three and have a strong case, so there’s no real conviction here on Seager having a brighter future than Russell or Bogaerts. From discussions with people in the game, it feels like there’s more optimism that Seager can stick at shortstop than there was with Bogaerts, and there’s more confidence in his ability to hit than with Russell, so I’ll very lightly put my hat in for the guy who might be a hybrid of the last two, but if you prefer Bogaerts or Russell, I won’t put up a fight. Regardless of where he ends up, though, Seager projects as a solid contributor, and his reduction in strikeout rates at higher levels this year portend quite well for his development. Even if he follows in his brother’s footsteps as a good-at-everything, great-at-nothing type, that’s still added up to a +4 WAR player for Kyle Seager, and scouts and the projections both suggest that Corey could be even better. While there isn’t as much short-term value here as there is with other players around this spot on the list, the allure of this kind of ceiling would likely command a fierce bidding war.