2015 Trade Value: #50 – #41

With the introduction out of the way, let’s get into the list. We’ll do 10 guys per day, wrapping up with the top 10 on Friday. Today, we’ll start with the bubble guys who made the cut, but keep in mind, the gap between players in this tier is quite small, and you could reasonably argue to rearrange them in just about any order you wanted. And a good number of the guys who missed the cut are very similar in value to these 10, so don’t get too worked up over a guy appearing in this group versus another guy who was an honorable mention. These guys are all very good, but this is the part of the list where the actual ranking matters the least.

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.

#50: Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago
Controlled Through: 2020
Guaranteed Dollars: $18 million
2016 ZIPS WAR: +2.4
Five year ZIPS WAR: +12.6
Last Year: Unranked

Soler’s first season as the Cubs starting right fielder hasn’t gone that well, with injuries and a surprisingly low power output limiting him to more potential than performance. But Soler remains one of the most intriguing young power hitters in the game, and a few hundred poor at-bats doesn’t wipe away the tools and the minor league performance. He’s still just 23, and while his contact problems might keep him from ever becoming an elite player, he looks like a quality above average regular for the foreseeable future. And he possesses the skillset that teams will overpay to acquire, as young middle-of-the-order hitters are just not really available on the market anymore.

Soler is one of the guys who can opt into arbitration, so he will probably make more than $18 million over the next five seasons, but even with a couple of arbitration raises, he’s still going to be a significant bargain. The Cubs have a ton of premium pieces, so it’s easy to overlook Soler in the crowd, but he’d be the best young talent on most clubs in baseball.

#49: Joe Panik, 2B, San Francicso
Controlled Through: 2020
Guaranteed Dollars: None
2016 ZIPS WAR: +2.7
Five year ZIPS WAR: +14.5
Last Year: Unranked

Perhaps the player least like Soler in all of baseball, Panik is a low-tools guy who has simply forced his way onto this list with a remarkable performance since getting to the big leagues. With elite contact rates and a steady stream of line drives, Panik has been a +5 WAR player in his first 158 games in the majors, and while there remains reasons to be skeptical that he can sustain his 2015 power spike, he doesn’t need to in order to remain a quality asset. An underpowered Panik still does enough to be an above average second baseman, and if he does keep running an ISO close to .150, he’s Matt Carpenter 2.0.

With two more pre-arb years and three arbitration years — and a skillset that won’t rack up huge arbitration paychecks even when he gets there — Panik is create a ton of value for the Giants over the next five seasons. Hitting on guys like this is why the Giants keep winning, and while Panik might have the lowest ceiling of any guy on this list, he’s a high-floor guy at a very low cost, and he’s in the midst of forcing everyone to re-evaluate what his ceiling might actually be.

#48: Jonathan Lucroy, C, Milwaukee
Controlled Through: 2017
Guaranteed Dollars: $9.25 million
2016 ZIPS WAR: +4.3
Five year ZIPS WAR: +18.2
Last Year: #14

A year ago, Lucroy was one of the most valuable trade chips in the game, but with a contract that is getting closer to expiration and a lack of power even after returning from the disabled list, he’s not quite the trade chip he was 12 months ago. Lucroy remains one of the best catchers in the game — and if you give him full credit for the estimates of his framing value, he’s probably more valuable than the projections suggest — and is signed to a ridiculously cheap contract, but it covers just two more seasons, and his current performance would cause some potential suitors to take a bit of a pause before putting a massive offer on the table.

But even with his current struggles, Lucroy is about as valuable as anyone with two years of team control remaining gets. There’s only one other potential 2017 free agent on the list (and you’ll see him very soon), so the slide from last year’s ranking is mostly about the fact that 1/3 of his contract has been consumed since this list was published last summer. He remains a highly valuable asset, but his value is only diminishing as he gets closer and closer to the free agent market.

#47: Carlos Martinez, SP, St. Louis
Controlled Through: 2019
Guaranteed Dollars: None
2016 ZIPS WAR: +2.9
Five year ZIPS WAR: +17.3
Last Year: Unranked

After an uninspiring performance in the bullpen, based largely on some real problems against left-handed hitters, I was among many skeptics who didn’t think Martinez was going to turn into a high-quality starter. Upon taking on the larger workload, however, he’s raised his strikeout and groundball rates while figuring out how to get lefties out, and now looks like one of the better young starters in all of baseball. The command still needs work, and he needs to show he can sustain this over a full season, but the early returns are quite excellent, and the Cardinals look pretty shrewd for refusing to include him in a deal for a veteran over the winter.

His time in the bullpen means that he’s running lower on controllable years than a normal 23 year old starter, but the Cardinals still have his rights for one more pre-arbitration season and all three of his arb years. If he keeps this level of performance up, those arbitration years could get on the pricey side, but of course, St. Louis will happily pay him as long as he keeps pitching like he is now. Martinez’s success is one of the main reasons the team has kept winning even without Adam Wainwright, and he’s probably moved himself out of the trade chip category and squarely into the team’s core group to build around.

#46: Todd Frazier, 3B, Cincinnati
Controlled Through: 2017
Guaranteed Dollars: $7.5 million
2016 ZIPS WAR: +4.6
Five year ZIPS WAR: +18.2
Last Year: Unranked

One of the breakout stars of 2015, Frazier’s first half power surge has turned him from a good player into one of the game’s premier sluggers. And considering that he doesn’t strike out that much for a power hitter and plays quality defense at third base, the overall value he provides makes him legitimately one of the best players in baseball.

But like Lucroy — the only other 2017 free agent on this list — the fact that the Reds would only be selling two years after this one somewhat limits his value. Even though he pre-sold his next arbitration year for $7.5 million (a regrettable move, in hindsight) so he’ll remain well priced even after this breakout, his final arbitration year will likely bring a significant paycheck, so there’s really only one crazy bargain season left before he starts to get expensive. And because Frazier came up as a bit of an older rookie, he’s already 29, so he’s not exactly a future building block anymore. He’s a present value play, and he has enough to generate a lot of interest, but the limited control years and age push him down further on this list than just his 2015 performance might suggest.

#45: Dallas Keuchel, SP, Houston
Controlled Through: 2018
Guaranteed Dollars: None
2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.8
Five year ZIPS WAR: +17.3
Last Year: Unranked

Keuchel’s maturation into a dominant starter has been something to behold, but given his performance since the start of last year, he’s clearly earned the #1 starter label. He’s essentially become a left-handed Brandon Webb, mixing an absurd groundball rate with solid walk and strikeout numbers, so while you might not ever look at his stuff and think he’s an ace, he’s certainly pitching like one.

But as a performance-over-tools guy, there’s always going to be a little bit of a discount compared to guys who were projected as stars based on their physical abilities. And with just his three arbitration years left after this season — the last couple of which aren’t going to be super cheap, given his 2015 breakout — Keuchel probably wouldn’t bring back the kind of return that his performance would merit. But I’m sure the Astros will be perfectly happy to just keep in Houston anyway.

#44: Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland
Controlled Through: 2020
Guaranteed Dollars: $45.5 million
2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.8
Five year ZIPS WAR: +17.7
Last Year: Unranked

Kipnis’ up-and-down career is currently at a peak, as he’s found his power stroke while cutting back down on his strikeouts in a remarkable first half, answering many of the questions raised by a poor 2014 performance. Once again, Kipnis looks like one of the best offensive middle infielders in the game.

And because the Indians locked him up a couple of years ago, he’s going to remain a bargain for the next few years, and even when his contract begins to escalate in price, the deal remains pretty friendly to the organization, as the 2020 season is a team option, giving additional upside without much risk. But Kipnis is also a 28 year old second baseman with questionable defensive skills, so by the end of his deal, he might be an underpowered corner outfielder. Given his age and skills, he’s probably better viewed as a medium-term asset than a long-term building block, but he offers a lot of present value at a low price, and if the Indians decided to put him on the block, there’d be a very long list of suitors.

#43: Yan Gomes, C, Cleveland
Controlled Through: 2021
Guaranteed Dollars: $22 million
2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.9
Five year ZIPS WAR: +16.8
Last Year: #50

After a breakout season in 2014, Gomes missed the first couple months of 2015 with a knee injury suffered during sprain training, and hasn’t looked entirely healthy even since his return; the Indians certainly weren’t planning on him hitting .216/.234/.327 this year. So, like Lucroy, his 2015 performance is dragging down his value, but there are still plenty of reasons to think that he remains a well above average big league player, especially when his work behind the plate is factored in.

And his contract makes him a remarkable bargain even with the offensive struggles. He’s due just $20 million in salary over the next four years, then has two team options for another $20 million combined in years five and six; even if he’s nothing more than a part-time player by that point, he still might be worth $10 million a year, given baseball’s economy. For a team with a limited budget, Gomes is a highly valuable asset, providing on-field value at a very minimal cost, so even if he never gets back to his 2014 peak, he remains a very valuable part of the Indians future.

#42: Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota
Controlled Through: 2021
Guaranteed Dollars: None
2016 ZIPS WAR: +2.7
Five year ZIPS WAR: +17.6
Last Year: #38

If Buxton could stay healthy, he’d likely be ranked significantly higher than this, as both scouts and ZIPS see a star in the making. But as the injuries continue to pile up, it’s becoming fair to question how the lost development time will affect him, and whether he’ll ever play enough to live up to the substantial hype. The tools are there for Buxton to be a high-level player, and any team looking to the future would love to have him for his upside alone. But he is also a very high risk asset, with more bust potential than just about anyone else you’ll find in this series.

But with six years of team control remaining, three of them at the league minimum, Buxton doesn’t have to be a star right away to justify his placement here. Even with an adjustment period, he offers substantial long-term rewards, and he’s close enough to providing real value in the big leagues that teams could justify paying through the nose to acquire him. It’s an extreme risk/reward play, but when the reward is this high, so is the price.

#41: Jose Quintana, SP, Chicago
Controlled Through: 2020
Guaranteed Dollars: $23.25 million
2016 ZIPS WAR: +4.0
Five year ZIPS WAR: +19.2
Last Year: #37

Quintana remains one of the more remarkable stories in baseball, as the White Sox signed him as a minor league free agent after the 2011 season, and then helped him develop into the game’s most consistent starters. Like Keuchel, this is performance-over-stuff, and he’ll never blow anyone away with what he throws, but we’re on year four of Major League hitters not being able to figure him out, so at this point, it’s pretty clear that he’s doing a lot of things right.

Unlike Keuchel, Quintana isn’t a frontline guy, and probably never will be; he’s maybe more akin to someone like Doug Fister. But there’s nothing wrong with steady, solid, above-average performances, and the extension Quintana signed last year means that he’s going to make heavily reduced salaries the next three years, plus the White Sox get team options on what would have been his first two free agent years. There isn’t necessarily star potential here, but he’s a very good pitcher at very good prices, and every team in baseball would love to have Quintana in their rotation.


Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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8 years ago

Great layout.