2015 Trade Value: The Top 10

Players #50 to #41
Players #40 to #31
Players #30 to #21
Players #20 to #11

Man, this group is something else. I think I could make a solid case for any of the #1-#9 guys belonging in the top three, and I’ve re-ordered this thing so many times I have lost almost all of my conviction about there being much difference between guys at this level. If you prefer the guy at #8 to the guy at #4, I’m not going to put up much of a fight. These guys are all special, and we’re lucky that the sport we love is being overrun with players this talented.

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.

#10: Chris Archer, SP, Tampa Bay
Controlled Through: 2021
Guaranteed Dollars: $23 million
2016 ZIPS WAR: +4.3
Five year ZIPS WAR: +20.9
Last Year: #44

The AL’s answer to Gerrit Cole, Archer has also figured out how to use an absurd slider to solve his platoon problems, and has developed into one of the game’s best pitchers, in the same class as the guys we mentioned yesterday. But he’s ahead of all of them because of his long-term deal, which keeps him in Tampa Bay for the next six years, with the Rays only on the hook for $38.5 million even if they exercise both team options. And there’s basically no risk here, as they’re only out $23 million over the next four years if things go off the rails.

Archer is an in-his-prime #1 starter who will make a little over $6 million per year for more than the next half-decade. Deals like this are why the Rays remain contenders year after year. Archer gives them a massive competitive advantage, and that’s why he’s forced me to abandon my “no pitchers in the top 10” guideline. When a pitcher is this good and this cheap for this long, there’s no way to put him any lower than this.

#9: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh
Controlled Through: 2018
Guaranteed Dollars: $41.5
2016 ZIPS WAR: +6.2
Five year ZIPS WAR: +28.4
Last Year: #2

I legitimately feel badly that I’m putting McCutchen ninth. When I started sketching this out a month or so ago, I assumed he’d be fourth or fifth, sliding just a little bit from last year due to getting one year closer to free agency. There’s no other reason to move him down, as he remains a top-tier player even after battling through early season knee problems. But then as I started stacking up all the guys who belonged in this range, and comparing three years of McCutchen versus five or six years of someone younger and almost as good, and I just couldn’t get him any higher than this. I’ve said it before in other write-ups, but this isn’t reflective of McCutchen losing a lot of value; this is just him getting passed by a crazy wave of talent.

On performance, Cutch is still likely to remain an elite player; he ranks fifth in the five year ZIPS forecast, even ahead of most of the young guys heading into their prime. But because he only has three years of team control remaining, the Pirates can only count on retaining 60% of that value, and while $42 million for the roughly +18 WAR they should expect over the next three years is a crazy bargain, a few other players just offer 80-90% of the production, but also for more years and at a lower cost.

As much as I love McCutchen — he’s a probable Hall of Famer in the prime of his career — I can’t get him any higher than this. With a more normal crop of young talent, he’d probably still be top five, so there’s no shame in ranking ninth in this group. McCutchen’s amazing, and I hope the Pirates fans enjoy him for as long as they get to.

#8: Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore
Controlled Through: 2018
Guaranteed Dollars: None
2016 ZIPS WAR: +6.3
Five year ZIPS WAR: +34.2
Last Year: #8

Of the 50 players in this series, only one — I’ll let you guess who that is — projects to be more valuable over the next five years than Baltimore’s star third baseman. That’s right, ZIPS thinks Machado is going to be the second best player in baseball going forward, a two-way star who has turned into a monster at the plate. It’s easy to lo look at Machado and still see him as a glove-first guy who hits decently, since that’s mostly what he was for his first two years in the majors, but that’s an outdated view of his current skills; Machado has added legitimate power, nearly doubled his walk rate, and simultaneously improved his contact rate to an above average level; he’s now a beast of a hitter who also happens to be an elite defensive third baseman.

And while he’s been around a while, it’s worth remembering that Machado turned 23 just two weeks ago. Most guys his age are still trying to crack the big leagues, but he’s already 1,600 plate appearances and +14 WAR into what looks like the start of a pretty incredible career. But like McCutchen, years of team control push him down beyond where his talent suggests, as the Orioles only have his rights through the 2018 season, and this breakout season is going to make it difficult to get him to sign a long-term deal as he heads towards arbitration this winter.

Toss in the risk that comes with a guy who has already had surgery on both knees, and he slots in eighth instead of the top three spot I initially had him penciled in for, but if you just care about short-term value, you’re not going to do much better than Machado. The guy has gone from star-in-the-making to superstar-in-the-present.

#7: Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago
Controlled Through: 2021
Guaranteed Dollars: $34 million
2016 ZIPS WAR: +4.7
Five year ZIPS WAR: +22.6
Last Year: #12

Rizzo’s breakout came a year ago when he converted a bunch of doubles into home runs, and turned into one of the game’s best first baseman in the process. To follow that act this year, he’s decided to just stop striking out and start stealing bases, taking his game up even another level, and now he’s just one of the best players in all of baseball. Being a first baseman limits his upside a little bit compared to guys who can play more demanding positions, but Rizzo’s even a plus defender at first base, so he’s a star with no real flaw.

And, of course, the Cubs locked him up pre-breakout, so they’ve got him at a massive discount. The $34 million in guarantees covers the next four seasons, but then they have two team options at $14.5 million each, but they only add a marginal $25 million to the total because the Cubs almost certainly won’t be paying the buyouts on those years. If those options are picked up, Rizzo will cost $59 million over the next six years; if he were a free agent this winter and teams were limited to six years offers, he’d probably still be pushing $200 million, so yeah, this is a pretty good deal for the Cubs.

#6: Chris Sale, SP, Chicago
Controlled Through: 2019
Guaranteed Dollars: $21.15 million
2016 ZIPS WAR: +6.2
Five year ZIPS WAR: +29.2
Last Year: #11

Because Clayton Kershaw exists, we can’t quite call Chris Sale the best pitcher in baseball. But we can point out that he’s almost the best pitcher in baseball, as the differences between them at this point are barely noticeable. Here are their respective lines over the last year:

Chris Sale 6% 33% 40% 9% 79% 0.302 64 61 66
Clayton Kershaw 5% 31% 50% 10% 77% 0.292 66 60 60

Kershaw’s been doing this longer, so we can have more confidence in his ability to keep this up, but for the last year or so, Sale has basically been his equal. And while Kershaw is making $33 million per year from the Dodgers, Sale will make $33 million over the next three seasons combined, and that’s only if the White Sox pick up the first of their two remaining team options. Assuming both options are picked up, Sale will make $48 million over the next four years, while providing the White Sox with something like +24 WAR in the process.

$2 million per win for the best pitcher in the American League; it’s no wonder the White Sox are so reticent to take offers for their ace, even if other teams would be pounding down their door the moment Sale hit the market. This kind of value is just really difficult to replace.

And he still can’t crack the top five. This whole group is ridiculous.

#5: Carlos Correa, SS, Houston
Controlled Through: 2021
Guaranteed Dollars: None
2016 ZIPS WAR: +3.9
Five year ZIPS WAR: +25.5
Last Year: Unranked

Yeah, this is a very aggressive rating for a guy who has been in the big leagues for a month. But while I was putting this final section together, I’ll note that he was actually closer to moving up a spot than he was to moving out of the top five; in fact, there were several versions of this list where he ended up at #4, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a decent amount of people would take his upside over a couple of the lower risk/reward guys ahead of him.

That +25.5 WAR forecast over the next five years? That’s actually higher than both of the next two guys on the list, and one of those two isn’t even under team control for all five of those years. So while Correa hasn’t proven himself over a long haul in the big leagues, the history of guys who do what he has done is very positive, and we shouldn’t really be looking at Correa as a prospect anymore. He’s certainly not a finished product, and his success isn’t guaranteed, but he looks like a guy who could be the best shortstop in the American League next year, and he’s not even 21 yet.

So the upside is obvious, and given the dearth of quality shortstops in baseball right now, there’s a lot of present value here too. But there’s also more uncertainty here, more speculation about what should happen assuming Correa follows a normal career arc, rather than observation of what he’s already become. He’s in the process of crossing that bridge from prospect to big leaguer, but the guys ahead of him just offer pretty great upsides themselves, and without quite as much risk.

If you’re not risk-averse, I could actually see putting Correa as high as #2 on this list, given the six years of team control remaining, and the likelihood that he’ll miss Super Two, meaning three of those years will cost next to nothing. There’s an argument for it, anyway, and if he crushes major league pitching for another year, he very well might be in the mix for the top spot next July. But for now, 32 games into his big league career, I’ll go with the slightly safer assets. But if you prefer Correa over all these other guys, you may very well be making the right call.

#4: Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago
Controlled Through: 2021
Guaranteed Dollars: None
2016 ZIPS WAR: +4.4
Five year ZIPS WAR: +23.0
Last Year: #29

A friend in the game — who has seen plenty of Bryant this year — told me a month ago that his comparison for Bryant was Mike Schmidt. While expecting him to match the career of the best third baseman of all-time is probably unfair, Bryant is clearly a pretty special talent, as he’s on track to put up a +5.5 WAR rookie season despite spending the first couple of weeks in the minors. And that’s without hitting for a ton of power, which was supposed to be his calling card. If you add a bit of a power spike to the surprisingly strong defense and baserunning he’s shown early on, you have a perennial MVP candidate.

But, there is one little hiccup; Bryant swings and misses a lot, and the comments I made about Joc Pederson apply a bit here too. And that’s likely one of the reasons why ZIPS seems relatively conservative about his future growth, thinking Bryant is already maxing out his skills, because it’s just really difficult to be consistently better than a +5 WAR player while striking out 30% of the time. In fact, from a statistical perspective, Bryant and Pederson aren’t all that different, though I don’t know anyone in the game who would take Pederson if given a choice between the two.

As long as he hits for power and draws walks, Bryant will be fine, even with the strikeouts. But the contact issues do seem to potentially put a bit of a lid on his ceiling. Overall, he profiles as a something like a healthy version of Giancarlo Stanton — with a little less power but a little more value in other parts of the game — which gives him one of the highest floors of any player with a half season of big league experience you could imagine.

So while Bryant might have a little less best-player-in-baseball potential than some of the others in this area of the series, he’s a relatively safe bet to be a top 20 player, especially since it looks like he might be able to stick at third for a while. And it’s probably worth noting that Mike Schmidt had a serious strikeout problem at age-23, but then fixed it on his way to a +10 WAR season at age-24. If my friend’s aggressive comparison is right, Bryant might very well be number one on this list next year, and all my comments about a limit on his upside will look quite silly.

#3: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona
Controlled Through: 2019
Guaranteed Dollars: $27.5 million
2016 ZIPS WAR: +5.3
Five year ZIPS WAR: +23.9
Last Year: #3

#2: Bryce Harper, OF, Washington
Controlled Through: 2018
Guaranteed Dollars: $5 million
2016 ZIPS WAR: +6.1
Five year ZIPS WAR: +32.3
Last Year: #4

Like with Betts and Pederson yesterday, I think it makes sense to do these write-ups together, since I went back and forth a number of times on their placement relative to each other. The case for each is actually pretty simple.

Harper is is the kid in the midst of an historic season at age-22, the generational talent finally living up to the hype. He’s a Hall of Fame talent having a Hall of Fame season, and will probably be the best player in the National League for as long as he stays in the National League.

Goldschmidt is the guy with the longer track record but, more importantly, a contract that ties him to the Diamondbacks for the next four years at a grand total of $40 million. Just on talent and future production, I expect most people would take the 22 year old outfielder, but that fourth year matters, especially at the prices Goldschmidt is locked in at. When you have an unquestioned superstar making $10 million a year for the rest of his prime years, the value of even one extra season adds up in a hurry. In 2019, when Harper has priced himself out of the realistic budgets for 28 of the 30 franchises in baseball, Goldschmidt will still be making just $14.5 million.

So if Goldschmidt were likely to come close to matching Harper’s value the next few years, you’d probably default to the guy with the extra year, the guy who isn’t earning extra money with every home run he launches. But ZIPS thinks Harper’s three year WAR is going to be nearly the equal of Goldschmidt’s total even with the extra year. ZIPS expects that Goldschmidt’s extra year will only serve to offset the difference in production, not overcome it, and, for what it’s worth. I’d probably take the over on those Harper projections.

And as for the cost difference, because the Nationals bought out his first year of arbitration already — as part of a deal avoid a grievance over whether he should have been able to opt into arbitration last winter — Harper might not be that much more expensive over the next three years than Goldschmidt will be over the next four. He’ll get $5 million next year, and even with another monster season, he’s probably not going to push up past $35 million in salary over those last two years.

So if the cost and the production are similar, you’d rather have it front-loaded. Better to get +19 WAR in three years than +20 WAR over four, especially for the same price; the relative value of more wins in the short-term is large enough to offset the loss of the fourth year of control. So while Paul Goldschmidt is a great player on one of the most team-friendly contracts in all of baseball, I’d give up more to get Harper’s next three years than I would to get Goldschmidt’s next four.

#1: Mike Trout, OF, Anaheim
Controlled Through: 2020
Guaranteed Dollars: $134.25 million
2016 ZIPS WAR: +9.6
Five year ZIPS WAR: +47.0
Last Year: #1

What, you were expecting someone else? Most of us will probably never see another player this good at this age. We’ve gone from pulling out Mickey Mantle comparisons to having to admit that that might not be a fair comparison to Trout. ZIPS projects him for +47 WAR over the next five years; over that same time period, the system projects Paul Goldschmidt and Kris Bryant to be worth +46.9 WAR combined. Trout is literally as good — on the field, mind you, not taking contracts into account — as the 3rd and 4th place guys in this series put together.

But, you might say, he’s not that cheap anymore. The Angels gave him a $145 million extension last year, and because they’re the kings of backloaded contracts, 95% of the committed salary has not yet been paid. But think about what the market has been paying for wins of late, something in the range of $7 to $8 million per projected win on long-term deals. At that range, if you accept that Trout’s roughly a +9 WAR player going forward, Trout’s free agent price over the next five season should be something like $350 million. Yes, based on what’s teams are paying to acquire wins in free agency, Mike Trout’s overall production is worth something like $70 million per year, and if you really believe that teams will pay more to consolidate performance into a single player, you probably need to argue for something closer to $80 million per year.

I know it sounds crazy to suggest that any player is worth that that when the other stars of the game are getting roughly $30 million in AAV on their long-term extensions, but with all due respect to everyone else playing baseball right now, no one is even close to Mike Trout. Here are the ten highest five-year ZIPS forecasts for guys we’ve profiled in this series.


The next closest guy is +13 WAR behind Trout. +13 WAR over five years is a good big league ballplayer, probably in the range of what the Blue Jays were hoping to get from Russell Martin when they signed him as a free agent this winter for $82 million. And that’s the gap between Trout and #2, much less all the other guys who aren’t even at the Machado/Harper level.

No, Mike Trout isn’t cheap from a budgetary standpoint, but no player in the game brings a higher return on investment than Trout, even at $135 million over the next five years. He’s literally twice as good as any player you can buy in free agency, and there’s no reason to think he’s going to stop producing at a high level any time soon.

So, yeah, it’s Trout again. Sorry that there isn’t a lot of suspense on this one, but that lack of intrigue exists because we have the pleasure of watching one of the greatest players of all time. That’s a pretty good trade-off, I think.


Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago


Nolan Ryan
7 years ago
Reply to  TL DR

Are you Robin Ventura’s face?

7 years ago
Reply to  Nolan Ryan

The whole “change my name to an actual person to make a witty comment” is way overplayed, but that was legitimately funny. Well done!

Jacob DaBomb
7 years ago
Reply to  vivalajeter

Im sure hes thrilled he got your approval xD

7 years ago
Reply to  Nolan Ryan

It should say, “Are you the top of Robin Ventura’s head?” because that is where Nolan delivered four or five rabbit punches.