Yesterday, we kicked off Trade Value Week with the introduction, which you should go read if you haven’t already. Along with a brief description of the concept and what we’re trying to accomplish — besides just having some fun during the All-Star break anyway — we also talked about the 20 players who failed to return from last year’s rankings.
Today, we’re going to kick off the list in earnest, with the 10 players who fill spots #41 to #50 coming in a few hours. But before we get to the guys who just made the cut, I want to dedicate some time talking about the guys who just missed, because in all honesty, there’s something like 75 to 100 guys in baseball that have a pretty strong case for a spot in the Top 50. With players this good, we really are splitting hairs, and which good player you prefer will depend heavily on your own preferences.
I know rankings always bring out division, and I am aware of the fact that there will be some people upset with the idea that Player X ranks #46 while Player Y didn’t make the Top 50, but I do want to emphasize that we’re dealing with very small margins here, and there are no objectively correct answers to the questions this exercise poses. I showed this list to a bunch of friends in the game, and their feedback was even more diverse than I expected.
Some thought there were too many pitchers; others thought there weren’t enough arms. It’s an impossible task to create a list that everyone will agree upon, and I expect many of you will make passionate cases for players who didn’t quite make the cut, but know that I probably won’t disagree with you much; there are a lot of very good players who teams would love to have, and the gaps between guys at the end of the list are quite small indeed.
So, below, we present the Honorable Mentions, the guys who just barely missed out on ending up on the list, and easily could fit on your personal Top 50. For the record, I’m not going to re-list the guys we covered that fell off last year’s list, since we already discussed them, but many of them were still close to making the list this year as well, so you can see that post and this one as a tandem of guys who were in the mix for one of the final few spots but just didn’t quite make it.
Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami
Aledmys Diaz, SS, St. Louis
Wil Myers, 1B, San Diego
Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis
Willson Contreras, C/OF, Chicago
Aaron Sanchez, SP, Toronto
Michael Fulmer, SP, Detroit
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco
All five of these young hitters (plus the Blue Jays and Tigers emerging starters) are having excellent seasons, and if we just accepted that what they’ve done in the first half of 2016 is their new established level of performance, they’d all easily belong. But each has some history that makes it wise to not quite yet accept that this is what they’ll do going forward, and in the case of Ozuna and Myers, they churned through some of their service time getting to this point, so any team trading for them would be acquiring a guy a bit closer to free agency than some other breakout stars of 2016. Belt is a different case than the rest, but his back drop in strikeout rate is still a recent development, and he’ll need to sustain that for a bit longer to crack the top 50, given his age.
As I noted in yesterday’s introduction, Andrelton Simmons fell off the list in part because he actually got traded over the winter, and the return was underwhelming to say the least. So, while one could make a pretty valid case for the overall value of the four players above, each of them rely pretty heavily on the acceptance of the value of their defense, and even a guy like Simmons (who everyone agrees is an elite fielder) didn’t bring back a high-level return. Crawford came extremely close to making the cut — he’s in that 50-55 group that bounced on and off the list right up until the end — but in the end, there just wasn’t enough evidence that teams will pay premium prices for glove-first players.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota
Joey Gallo, 3B/OF, Texas
Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta
Orlando Arcia, SS, Milwaukee
Austin Meadows, OF, Pittsburgh
Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pittsburgh
Blake Snell, SP, Tampa Bay
Trea Turner, SS, Washington
This is a list of some of the game’s top prospects — or former top prospects, in the case of the two guys who have exhausted their rookie status — and guys who could storm up this list in the future, but might not have enough present value to create the kind of bidding war that some other players would generate. All of these guys look like they could become something special, but there’s projection left with each of them, as they need to improve on some core skill before they become a key part of a winning team. Long-term, you’d love to have any of these guys, but they’re maybe just not quite there in terms of present value in order to crack the 2016 Top 50.
Pitchers are always the hardest guys to rank, because their value can fluctuate so dramatically; on any given pitch, they could become nearly untradeable, and their performances can bounce around dramatically even when they’re healthy. At different points over the last year, you probably would have found each of these four somewhere in the the Top 50, but Matz’s bone spurs, Nola’s recent nosedive, and Stroman’s struggles (combined with a lost service year to the DL), make them somewhat risky buys at the moment. All of them are good enough to put these doubts behind them and solidify their place among the top tier of big league pitchers, but at this point, they haven’t quite done that yet.
Every year, I feel like I’m writing some kind of apology to Matt Carpenter, who is clearly one of the best players in the game, and keeps getting better each year. He’s an elite player who isn’t often treated like an elite player, and as one of my favorite guys in the game, I’d love to recognize him as one of the most valuable players in the sport. But, as a 30 year old, his value is mostly tied to what he can do for you in the short-term, and with a strained oblique that might cost him a decent chunk of the second half, that value just took a hit. He’s #51 on my list, as I tried and tried to get him on this year, but in the end, I just couldn’t do it. Ross also would have made the list if he didn’t just go on the DL; he may be fine, and the Nationals may just be resting him, but they did his trade value no favors by citing shoulder inflammation.
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles
Yeah, I’m giving Kershaw his own category; he’s that good. Even at $33 million a year, Kershaw is a huge bargain, but his contract makes him all but untradeable. While the Dodgers didn’t give him a full no-trade clause, they did put a poison pill in the deal; in any season that he’s traded, he then has the right to void the deal at the end of the season, so any acquiring team is only picking up a rental. As great as Kershaw is, he’s not going to command a premium return from a team that would only get him for one year.
So those are the guys who didn’t quite make it. In a couple hours, we’ll reveal the first ten names on the list, and we’ll begin the march to the top spot, which is actually an interesting discussion for the first time in years.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.