All-Star week has arrived, which means a lot of things, like that the races for the 2018 postseason have begun to take shape (at least in the NL, where postseason races exist) and also that many of those who work in baseball are currently taking rushed, abbreviated vacations. Around here, though, it marks the time for a different tradition — namely, the start our annual Trade Value series.
The inimitable Dave Cameron did this list for 13 years, 10 of them for this website. He’s now moved on the Padres, though, and FanGraphs has somehow ended up with me in his place. This list wouldn’t be possible without the model established by Cameron, nor the help of Sean Dolinar, Dan Szymborski, and Carson Cistulli in putting together this year’s series. A special thanks is also due to industry friends who put up with much rougher early versions of this list, were generous with their time, and helped whip it into shape.
For those new to the series, it marks an attempt to answer the question “Who would bring back the most in trade if he were put on the market before the deadline?” What’s notable about this list — as opposed to the prospect types I assemble with Eric Longenhagen — is that it’s the only one for which my opinion doesn’t matter. The goal here isn’t for me to project anybody’s future value but rather to capture the opinions of the industry and how they value players in reality, right now.
I ran into some interesting quirks in industry preferences throughout the construction of this list, and I’ll address those as the series continues. As you might guess, however, not every player possesses the same appeal to every club. Max Scherzer, for example — who is guaranteed nine figures over the next three-and-a-half seasons — has a dramatically different value to the Rays than the Yankees due to their payroll.
In response to that, I have somewhat ignored the two extremes of the market-size and payroll spectrums, instead trying to figure how the clubs in the middle would handle this question. Clubs like Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia all have the ability to absorb that kind money, but would also probably like to avoid doing so. They’d like to win this year but not at the expense of multiple future years. Those teams would also love to have Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. but for different reasons.
There was one example in the top 10 of the list where opinions were so split between two dissimilar players that I went team-by-team projecting (sometimes being told the a team) which player would have greater appeal. If you’re a fan of a team at one extreme of the market-size spectrum, you’ll think how I ranked these two players (they rank third and fourth on the list) is crazy, while a fan on the other end of that spectrum may think the exact opposite.
Ultimately, one player won roughly 20 to 10, but the 10 teams are all big-market contenders, who would be the type to trade for players like this, making it even harder to wrap my arms around the issue. I could have opted to produce separate lists for big- and small-market clubs, but it turns out most people in the game with whom I spoke value roughly 40 of the 50 players here about the same. Only the expensive veterans and prospects inspire truly divergent opinions.
This isn’t an exact science. The type of player who appears on this list doesn’t get traded very often — and almost never for another player who appears here also. If a contending team is trading for one of the players who’ll appear here over the next few days, they’re likely surrendering a group of younger talents outside the top 50 or even 75 — so, again, this list doesn’t really come into play in that situation.
This factor is adjacent to the vein of risk-aversion running through some of these rankings, as reflected in conversations I had with executives. The approach of taking multiple players when trading a top-50 asset is common now; you can’t trade an elite asset for one player who, if he fails to materialize in the majors, just leaves you with nothing. There was also the meteoric rises up the list of touted prospects, some top-10 to -15 types, who had a scorching-hot six weeks of an MLB debut and went from off the list entirely to securely onto it. In a way, it makes some sense in terms of job security: if you trade for Juan Soto tomorrow and he flames out, no one blames you, but you might get fired if you cash in your chips for Fernando Tatis, Jr. in Double-A and he fails to compete in the majors.
To start off, we’ll look at the players who were on this list a year ago but who aren’t returning for a repeat appearance for one reason or another. Almost all of these players were among the 20-30 honorable mentions in contention for the list. For players like Archer, Carrasco, Martinez, and McCullers, they didn’t really fall off the list so much as they got a year older and have a year less control, allowing some other players to slide ahead of them. With few exceptions, players lose value as they gets closer to free agency. To sustain the previous year’s ranking, a player would have to either (a) perform better than he had the year before, or (b) sign a long-term extension. Naturally, the end of the list has a lot of turnover.
|Jackie Bradley Jr.||OF||46|
In addition to that group of players, here are others who were in the mix for the list.
Some exciting young bats here that are all just missing small things, whether it be defensive value, consistency, or pitch selection.
Marte, Baez and Story are the flashy, high-upside options here but, like the previous group, all of these guys lack one thing that’s holding back their top-50 case.
The Ken Giles deal established the market for controllable elite relievers, and Diaz, Hader, and Vazquez all fit that bill. Newcomb and Clevinger are having breakout years and could work their way onto the list next year if they can keep it up.
Arenado and Goldschmidt are in this group, too, and you could also toss in the rest of the 2018 free-agent class, like Donaldson, Pollock, Kimbrel, Corbin, Keuchel, Dozier, etc. Hicks’ name may seem out of place here on talent, but he’s super cheap, is playing really well, and still has 1.5 years of control left.
Here’s the rest of the top 12 from our most recent prospect rankings (more updated ones coming soon). As noted above, any of these players could be securely on this list if they get called up and go on a 150 wRC+-level tear for six weeks.
These three hitters are all aged 26 to 28 and produced some version of an unexpected to WTF-level breakout this year. There isn’t a ton of speed, defense, or track record here, but all three are producing, relatively young, and offer years of control to their clubs. Last year we had Tommy Pham in this group, and he’s settled in as a solidly above-average everyday guy, which seems like the expectation for these three.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.