2020 Trade Value: Intro and Honorable Mentions

Every year for more than a decade, FanGraphs has released a Trade Value Series, ranking the top 50 players in baseball by their trade value. In that respect, this year is no different. For a lot of other reasons, though, this year’s exercise is very, very different. The COVID-19 pandemic still rages on in this country, preventing a normal start to the season; recent outbreaks on the Marlins and Cardinals — and a continued rise in the country’s case rate — have called the completion of even the scheduled 60-game season into question. While teams might soon have access to some data and video from the alternate training sites, per reports from Kiley McDaniel, there’s no minor league season to evaluate prospects, and any team making trades does so with considerable uncertainty surrounding not only this season, but also an offseason that could potentially see meaningful payroll cuts from teams that lost revenue during a shortened 2020 campaign staged without fans. Add in the murkiness of 2021 — we don’t yet have a vaccine, after all — and the end of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement after next season, and there are far more variables to contend with when gauging trade value than there usually are. One other difference is that with Kiley McDaniel no longer at FanGraphs and Dave Cameron still with the Padres, I have taken over the task of creating this list.

Generally speaking, the players who appear on this list don’t get traded at the deadline. In fact, they usually don’t even get traded within a year of appearing on this list. The players featured here are good and often on good rosters. Add in an under-market contract and there is very little incentive for teams to move these guys. And what is typically true for players on this list will likely be even more so this year as teams will be less inclined to trade away proven players who are good values for guys with less certain futures who they might not have seen in person since this spring or even last summer. While we would normally try to assess a player’s value right now, the complicated nature of this season means keeping an eye toward this winter for expected value in the next few months, too.

In attempting to determine value, my process likely didn’t differ greatly from my predecessors. Combining estimates of present and future talent with years of control and likely salaries helped create a rough estimate of potential surplus value for every player; input from contacts with clubs also helped inform my decisions. Every team has a different risk appetite when it comes to player production, and each is going to have financial considerations, as well as an understanding of their chances of contending now and in the future, that have a considerable impact on the type of player they are interested in acquiring. The Yankees and Dodgers aren’t operating on the same payroll plane as the A’s and Rays, and rebuilding teams like the Orioles and Giants aren’t looking for the same players as the win-now Reds and Brewers.

When it comes to trade value, we could search for a happy medium and look at what a potentially contending club with a mid-market payroll would be interested in giving up for a player. But that would miss some of a player’s potential value. When the Red Sox try to trade Mookie Betts and a significant portion of David Price’s salary, many clubs aren’t going to be interested in giving up much. The median offer isn’t going to be as high as the best offer. It’s certainly better to have more suitors. If Pete Alonso and Christian Yelich were placed on the trade market, there might be more suitors for Alonso given his youth and pre-arbitration status. But more suitors doesn’t necessarily mean a better return in trade, as three or four highly-motivated teams could produce a more compelling offer than 15 generally interested teams. To that end, I’ve attempted to determine value by estimating what a team might actually get if the relevant player were traded rather than making an average assessment across all or most of baseball’s teams.

Every year, we see a healthy number of players drop off this list due to changes in their performance, contract, health, or proximity to free agency. Here are the players who were on last year’s list who did not make the cut this season.

Players Not Returning from the 2019 List
Player Team 2019 Rank
Francisco Lindor Indians 13
Kris Bryant Cubs 25
José Berríos Twins 26
Trea Turner Nationals 27
Javier Báez Cubs 34
Rhys Hoskins Phillies 35
Freddie Freeman Braves 36
Nick Senzel Reds 37
Mike Soroka Braves 42
Eugenio Suárez Reds 43
Max Scherzer Nationals 44
Carlos Correa Astros 45
Gary Sánchez Yankees 46
Corey Seager Dodgers 47
Adalberto Mondesi Royals 48

Of these players, Francisco Lindor, Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Freddie Freeman, Max Scherzer, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager are all free agents at the end of next season. As we saw this winter, the return for one season of a player like Betts is strong, but not quite enough to put a player in the top 50. Of the 2022 free agents, only Lindor is in a class even close to Betts. Trea Turner, José Berríos, and Gary Sánchez all saw their final minimum-salaries season in 2019 and will be free agents after 2022. All three have been more good than great, so they fall off the list. Rhys Hoskins and Adalberto Mondesi have another year of control until they hit free agency after the 2023 season, but their performance has hovered closer to average. Eugenio Suárez is still good and relatively inexpensive, but his four remaining years of team control will see him exit his prime and move into his 30s. Mike Soroka would have made the list if not for his Achilles injury. While he is expected to have a full recovery, he probably won’t pitch in public again until next spring, which moves him just outside the top-50. Nick Senzel still has a lot of potential, but the performance hasn’t yet been there for the former top-10 prospect.

Now, this year’s Honorable Mentions.

High-Floor, Low-Pay Position Players

Willy Adames
Luis Arraez
Tommy Edman
David Fletcher
Trent Grisham
Eloy Jiménez
Brandon Lowe
Victor Robles
Will Smith
Alex Verdugo
Luis Urías

With the exception of Urías, this is a group of players who have established some level of competence at the major league level. Jiménez andiand Lowe are locked into team-friendly long-term deals while the rest are still earning the minimum salary. The list is a mix of former top prospects (Jiménez, Robles, Urías) and those with considerably less prospect pedigree (Arraez, Edman, Grisham, and Fletcher), but they all seem well on their way to at least average production over the next few years. These players are also still young enough that a breakout is possible and could put them in the top-50 in future seasons.

Good Pitchers a Few Years from Free Agency

Zac Gallen
Frankie Montas
Max Fried

Montas has one great half-season, but has also been suspended for PEDs and will be arbitration eligible next season. Gallen has been good, but his peripherals don’t match up with his excellent ERA. Plus, it’s been just a year since he was traded for a prospect (Jazz Chisholm) who’s a tier below the type of prospects who make this list. Fried was solid next year and will likely qualify for a Super Two designation at the end of this season. Others like Mitch Keller, Dylan Cease, and Marco Gonzales are close to this tier, but not yet good enough for serious consideration.

Too Close to Free Agency

Trevor Story
Mike Clevinger

Most of the players in this tier have already been mentioned above due to falling off this year’s list after appearing last year. Story is another player who will be a free agent after next season, while Clevinger will be there the year after. I’ll also mention Matthew Boyd, who wasn’t really under strong consideration for this list given his home run issues, but has inspired the Tigers to set a very high price for him in potential trades over the last year.

Veterans with Reasonable Contracts

Jose Altuve
Kyle Hendricks
Sonny Gray

Altuve’s MVP-level seasons might be behind him, but he’s owed about $100 million over the four years after this one and should still be a decent value. Gray and Hendricks are controlled for the next three (Gray) or four (Hendricks) seasons for $10 million to $15 million. Their teams have these pitchers on good deals, but they aren’t likely to be in great trade demand.

Prospects

CJ Abrams
Jo Adell
Dylan Carlson
MacKenzie Gore
Jarred Kelenic
Carter Kieboom
Royce Lewis
Casey Mize
Cristian Pache
Luis Patiño
Julio Rodriguez
The players here are some of the best prospects in the game (Adell and Kieboom already have or will lose their prospect status this season), but there is less consensus on them compared to those who actually made the list. Gore is highly rated as a prospect and easily projects as a starter with multiple good offerings, but his trade value falls a little bit below some other highly-rated prospects due to the lack a single great pitch, which could limit his ceiling. All of the prospects above could end up on the list next season, but a little more certainty would be helpful to make a better assessment of their future. Other players who are close to this tier include Brendan McKay, Forrest Whitley, Joey Bart, Matt Manning and Michael Kopech.

We hoped you liked reading 2020 Trade Value: Intro and Honorable Mentions by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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richwp01
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richwp01

I think it will surprise many to see “Mike Soroka — Mets”

Ramzavail
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Ramzavail

Wishful thinking.

Sn0wman
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Sn0wman

I was more surprised by “Fried was solid next year.”