Did the Red Sox Just Reset the Market for Relievers? by Matthew Kory November 17, 2015 The sabermetric movement has grown up over the last decade. A thing that you regularly hear now that you maybe wouldn’t have heard 10 years ago is this: I don’t know. So that’s where we start today. We don’t know what the going rate for ace relief pitchers is. That said, we do have one strong data point following this weekend’s trade of Craig Kimbrel by the Padres to the Red Sox, and it suggests that the cost to grab one of the best relievers in baseball is now substantial, akin to what it might have cost to get an ace starter some years ago. Kimbrel is an elite relief pitcher, but it was surprising to see Boston acquire him for four prospects, including two top-50 prospects in outfielder Manuel Margot and shortstop Javier Guerra. On top of that already substantial talent the Red Sox tossed in starting pitcher Logan Allen and infielder Carlos Asuaje. That’s a ton of young talent to give up for anyone, let alone for three years of a reliever. It looks quite possibly as though the Red Sox have reset the cost for acquiring a top reliever. But have they? FanGraphs’ own Dave Cameron echoed that sentiment shortly after the trade was announced, writing the deal was “a pretty remarkable group of prospects to acquire for any player, much less a relief pitcher.” So yeah. Yikes. But as is often the case during this time of year, we struggle to figure out the new market. It’s likely not uncommon, if you go back through the archives of pick-your-baseball-site, to find articles about how “Team X overpaid for Player Y,” either through free agency or in a trade. The thing is, some of those articles likely are based on an old understanding of market value, as the concept changes each offseason. This isn’t to disagree with Dave. Not at all. In fact, I happen to think that the Red Sox overpaid wildly, but there is still the chance that this is the new normal, this is what the market will now bear for a relief ace of Kimbrel’s quality. Perhaps the Royals’ success in the playoffs these last two seasons has inextricably altered the price of and the way teams view ace relievers. We’ll know more after Aroldis Chapman is dealt, as he most assuredly will be soon, but for now we’re left to wonder if that is the case or if new Boston GM Dave Dombrowski overshot things by a substantial margin. If this is the new normal, if this is what the market will bear, there are a few other teams that might want to alter their plans and quickly throw their relief aces out to see what fantastic riches they’ll fetch. Would they be able to return similar packages? And, if so, would those packages necessarily represent evidence of a greater value for relief aces. Well, there’s a neat way we can begin to answer this question, and that’s to look back on a similar trade — namely, the other Craig Kimbrel trade. You see, Kimbrel was dealt a year ago from Atlanta to the Padres. As Ken Rosenthal put it at the time, “the Padres bought Craig Kimbrel for $53.35 million, two prospects and the 41st pick of the June draft.” He explained that figure further later on in the same article: The Padres’ added $53.35 million obligation is the difference between the amount they owe Kimbrel and Melvin Upton and the amount they off-loaded by moving Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin to the Braves. As Rob Neyer pointed out afterwards, those two prospects referenced in the earlier quote aren’t entirely extraneous. Well, then-19-year-old outfielder Jordan Paroubeck probably was, but then-22-year-old starting pitcher Matt Wisler was ranked 34th in Baseball America’s top 100, so he had (and continues to have) some real value. So if we accept Rosenthal’s Matt Wisler-plus-$53.35 million figure, the question then becomes, did the Red Sox give up more value to the Padres than the Padres did to the Braves? Helpfully, Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli studied the history of Baseball America top 100 lists and the value the players listed on it accumulated in their careers to give us an answer! To begin, a note about Allen and Asuaje: they aren’t without value but neither appeared on BA’s list. There’s a shot Allen could, with a good season, make the top 100 next offseason, but he hasn’t yet, and we’re only concerned with value at the moment the deal is consummated, so just know those two aren’t being factored into the dollar figure. If you’re curious, our own Chris Mitchell projected Asuaje’s career value at 1.3 WAR (not enough is known yet about Allen, what with his being a recent draftee). As for the big guys going to San Diego from Boston, the Padres got Margot who BA’s Ben Badler had in his top 50, putting his surplus value at $20.3 million. But, if you go by Kiley McDaniel’s more recently updated rankings (he did an update mid-season), Margot is in the top 25 prospects in all of baseball (MLB.com agrees with Kiley) which would move his value to $38.3 million. Guerra is in the back end of the top 100, so his value is estimated at $11.6 million. Add that up (I’m going to use McDaniel’s more updated figure) and you get a total value of $49.9 million. That roughly matches Rosenthal’s figure calculating what the Padres took on for Kimbrel last year. But then you also have to add in Wisler’s value at the time. Creagh and DiMiceli value Wisler, as the 34th-ranked prospect and a pitcher, at $18.7 million. Add that figure to Rosenthal’s $53.35 and that means the Padres actually gave up $72 million in value to acquire four seasons of Kimbrel. And that doesn’t count the value of a competitive balance pick, nor does it value Melvin Upton as anything but a sunk cost. But the important part isn’t necessarily squaring each dollar, as long as we find ourselves in the general vicinity. There’s one thing I haven’t mentioned yet and that is the issue of years of control. The Padres bought four years of Kimbrel, but then they used one up before they traded him to Boston. We know there is more value associated with more years of control, so given that, we can say that the Red Sox should have paid 75% of what the Padres did because they’re getting Kimbrel for 75% of the time. Recall that the Red Sox gave up $49.9 million in value in Margot and Guerra, and then a little more in Allen and Asuaje. The Padres gave up $72 million in value, and $54 million is 75% of $72 million. In other words, the teams gave up almost identical value on a per-season basis! This means that, if you accept the validity of those figures, the Red Sox might still have overpaid (I still think they did) but they didn’t reset the market for ace relievers in doing so. When I started writing this piece, I did it because I was eager to show the Red Sox overpaid and the value of a great relief pitcher was now higher than ever and therefore every team in creation should turn around and trade their best relievers as quickly as possible before the Dave Dombrowskis of the world figured out what was going on. As it turns out, the Red Sox paid roughly the going rate for Craig Kimbrel, or at least what Kimbrel cost a year ago. So, uh, never mind.