Justin Upton’s Future Trade Value vs Gary Sheffield’s Career Trade Value

In writing about the Justin Upton situation last week, Keith Law made an excellent comparison. One possible reason why the Diamondbacks might trade Upton is because of his attitude, but it doesn’t appear to be too compelling a case. Wrote Law, “He’s not Milton Bradley, though, and if he’s Gary Sheffield, well, that one worked out OK.”

OK, indeed. In 2015 Sheffield will have a Hall of Fame case for the BBWAA to consider. Just see how he compares to 2007 inductee Tony Gwynn.

Before we get to the graphical comparison of Sheffield and Upton, some facts:

  • Both were first round picks…Upton first overall in 2005, Sheffield sixth overall in 1986;
  • Both debuted at age 19. Upton was 23 days short of his 20th birthday; Sheffield 76 days short of his;
  • Both broke camp in their age 20 seasons, but they also played in under 110 games. Upton had 417 PA, Sheffield 405.

But this tells the story a bit better.

To this point they’ve progressed similarly, though Upton appears a bit superior, which brings us to our next set of facts:

  • Sheffield was traded at age 23, while Upton, 23, has been the subject of trade rumors;
  • In his career Sheffield was traded five times;
  • In those trades Sheffield was packaged with six players, while his then-former teams received 14 players.

If Upton were to continue following Sheffield’s career path, what might we see? Which players would he fetch, if teams were inclined to act similarly? Here’s what each team got from Sheffield, and then in return for Sheffield.

NOTE: This is a for-fun thing and is not meant as serious, definitive analysis. Clearly more goes into a trade than what I’m examining here. It’s more curiosity than anything.

Trade No. 1

Padres get: Sheffield and Geoff Kellogg.
Brewers get: Ricky Bones, Matt Mieske, and Jose Valentin

The Brewers got four seasons out of Sheff, but they amounted to only 2.1 WAR, thanks to a poor 1991 season. From Bones they got 5.1 WAR in 4.5 seasons. Mieske stayed with the Brewers for five seasons, but produced just 1.1 WAR. In his career Valentin produced 32 WAR, but the Brewers saw only 11.3 of that in his eight seasons.

Brewers total (from Sheff & return): 19.5 WAR

Trade No. 2

Marlins get: Sheffield and Rich Rodriguez
Padres get: Andres Berumen, Trevor Hoffman, and Jose Martinez

The Padres traded Sheffield after just 1.5 seasons, but in that first season he was a monster with 6.8 WAR. He was at replacement level during his second season with the Padres. Berumen didn’t last even 50 innings in the majors, and finished with -0.3 WAR. Martinez had an even shorter career that ended with -0.1 WAR. Hoffman, of course, went on to become the all-time saves leader. In his 15.5 seasons with the Padres he produced 22.2 WAR.

Padres total: 28.6 WAR

Trade No. 3

Dodgers get: Sheffield, Manuel Barrios, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, and Charles Johnson
Marlins get: Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile

This one isn’t fair from the start, since the Marlins turned around and dealt Piazza to the Mets a week after getting him from the Dodgers. We’ll go with their return on Piazza, which was, sadly, Geoff Goetz, Preston Wilson, and Ed Yarnall — plus Zeile of course. In Zeile the Marlins got something of a steal. He was with them from just mid-May through July 31, but in that time he produced 1.3 WAR, which is solid. But the two players the Marlins received for Zeile never played in the majors. Goetz never appeared in the majors, while Yarnall was replacement level in his 20 innings.

Wilson was terrible from the get-go, going 0.6 WAR into the red during his first season in Miami. But by the end of his nearly five-year stay, Wilson had produced 8.5 WAR. After the 2002 season the Marlins traded him for Mike Hampton and Juan Pierre, with whom they won a World Series in 2003. Let’s point and laugh at Preston Wilson.

In about five seasons, Sheffield was worth 14.9 WAR to the Marlins.

Marlins total: 24.7 WAR

Trade No. 4

Braves get: The man himself
Dodgers get: Andrew Brown, Brian Jordan, and Odalis Perez

Perez and Jordan turned out to be a good return, the former producing 10.2 WAR and the latter 4.3 while in a Dodgers uniform. For their end the Dodgers got 19.5 WAR during Sheffield’s 3.5 seasons.

Dodgers total: 34 WAR

Here Sheffield actually reached free agency, signing a three-year, $36 million contract for the Yankees. He missed most of that final season with a forearm injury, but the Yankees decided to pick up his option anyway with the intention of flipping him. But, before we get to the final trade of Sheff’s career, we should award points to the Braves.

Braves total: 12.8 WAR

Trade No. 5

Tigers get: Just Sheff
Yankees get: Kevin Whelan, Humberto Sanchez, and Anthony Claggett

Of the three, only one remains in the Yankees system. Whelan has bounced around all levels, and at each he has had next to no control over his pitches. Sanchez didn’t do much during his two-inning cup of coffee, while Claggett was shelled in 2.2 innings, costing him 0.2 WAR, before the Yankees designated him for assignment. The Yankees did get some benefit from Sheff, though, but not much.

Yankees total: 6.2 WAR

And, of course we have the Tigers at 2.9 WAR and the Mets at 0.5 WAR, thus accounting for Sheffield’s career 65.8 WAR.


Using this imprecise — nay, downright inaccurate — method of tallying value for a trade, we can conclude that other than the Yankees, who traded the Sheff when he was 38, the Brewers got the least out of Sheff. They might have thought they had legitimate reasons for dealing him. But they ended up dealing a guy who would end up in the Hall of Fame conversation.

The point might be moot by now, since the trade rumors have dulled substantially. That’s probably because the Diamondbacks were never serious about trading Upton in the first place. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to be the guy who traded the next Gary Sheffield.

Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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13 years ago

best. article. ever.