Continuing on in the week long series on the 50 most valuable assets in major league baseball. If you missed the introduction, it can be found here.
Ranking, Player, Position, Franchise, 2006-2008 WPA/LI
45. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees, 0.14 WPA/LI
44. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Boston, 1.10 WPA/LI
43. Dustin McGowan, RHP, Toronto, 1.59 WPA/LI
42. Chipper Jones, 3B, Atlanta, 10.59 WPA/LI
41. Jake Peavy, RHP, San Diego, 4.91 WPA/LI
Cano’s disastrous 2008 season has hurt his stock, no doubt, but we can’t place too much emphasis on three months of results. He’s a 25 year old second baseman with established offensive skills who has hit a rough stretch, but this isn’t his true talent level. He’s also signed to a below market contract that makes him a bargain for the next four years. He will rebound from his poor start and again take his place as one of the more valuable second baseman in the game.
Ellsbury was tough to slot because opinions about his abilities are so diverse. Boston is obviously in love with his defensive abilities and his willingness to get on base, but the lack of power is a real concern, and I don’t see the star potential in him that other players on this list have. His realistic best case scenario is a quality contributor but certainly not a franchise player. However, because of his current skill level as a premium defender with a bat that can play in the majors, he’s got enough current value that his contract status makes him a huge bargain. League average up-the-middle players command a fortune, so paying Ellsbury $400,000 to provide that value is enough to make Ellsbury a significant asset.
McGowan is in the absolute upper tier of stuff among major league starters, throwing a 95 MPH fastball and an 88 MPH slider that are both legitimate knockout punches. However, he simply hasn’t reached the level of performance that his talent would indicate is possible, and his decline in strikeout and groundball rates from 2007 without any improvement in command has to be a concern. Because he’s still dirt cheap and a high quality arm, he would be a coveted player in the trade market, but he’s going to have to improve soon to avoid becoming the new Javier Vazquez.
Chipper forced himself onto the list with his absurd performance the last few years, proving that he is still one of the better hitters alive even at age 36. The production is so valuable, however, that the market for Chipper would still be quite robust if the Braves ever lost their minds and decided to trade him. Even with only a few more good years ahead of him, the current value is so high, and his contract more than reasonable, that teams would be lining up to acquire the Hall of Fame third baseman.
On talent, Peavy is much higher than this. However, the new contract extension he signed that keeps him in San Diego will cost $52 million over the 2010-2012 seasons, and Peavy isn’t exactly a low-risk starting pitcher. There aren’t many tea s out there that could afford the risk of having a $17 million pitcher with his history of injury problems on the books, and while he’s a really good pitcher, he wouldn’t be as good anywhere else as he is in Petco and the NL West. Like Johan, the contract pushes him much further down the list than he would otherwise be.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.