Ronald Acuna for Christian Yelich Is Not a Crazy Ask

The Marlins have sold off a bunch of valuable pieces this offseason. You might’ve heard. Giancarlo Stanton? Traded. Marcell Ozuna? Traded. Dee Gordon? Traded. Regardless of whether they were good baseball moves, the immediate consequences are obvious: The Marlins are going to be bad. They hope to eventually become less bad. Now, all along, the Marlins have expressed an interest in building around Christian Yelich, who’s under team control for a while, thanks to his existing long-term extension. We would’ve been able to guess how Yelich has felt about that idea, but now his feelings are just…out there.

Christian Yelich’s relationship with the Miami Marlins is “irretrievably broken,” and it would be in the best interests of both the outfielder and the organization if the Marlins trade him before the start of spring training, his agent told ESPN on Tuesday.

In truth, Yelich has only so much leverage. He has to honor the contract he signed, and it wouldn’t help him to tank his own performance out of spite. If the Marlins kept Yelich, he’d essentially have to just deal with it. But it makes sense to trade Yelich anyway, given what else has gone on. The Marlins have already had a number of conversations about sending Yelich elsewhere, and, long story short, we come to Ronald Acuna.

That’s the name that Peter Gammons mentioned on MLB Network. According to Gammons, when the Marlins and Braves have spoken about Yelich, the Marlins have insisted on Acuna being a part of the return. The Braves, for their part, have said, well, no. It sounds like Acuna might be untouchable. And that shouldn’t be particularly surprising. Acuna is coming off his age-19 season. He hit well in High-A, then he hit better in Double-A, then he hit better in Triple-A. In 2017, Acuna’s stock exploded, and he’s arguably now baseball’s very best prospect. He’s almost major-league ready, and if you’ve read FanGraphs for any amount of time, you know we typically caution against ever moving a young player like this. Someone like Acuna is almost as valuable as a prospect can get.

I don’t think the Braves should move Acuna for Yelich. But I think it’s also more a matter of timing, since the Braves presently aren’t very good. Outside of that, there’s a perfectly good argument to make. The Braves probably shouldn’t move Acuna for Yelich, but the Marlins aren’t unreasonable in making the request. That’s about how high the Marlins should be looking. If they’re going to trade Yelich anywhere, there’s no reason at all for them to settle.

Looking at Acuna, he deserves the hype. He’s outstanding, by the tools and by the numbers. Players aren’t supposed to do what he just did against quality competition as a teenager. Acuna, also, is completely unproven against big-league pitchers. His profile is great, but not perfect. You don’t need for me to tell you this, but top prospects have busted. And among the ones who haven’t busted, some have taken a while to develop. I asked both Eric and Kiley for Future Value (FV) grades. Eric put Acuna at 65. Kiley gave him a 70. Those are incredibly high ratings, but they also have precedent. Acuna isn’t something baseball has never seen.

What does that mean? We can try to further simplify things, by going to some admittedly complicated math. Last March, Dave wrote a post in which he attempted to value the top 100 prospects. I’m not going to go into detail about the methodology, so for those of you who are curious, you should click through. It’s all based on a number of estimates and assumptions, but values were calculated for prospects with different FV grades. Unsurprisingly, better prospects have been more valuable than worse prospects, and hitting prospects have been more valuable than pitching prospects. But to get right to it: a 65-FV position player was given a $70-million value. A 70-FV position player was given a $107-million value. Extremely valuable players! And this is our Acuna range. You can call it $75 – 100 million. If you want to be really generous, you can call it $75 – 125 million. That’s a rough estimate of how a player like Acuna would project.

Now let’s leave Acuna behind and move to Yelich. There are two things that make Yelich especially valuable. No, sorry, that’s wrong. There are three things. One, Yelich is only newly 26. Two, Yelich is good. Three, Yelich is under contract, for another five years and $58.25 million. Technically, that fifth year isn’t guaranteed, but it’s an affordable club option, so it’s team-friendly. Yelich is controlled between the ages of 26 – 30, and that spans a typical position-player prime.

Over the past three years, Yelich has been an above-average hitter with a combined WAR of 11.4. That puts him around names like Yoenis Cespedes, Robinson Cano, and Matt Carpenter. As far as projections go, I looked at Steamer600, which puts all position players over a common playing-time denominator. Yelich comes in at 3.7 projected WAR, making him a top-30 position player, roughly equivalent to Adrian Beltre and Alex Bregman. Yelich doesn’t rank among the elites, but he’s right there in the second tier, with no shortage of offensive upside.

Just using the numbers from our own internal contract tool, Yelich projects to be worth something like $175 – 200 million over the next five years. Those numbers seem awfully high for a player with a 121 career wRC+. Yet a huge factor here is that Yelich is still so young, so he’s not projected to decline. Jason Heyward was about Yelich’s age when he was a free agent a few years back. I know the Heyward contract doesn’t look good now, but Heyward had a three-year wRC+ of 116. Yelich is at 122. Heyward was and is superior in the field, but defense also isn’t valued so high, and Yelich’s offense feels more reliable. Heyward signed for eight years and $184 million, with two opt-out clauses. Heyward had also been extended a qualifying offer, which meant the Cubs gave up extra value. That was something beyond a $200-million contract, all things considered. Heyward received an enormous payday, in large part because he was available in his mid-20s.

When Justin Upton was older than Yelich is now, he signed for six years and $132.75 million. Upton was also tied to a qualifying offer, and Upton received his own opt-out clause. Upton is considered more of a raw power threat, but ultimately, Upton and Yelich have identical career wRC+ marks. They’ve just gotten there in different ways.

And one can’t ignore that Yelich could still become an even better hitter. There are some shades of Joey Votto in there, and you’ve surely read all about how Yelich generates strong exit velocities, but just hits too many grounders. In that way, he’s not too dissimilar from Eric Hosmer. Yet Yelich has already shown some progress, and to make matters all the more encouraging, he might flourish in another ballpark environment. Since Yelich debuted, he’s ranked in the 64th percentile in terms of wRC+ at home, but he’s ranked in the 94th percentile in terms of wRC+ on the road. Marlins Park doesn’t make it easy for lefties, and Yelich’s extra-base power has already been suppressed.

Yelich is a good young player already, who can hold his own in center field, and he’s both steady and promising. It’s difficult to see how Yelich’s offensive game could fall apart, but it’s not tough at all to see how he could break out. Not that it can be taken for granted, but it’s a part of the whole package, here. Last offseason, the White Sox traded Adam Eaton for three prospects, two of whom were ranked among the better pitching prospects around. Eaton’s five-year commitment was lower than Yelich’s by $20 million, but Eaton was also two years older, and he’s never hit the ball like Yelich does. Eaton’s age and contract made him hugely valuable. Yelich is similar, and younger.

I don’t know if Yelich’s value is more like $75 million, or more like $150 million. It depends on how much you believe in the upside. But no matter the range, the bigger point is that the Yelich range and the Acuna range have significant, if not full overlap. Which makes the Acuna ask sufficiently reasonable. Asking for a lot more, beyond Acuna? Then you’re asking too much. Then the Braves would be losing too much value. But the Marlins aren’t wrong to think Acuna makes sense, and if they can justify an ask for Acuna, they can justify an ask for pretty much any other prospect around. Acuna’s that good.

Again, at the end of the day, the Braves aren’t a perfect fit, because they’re not good yet. As the Braves’ organizational timeline goes, Acuna works better. Makes plenty of sense for the Braves to just sit this one out. The same would go for other rebuilding teams with elite prospects to offer, like the Padres. Yelich is most valuable to a team that’s ready to win in 2018. For those teams, the Marlins’ requests will be steep, but Yelich is worth a remarkable amount. He could pry an elite prospect from, say, the Blue Jays. He could pry an elite prospect from the Astros, or from the Brewers. This is clearly an incomplete list. The best prospects around are nearly untouchable, as they should be, but there are always exceptions to be made. Christian Yelich should probably be one of those exceptions. The Marlins are right to aim high. Yelich is worth it.

We hoped you liked reading Ronald Acuna for Christian Yelich Is Not a Crazy Ask by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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DBRuns
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DBRuns

If you’re the Marlins and you’re going to trade a player with five years of team control to a team in your division that will likely be very good when you’re ready to compete, you better be asking for a lot in return.

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
Member
Roger McDowell Hot Foot

Yeah, I don’t get the skepticism here. If Yelich on a below-market contract for many years isn’t worth a top-5 prospect then, basically, no one is. If the argument is that a prospect like Acuña should be literally untouchable for any team under any circumstance, then… okay, I guess, but it seems like a weird position.

southie
Member
southie

Acuna is Acuna until he is Amed Rosario.

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

Or just, you know, Dansby Swanson.

Damaso
Member
Damaso

no one is? there are many many better players than yelich. elite players. like Sale.

a good contract is just a good contract.

Buzzed27
Member
Member
Buzzed27

Dave Cameron’s mid-season trade value rankings had Yelich as the 27th most valuable player in baseball from a trade perspective. To that point in the season Yelich had a 104 wRC+ for 2017. From that point on he had a 128 wRC+ finishing the season very strong. Coming off back to back 4.5 win seasons with 4 years of control, all under 30, plus a team option for his age 30 season, he has an insane amount of present value with little to no regression expected for the duration of his deal. Yelich is signed for 4/43 guaranteed or 5/58 with the option. If he was a FA now he’d reach Heyward’s contract easily and probably higher.

He’s very likely a top 20 value asset in baseball.

pepper69fun
Member
pepper69fun

I think the Braves’ point is that they are not one player away. They need to be adding as much talent as possible and need to seek a framework that keeps Acuna (talent) and adds Yelich (talent). Miami is posturing. They aren’t going to get the deal here they want to get and they know it. However, they’d had enough bad press at this point to try and aim high for the public relations aspect.

Cool Lester Smooth
Member
Cool Lester Smooth

There is no framework where that happens, though.

Yelich is so absurdly valuable that Miami doesn’t have to trade him, because he’ll still fetch a top 5 prospect next season.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

I think it’s pretty obvious to most observers that they don’t have to trade him. But I think it is very likely that they will anyway. Between bluffing to Stanton about the no-trade clause and the documented desire to get the opening day payroll down, it is likely that everyone thinks they will trade him and no one will be convinced otherwise.

According to reports, there are something like 12-15 teams interested in Yelich to some degree right now. I think it is pretty likely that by mid-February the team with the high bid gets him.

Cool Lester Smooth
Member
Cool Lester Smooth

The issue with this logic, of course, is that trading Yelich has no real effect on the payroll.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Unless you think they can give away Brad Ziegler or Starlin Castro (both which are big maybes) or are willing to use Bour or Realmuto to dump a bad contract (maybe, but only because the Marlins aren’t very bright and desperate) Yelich is the only way they can get to the payroll they promised investors.

In fact, dumping Yelich is almost exactly the amount they need to get to the target payroll ($85-90 million), which I strongly suspect they’re going to make one way or the other because pissing off investors is not a good situation.

I would also argue that you overestimate the desire of the Marlins to make good baseball moves relative to cutting payroll beyond $85 million but that’s mostly a difference of interpretation.

Dave T
Member
Member
Dave T

If we’re saying that $85-$90 million is a 25-man Opening Day payroll target, I’m seeing minimal pressure to deal Yelich to meet it. Cot’s puts that figure at about $94 million right now. Yelich makes $7 million this year, then increasing by a couple million bucks each year after 2018.

Castro and Ziegler make a combined $20 million in 2017. It should be easy to move half or more of that money – maybe all or almost all of Castro’s $11 million – by eating some of those contracts. Realmuto’s estimated Arb1 is ~$4 million, and he’s a trade asset.

And I think the other key for the Marlins is that they’ve got payroll naturally headed down after 2018 as Volquez, Ziegler, and Tazawa (combined $29 million) come off the books, then Prado ($15 million in 2019) and Castro ($12 million in 2019) are gone after 2019.

The team is naturally looking to trade any of those guys, as well as Realmuto and Bour (estimated Arb1 of $3.5 million in 2018,) if any attractive offers are available. “Attractive offers” could be defined as other teams taking on all (or most) of the contracts of the higher-paid guys or prospects offered for the arb year guys. My point here is that the Marlins’ 2019 payroll already looks lower than 2018 as of commitments today, and 2019 (and probably 2018) payroll both look to go lower still as anyone and everyone is available for prospects.

I do think Lester’s a bit too sanguine in saying that Yelich still has value after 2018. It’s one less year of control, a bad year in 2018 could hurt his value, or an injury (less likely than for a pitcher, but still some concern) could hurt his value. I don’t think that 2018 savings are much of a driver of timing, though. I’d put it third on the list behind both loss of control years and (I think) the negative ongoing PR risk of Yelich and his agent constantly criticizing the team in interviews.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Cot’s is likely wrong on the arb numbers. It’s about $98 million.

They could easily dump Ziegler and Castro if they ate half the money on each and that would get them into the $85-90 million range, pretty much perfectly. Is that better or worse for optics than trading Yelich for 75 cents on the dollar? Probably a little better, but then they have to eat money which a lot of owners hate.

We both know the best thing for the team is to walk away, hold the asset, and tell other teams to come back when they can do better…but I think they are probably not just looking for the best baseball deal. They’re looking to please their investors because they are still looking for more right now.

pepper69fun
Member
pepper69fun

“The issue with this logic, of course, is that trading Yelich has no real effect on the payroll.” which is the reason the Marlins should be considering attaching a bad salary to Yelich. trading Yelich for a top five prospect has no real effect on the payroll, right? Getting rid of Chen does.

pepper69fun
Member
pepper69fun

Actually, Yelich will never be more valuable than he is right now. Every year that goes by, erodes the number of years the acquiring team gets to have him. If no one is willing to give up a top five prospect, then Miami is never getting a top five prospect. Hence, he’s not worth a top five prospect. You might think a team *should* pay that price, but no one is going to do that. Miami can hold a disgruntled player. Miami can trade talent for talent, but it will not be a top five guy coming back, but a collection of lesser talents. Miami can trade for salary cap relief, with a much lesser group of talent coming back. Those are the options. Getting a top five guy like Acuna is NOT an option in the real world.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

The deadline premium can be worth more than a half-season of control, although I admit that is more true for pitchers than hitters.

Cool Lester Smooth
Member
Cool Lester Smooth

Right.

Just like how the White Sox should have traded Quintana last offseason!

After all, if they weren’t getting offers for an Eloy-type prospect that offseason, they were never going to get them!

The simple fact is that Yelich’s absurd surplus value means that the loss of a year of control doesn’t meaningfully change the value the Marlins can demand in a package.

No team’s need for Yelich and ability to pay for him lining up currently does not mean that those two factors won’t align in the future.

It’s both silly and ahistorical to pretend otherwise.

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

The OF market is extremely cold right now. After Bryce Harper signs for a record contract next offseason, the OF market will heat up. Yelich will still be young and cheap in 2019 and will maybe even prove that he is more than a 4-WAR player with a breakout 2018. It is not close to a foregone conclusion that Yelich’s trade value is at its peak right now.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

I guess? But Yelich can also do worse than he did this year, and it’s probably about the same probability as doing better at his age.

On the other hand, if the Marlins walk away from the bargaining table like the White Sox did last year, it would re-establish the Marlins’ trade position going forward.

I generally think teams should be more willing to walk away. This isn’t a one-off trade, it’s setting the marker for what you are willing to expect in future trades too. So far the Marlins’ returns haven’t inspired that.

Cool Lester Smooth
Member
Cool Lester Smooth

Hell, Yelich makes a lot of sense as a Harper replacement, should he leave Washington, and the Nats have enough committed to this window to suck up the risk of making an intradivision trade (if Soto continues to be a beast).