What I Learned From the 2011 Trade Value Series

With the trade deadline a couple of weeks away, baseball is full of discussion about what kinds of players will be on the move and what kinds of players they’ll command in return. As usual, the types of players being made available are players who are headed towards free agency – Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, and Shane Victorino, to name four. However, when the summer trading season rolls around, we like to ask what players actually have the most trade value in baseball right now – in other words, if every player in baseball was available in trade, who would bring back the biggest return for their organization?

I’ve been doing this list for a while — after borrowing the idea from Bill Simmons, who does an NBA style version of this every year — and before putting together the list each summer, I look back at the previous version and try to see where I made some mistakes and what I can learn from how things have gone in the last 12 months. We’ll be rolling out numbers #50-#46 in a few hours, but before we get to this year’s list, let’s look back at last year’s and see lessons we can learn. First, the complete list.

1. Evan Longoria
2. Jose Bautista
3. Troy Tulowitzki
4. Dustin Pedroia
5. Justin Upton
6. Andrew McCutchen
7. Joey Votto
8. Jason Heyward
9. Rickie Weeks
10. Ryan Zimmerman
11. Clayton Kershaw
12. David Price
13. Carlos Santana
14. Felix Hernandez
15. Hanley Ramirez
16. Giancarlo Stanton
17. Brian McCann
18. Jon Lester
19. Justin Verlander
20. Bryce Harper
21. Mike Trout
22. Jay Bruce
23. Tommy Hanson
24. Stephen Strasburg
25. Ubaldo Jimenez
26. Jaime Garcia
27. Buster Posey
28. Ben Zobrist
29. Kevin Youkilis
30. Ian Kinsler
31. Ryan Braun
32. Michael Pineda
33. Tim Lincecum
34. Alexei Ramirez
35. Trevor Cahill
36. Roy Halladay
37. Ricky Romero
38. Yovani Gallardo
39. James Shields
40. Carlos Gonzalez
41. Colby Rasmus
42. Robinson Cano
43. Jacoby Ellsbury
44. Curtis Granderson
45. Matt Wieters
46. Starlin Castro
47. Elvis Andrus
48. Danny Espinosa
49. Alex Avila
50. Brett Gardner

Perhaps this year’s list should be subtitled “Changing of the Guard”, as most of the guys in the top 10 have been stalwarts of this series for several years, but injuries and poor performance dominate the top of the list. For guys like Longoria, Tulowitzki, and Zimmerman, another year with health issues raises questions about long term durability, while guys like Upton, Weeks, and Ramirez are playing but not playing well. Many of the best of the young position players from several years ago have stalled in their development, and are now being passed by younger players who are simply playing at a higher level, and so we’re going to see more turnover at the top of this list than we have in any recent season.

The other changes with this year’s list are probably going to be more along the lines of a shift towards valuing production somewhat more strongly and slightly reducing the emphasis of low cost salaries. I received some feedback from a few friends with MLB teams stating that the previous emphasis on value derived from salary was a bit overstated, as most players worth coveting aren’t going to be cheap for very long. Zimmerman and Votto are good examples of guys who rated well on last year’s list even though they were only a few months away from commanding huge contract extensions, so their effective “low cost” time was already running out.

Pretty much any quality player eligible for arbitration is always on the verge of receiving a significant amount of guaranteed money, so having several years of club control at undefined prices is probably less valuable than I’ve given it credit for in prior years. As such, supremely talented players with big contracts — the Kemps, Brauns, and Verlanders of the world — will be penalized less for making a lot of money on this year’s list than they probably would have been in the past. They might not be the best value in terms of production to salary ratio, but premium players locked up for several years at reasonable salaries are still highly coveted players, and I’ve been convinced that teams would still pay a high price to obtain a star player even if that guy is being paid like a star player. The move towards locking up players before they get to free agency has increased the trade value of highly paid players, and this year’s list attempts to reflect that more than it has in past years.

With all that said, I hope you enjoy this year’s version, and we’ll begin rolling out the list in a couple of hours. Will Evan Longoria maintain his hold on the top spot, or is this the year that there’s finally a more valuable asset in baseball? We’ll cover the players in groups of five, culminating with the top 10 on Friday, and who knows, one of the guys on the list might even get traded while we’re talking about where he ranks.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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11 years ago

Excited am I… I think Longoria’s injury h/x makes him slip this year…

11 years ago
Reply to  ALEastbound

Which has long been the argument why he wasn’t so stupid to sign that contract when he did.

Big Jgkemember
11 years ago
Reply to  MikeS

Ohh, what’s really going to bake your noodle later on is, would Longoria still have gotten hurt if he hadn’t signed a team-friendly extension?