Which Star Player Has the Most Trade Value?

Without going into the likelihood of a trade or the reasons (or lack thereof) behind one, I’m interested in gaining some insight into the relative merits of four star players rumored to be on the block: Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, and Francisco Lindor. We shouldn’t have to go too deeply into the background of each player, as they are four of the very best players in the game, but here are some basics:

Four Stars On the Trade Block?
2020 Age Career PA Career WAR 2019 wRC+ 2019 WAR 2020 WAR
Nolan Arenado 29 4357 31.3 128 5.9 5
Mookie Betts 27 3629 37.2 135 6.6 6.5
Kris Bryant 28 3105 27.8 135 4.8 4.6
Francisco Lindor 26 3244 27.2 114 4.4 5.8

Before we get into questions of trade value, I’d first like to know which player is better right now. This question is asked without regard for contract size or status. I just want to know who everyone thinks is the best player for this season. In order to limit the number of questions asked, and to prevent anyone having to fill anything out, I have laid out all 24 potential rankings below. You just have to choose the one that matches what you believe:

With that out of the way, I’d like to get into the question of trade value. This isn’t a novel question, and I’m not the first person to propose such a poll. If you’d like, you can consult Kiley McDaniel’s trade value series from July. The question below asks you to rank the players by trade value, taking their contract situation into account. Here are the contract breakdowns for each player:

Who Has the Most Trade Value?
Current Contract Years Dollars Free Agent After Opt-Out
Nolan Arenado 7 $234 M 2026 After 2021
Mookie Betts 1 $27 M 2020 No
Kris Bryant 1 $18.6 M 2021 No
Francisco Lindor 1 $17.5 M 2021 No

For these purposes, we’ll assume that Kris Bryant does not win his grievance. The format of the questions is the same, with every possible rank order listed below:

Thank you for all your help. We’ll discuss your responses at the end of the week.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

2 years of Realmuto, a 5-win player, returned an FV55+ in Sixto Sanchez, an FV45+ in Alfaro, and an FV35+ in Stewart. Thus, 2 years of control of

– Lindor, a 6-win player returns an FV60 + FV50 (say, Senzel + Lodolo or Hunter Greene)
– Bryant, a 5.5-win player, returns an FV55+ + FV50
– Arenado, a 5.5-win player with 2-year opt-out, returns a smidge less than Bryant — with a not-so-hot contract going back to Colorado to make up for Arenado’s salary

Ben Clemens thinks the Cards overpaid in giving 2 FV50’s (Weaver & Kelly) for 1-year of 5-win Goldschmidt because they had an extension for him ready. Thus, I think 7-win Betts returns the same + an FV45. At the ASB, he returns more than the FV45+, FV40+, and 2 FV40’s than Machado did. Let’s say an FV50 + an FV40+ at the ASB.

2 years ago
Reply to  Shalesh

Compensation’s relevant, too: Lindor will make the least of the 3 players with 2 years control, because Bryant will be doing Arb4 at the end, and Arenado is signed to an extension, whereas Lindor is playing htis year for 17.5m

I rated them in terms of expected contract surplus value, which is Lindor > Bryant > Betts > Arenado, but if you believe you can hold Arenado through his opt-out, he moves up past at least Betts and possibly Bryant as well.

Lindor, by virtue of having one of those years be his undercompensated Arb2, has by far the most surplus value of these 4 players.

2 years ago
Reply to  mikejunt

Disagree on compensation being important beyond my accounting for an at least semi-bad contract going back to Colorado for them to achieve a full return on Arenado.

Trades now are made on talent-level. The Surplus Value calculation is not very useful anymore, except as a rule-of-thumb, since you need a comparison to tell you if your surplus value should be in the form of a single FV55 or 2 FV50’s anyway. Instead, use recent comparison trades and then even out the money with direct cash or a bad contract.

Hypothetically speaking, if Arenado had no opt-out, I’d push his value ahead of Bryant, but the # of teams that can trade for him dwindles. I think there’s always a team that can take a 5.5 win player with $200M on his deal, so I don’t think diminished demand hurts his overall trade value too much.

2 years ago
Reply to  Shalesh

That’s demonstrably false, teams very much care about the luxury tax.

2 years ago
Reply to  mikejunt

Serious question: Do teams really care about the luxury tax, or is this just lip service designed to placate the small-market fans?

The reason I ask is that the first tier carries a (relatively) small penalty; you get into big money on the next two tiers. How much do, for example, the Yankees care? I know that $$ don’t necessarily mean winning for a team,, but how does it drive attendance and ancillary revenue streams (TV contract, concession revenue, jersey sales, etc.)?

Thanks in advance.

2 years ago
Reply to  JohnnyRockport

The rich teams have not traditionally compromised their interests to appease the small market teams. I do not think that the teams’ interest in the luxury tax is an appeasement.

It is also clear that the teams will gladly blow past the threshold if they see a benefit (as the Yankees have now, or as the Dodgers did in the past).

I do not think the financial penalties are a significant incentive until a team has racked up the escalating repeater penalties; even the tier 3 penalty is not significant enough in terms of dollar outlay, but when you have maxed the repeater penalty on top you are paying almost $1 per $1 overage.

What I do think dissuades teams is the draft. Teams, especially the -really- good ones, the Dodgers, Yankees, and others who have fantastic player development, highly value their rare opportunities to pick in the first 100 picks. Because they do not get competitive balance round picks, they only get 2 of these in a normal draft (1st, 2nd round standard picks, due to the compensation & competitive balance rounds).

However, the compensatory picks they receive for Qualifying Offer free agent departures change noticably if they have incurred even the first level of the luxury tax: For example, in 2019, the Dodgers picked 78th in selecting their compensatory pick for Yasmani Grandal leaving them to sign in Milwaukee, because they had been below the tax threshold in 2018. If they had been above the threshold, their compensatory pick would have fallen after the 4th round instead of after the 2nd round: it would have instead been pick #138. Craig has done some good work on the general future value of draft picks, but I believe these teams that have particularly regarded player development hold these top-100 picks in higher regard because they are their only chances to tap into elite talent. You can see the difference between, say, the Dodgers’ ability to help a fringe player become a good major leaguer (Chris Taylor) and that same ability being deployed on an elite, first round talent (Gavin Lux, who is suddenly one of the top 3 prospects in MLB). They get very, very few opportunities to pick that kind of talent.

I believe the Dodgers, for example, intentionally dipped below the tax line because they anticipated the departures of both Ryu and Grandal in free agency (I doubt they expected Ryu to accept their qualifying offer). Getting below the tax line not only saved them actual money, but would upgrade two picks rather significantly.

Because of the repeater penalties, and because of this effect on compensatory picks, I suspect the richest teams are not averse to ever breaking the luxury tax threshold, but usually disinterested in committing to being above it for extended periods, so that they can easily dip down below it when they expect to have free agents entering the marketplace, and to reset the repeater penalties at the same time.

The 3rd-tier nerf to your own inherent draft picks is just icing on the cake that will keep those teams away from the top-tier penalty in all but the most extreme situations. Teams like the Dodgers and Yankees are very committed to building teams with an infinite competitive window, not one that has a finite competitive period that ends when a core reaches free agency. They can only maintain that through very effective drafting and player development, and cannot afford to disadvantage themselves in that area.

I think that the tax is sometimes treated as overblown, but the teams who would be least financially impacted by the luxury tax are the ones who have the most interest in building these permanently-competitive teams, and so have the strongest interest in not maximizing the output of their future draft picks. An extra top 100 pick is quite valuable to their efforts, because they only get a couple shots at that kind of talent each year, and, given most prospects don’t make it, they need as many shots as possible in order to hit gold. Those compensatory picks also have a substantial benefit in their overall draft pool alotments, which increases their ability to leverage the other method by which they acquire elite talent: drafting guys who are committed to college later in the draft and exceeding slot to sign them into professional ball.

The luxury tax structure is designed to save owners money, but it does so by making rational team building decisions ones that happen to save teams money. Too often we act like the choice to follow the incentives is born of individual greed, but in nearly all cases the Dodgers and Yankees do what is rather indisputably in the best interests of their baseball goals (winning 90-95 games every season indefinitely), but the structures of baseball are such that the best way to compete is also to save ownership money.

I think it’s lastly, important to remember that part of why all these incentives exist is that all the revenue streams you mentioned – the ones that would fluctate based on fan excitement (like attendance and merchandise) are no longer the core of team income, and that is why they have been able to create the financial incentive structures they do. Even incredibly popular teams like the Yankees generate most of their revenue from their TV/media contracts. Yes, they take in a lot in ticket sales and merchandise, but a majority of their revenue is fixed and does not fluctuate based on how the team performs. These media rights deals mean that team finances do not suffer the way you would expect when the team has a down season and down attendance (though, frankly, those kinds of teams rarely have either of those to begin with). This decoupling of team revenue incentives from team performance incentives is a big part of the problem with baseball’s economic structure. For example, the Dodgers have a 25 year TV rights deal that currently provides approximately their entire payroll in revenue per season (in excess of $200m annually). And that is to say nothing of the additional value they’re getting because of the way that deal is structured – they own the station on which the games air, and the deal is to put their channel on the cable networks, meaning that they’re also selling the advertising on their air. and that is not at all encapsulated in the rights deal itself. By comparison, the actual ticket revenue, even for MLB-leading 4m annual attendance numbers, starts to look smaller. (they would have to average $50 per ticket just to equal the income from the TV rights deal itself, not accounting for the advertising element at all).

That ended up being quite long, but hopefully helpful.

2 years ago
Reply to  mikejunt

– 2.5 years of Greinke, a 3.5-4 win player, plus $24M returned 2 FV45+, an FV40+
– 2.5 years of Archer, then regarded as a 3.5-win pitcher, returned Meadows & Glasnow — formerly FV60 & FV55 diminished to probably 2 FV50’s
– 1.5 years of 3-win Stroman returns an FV45+ & FV45

So, I think Greinke’s contract did diminish his return relative to Archer’s return. I still consider the Surplus Value arithmetic obsolete and BaseballTradeValues mostly junk.

If I think of other good comparisons, I’ll post them. We really need a trade database searchable by WAR of player and years of control.

2 years ago
Reply to  Shalesh

I wouldn’t use prospect rankings from here or BP to determine what MLB teams consider the FV of prospects. The Pipeline grades are likely closer to how teams would value prospects. A 55 and 2 50s plus a lottery ticket for about 80 SV is pretty damn close.

2 years ago
Reply to  Shalesh

I think there’s some real question about whether Senzel is seen as an FV60 at this point. He’s got one less year of control and is projected for 1.5 wins next year by both Steamer and ZiPs. I also would expect some FV40s to be thrown in too.

2 years ago
Reply to  Shalesh

Bryant is more of a 4.5 win player

2 years ago

Don’t know why this is being downvoted. Bryant is projected to be worth 4.7 WAR by STEAMER.

Betts: 6.6 WAR
Arenado: 4.9 WAR
Lindor: 6.0 WAR

So Bryant is likely worth a lot less than a FV55+ + FV50, and I could understand how some clubs might come to the conclusion Bryant is more likely to be the 2018-2019 version (avg. 3.5 WAR or 4.0 WAR/150) rather than the 2015-2017 version (avg 6.9 WAR).