Last week, I took up the mantle from Dave Cameron and published this site’s 11th annual Trade Value series. If you’re new to the concept, the Trade Value series represents an attempt to rank the most valuable assets in baseball, accounting for each player’s current skill level, age, and health while factoring in controllable years or contract status (with lots of advice from scouts and execs). Few, if any, of the players are likely to be traded in reality; however, the rankings represent an opportunity to see how the industry is and isn’t valuing players.
An unusual thing happened in this year’s series — namely, the top two spots in the rankings went to a pair teammates, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. By my reckoning, the combined eight years for which their contracts are controlled by Cleveland are worth around $385 million*. They’re incredibly valuable.
*To arrive at this figure, I used ZiPS projected WAR, projected dollar-per-WAR inflation, discounted values for years further into the future, and a linear concept of dollar-per-WAR. This is more of a ballpark number since clubs on either extreme of the payroll spectrum may value each win much more or less than the average team that’s assumed in this sort of calculation.
In the wake of this year’s edition, I began thinking: would any clubs have sufficient ammunition for Cleveland even to consider a possible trade of Lindor and Ramirez? As with the Trade Value series itself, this is mostly a hypothetical question. The Indians, as a contending club, have little incentive to deal two of the majors’ best players. Still, I was curious if any club could put together enough assets even to make it possible.
I wanted to answer the question with some measure of reality, so a package of 30 players with a value of $386 million isn’t acceptable as an offer in this scenario. On the other side of the ledger, lining up 10 solid assets probably wouldn’t make sense for the club acquiring Lindor and Ramirez. They would be clearing out all their quality depth for two players, and no team has that much quality, controllable depth. The Indians are a competing team, so trading for significant non MLB-ready assets with their two best players doesn’t really make sense.
Cleveland has some intangible value to both players, given their homegrown roots, just like the Angels are aware that they would get awful PR even if they found a “fair” trade of Mike Trout. For this exercise, we’re ignoring those emotions and PR, assuming the Indians are cold, rational actors.
That means we’re looking for a package that exceeds $385 million in as few assets as possible, emotions aside for both clubs, as the bar to clear to start a hypothetical conversation (that will never happen). I’ve ranked Cleveland’s options loosely and subjectively, based on the offer and amount of alternative options.
The Yankees are first by a mile in this race: there’s still C Gary Sanchez, 3B Miguel Andujar, two shorter-term options in SS Didi Gregorius and CF Aaron Hicks, the whole bullpen, etc. You could argue in this scenario that the Indians would want a second infield replacement in either Gregorius or Andujar, in which case Cleveland could send something else back the Yankees way. That said, we aren’t trying to make the deal super realistic — I don’t see why the Yankees or any below team would do these deals — it’s more of a math problem.
The Astros have RF Kyle Tucker (No. 50) and also give a possibly more attractive deal with direct, elite replacements for Cleveland along with an elite outfielder, which fills one of the weaker spots in their lineup for the immediate, contending future. This three-player package doesn’t have the controllable years of the Yankees’ package, so it’s a little less attractive.
Depending on your definition of MLB-ready, the Braves (like the Yankees) have a wealth of mid-tier assets in 3B Johan Camargo (NR), CF Ender Inciarte (HM), LHR A.J. Minter (NR), LHP Sean Newcomb (HM), and SS Dansby Swanson (NR). In addition, the top of their prospect list, which includes a number of players in the upper levels that could be considered MLB-ready or soon-to-be: LHP Kolby Allard, LHP Max Fried, LHP Luiz Gohara, 3B Austin Riley, RHP Mike Soroka, RHP Touki Toussaint, RHP Bryse Wilson, and RHP Kyle Wright.
This doesn’t include a ton of controllable years, nor a replacement at shortstop or third base, but it’s a very strong package, even without 3B Rafael Devers (No. 45) and SS Xander Bogaerts (NR) included.
The Nationals still have plenty more to work with in a deal, like a short-term 3B Anthony Rendon (NR) and a well-compensated RHS Max Scherzer (No. 41), but Cleveland would have to choose between getting less control, less established performance or more added salary.
Among the honorable-mention clubs that could probably make an attractive enough package for Cleveland, it would clearly take more than three players, gets even more unrealistic for the other team, or the depth of total options to consider is very short:
Los Angeles Angels
The top three here of CF Mike Trout (No. 4), RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani (No. 30), and SS Andrelton Simmons (No. 37) is strong, but it’s unclear what the next piece would be. Maybe Cleveland doesn’t mind waiting on the upside of RF Jo Adell (NR) or they want another starter, like lefties Andrew Heaney (NR) or Tyler Skaggs (NR). There would be some added value here — even without accounting for the value of the players — by acquiring the best player in baseball, the top young talent from Japan, and arguably the best defender of this generation.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have a strong top three assets in SS Corey Seager (No. 13), 1B Cody Bellinger (No. 26), and RHP Walker Buehler (No. 40), with RF Alex Verdugo (NR) as probably the next piece, but this team is composed more of well-paid vets or role players who aren’t seen as premium assets per se.
Obviously with 3B Kris Bryant (No. 11), C Willson Contreras (No. 28), 1B Anthony Rizzo (No. 38), 2B Javier Baez (HM),SS Addison Russell (HM), and 1B Kyle Schwarber (HM), there’s plenty of talent here. It just isn’t elite enough asset-wise to make with just three players.
Philly has another strong top-50 caliber top three in RHP Aaron Nola (No. 21), 1B Rhys Hoskins (No. 34), and CF Odubel Herrera (No. 43) with additional pieces that include mostly former prospects who haven’t quite broken out yet at the big-league level.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.