The Trade Value series has it’s grand finale today, as we’ll wrap up the final 20 spots on the list with two posts this morning, and then I’ll be around to chat about the list at noon. Jonah Keri will then be by at 3:30 for his regular Monday chat, so don’t worry, you can still talk bagels and poutine later today.
On to the penultimate 10.
Rank – Player – Position – Team – Past 3 Calendar Year WAR
#20 – Bryce Harper, OF, Washington: +0.0 WAR
I have a feeling Harper and Mike Trout will be linked together for most of their careers, and while I did not set out to put them next to each other on this list, I’m not overly surprised that they ended up side by side. Both are extremely good young talents, and while Harper’s probably the higher upside guy, he is just in Double-A, and his game is raw enough that he might not provide value at the big league level for a few more years. But talents like Harper don’t come along often, and even contending teams would give up the farm to have Harper in their system.
#19 – Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit: +20.4
If the list was just players coveted for their on field abilities, I’m not sure how many pitchers would rate ahead of Verlander. He’s the classic ace with a power fastball and a big knockout breaking ball. He’s exactly what scouts want in a pitcher, and there’s no mystery to how he’s able to dominate or concern that it might go away any time soon. At 28, he’s in the prime of his career and getting better. Only Roy Halladay has been significantly better over the last three years. At $20 million per season for each of the next three years, his contract isn’t an anchor, but the salary is high enough to knock a lot of teams out of the running. He’d still command a huge return from the teams who could afford him, however.
#18 – Jon Lester, SP, Boston: +16.1
Premium pitching continues to be in high demand, and there are few better southpaws in the game than Lester. He’s established himself as a consistent front-of-the-rotation guy, and at just 27-years-old, he’s showing no signs of slowing down. His contract includes two more years at a total of $19 million guaranteed and then a $13 million club option that is a lock to be picked up unless his arm falls off. If he were a free agent, he’d get double the AAV for twice as many years as he’s currently getting paid, and the Red Sox know that they have one of the game’s best bargains in terms of starting pitching.
#17 – Brian McCann, C, Atlanta: +13.7
It’s taken awhile (and an injury to Joe Mauer), but we can finally anoint McCann as the best catcher in baseball. He has a terrific all-around game, hitting for average and power, taking his walks, and being an asset behind the plate for the Braves. With the downturn in offense output over the last few years, a guy like McCann is even more valuable because of the relative difference between what he can give you and what other teams are getting from their catchers. Even though he only has two years left on his contract after 2011, he’s owed only $20 million over those two years, and his present value is extremely high. The Braves won’t part with him, but it would take a monster offer to even get them to not hang up the phone.
#16 – Mike Stanton, OF, Florida: +5.2
Yes, Stanton strikes out a lot. Yes, he’s a corner outfielder with a career on base percentage of .328. If you focus on Stanton’s flaws, you might just miss the fact that he’s already a good big league player at the same age that most of his peers are trying to break into high-A ball. His prodigious power and athleticism help him overcome the raw aspects of his approach at the plate. As he gets older and learns to control the strike zone a bit more, Stanton has the potential to be one of the game’s best hitters. Given his current usefulness and his upside beyond what he is now, the line would be out the door to acquire Stanton’s services for the next five years. He’s one guy you can be pretty sure the Marlins aren’t going to trade, however.
#15 – Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida: +16.4
Ramirez was another tough one to place. On the one hand, he’s a 27-year-old shortstop with a career 136 wRC+, nearly an impossible combination to find anywhere else in the sport. On the other hand, a lot of teams don’t think he’s going to stay at shortstop much longer, his power has been going in reverse for the last four years, and he’s fought with just about every manager he’s had down in Florida. There is some feeling in the game that Ramirez’s best days are behind him, even despite his young age, and that any team who traded for the 3 years and $47 million left on his deal would be getting a guy who should move to the outfield but might not be willing to put in the work to make it happen. He’s too good to be any lower than this, but realistically, Ramirez’s perceived attitude problems have probably cost him 5-10 spots from where he should be based on his talent level.
#14 – Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle: +17.7
Perhaps the key number here is 25 – Felix’s current age. Despite being the reigning AL Cy Young winner and a guy with over 1,300 career innings in the big leagues, Felix is still one of the youngest guys on this list. He’s matured into an all-around ace and has shown he can handle a Halladay-esque workload. The only thing that will stop Felix from being one of the best pitchers in baseball for a long time is an injury. He’s no longer cheap at $58 million for the next three seasons, but that’s a fraction of his market value, and if the Mariners ever do decide to trade their ace, the haul will be astronomical.
#13: Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland: +4.3
In the first 134 games he’s played in the big leagues, Santana has racked up +4.3 WAR, a fantastic total for any player. That he’s done it while posting a .260 BABIP is even more incredible, and suggests that his still-terrific batting line might be underselling just how good he really is at the plate. He’s a switch-hitting catcher with power and patience who still makes good contact, and he’s a good enough defender to stay behind the plate for some time as well. Santana has the skills to be an MVP candidate going forward, and he’s already in the discussion for best catcher in the American League. Oh, and the Indians control his rights for another five years.
#12: David Price, LHP, Tampa Bay: +9.0
After a couple of years of struggling with the strike zone, Price has finally found his command and has developed into the ace that everyone expected him to be as the #1 pick in the draft. He’s dominating primarily with just his fastball, and if he improves his secondary stuff, he has best-pitcher-in-the-game potential. His salaries will begin to shoot northward once he becomes arbitration eligible, but with four more years of team control, he’s a cost-controlled asset that every team in baseball would love to have.
#11: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles: +14.0
The highest rated pitcher on the list, Kershaw has become a true front-line starting pitcher at age 23. He’s cut his walk rate, upped his strikeout rate, and continues to maintain his below average rates on BABIP and HR/FB. The flaws that could be nitpicked the last few years are mostly gone, and now Kershaw is just a lights-out left-hander who is legitimately one of the best pitchers in baseball. As an arbitration eligible guy this winter, he’s going to start to get paid for his success, but his salaries will still just be a small fraction of what he would get on the open market. Given his age and current performance, I don’t think any other hurler in baseball has more trade value than Kershaw.