We begin with the last five spots on the list. These guys are all excellent players, but they come with some concerns either about their contract, health, or future performance. Teams would love to have any of them, but there are reasons to think that some would hesitate or back away entirely even if these players were made available. They would have significant appeal to a few clubs, but not the broad appeal to start off a league wide bidding war. On to the list.
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Under Team Control Through 2015: Arbitration
While Jackson hasn’t been as good as he was a year ago, he’s still an extremely athletic 26-year-old with a pretty strong performance record. Whether he can consistently hit for enough power to be a true star remains to be seen, but his contact rate improvements have made that less of a necessity. He’s already a very good player, but there remains additional upside beyond what he’s done this season.
The two years of team control are the big stickler here, and why he just snuck onto the list. Any team trading for Jackson would get his age-27 and age-28 seasons at a legitimate discount, given that he doesn’t do the types of things that pay huge money in arbitration, and would have be acquiring the right to try and sign him long term. Without that kind of security, though, Jackson’s value is somewhat limited, but his relatively low HR/SB totals could make a multi-year deal with Jackson possible at a reasonable price.
Unless Detroit gets him to sign that kind of deal, though, this is likely Jackson’s last appearance on the Trade Value list. He’s getting closer to the point where he’d be an extended rental, and with Scott Boras as his agent, don’t expect him to pass on free agency once it gets within spitting distance. For now, though, Jackson’s combination of low salary and high performance earn him the final spot on this year’s list.
Under Team Control Through 2019: $20 million in ’14, $28 million through ’19
This was one of the most difficult ratings of the entire list. The “What’s Wrong With Justin Verlander” narrative seems to be growing, despite the fact that his 3.23 FIP says that he’s just fine. Still, Verlander doesn’t look quite as dominant as he did the last few years, and he is a 30-year-old pitcher with a lot of mileage on his arm and a huge price tag for a long time. Odds are good that the end of his current contract is going to be a bad deal.
However, we cannot just overlook Verlander’s remarkable amount of present value. Even at $20 million next year, he’ll be significantly underpaid, and the value of a legitimate #1 starter remains extremely high given that those players just don’t make it to free agency anymore. There are a lot of teams who wouldn’t be able to carry Verlander’s salary, but there are enough high revenue clubs that could to start a bidding war if the Tigers decided to make him available.
Long term contracts for pitchers generally work out poorly, and Justin Verlander might be showing signs of decline. However, even during his “struggles”, he’s still among the game’s best hurlers, and his value over the next few years outweighs the potential albatross nature of his deal at the back end. With money flowing into the game, teams can afford to pay the best players in the game, and Verlander remains a difference maker.
|34||399||5.5 %||10.5 %||.316||.358||.543||.386||140||0.7||-1.9||3.3|
Under Team Control Through 2016: $17 million, $18 million, $16 million voidable option
It’s easy to still think of Beltre as a glove first third baseman who also hits sometimes, but since the start of the 2010 season, he has a 139 wRC+, good for 12th best in all of baseball. That’s a better mark that Giancarlo Stanton has put up during the same stretch, if you want some context. Beltre has developed into one of the best hitters in the sport, but it hasn’t come at the cost of the rest of his value. As an all around player, Beltre has few peers, combining MVP level offense with stellar defense at third base.
If he was younger or cheaper, he’d probably be in the top 10, but this ranking reflects the reality that he is 34-years-old and due either $35 million over the next two seasons or $51 million over the next three. For his level of production, the price is still a huge steal, but there aren’t a lot of players that can maintain +6 WAR paces into their mid-30s, and Beltre should probably be expected to slow down in the not too distant future.
However, the contract isn’t so expensive or so long that it would prohibit a team from acquiring a true star who would represent a monstrous upgrade in the present. Beltre might not have as much long term value as everyone else on this list, but his short term value is immense, and would require a significant bidding war to get him from the Rangers.
Under Team Control Through 2015: Arbitration
Last year, Justin Upton was the guy on the list that we all knew was going to get traded, testing the market for his skills. This year, Price is that guy, as he’s very likely to be moved this winter, as his arbitration payout will price him out of the Rays budget. So, we’re going to find out in a few months exactly what Price’s trade value actually is.
My guess is that the price is going to be extremely high. Price’s mid-season DL stint hurt him somewhat, and his rapidly escalating arbitration payouts thanks to Super Two status have already made him expensive, but for a risk averse team that wants a #1 starter and doesn’t want to commit a couple hundred million to get one, Price might be a very enticing option.
At probably something in the neighborhood of $35 million in arbitration payouts before he hits free agency, Price isn’t low cost, but he’s easily capable of providing a lot of value beyond those salaries before he hits the open market. The question will be how whether a team is willing to bet big on a premium arm who both spent time on the DL and showed significant velocity loss. How he pitches in the second half may go a long way to establishing his trade value, but we don’t have the luxury of knowing how that’s going to turn out at this point.
So, for now, Price slots in towards the bottom of the list. There are red flags here, but there’s also a ton of upside. The trade market for him should be fascinating.
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Under Team Control Through 2017: Pre-Arb, Arbitration
Jennings might be the quietest star player in baseball. After spending his first few years playing next to B.J. Upton, he’s now taken over center field full time, and he continues to progress as a hitter at the same time. While he falls into the category of guys with somewhat mixed offensive track records, he’s over 1,000 plate appearances of above average offense and hasn’t yet turned 27-years-old.
The contract is a significant part of his value as well. He’s still got another year of league minimum play, as the Rays kept him in the minors long enough that he should avoid Super Two status, and then he has three arbitration years to go before he gets to free agency. That leaves Jennings with four low cost seasons, coming from ages 27-30, as a terrific athlete who is showing real offensive promise.
There’s enough variance in his game that he could go either direction on this list. The upside is there for him to turn into Andrew McCutchen Lite and be among the most valuable players in the game. If the power disappears again, he might end up in the pile of +3 WAR players just on the outside looking in. But, the speed and defense aren’t going anywhere any time soon, and Jennings athleticism gives him enough of a boost to get him onto the back end of the list. Where he’ll be in a year depends on how much of his current power he can sustain.
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