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2013 Trade Value: Just Missed the Cut

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been preparing the 2013 version of my annual Trade Value list, a project I’ve been doing since 2005 after borrowing the idea from Bill Simmons. I moved the trade value list to FanGraphs in 2008, and it’s been an annual series here ever since. If you missed our retrospective on last year’s list, you can review the entire list, and the lessons we might be able to learn from those names, in this post from Friday.

Coming in a few hours, we’ll introduce the first five players — well, I guess, technically the last five, since we’re working in reverse order — and we’ll do ten players per day all week, culminating in the top five on Friday afternoon. However, before we get into the guys who made the list, I figured it would be worthwhile to do a post on the guys who just missed the cut. This was a tough list to crack, and there were a lot of high quality players who just ended up on the outside of the bubble for one reason or another.

Rather than turning all future posts into a discussion of guys who haven’t yet appeared, this post will hopefully answer some questions as to why a player won’t appear on in the rest of the series. And it isn’t because I hate your favorite team. I promise. In fact, a lot of the guys who just missed the cut are personal favorites of mine, and most of them made some previous iteration of the list before I finalized the order. But, with only 50 spots, someone had to just miss the cut. Here are the guys who didn’t quite make it.

The Last Cut

Max Scherzer

I went back and forth on Scherzer a lot. He’s developed into a legitimate #1 starter at 28-years-old, and is probably the odds on favorite to win the AL Cy Young at this point. His walks are down, his strikeouts are up, and he’s even pitching deeper into games now that he’s become more efficient with his pitches. There’s nothing to not like here.

Except for his remaining years of team control. Or year, really. Unless the Tigers can get him signed to a now very pricey contract extension, Scherzer will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Teams would absolutely love to acquire Scherzer, and they’d pay through the nose to get him, but the trade returns of previous players traded with just a year and change left on their deals isn’t so great. As free agency grows this close, teams begin to balk at surrendering elite young talent for what amounts to a slightly longer term rental.

Scherzer’s dominant 2013 season is going to put him in the catbird seat this winter. He’ll either be able to extract a mint from the Tigers, or he’ll be just one year away from hitting the open market. And that would be enough to scare teams off from trading any of the 50 guys who will appear on the list for him. As good as Scherzer is, the looming free agency would do a serious number on his trade value, and pushes him just off the list.

The Infielders Who May or May Not Hit

Brett Lawrie, Matt Carpenter, Josh Donaldson, Andrelton Simmons, Jose Iglesias, Didi Gregorius, Everth Cabrera, Brandon Crawford, Howie Kendrick, Jedd Gyorko

This is a mixture of different kinds of players, but in the end, I couldn’t convince myself that any of them were definitely going to hit well enough going forward to be consistent impact players in the future. All of them have shown the potential to be terrific all-around players, playing skill positions while also contributing offensively, sometimes in a big way. A few of them are among the absolute best defensive players in the game, and don’t even need to be good hitters in order to be fantastically valuable.

But, as I noted on Friday, this is the kind of player that I was probably a little too aggressive in ranking a year ago. Lawrie, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar were all representatives of this “they’re great if they hit” group last summer, and since that list was published, we’ve seen all three really struggle at the plate.

These guys are mostly high floor, low risk players because of what they can do to help a team win even when the offense isn’t there, but the future of their offensive performance is really what would drive them to be high value players, and in each case, it’s a question that hasn’t been fully answered yet. I’d imagine that several of these players will keep hitting well over the next year and prove they belonged all along, but picking out which ones will hit and which ones won’t is not an easy job. There’s a lot of valuable players here, but there’s offensive question marks as well, and I think those questions would — for now — limit their value until the track record is a little bit stronger.

The Under-Powered Corners

Freddie Freeman, Alex Gordon, Kyle Seager

These guys are very good players who probably would have made the list if they had accumulated their value in a different manner. They’re all valuable assets, but they each play a corner position, and they get a lot of their value from non-HR events. The traditional mindsets about power at the corners is still pervasive in many front offices, and teams are less interested in giving up value for doubles, walks, and defense from a position where they’ve been trained to look for long balls.

Eventually, these predetermined roles for positions will fade away, and players will just be viewed for their overall contribution rather than how well they conform to a mold, but trade value reflects the market as it is, and the market still puts a significant premium on power. Freeman and Seager are young enough to think that perhaps they might develop more as they get older — and to be fair to Seager, he’s already showing more home run ability in the first half of 2013 — but I can’t quite see them getting commanding a king’s ransom with their current set of skills, even as those skills make them very good players.

Get On Base, Then We’ll Talk

Domonic Brown, Adam Jones, Jay Bruce, Yoenis Cespedes

Just because the market values power doesn’t mean it doesn’t penalize you for making a lot of outs. These are four of the most dynamic outfielders in the game from a tools perspective, and each of them have shown tremendous raw power. It’s easy to dream about what all of them could be. It is hard to overlook what each of them is at the moment, and that is a power hitter who simply doesn’t get on base enough to truly be an elite offensive force.

As a center fielder, Jones doesn’t have to be a top notch hitter, but defensive metrics have never loved his defense and he’s only getting older. Given that he now has a pretty nice paycheck, the bar is higher for Jones than others, and offensively, he’s not quite clearing it.

Brown, Bruce, and Cespedes are cheaper, but come with their own warts. Brown’s big league track record is very short, and as a corner outfielder, his .320 OBP doesn’t cut it. Bruce, now 26-years-old, hasn’t really improved in the last four years, and is starting to reach the stage where he looks like he is what he is. Cespedes has regressed from his dynamite rookie season, and only has two years left on his contract before he hits free agency, as he negotiated an early out in order to sign with the A’s. Teams would love to have any of these four players, but their various warts push them just outside the top 50.

Pitchers Give Me Trust Issues

Jordan Zimmermann, Derek Holland, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Minor, Doug Fister

These guys are terrific young pitchers. They’ve all pitched at near-ace level for a while now. But man, pitchers. They get hurt. Their stuff goes away. They forget how to throw strikes. They’re all one pitch away from being worthless. The house is sparkly, but the foundation is grains of sand held together by leftover Elmer’s glue. I’d love to have all of them, but I don’t trust any of them as long term building blocks, and I think Major League teams would rather not pay a premium for not-quite-elite pitchers either.

I Have No Idea What To Do With You

Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp

Last year, these guys ranked #6 and #7 respectively; this year, I’m not putting either one in the Top 50. I’m sure there are teams out there who would gamble on Braun avoiding suspension and Kemp’s shoulder healing, but I have no idea what they’d pay in order to take those risks, especially considering that both of them have over $100 million in future commitments still coming their way.

Maybe in a year, BioGenesis will be behind us and Kemp will look like an MVP again, and omitting two of the game’s premier talents will look stupid. Right now, though, I just can’t imagine a Major League GM having the stones to give up serious talent in order to acquire either of these guys. It would take some kind of serious conviction that their present problems are temporary, and I just don’t know how you have that conviction from afar. So, this year, with their issues currently front and center, both fall short. What the future looks like for these two, I just don’t think we know, and given their contracts, it just seems like too much to ask a team to absorb that kind of high priced unknown.

Others Who Fell Off The List

Jered Weaver, Mike Moustakas, Justin Upton, Joey Votto, Dylan Bundy, Ian Kinsler, Mark Trumbo, Pablo Sandoval, Matt Wieters, Johnny Cueto, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, Ben Zobrist, Robinson Cano, Alcides Escobar, Matt Cain, Yovani Gallardo, Elvis Andrus

Votto was the only one of this group that was particularly close to making it, but since the 2012 list was published, he missed most of last season’s second half with a knee injury, has hit for less power, and had the most team friendly part of his contract expire. The rest have either had performance or injury issues over the last calendar year, or in Cano’s case, gotten so close to free agency that their trade value has been significantly diminished.

Coming Later Today: #50-#46 and #45-#41