2014 Trade Value: #20 – #11

Welcome to the fourth part of this year’s Trade Value series. If you haven’t already, read the intro and get yourself acquainted with what question this is trying to answer, as well as an incomplete list of guys who missed the cut for one reason or another. You can see all the posts in the series here.

A few quick notes on the columns listed for each player. After the normal biographical information, I’ve listed Projected WAR, which is essentially a combination of ZIPS and Steamer’s current rest-of-season forecasts extrapolated out to a full-season’s worth of playing time. For non-catcher position players, this is 600 plate appearances; catchers are extrapolated to 450 PAs. For pitchers, this is extrapolated to 200 innings. It is not their 2014 WAR, or their last calendar year WAR; it is a rough estimate of what we might expect them to do over a full-season, based on the information we have now.

For contract status, we have two pieces of information. “Controlled Through” includes all years before a player accumulates enough time to be eligible for free agency, all guaranteed years of a contract already signed, and any years covered by team options that could be exercised in the future. Player options and mutual options are not included, as the assumption is that players of this caliber will generally opt-out of their current contracts if given the chance.

The “Contract Dollars” column includes the base salaries of each player in the controlled years going forward, starting from 2015 — the 40% of 2014 salary remaining is not included in the calculation — including the value of team options, since we’re assuming that they will be picked up. In many cases, players have incentives for various accomplishments that affect the base salaries, but those are not accounted for here, simply because of the tedious work of calculating all those incentive prices and the fact that $100,000 for an All-Star appearance or $500,000 for an MVP-finish there aren’t going to change the overall calculations. This column is not an exact representation of their future earnings, but should be close enough for our purposes.

For players who are under team control but not under guaranteed contract, I’ve listed out which arbitration years they still have remaining. There are a few players who have both guaranteed contracts and arbitration eligibility remaining, but we’ll deal with those cases in the article when a simple line in the chart doesn’t explain their situation perfectly.

Finally, “Last Year” notes where a player was ranked on this list last year, or if he wasn’t on the 2013 Trade Value series, then he is denoted as unranked. As you can imagine, there’s a lot more turnover at the end of the list than the beginning.

Now, for the upper-middle class of the list.

Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year
20 Adam Wainwright 32 STL SP 3.9 2018 $78,000,000 23

Groove-gate aside, Wainwright is having another fantastic season, and he’s probably going to give Clayton Kershaw a run for his money in the final NL Cy Young tally. Unlike Kershaw, and most other pitchers at this level, Wainwright is downright affordable, having signed a below market deal to stay in St. Louis, so he’ll make just under $20 million per season for the next four years. For one of the best pitchers in baseball, that’s a pretty significant bargain.

But there are some cracks starting to show in the armor. His strikeout rate and groundball rate are both down slightly this year, and he’s generating the lowest infield fly rate of his career. He’s not going to sustain either the .250 BABIP or the 3.3% HR/FB ratio, and given that he’s pushing 33, the end of the contract might not be so great.

But there’s still a tremendous amount of short-term value here. Over the next couple of years, few elite players in the game will be able to match Wainwright’s value.

Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year
19 Felix Hernandez 28 SEA SP 5.7 2019 $129,000,000 22

Minor spoiler: there are only two players on this entire list with a projected WAR higher than Felix’s +5.7, and both of those guys are going to appear in tomorrow’s top 10. In terms of pure on-field value, Hernandez has a case to be 10 spots higher, but we can’t ignore the $130 million elephant in the room. He’s a great pitcher being paid like a great pitcher, and his salary would eliminate a decent amount of teams from the bidding before it even began.

But for a well-financed team looking to acquire a franchise pitcher, it’s hard to do much better than this. He’s as close to a perfect pitcher as there is in the American League, combining sheer dominance with remarkable durability. Even as his fastball has gotten slower, he’s gotten better, leaning more heavily on the best change-up in the game. He’s even solved his early-career command issues, and has now lowered his walk rate for the fourth consecutive year.

The only reason he ranks this low is the contract. $26 million a year is a lot of money, and that kind of price-tag limits the overall value a bit.

Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year
18 Madison Bumgarner 24 SF SP 3.3 2019 $52,000,000 19

I spent too much time trying to figure out the order of these last two, when in reality, a one-spot difference is nothing, and I’m not trying to make any kind of statement by putting Bumgarner ahead of Hernandez. I could easily have flipped them and been just as okay with it. The differences in performance and differences in contractual obligations almost entirely cancel out.

Bumgarner’s more of a good pitcher than a great pitcher, but he’s also just being paid as if he’s an average pitcher. Teams would rather have Hernandez on the mound, but would they pay an extra $15 million per year to have Hernandez instead? The projected win difference here is about +2.5 WAR, so the extra wins that Hernandez adds are priced at about $6 million apiece, or pretty close to the recent market rate for wins. Maybe you can argue that Hernandez’s wins are extra valuable because they don’t require another spot, but then, you could argue that the risk is much higher because you’re tying those extra wins up in a single pitcher’s health.

Whether you prefer great and expensive or good and reasonably priced is probably a matter of taste. Bumgarner probably isn’t quite in the same league as the previous two pitchers or a couple that are still to come, but he’s a heck of a lot cheaper. Every team in baseball could afford Madison Bumgarner, which can’t be said of some of the other players in this tier.

Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year
17 Josh Donaldson 28 OAK 3B 4.5 2018 Arb1 – Arb4 Unranked

Speaking of difficult players to rank, Donaldson was one of the more challenging players to place on the list. He was one of the game’s elite players last year, combining elite offense with high quality defense to become the year’s biggest breakout star. This year, the offense has taken a step backwards, but it’s almost entirely a BABIP-driven decline, and the defense has remained excellent. The projections for him are still excellent even though they’re suspicious of his future offensive performance, and if you think he’s going to hit better than he has this year, they might even undersell him as a player.

But he’s 28, and a lot of his value is predicated on great defense at third base, which teams traditionally haven’t paid a premium for. He’s also going to be a Super-Two player, meaning that all four of his remaining team control years will come at arbitration prices, making the last year of team control not so valuable if the prices accelerate quickly. So he’s good and cheap now, but projecting how good and how cheap he’ll be over the next few years is difficult, and he has the kind of skillset that teams generally don’t pay full value for.

I could argue that he should be five spots higher or 10 spots lower, but this is where he ended up. In a year, this ranking will probably look dumb either way, as he’ll either have cemented himself as an elite player or distanced himself even further from his 2013 season. But until we know which way he is going, it’s hard for me to move him too far from this tier.

Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year
16 Yu Darvish 27 TEX SP 5.1 2016 $20,000,000 20

This is one of those contracts that can’t be adequately described in the table. Darvish is technically under team control through 2017, but the final year of his deal converts into a player option based on a few scenarios related to his Cy Young placement over the life of the contract. Because he already finished second in the Cy Young voting last year, the final year of the deal goes away if he wins the Cy Young either this year or either of the next two, or finishes in the top four in two of the next three seasons, including this one.

Barring injury, I think he’s a good bet to finish in the top four this year, so realistically, the only way the 2017 season remains under team control is if Darvish finishes outside the top four in Cy Young voting in each of the next two seasons. It’s possible, certainly, but it also means that something went wrong, because Darvish is one of the four best pitchers in the American League.

So, for planning purposes, I’m treating the 2017 season as if it is likely to become a player option, which Darvish will not exercise, because he’s making a fraction of what he’s actually worth. That leaves him with just two remaining years of team control, but both years are ridiculously cheap, and it’s not the worst thing in the world to not have a long-term commitment to a pitcher. The shorter window of team control might push out some rebuilding teams, but for a contender looking for a short-term boost to their rotation, a $10 million Darvish would be tough to beat.

Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year
15 Giancarlo Stanton 24 MIA OF 5.0 2016 Arb2 – Arb3 8

Speaking of two very valuable years of team control, we have the player who has been the focus of more trade speculation over the last few years than just about anyone else. I think every team’s fan base has, at some point, dreamed about what their team could offer up for the Hercules of baseball, and yet, Stanton remains a Marlin. And he remains a Marlin in part because of the potential for an extension.

While he only has two years left before free agency, Stanton is at an age where a long-term deal doesn’t have to become an albatross. The Marlins could give him a 10 year deal this winter and still only have him locked up through age-34, so even with the expected high cost of signing Stanton long-term, there’s value in being able to do it sooner than later. And any team acquiring his rights would then also inherit the value of getting an extension done now, rather than waiting to try and outbid everyone when he’s heading into his age-27 season.

And Stanton has the skillset that every team wants right now. His days of being cheap are coming to an end, but he’s great enough to be valuable even on an expensive deal.

Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year
14 Jonathan Lucroy 28 MIL C 3.9 2017 $12,250,000 Unranked

The rapid rise of Jonathan Lucroy has been something to watch. He wasn’t a top prospect when he got to the big leagues as a 24 year old in 2010, and then he proceeded to not hit at all. The Brewers saw enough improvement in year two to sign him long-term, but at that point, he was a 25 year old with an 84 wRC+ in the big leagues. He didn’t walk or hit for power, and he struck out at a league average rate, so there didn’t appear to be a lot of reason to be excited about his potential.

And yet, since the start of the 2012 season, he’s hit .301/.360/.482, good for a 129 wRC+. He stopped striking out and added power, which is a nice combination if you can pull it off. Now, Lucroy is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, and oh yeah, he’s also the poster boy for the value of pitch framing. Like with Yadier Molina, the WAR forecast almost certainly is understating his value, and Lucroy might very well be more of a +5 WAR player, pushing him into legitimately elite territory.

Oh yeah, about that extension he signed: it will pay him $3 million next year, $4 million the year after, and then includes a team option for $5 million in 2017. That’s right; maybe the best catcher in baseball is locked up at three more years for a grand total of $12 million. Not per year. Total.

So why is he even this low? Well, for one, he’s a 28 year old catcher, which is something akin to being a 31 or 32 year old anything else. And even though pitch framing has become the topic du jour in baseball over the last few years, teams still have shown no interest in paying any kind of premium for it in either trades or free agency. For better or worse, catchers are still mostly evaluated based on how they hit and control the running game, so Lucroy’s best skill is unlikely to generate significant extra return in trade. Even without the framing value, though, Lucroy is still a beast, and one of the quietest true stars in baseball.

Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year
13 Anthony Rendon 24 WAS 2B 3.5 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 44

When the Nationals announced they were converting Anthony Rendon to second base, the public reaction was less than positive. His history of ankle problems didn’t seem to play well with a move up the defensive spectrum, especially to a position where he’d have to take a bunch of hard slides, and many were skeptical he’d even be adequate at the position, even ignoring perceived health risks.

However, Rendon has managed to not only avoid injury, but become a pretty solid defender at second base in short order. He’s probably still going to play more games at third over the course of his career, but at least in the near term, there’s no real need to move him back to third as he’s currently one of the most valuable second baseman in baseball.

Of course, Rendon’s calling card has always been his bat, and he’s developed into one of the best young hitters in the game. Even as a guy who is still more gap power than a big home run threat, he’s running a 132 wRC+, and there’s room for growth if some of those doubles and triples start clearing the wall with more regularity. Toss in five more years of team control, and Rendon looks like a true franchise cornerstone.

Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year
12 Anthony Rizzo 24 CHC 1B 3.3 2021 $64,000,000 37

I love Andrew Cashner, but I think we can stop asking which side won the Padres-Cubs challenge trade from a few years back. Rizzo might not ever become a superstar — the bar needed for that level as a first baseman is very hard to clear — but he’s solidified his position as one of the game’s better young hitters. He controls the strike zone far better than most players his age, and if he continues to build on the power he’s shown this year, he might end up a +5 WAR player yet.

But with Rizzo, it’s not just the youth and the bat; it’s also the contract. He’s set to make $5 million in each of the next two years, $7 million in each of the two years after that, $11 million in 2019, and then the team has $15 million options for both 2020 and 2021. Rizzo has seven years left on his deal, and even if both options are picked up, the average salary is still less than $10 million per season. The Cubs managed to buy out the prime years of the most expensive thing in baseball at bargain salaries. This deal is basically all upside, providing both short-term and long-term value.

Rizzo might settle in as a good player instead of a great one, but he’s a crazy cheap good player, and will remain cheap for the better part of the next decade.

Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year
11 Chris Sale 25 CHW SP 5.0 2019 $53,150,000 16

Speaking of crazy cheap players in Chicago, Chris Sale is basically Yu Darvish if you extended his deal for an extra three years. Or Felix Hernandez, if the Mariners were also subsidizing 60% of his remaining contract. Sale is right there with the game’s best pitchers, only he’s earning about one-third of what elite pitchers make these days and he has no real chance for a significant raise any time soon.

Or, I’ll put it this way. If a team had a choice between Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale over the next five years, the money they’d save by choosing Sale would allow them to also afford Adam Wainwright. And that’s why Sale is the most valuable pitcher in baseball right now.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap this thing up with the top 10. Get ready for a run of truly great position players. As preparation, here is the published list to date.

Rank Name Age Team Position Projected WAR Controlled Through Contract Dollars Last Year
50 Yan Gomes 26 CLE C 3.4 2021 $40,950,000 Unranked
49 Starling Marte 25 PIT OF 3.0 2021 $52,500,000 31
48 Kyle Seager 26 SEA 3B 3.4 2017 Arb1 – Arb3 Unranked
47 Alex Cobb 26 TB SP 3.1 2017 Arb1 – Arb3 Unranked
46 Edwin Encarnacion 31 TOR DH 3.7 2016 $20,000,000 45
45 Julio Teheran 23 ATL SP 2.3 2020 $41,600,000 Unranked
44 Chris Archer 25 TB SP 2.4 2021 $42,250,000 Unranked
43 Devin Mesoraco 26 CIN C 3.0 2017 Arb1 – Arb3 Unranked
42 Corey Kluber 28 CLE SP 3.8 2018 Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked
41 Michael Brantley 27 CLE OF 2.6 2018 $30,000,000 Unranked
40 David Wright 31 NYM 3B 4.1 2020 $107,000,000 21
39 Dustin Pedroia 30 BOS 2B 4.2 2021 $107,500,000 25
38 Byron Buxton 20 MIN OF 1.2 TBD Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked
37 Jose Quintana 25 CHW SP 3.3 2020 $40,650,000 Unranked
36 Billy Hamilton 23 CIN OF 2.7 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked
35 Matt Carpenter 28 STL 3B 3.9 2020 $66,000,000 Unranked
34 Jose Fernandez 21 MIA SP 4.8 2018 Pre-Arb – Arb3 17
33 Carlos Gomez 28 MIL OF 4.8 2016 $17,000,000 33
32 Yordano Ventura 23 KC SP 2.8 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked
31 Sonny Gray 24 OAK SP 3.0 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked
30 Gregory Polanco 22 PIT OF 1.5 2020 Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked
29 Kris Bryant 22 CHC 3B 2.8 TBD Pre-Arb – Arb3 Unranked
28 Andrelton Simmons 24 ATL SS 3.8 2020 $56,000,000 Unranked
27 Jose Bautista 33 TOR OF 4.8 2016 $28,000,000 35
26 Stephen Strasburg 25 WAS SP 4.4 2016 Arb2 – Arb3 14
25 Matt Harvey 25 NYM SP 3.8 2018 Pre-Arb – Arb3 7
24 Freddie Freeman 24 ATL 1B 3.7 2021 $123,500,000 Unranked
23 Xander Bogaerts 21 BOS SS 2.0 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 29
22 Yadier Molina 31 STL C 4.5 2017 $43,000,000 11
21 Buster Posey 27 SF C 4.9 2022 $165,500,000 6
20 Adam Wainwright 32 STL SP 3.9 2018 $78,000,000 23
19 Felix Hernandez 28 SEA SP 5.7 2019 $129,000,000 22
18 Madison Bumgarner 24 SF SP 3.3 2019 $52,000,000 19
17 Josh Donaldson 28 OAK 3B 4.5 2018 Arb1 – Arb4 Unranked
16 Yu Darvish 27 TEX SP 5.1 2016 $20,000,000 20
15 Giancarlo Stanton 24 MIA OF 5.0 2016 Arb2 – Arb3 8
14 Jonathan Lucroy 28 MIL C 3.9 2017 $12,250,000 Unranked
13 Anthony Rendon 24 WAS 2B 3.5 2019 Pre-Arb – Arb3 44
12 Anthony Rizzo 24 CHC 1B 3.3 2021 $64,000,000 37
11 Chris Sale 25 CHW SP 5.0 2019 $53,150,000 16



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Thomas Adamski
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Thomas Adamski

I’d argue that Rendon should be in the top 10. He’s got a great contract and is an above average 2b/3b. Not to mention the room for growth to take place and he might become the best 2b.

nard
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nard

He’s 13. You’re going to quibble about three spots?

Mike
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Mike

also, maybe wait until the top 10 is released?

Baltar
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Baltar

My vote for player on this list who deserves to be in the top 10 is Lucroy. To have possibly the best catcher in baseball for so little money is felony theft.

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