Welcome to the second 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. And then read the first ten entries on the list from yesterday.
There will be a couple of formatting changes this year. Instead of doing two posts per day, with five players in each post, I’m consolidating those posts into one longer list per day. Additionally, instead of having a player listed and then some paragraphs about his ranking, I’m going to list all ten players in a table at the top of the post, and then write about all ten in more of an article style than a selection of blurbs. Having all of the names available in a single table makes for easier comparison of some relevant facts, and in past years, the player capsules started to feel pretty repetitive by the end. Hopefully, this cuts down on some of the redundant text. We’ll find out, I guess.
A few quick notes on the columns in the table. 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.
The two columns to the right of that give you an idea of the player’s contract status. “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.
Alright, enough fooling around; let’s get to the list. For reference, I’m going to include the entire list up to this point.
|Rank||Name||Age||Team||Position||Projected WAR||Controlled||Contract Dollars||Last Year|
|48||Kyle Seager||26||SEA||3B||3.4||2017||Arb1 – Arb3||Unranked|
|47||Alex Cobb||26||TB||SP||3.1||2017||Arb1 – Arb3||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|
|38||Byron Buxton||20||MIN||OF||1.2||TBD||Pre-Arb – Arb3||28|
|36||Billy Hamilton||23||CIN||OF||2.7||2019||Pre-Arb – Arb3||Unranked|
|34||Jose Fernandez||21||MIA||SP||4.8||2018||Pre-Arb – Arb3||17|
|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|
Yesterday, I noted that the average age for the last ten in was 26 and their average forecast WAR was just a tick over 3.0, noting that it was a group of guys already close to their prime who probably weren’t going to become franchise cornerstones. This group is entirely different. Even though it includes both Wright and Pedroia, the average age is a full year younger. Even though it includes a not-ready-for-MLB Byron Buxton, the average forecast WAR is 3.5. This is a group of players who either have top-line potential, or have recently been elite MLB performers.
Let’s start with the two guys who probably have peaked as MLB players, and whose value comes from attempting to remain where they are for as long as possible. Wright and Pedroia both took hometown discounts to re-sign with their current organizations, and while both are having disappointing 2014 seasons, they’re significantly underpaid relative to other +4 WAR players in the game. Even though these contracts carry well into the decline phase of each player’s career, there is substantial short-term value in acquiring star-level players at highly discounted rates, and the costs at the end of the deal are not so high as to offset that value.
One could make an argument that Matt Carpenter is in a similar stage, even though he’s a couple of years younger than both Wright and Pedroia. Even with the move back to third base and some expected offensive regression, Carpenter is still a very valuable player, though the lack of power limits his upside to some degree. It’s unlikely Carpenter is going to develop much more power at this point, so for him, the question is how long he can maintain elite line drive rates and avoid weak contact; his seven career infield flies is Votto-esque, and one of the reasons why he has a career .346 BABIP.
It’s a bit of a unique skillset, and not one that teams traditionally pay as much for as they do for power or speed, but Carpenter has 1,500 plate appearances and a 132 wRC+ in the big leagues. Given the lack of offense in the game and the guaranteed minimal salaries he will earn over the length of his deal, there would be significant interest in Carpenter’s services if the Cardinals put him on the block.
But maybe not as much as if the Brewers put Carlos Gomez on the block. Gomez is this section’s Edwin Encarnacion; a player with only two years left on his contract, but a present value/low salary combination that is ridiculously slanted in the team’s favor, and makes up for the lack of years of team control. Since making the transition into a legitimate power hitter, Gomez has blossomed into a true superstar. He’s not going to repeat last year’s UZR-driven +7.5 WAR season, but he’s on pace for a +6 WAR season that might be seen as even more reliable, given that it is being compiled on the back of a 145 wRC+ instead of a +25 UZR.
Realistically, Gomez is worth something in the neighborhood of $30 to $35 million per season right now; he will make $8 million next year and $9 million the year after. He’s unlikely to accept another team-friendly extension after giving away three free agent years right before he turned into a superstar, so any acquiring team would have to look at this as a two year rental before a market price correction kicked in, but those are two absurdly valuable seasons.
Beyond Pedroia, Wright, Carpenter, and Gomez, though, the rest of the players on this section of the list are brimming with future value. Buxton was widely viewed as the best prospect in baseball before the season, drawing (unrealistic) comparisons to Mike Trout based on his overall package of tools. 2014 has been a lost season to date, but those tools are still there, and scouts are still convinced that Buxton has the ability to eventually become a legitimate superstar. He offers little in the way of short-term value, and probably won’t be big league ready for a few years, but for teams with the patience to wait, the payoff could be dramatic.
But perhaps the biggest upside play here is already a big leaguer. Before his elbow exploded, Jose Fernandez was making a legitimate run at Clayton Kershaw‘s title for best pitcher in baseball, and even if he’s out for all of the 2015 season as well, he’d still be looking at a full recovery for 2016 as a 23 year old.
Yes, he’ll have burned through all of his pre-arbitration years by that point, but the injury is also going to limit his earnings in arbitration, so any team paying for Fernandez’s rehab would get Fernandez’s age-23 through age-25 seasons at highly discounted rates. Given the success rates of Tommy John surgery and Fernandez’s ridiculous performances before the injury, the lack of value for the next 18 months wouldn’t dissuade teams from aggressively pursuing his long-term value.
Of course, if a team didn’t want to wait for 2016 to upgrade their rotation, you could do a lot worse than choosing between Quintana, Ventura, and Gray. In his third year in the big leagues, Quintana is the seasoned veteran of the three, but has quietly developed into one of the best young starting pitchers in the game today. And because the White Sox had the foresight to sign him to a long-term deal before last season, he’ll make a grand total of $20 million over the next four years, and then the White Sox hold a pair of $10 million options if he stays healthy and keeps pitching well.
Ventura and Gray haven’t signed long-term deals yet, but since both are in their first full seasons in the majors, each have five more years of team-control, including a pair of pre-arbitration seasons that will see them make something close to the league minimum. Gray and Ventura rank a bit higher than Quintana mostly for upside reasons, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the three. These are three of the most valuable young arms in baseball, and they only rank this low because pitchers break.
That leaves us with just one player left to discuss, and the guy who doesn’t fit into any other mold. Billy Hamilton is his own guy, a legitimately unique player whose value is exceedingly difficult to narrow down. On the one hand, I still know a lot of smart people in the game who don’t think Hamilton is going to sustain enough offense to be more than steals-and-defense specialist. On the other hand, Hamilton already has 30 extra base hits this year, and the Ben Revere comparisons look outdated at this point.
Here’s what we’re pretty sure we know; Hamilton is among the game’s most valuable baserunners, and his defense in center field has been even better than the most optimistic forecast. If Hamilton maxes out as an average hitter in the big leagues, then he’s Jacoby Ellsbury with perhaps even better defense. But Hamilton’s already exceeding expectations at the plate, and has a career 107 wRC+ in 381 big league plate appearances. His Triple-A performance remains worrisome and can’t just be discarded, but Hamilton’s base from which to grow as a hitter appears higher than he was given credit for.
Hamilton’s probably never going to be a good hitter, but the surprising power has put away any thought that he might not play as an everyday regular. Now, the question is more of how much higher he can go from here. If he sustains offensive performance even close to where he’s at now, then he’s a legitimate star in the making.
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