2014 Trade Value Series: Intro and Runner-Ups

It’s time for the FanGraphs annual All-Star break tradition: distract ourselves from a lack of baseball by arguing about a subjective list of speculative value. Yes, it’s Trade Value time again. This is actually the 10th year I’ve done this list, as my first one came back in 2005, and it included immortals like Daniel Cabrera, Felipe Lopez, and Bobby Crosby. I moved the list to FanGraphs back in 2008, so this will be the seventh edition here on this site.

As always, I’d like to acknowledge that this project has been borrowed from Bill Simmons, who does his own NBA Trade Value series at Grantland. It’s a fun project, and one I’m glad he popularized.

As a quick overview for those who might be new to the series, he’s the basic concept: which players would bring the most return in trade if they were made available by their current clubs? To answer this question as best as we can, we not only look at a player’s performance — both now and in the future — but also the amount of years a team would be acquiring a player for, and how much that player would earn in salary before he could become a free agent. The most valuable assets in the game aren’t just great players, but they’re great players who offer significant value for multiple seasons at salaries below what comparable players earn on the open market.

Of course, because every team has a different priority and varying access to resources, a player’s trade value will not be the same to all 30 organizations. There are players that have significant value to one franchise that another team would have no interest in, and so, we have to try and measure aggregate demand, not just the specific question “would this team trade Player X for Player Y?” Instead of viewing a player’s trade value as specific to a franchise, it’s more accurate to think of this exercise as kind of like an auction; if each MLB player was put up for trade, with their current contracts remaining in place, who would generate the most interest?

Clearly, current value is going to be highly important here, and over the years, I’ve received feedback from people in the game that teams think more short-term than I used to believe. The most aggressive teams in trades are often the ones trying to upgrade their roster in the present, and this is where the most egregious overpays often come, so players who are significant contributors in 2014 get a significant bump in value. However, long-term performance and costs are still significant factors as well, so this isn’t just a list of the 50 best players in baseball right now. Trade value is a combination of short-term and long-term value, and a player’s future salary and years of team-control are big factors in how teams view a player’s long-term value.

For more reference on this series, I’d suggest reading through last year’s posts; they should help you get a feel for the relative emphasis of short-term and long-term value. Also, try to keep in mind that this list is completely subjective, and there’s no real way to measure a player’s aggregate trade value; we’re guessing the best that we can, but we’re still guessing. Feel free to disagree with the rankings, and come up with your own list if you’d like. I think I have some feel for what baseball executives value, but this is all just my opinion, and if you find one of my picks objectionable, you may very well be more correct than I am.

This exercise is supposed to be fun. Don’t take it too seriously. It’s a thing to talk about while MLB takes baseball away from us for a few days.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about a few guys who won’t be appearing on this year’s list, but are notable enough that I want to explain why they missed the cut. For brevity’s sake, I’ll group them into a few categories.

The Free Agent Class of 2015

There is not a single player on this year’s Trade Value list that is eligible to become a free agent after next season. While players like David Price, Justin Upton, Johnny Cueto, and the recently traded Jeff Samardzija are all very valuable trade chips, a year and a half of performance is almost never enough to get back the kind of core player that will appear in the trade value series. You can get a very good prospect for these guys, or a few good-not-great prospects, but teams aren’t giving up above average big leaguers in exchange for eight months of baseball. There just isn’t enough long-term value attached to a player who is 15 months from free agency to command the kind of bidding war that would lead to a greater return than players with significantly more quantity to offer.

And, obviously, this same philosophy knocks out any player who will be a free agent after this season too. Jon Lester would net the Red Sox a nifty package in trade, but with only a few months left until he hits the open market, teams just aren’t going to pay premium prices for a rental.

Great Players, Problem Contracts

This category basically covers two players who prominently appeared on last year’s list, but will not make the cut this season due to extensions they’ve signed since. The two players? Miguel Cabrera and Clayton Kershaw.

Few players in baseball can match either one for short-term value, but both have problematic contracts, though for differing reasons. Cabrera’s is the traditional one; the Tigers extended him at a very high price covering years where he is likely to be unproductive. Even ignoring his 2014 salary, he’s due $270 million over the next nine years, and there just aren’t very many teams in baseball that can even think about affording that kind of contract. And the ones who can aren’t really great fits, as almost all of the high payroll teams already have money significant money tied up at 1B/DH. Cabrera’s a great player, but the contract extension basically killed any chance of a significant bidding war by taking so many teams out of the running. Of course, the Tigers aren’t trading Cabrera, so they don’t care about his trade value, but for this list, we do.

Kershaw’s a different story. He’s expensive too, but that’s not why he missed the cut this year. Teams would still line up to pay him $30 million a year, as he’s the perfect combination of young and great. However, the Dodgers agreed to put a clause in Kershaw’s contract that makes him virtually impossible to trade. if he is traded, he then has the right to void the deal and become a free agent at the end of the season. If the Dodgers traded Kershaw now, he’d be a free agent this winter. If they traded him this off-season, he’d be a free agent next winter. Either way, any team trading for Kershaw would be acquiring a rental, and no one can justify paying what it would take to get him for one year of team control.

Current Injuries Nuking Value

There are some really good players that, if healthy, would have been easy choices for the list. But they aren’t healthy, and teams are reticent to pay premiums for players with health risks. Carlos Gonzalez ranked 10th on this list a year ago, but won’t appear this season due to his recurring injury problems. Michael Wacha almost certainly would have been on the list before he went to the DL with a mysterious shoulder problem. Wil Myers might not have made the cut either way, but he wasn’t even strongly considered given his lack of present value.

There are injured players on this year’s list, but they are the kinds of injured players where the upside is so great that teams would still pay for just the future value knowing the recovery timeline. For guys who were going to appear towards the back half of the list, injuries that limit their short-term value almost universally pushed them off the list. It’s hard to have premium trade value from the disabled list. Not impossible, but difficult.

I Just Can’t List Everyone

There’s nothing wrong with these guys. In fact, all of them made a preliminary version of the list at some point during the compiling of the final version. The margin between the guys at the end and the guys not listed is so small that it’s basically inconsequential. You could realistically argue for any of about 20 or 25 guys to fill the last 10 spots and not get much of an argument from me. At the end of the day, though, I had to pick 50, which leaves a few very good players on very reasonable contracts out in the cold. With all due respect, I offer my apologies to the following:

Adrian Beltre: $34 million in salary over next two seasons, and already 35.
Adam Jones: Good player, good contract, but not a star and not a steal.
Garrett Richards: Amazing first half. Not enough of a track record. Super-Two.
Todd Frazier: Good player, not a great one, and only arb. seasons left.
Jose Altuve: Super fun, great contract, but upside is a bit limited, unfortunately.
George Springer: Power is great, but rest of his game needs work.
Jason Kipnis: Power is what makes him valuable; power currently missing.
Brandon Belt: Took too long to get good, and already into arbitration years.

In a few hours, we’ll unveil the last 10 guys who did make the list, and do 10 more each day until we get to the top 10 on Friday. I hope you enjoy the series as much as I enjoy doing it.




Print This Post



Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


75 Responses to “2014 Trade Value Series: Intro and Runner-Ups”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Reed says:

    Does the Samardzija trade, wherein the A’s gave up Addison Russell, change your thoughts on the relative value in that market? The A’s, a very smart franchise, were willing to part with Russell for 8 months of Samardzija.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • vslyke says:

      Hammel was also a key piece of that deal – I can’t imagine the A’s would have traded Russell for Samardzija alone.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • mattsd says:

      Addison Russell isn’t going to be on this list either, so no, it really doesn’t change the calculus.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Catoblepas says:

      That brings up a somewhat unfortunate truth of the trade value list, which is that very few of these ultra-premium guys/contracts ever get traded. The sort of haul one could get back for, oh I don’t know, Mike Trout at $24 million per year for his age-23 to age-29 seasons, is completely unfathomable, and I can’t think of any trades at that level ever having happened. It seems that most of the trades are probably of guys in the 51-150 range, as opposed to the ones listed here.
      Can anyone prove me wrong? Any super-huge, blockbuster trades of an unbelievably valuable asset?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Vslyke says:

        Gretzky would probably be the closest thing. For baseball, it would have to be Frank Robinson getting dealt to the Orioles but that was more of a misjudgement of talent than anything (same for Ruth getting dealt).

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Catoblepas says:

          Oh interesting, hadn’t thought of Gretzky (mentioned below too) but that is definitely the sort of thing I’m thinking of. I don’t know enough about the hockey market to know if there are any differences that make that sort of thing more likely.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • readar says:

          I think the Eric Lindros trade, if we’re looking at hockey, is another good example. Nordiques got a huge haul that was a big contributor to the Avalanche eventually winning the Cup.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

      • bpdelia says:

        Wayne Gretzky? Ummmm… recently? No. But obviously Ruth, Reggie Jackson, the brewers getting sabathia (obviously a rental but still probably in the top 25 at that point on present value alone.)

        Have to think when the Yankees got a prime years Rodriguez coming off three straight MVP type seasons had him in the top 20 right?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Catoblepas says:

          I would be hesitant to count a half season of anybody, even 2008-Sabathia, as top-50 in trade value (and in fact, I just checked, he wasn’t on Dave’s list (Grady Sizemore at #3 makes me so sad)). That’s also not what I’m really thinking of — big name rentals happen all the time.

          A-Rod, though, is definitely closer. Unfortunately that, like the Gretzky trade, had more to do with the finances of the owner than the future of the team, and so even it isn’t a perfect example of a real cornerstone player being dealt in a way both teams think will improve their chances.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Catoblepas says:

          I just went back and checked Dave’s original post, and in 2005, after he was traded, Rodriguez ranked 9th. Amusingly, from Dave’s blurb: “he’s the only player on this list who would still be inducted into Cooperstown if he never played another game.” If only he had! Dave sounds so prescient from 2014.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason Bourne says:

      I think it’s more of an overpay happened because Oakland knows they really need to go all out this year and next year to win. They knew they really needed the help and also needed to keep somebody else from picking up both those guys.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. hscer says:

    That first list also had 6 pitchers in the top 10, including Mark Prior 8th. We’ve come a long way.

    +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Anon21 says:

    Hmm… I would have expected Andrelton Simmons to get an honorable mention if he’s not on the list. Maybe he does make an appearance in the mid 40s?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Bruce Chen says:

    Whew! I was afraid I’d fall into the runners up list.

    +45 Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Adrian Beltre says:

    No hard feelings Dave. Nobody has ever wanted to trade me anyway.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Ned says:

    Also in your 2005 piece, about Andruw Jones:

    “He almost won the MVP in his age 28 season and plays a premium defensive position, so why this low? He’s already extremely expensive and only has one more year left on his deal, after which he’s likely to become even more expensive. He also doesn’t strike me as a player who is going to age particularly well.”

    Pretty spot-on. Give yourself a little credit.

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. mike wants wins says:

    Love the series, thanks Dave.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. SickRick says:

    Not sure what Adam Jones not a star even means. 4+ wins the past 2 seasons and already 3.5 this year on his way to a nearly 6 win season. There are maybe 2 or 3 better CF situations in the game. Jones is the whole package and locked up for the next 4 years on a very reasonable deal. Does it get any more valuable than him?

    +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • ReuschelCakes says:

      I love Adam Jones, but… hard to be a “star” when there are 3 other players clearly better at your position (Trout, McCutchen, Gomez) and you are in the pack with names like Ellsbury and Crisp.

      On the “steal” comment, look at those names: Gomez and Cutch are around $7m, Trout $5m next year and Jones is at $13m – that’s not a steal versus the other CFs.

      If you just assume that this list should be ~1/2 position players, it would put the 4th ranked player on the fence at each position… hence, Jones.

      and the man needs to learn to take a pitch, as well…

      +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • SickRick says:

        yeah, but those are probably the 3 or the 4 or 5 best position players in the entire sport right now, so being right behind that trio is no shabby position to be in. Let’s just say that a solid 25 or so ML teams would line up to have Adam Jones be their CFer.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Anon21 says:

      “already 3.5 this year on his way to a nearly 6 win season.”

      That’s not really how that works.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Nicolas C says:

        I mean he’s projected to finish at 5.2 WAR and maybe the guy has a slightly more optimistic view of the player…”That’s not really how that works” is nothing more than a snooty psuedoanalysis.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Anon21 says:

          Fair enough, but saying a guy off to a strong start is “on his way to [straight-line projection]” is not really the kind of assertion that deserves a thorough and detailed rebuttal.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • SickRick says:

          what do you mean by that? The guy had 4+ win seasons the past 2 years and has 3.5 thru 90+ games this season so far. You do the math.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Anon21 says:

          I’ll let the projections do the math for me, thanks. There’s some imprecision from saying “nearly 6 win season,” but I’ll go out on a limb and say he doesn’t breach 5.5 and thus doesn’t come “near” 6.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • SickRick says:

          and is that really worth arguing? do you think that really detracts from the point I was making?

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason B says:

      “Does it get any more valuable than him?”

      Yes. My God, yes.

      Is he valuable? Sure. But let’s not overstate our case.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bill Bavasi says:

      Yeah, the guy is worth about a fifth of Erik Bedard!

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Owen says:

      Yeah, there’s definitely some surplus value. Oliver projects 14 WAR over the next four years; maybe you figure him for 16-17 if you don’t think he’ll decline much from 28-32. At around $6.2m/win, that’s $85m-$100m in value, or anywhere from $23-$37m in surplus.It doesn’t compare to the pre-arb players or to guys like McCutcheon or Goldschmidt, but it’s definitely valuable. In four years’ time, you could likely point to several of the young players on this list who did’t turn into stars and see Adam Jones as having been more valuable, but those young players also have more value upside.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bip says:

      Adam Jones is a great example of the kind of player overrated by traditional stats. He has 30-home-run power and has a pretty high batting average for this era. However, he never walks, so his OBP is not that good, and wOBA values OBP more than SLG on a per-point basis. He’s got runs and RBI, but of course those don’t enter into any of the fangraphs stats that anyone uses. On top of that, his defense is below average, though not awful. Some in the media consider him a star, but his highest career wRC+ is 127.

      If Jones does break 6 WAR this year, and does it a few more times after that, then he’s a star, but for now, he’s not one. He’s not particularly young, he’s not extremely cheap, and he’s never had an MVP-type season, and we’re talking about a list of players who generally check a few of those boxes.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Mega-Trout versus Darvishoid says:

    Let the games begin!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. abreutime says:

    Springer’s exclusion surprises me, given how teams will overpay for power. Altuve/Frazier exclusions I understand.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Marco says:

    Dave: Any chance we can get a list of all the people who fell off last year’s list?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Sandy says:

    Does the trade value list take into account positional scarcity? It’s been a bad year for shortstops, so does that make the few good ones more valuable trade commodities?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Wallace says:

    Runners-up*

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Kris Bryant says:

    In all honesty. I Should make the list.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Bomok says:

    Tanaka will be hard to rank now won’t he? Will he end up getting TJ or not? also he has a huge contract.
    But Harvey should still make the list despite TJ. So should Wright despite a down year.
    Trout’s an easy #1. Kershaw is #2 pitcher after Darvish. Both are top 10.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Anon21 says:

      In an earlier post, Dave already said no pitchers in the top 10. Too much injury risk.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Anon21 says:

        Also, in this very post Dave says Kershaw isn’t on the list at all, due to his contractual opt-out that functions like a no-trade clause on steroids.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Bip says:

          Even without that, it would be hard for him to make the list, given as I would think many teams couldn’t clear $30 million a year in payroll, reducing the number of bidders.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Yinka Double Dare says:

      I think Sale goes ahead of Darvish due to contract.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. BDF says:

    I’m a big Simmons fan and a traditional Cameron hater, but I can’t help but marvel at how Simmons is a big enough a-hole to somehow feel that he is so responsible for inventing this concept that Dave has to acknowledge him every year. What a blowhard.

    Note: This is a knock on Simmons, not Dave.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • TIF says:

      Well, the whole thing caused a rather large kerfuffle with Simmons’ fans (read: mindless zombie coat tail riders) came over here and turned Fangraphs into a retard battlezone.

      While I sincerely think Dave wasn’t trying to rip anybody off, I also sincerely believe he only puts that up there to keep the rabble from coming back.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • BDF says:

        It was Simmons, too. He had an outraged tweet about it.

        Personally, I don’t think this idea is so blazingly original that using it could possibly count as “ripping someone off.” And I know that’s the only reason Dave mentions it, and god bless him. It’s just preposterous that he (legitimately) feels the need to do so.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason says:

      The year Dave didn’t mention Bill Simmons, he got people claiming he stole the idea so that’s really why it’s there.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. AJ says:

    I’m sure you knew it was coming: Where would Kershaw be without the aforementioned opt-out clause?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Gregory says:

    From your first trade value list:

    9: Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York
    The contract, and the fact that he’s now 30, make this the highest I can put him. But he’s the only player on this list who would still be inducted into Cooperstown if he never played another game.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. AJ says:

    I certainly hope that “injured player” note isn’t referring to Jose Fernandez. If it is, then I disagree. Teams that are out of contention could essentially view him as a Strasburg level pitching prospect at the High A level (i.e. one year away), except that he’s already proven he’s demonstratd that he has Cy Young contender level performance at the MLB level.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • emdash says:

      I’d still consider him very valuable, but as we all know, TJ isn’t 100% guaranteed to work for every pitcher. That’s still a considerable risk factor until he’s back healthy and pitching well in the majors.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Bip says:

        Also, the first year after TJS tends to be mediocre, as a recent article here showed. If the procedure is successful, they wouldn’t be likely to get 100% Fernandez back until 2016.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • geo says:

      Well…”There are injured players on this year’s list, but they are the kinds of injured players where the upside is so great that teams would still pay for just the future value knowing the recovery timeline.”

      I guess we’ll have to wait and see if a pitcher is one of those types of injured players. TJ recovery is pretty good these days, Fernandez’s upside is still mighty high and he’s still really young so there’s lots of future value yet.

      I’m half surprised that Myers isn’t still included, slow start notwithstanding. It’s just a broken wrist. Granted, a wrist injury might nullify his power this year, but still five more years of team control.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. George Springer says:

    I am Peak Adam Dunn with speed and defensive skills. This hurts a little, Dave.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. Jason says:

    I wonder if AJ Pollock will make the list?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. Hermida Potential says:

    Altuve’s “Upside is a bit limited”… is that another short joke?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • RogerClemensNeedle says:

      It better be. Because its an absolutely retarded statement. His upside is that he does what he’s doing now the rest of his career. It’s absolutely not a long shot either, as he has elite contact, elite SO%, good BB%, elite speed, average defense at worst, and a work ethic and hustle that few can match.

      But I cant say I dont love the know-it-alls continuing to discredit Altuve’s future only to seem him prove you wrong.. YEAR AFTER YEAR AFTER YEAR.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jim Ripper says:

        I am shocked by Altuve being excluded. Not only is he one of the top second basemen but his contract is ridiculously cheap. I think he’s only going to make around 10-12M over the next five years.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. ricer says:

    It will be interesting if Harper’s poor play this year will finally strike him down or will he get a free pass.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason B says:

      “Get a free pass”? He’s still 21 and in all likelihood has a long and productive career ahead. Methinks you might protesteth too much, bro.

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bip says:

      Yeah, you’re right, you have to wonder if a lousy 34 games will significantly impact the value of a 21-year-old with two all-star seasons under his belt, under team control for the next 4 years.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. Brady says:

    Calling Kershaw a problem contract makes as much sense as asking for an email before we post comments. Log off, Cameron.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Anon21 says:

      As he explained, it’s a fine contract from a performance for pay standard, but a big problem from a trade perspective, because it means you can’t trade more than a year of team control. Do you disagree?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>