2016 Trade Value: #1 to #10

2016 TRADE VALUE SERIES
Introduction
Hon. Mention
#41-50
#31-40
#21-30
#11-20

And now here we are. After ticking through 40 of the most valuable players in baseball, we’ve come to the top 10, and what a remarkable list of players it is. The wave of young talent that has poured into baseball makes this group the best crop of talent I think I’ve ever seen in doing this exercise, and for the first time in a long time, there was actually a real question about who would rank #1. The top four, in fact, shifted around numerous times, and I didn’t settle on their final order until yesterday. And even at #5 and #6, you could make a legitimate argument that they belong in the conversation. This is a deep, strong, elite group of young players. With these kinds of stars already dominating at an early age, baseball looks to be in very good hands for the foreseeable future.

As a reminder for those who didn’t read the first four parts of the series, we’ve significantly upgraded the way we’re presenting the information this year. On the individual player tables, the Guaranteed Dollars and Team Control WAR — which are provided by Dan Szymborski’s ZIPS projections — rows give you an idea of what kind of production and costs a team could expect going forward, though to be clear, we’re not counting the rest of 2016 in those numbers; they’re just included for reference of what a player’s future status looks like. And as a reminder, we’re not ranking players based on those projections, as teams aren’t going to just make trades based on the ZIPS forecasts. That said, they’re a useful tool to provide some context about what a player might do for the next few years.

With those items covered, let’s get to it. Here is my take on the 10 most valuable assets in baseball.

Team Control WAR Total +13.5
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2018
Previous Rank #2
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2017 24 +6.9 Arb2
2018 25 +6.6 Arb3
Arb

Despite a bit of a struggle the last few months, Harper remains an offensive monster, as now a 130 wRC+ is seen as a disappointment from the 23-year-old. And if this were the old “who do you want to start your franchise around?” question, Harper would probably still be #2, where he ranked on this list a year ago. But this list considers the value that comes from a player’s contract status, and Harper is now just a couple of years away from hitting the free-agent market. No one thinks there’s any real chance he’s going to sign before he gets there, and he’s expected to crush the record for largest contract in baseball history, so it’s not like a team can trade for him with the expectation of locking up to a long-term deal. So, while Harper remains an elite player, any team giving up the farm to get him would be getting two expensive (but still a massive bargain for what he is, of course) arbitration years and the potential for a draft pick when he leaves after the 2018 season. A win-now team absolutely would love to add Harper to their lineup, and would pay dearly to do so, but the short-term window in which he could provide value causes him to fall to the last spot on the top 10 this year.

Team Control WAR Total +13.6
Guaranteed Dollars $21.9 M
Team Control Through 2019
Previous Rank #3
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2017 29 +5.1 $8.8 M
2018 30 +4.5 $11.0 M
2019 31 +4.0 $14.5 M
Team Option

While the Diamondbacks’ decision to push in their chips was probably ill-timed, it is easy to look at their first baseman and understand why they’d want to build a winner around him while they still can. Goldschmidt is an elite player, an asset in every facet of the game, and the pre-breakout contract he signed gives the team the flexibility to use money that would normally be going to a player of his caliber and spread it around the rest of the roster. It’s not Goldschmidt’s fault that his teammates aren’t quite good enough to get him to the postseason; he’s done everything you could ask of a superstar, and has done it all while making a fraction of his actual value. The organization has talked about their three-year window, and even after this year, they still have three more years of Goldschmidt’s services to which they can look forward, though as a first baseman approaching 30, his best days might be behind him at this point. But even a Goldschmidt-in-decline is likely to be an All-Star, and given that and his contract, it’s understandable that the Diamondbacks aren’t even willing to entertain offers for their best player.

Team Control WAR Total +15.2
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2019
Previous Rank #14
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2017 26 +5.2 Arb2
2018 27 +5.2 Arb3
2019 28 +4.8 Arb4
Arb

Arenado’s continual improvement remains remarkable to watch. After transforming himself from a defensive liability into a Hall-of-Fame defender at third base, he’s now moved on to rounding out his offensive skills, taking walks to raise his OBP, the last real weakness he had left. Still just 25, Arenado now looks like an unquestionable star, and while teams will always have concerns about taking a hitter out of Colorado, I didn’t talk to anyone in the game who doubted Arenado would be a terrific player in any ballpark. With rare contact and power skills, elite defense, and an improving approach at the plate, Arenado is a franchise cornerstone. The biggest downside, at this point, is that he’s a Super-Two arbitration guy, so his final three seasons before reaching free agency could get fairly pricey; his home run and RBI totals will earn him some very nice paydays even before he hits the open market. But having to pay your superstar player arbitration dollars is still a nice problem to have, and teams would beat down the Rockies door if they thought there was any chance they’d make Arenado available. They won’t, because teams don’t trade guys like this until they have to.

Team Control WAR Total +19.1
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2020
Previous Rank #11
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2017 24 +5.0 Pre-Arb
2018 25 +4.9 Arb1
2019 26 +4.7 Arb2
2020 27 +4.5 Arb3
Pre-Arb
Arb

So I guess those Andrew McCutchen comparisons weren’t that crazy after all. Despite his diminutive frame and plenty of questions about what kind of upside he possessed, Betts has turned into one of the best all-around players in the game, as he has a real shot at a 30-30 season this year. Still just 23, Betts has already accumulated +10 WAR in about two years’ worth of playing time, and with the added power this year, there’s no real reason to think he can’t sustain these kinds of performances. With one remaining pre-arbitration year, Betts will again be one of the biggest bargains in baseball next year, and then he’ll still have his three arbitration years after that. Betts combines youth, an excellent track record, and four years of low-cost team control before getting to free agency, which is why the Red Sox are thrilled they resisted calls to trade him over the last few years. By refusing to swap him for a short-term upgrade, the team ended up with one of the most valuable players in baseball as a long-term building block instead.

Five-Year WAR +22.6
Guaranteed Dollars $29.0 M
Team Control Through 2021
Previous Rank #7
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2017 27 +5.4 $7.0 M
2018 28 +5.1 $7.0 M
2019 29 +4.7 $11.0 M
2020 30 +4.0 $14.5 M
2021 31 +3.4 $14.5 M
Team Option

It doesn’t show up in a list format, but for the record, there’s a pretty significant gap here: this is the beginning of the inner-circle tier, where a case could be made for all of the rest of the players to rank in any of the next six spots. The gap between #1 and #6 might be smaller than the gap between #6 and #7, in fact. So don’t take Rizzo landing here as any kind of knock against him: he’s amazing, and one of the most coveted players in baseball. His power and control of the strike zone make him one of the game’s most productive hitters, and he even plays a mean first base, adding value in the field as well. The only real knock on him relative to the rest of this top tier is his age. He’ll be 27 in a month, and while that’s not old, it’s older than the rest of the superstars with whom he’s hanging out; that age means there’s a bit more of a chance he’ll be less productive during the last few years of his contract. He’s an elite player and likely to remain one for a while, but just a little less likely to still be one in four or five years, so he ends up in the sixth spot on this year’s list. But make no mistake: he’s in the top tier of most valuable assets in baseball.

Five-Year WAR +31.7
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2021
Previous Rank
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2017 23 +5.9 Pre-Arb
2018 24 +6.3 Pre-Arb
2019 25 +6.6 Arb1
2020 26 +6.6 Arb2
2021 27 +6.3 Arb3
Pre-Arb
Arb

If you took Mookie Betts, turned him into an elite defensive shortstop, and gave him an extra year of team control, you’d have Francisco Lindor. Okay, that’s not exactly true, as Lindor hasn’t had the power spike that 2016 Mookie Betts has had, but he’s hit for more power in the big leagues than many — myself included — expected, and even with just average power, Lindor does enough other things at a high level to be a superstar. In fact, if we were just going by past performance, you could easily argue that Lindor should be the top-ranked young shortstop on this list; no shortstop in baseball has played better since he got to the big leagues.

But Lindor ranks fifth because the things at which he excels are things for which teams pay less, and the thing at which he’s just okay is the thing for which teams pay the most; it would be just be a little bit tougher to get an owner on board with giving up the farm for a terrific-fielding line-drive hitter than a guy he can put in the home-run derby. This is no knock on Lindor, who is remarkable, but the game just values his skillset a little less than it values some others. I’m sure the Indians are just fine with that, however; it should also help keep his future salaries down a bit, and give them a better chance of keeping their franchise shortstop in Cleveland.

Five-Year WAR +35.4
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2021
Previous Rank #31
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2017 23 +7.1 Pre-Arb
2018 24 +7.1 Pre-Arb
2019 25 +7.3 Arb1
2020 26 +7.1 Arb2
2021 27 +6.8 Arb3
Pre-Arb
Arb

Among the inner-circle, Seager is the beginning of the guys who are right on top of each other. In an earlier version of the list, he actually ranked #1 for a while, as it’s really tough to do much better than a 22-year-old shortstop with a 144 wRC+ in his first 500 plate appearances in the big leagues. And despite talk that he’d have to move to third base, he’s more than held his own at shortstop, and talk of a position change has been tabled, making him an elite young hitter at a premium spot.

But as I began to poll my friends in the game, the overwhelming consensus was that Seager is just a tick behind the three guys in front of him. People love Corey Seager, but they love the others just a little bit more, so while I think the numbers make a pretty strong case for Seager, the industry consensus pushed him down to the fourth spot. But, realistically, I’m not sure the Dodgers trade Seager for anyone else in baseball in a straight-up swap right now, not even the guy across town. Seager might not be the team’s franchise player, given some pitcher the team also happens to have now, but they certainly have a guy who is capable of carrying the torch whenever it is ready to get passed.

Five-Year WAR +31.9
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2021
Previous Rank #4
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2017 25 +6.7 Pre-Arb
2018 26 +6.7 Arb1
2019 27 +6.4 Arb2
2020 28 +6.1 Arb3
2021 29 +6.0 Arb4
Pre-Arb
Arb

Last year, when chatting with one of my best friends in the game about Kris Bryant, he told me that, no matter what I thought of Bryant, it was too low. The comparison with which he was comfortable? Mike Schmidt. Now, it’s unfair to expect anyone to live up to the premise that his natural comparison is the best third baseman of all time, but Bryant is doing his best to make my friend look pretty smart. The big concern about him after his rookie season was his contact rate, with a 30% strikeout rate suggesting he might be more all-or-nothing slugger than one of the best hitters of his generation, so what did Bryant do this year? Cut his strikeout rate down to nearly league average while also dramatically increasing his power output.

Now Bryant is just an offensive wrecking ball, and while no one is really buying the idea that he’s become an elite defender, too, as UZR is suggesting, Bryant certainly isn’t a liability in the field. The only real downside for the Cubs is that he’s going to be a Super-Two guy, hitting arbitration after next year, and his skillset means he will get paid a lot of money really quickly. But great young hitters don’t become available very often, and teams would pay through the nose to get their hands on Bryant if they could. But they can’t. Kris Bryant isn’t going anywhere.

Five-Year WAR +41.5
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2021
Previous Rank #5
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2017 22 +7.9 Pre-Arb
2018 23 +8.3 Pre-Arb
2019 24 +8.3 Arb1
2020 25 +8.4 Arb2
2021 26 +8.6 Arb3
Pre-Arb
Arb

I will admit that I came into this exercise not expecting Correa to rank ahead of Bryant or Seager, and thought he’d be in a fight with Lindor instead, with potential versus performance being weighed to split that particular hair. But in compiling the list, I specifically sent the “Correa or Seager?” question to a bunch of friends in the game, and the responses overwhelmingly came back in favor of Correa, to the point where I had a hard time finding anyone willing to take Seager’s side in that debate. And, interestingly, the forecasts back up the industry on this one, as ZIPS projects Correa to post the highest WAR of any player on the list during the remainder of his team-control years with his current organization, and his projected +42 WAR over the next five years is just +0.3 WAR away from the lead even factoring out controllable years.

In fact, ZIPS thinks that, by 2019, Correa will be the best player in baseball, full stop. While his 2016 performance hasn’t been quite at the level of some of the other guys in this inner circle, we also have to remember that he’s the youngest of the group, still just 21 years of age. He’s six months younger than Alex Bregman, who made this list by tearing up minor-league pitching, and hasn’t yet debuted in the big leagues. Correa hasn’t had the big breakout year so far in 2016, but seemingly everyone in baseball still believes it’s coming. So, on this one, I’m deferring to the people who actually work in the offices where these decisions are made. Seager and Bryant are amazing, but if given their pick of the recent young guys to hit the big leagues, it seems like Correa is the one that most people would want going forward.

Team Control WAR Total +32.2
Guaranteed Dollars $119.0 M
Team Control Through 2020
Previous Rank #1
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2017 25 +8.7 $19.3 M
2018 26 +8.3 $33.3 M
2019 27 +7.8 $33.3 M
2020 28 +7.4 $33.3 M

Hey there, old friend. Well, you don’t turn 25 for a few more weeks, so you’re not really old yet. And here you are again, as good as ever. Maybe even better.

I know this is a kind of boring result, but I will say that this almost didn’t happen. The first version of the list I sent around to friends last weekend had him at #4, and no one really even objected to that, as there was a general agreement that Correa, Bryant, and Seager were legitimate options for the top spot. Even going into Thursday, Trout was still sitting down there, but a few conversations convinced me that, if we get back to the original question, Trout probably brings back a bigger package than any other player. None of these guys are getting traded, of course, and I’m not sure the Astros, Cubs, or Dodgers would trade their guy for Trout if given the chance; they like what they have, and taking on an extra $70 to $80 million in salary over the next four years while losing their best young player might not be worth it.

But trades of this magnitude require ownership to be involved, and not just in a minor way. And if there’s one guy in baseball for whom an owner would put rationality aside, it’s this generation’s Mickey Mantle. It’s the guy you could say is already 90% of the way to a Hall of Fame career. It’s the guy who is literally twice as valuable as free agents signing for $35 million a year.

While I think one could make a case that a lot of franchises could potentially be better off with Correa and an extra $20 million a year to spend on the rest of their roster, rationality will go out the window if the Angels ever do decide to put Mike Trout on the blocks, in a way that it wouldn’t if the same teams had a chance to land Correa, Bryant, or Seager. Yeah, those guys and the extra cash might do just as much to help you win while spreading out your risk a bit, but they’re not going to instigate an insane bidding war between competitive billionaires in the same way that Trout’s availability might.

So, it’s still Trout, but this time, just barely. And probably not for a lot of franchises. The ones on a budget are taking the cheap young kids. But there are enough teams that don’t need to worry as much about payroll space as they do the organizational legacy that I’ve been convinced that Trout is still the most valuable trade chip in the game. The Angels won’t get a Seager, Correa, or Bryant for him if they trade him, but no player in baseball clearly has the power to bring back more in return.

But if Seager keeps hitting like this, or Bryant shows he really is Mike Schmidt 2.0, or Correa has the breakout that everyone thinks is coming, we may very well have a new Trade Value King next summer. Having so many great young players to pick makes for a much more fun exercise.

2016 Trade Value, 1-50
Rk Pv Player Age 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
1 1 Mike Trout 24 +8.7
$19.3 M
+8.3
$33.3 M
+7.8
$33.3 M
+7.4
$33.3 M
2 5 Carlos Correa 21 +7.9
Pre-Arb
+8.3
Pre-Arb
+8.3
Arb1
+8.4
Arb2
+8.6
Arb3
3 4 Kris Bryant 24 +6.7
Pre-Arb
+6.7
Arb1
+6.4
Arb2
+6.1
Arb3
+6.0
Arb4
4 31 Corey Seager 22 +7.1
Pre-Arb
+7.1
Pre-Arb
+7.3
Arb1
+7.1
Arb2
+6.8
Arb3
5 Francisco Lindor 22 +5.9
Pre-Arb
+6.3
Pre-Arb
+6.6
Arb1
+6.6
Arb2
+6.3
Arb3
6 7 Anthony Rizzo 26 +5.4
$7.0 M
+5.1
$7.0 M
+4.7
$11.0 M
+4.0
$14.5 M
+3.4
$14.5 M
7 11 Mookie Betts 23 +5.0
Pre-Arb
+4.9
Arb1
+4.7
Arb2
+4.5
Arb3
8 14 Nolan Arenado 25 +5.2
Arb2
+5.2
Arb3
+4.8
Arb4
9 3 Paul Goldschmidt 28 +5.1
$8.8 M
+4.5
$11.0 M
+4.0
$14.5 M
10 2 Bryce Harper 23 +6.9
Arb2
+6.6
Arb3
11 8 Manny Machado 23 +6.6
Arb2
+6.7
Arb3
12 22 Noah Syndergaard 23 +4.9
Pre-Arb
+5.1
Arb1
+4.7
Arb2
+4.8
Arb3
+4.6
Arb4
13 35 Jose Altuve 26 +5.5
$4.5 M
+5.3
$6.0 M
+5.1
$6.5 M
14 17 Josh Donaldson 30 +6.4
$17.0 M
+5.6
Arb4
15 6 Chris Sale 27 +6.1
$12.0 M
+5.7
$12.5 M
+5.3
$15.0 M
16 16 Madison Bumgarner 26 +4.8
$11.5 M
+4.7
$12.0 M
+4.3
$12.0 M
17 23 Jose Fernandez 23 +6.1
Arb2
+6.3
Arb3
18 19 Corey Kluber 30 +3.9
$7.5 M
+3.3
$10.5 M
+3.1
$13.0 M
+2.6
$13.5 M
+2.3
$14.0 M
19 18 Buster Posey 29 +5.6
$21.4 M
+4.9
$21.4 M
+4.2
$21.4 M
+3.7
$21.4 M
+3.1
$21.4 M
20 33 Xander Bogaerts 23 +4.2
Arb1
+4.6
Arb2
+4.6
Arb3
21 10 Chris Archer 27 +3.6
$4.8 M
+3.5
$6.3 M
+3.2
$7.5 M
+2.9
$9.0 M
+2.6
$11.0 M
22 20 Jacob deGrom 28 +3.7
Arb1
+3.5
Arb2
+3.2
Arb3
+2.9
Arb4
23 26 Christian Yelich 24 +3.4
$3.5 M
+3.2
$7.0 M
+3.1
$9.8 M
+3.0
$12.5 M
+2.8
$14.0 M
24 Gregory Polanco 24 +3.3
$1.6 M
+3.3
$4.1 M
+3.1
$6.1 M
+3.1
$8.6 M
+2.8
$11.6 M
25 41 Jose Quintana 27 +4.2
$6.0 M
+4.1
$8.8 M
+3.8
$10.5 M
+3.4
$10.5 M
26 Yoan Moncada 21 +2.7
Pre-Arb
+3.1
Pre-Arb
+3.2
Pre-Arb
+3.2
Pre-Arb
+3.4
Arb1
27 39 Carlos Carrasco 29 +3.1
$6.5 M
+2.8
$8.0 M
+2.5
$9.0 M
+2.2
$9.5 M
28 Jackie Bradley Jr. 26 +4.0
Arb1
+3.9
Arb2
+3.8
Arb3
+3.4
Arb4
29 25 Starling Marte 27 +3.3
$5.0 M
+3.2
$7.5 M
+2.8
$10.0 M
+2.5
$12.5 M
+2.1
$13.5 M
30 George Springer 26 +3.5
Arb1
+3.2
Arb2
+3.1
Arb3
+2.8
Arb4
31 32 Addison Russell 22 +4.0
Pre-Arb
+4.1
Arb1
+3.9
Arb2
+3.9
Arb3
+3.8
Arb4
32 Miguel Sano 23 +2.8
Pre-Arb
+2.9
Pre-Arb
+2.8
Arb1
+2.6
Arb2
+2.5
Arb3
33 Nomar Mazara 21 +3.6
Pre-Arb
+4.0
Pre-Arb
+4.0
Arb1
+4.0
Arb2
+4.1
Arb3
34 Danny Salazar 26 +3.3
Arb1
+3.4
Arb2
+3.1
Arb3
+2.9
Arb4
35 13 Gerrit Cole 25 +3.7
Arb1
+3.8
Arb2
+3.5
Arb3
36 Julio Urias 19 +2.5
Pre-Arb
+2.9
Pre-Arb
+3.1
Pre-Arb
+3.5
Arb1
+3.4
Arb2
37 Alex Bregman 22 +2.7
Pre-Arb
+3.1
Pre-Arb
+3.4
Pre-Arb
+3.5
Arb1
+3.5
Arb2
38 Andrew Benintendi 21 +2.2
Pre-Arb
+2.7
Pre-Arb
+3.2
Pre-Arb
+3.4
Arb1
+3.4
Arb2
39 J.P. Crawford 21 +2.9
Pre-Arb
+3.5
Pre-Arb
+3.6
Pre-Arb
+3.8
Arb1
+4.1
Arb2
40 Lance McCullers 22 +3.3
Pre-Arb
+3.5
Arb1
+3.3
Arb2
+3.3
Arb3
+3.3
Arb4
41 Lucas Giolito 21 +2.4
Pre-Arb
+2.8
Pre-Arb
+3.0
Pre-Arb
+3.5
Arb1
+3.3
Arb2
42 Trevor Story 23 +3.5
Pre-Arb
+3.6
Pre-Arb
+3.5
Arb1
+3.3
Arb2
+3.3
Arb3
43 12 Joc Pederson 24 +3.1
Pre-Arb
+3.2
Arb1
+3.1
Arb2
+2.9
Arb3
44 34 Salvador Perez 26 +3.3
$3.0 M
+3.3
$7.5 M
+2.9
$10.0 M
+2.7
$13.0 M
+2.2
$13.0 M
45 Julio Teheran 25 +3.6
$6.3 M
+3.7
$8.0 M
+3.3
$11.0 M
+3.3
$12.0 M
46 Alex Reyes 21 +2.7
Pre-Arb
+3.0
Pre-Arb
+2.9
Pre-Arb
+2.8
Arb1
+2.7
Arb2
47 Jake Lamb 25 +3.3
Pre-Arb
+3.1
Arb1
+2.8
Arb2
+2.7
Arb3
48 Rougned Odor 22 +3.7
Pre-Arb
+3.8
Arb1
+4.1
Arb2
+4.1
Arb3
49 Jon Gray 24 +3.4
Pre-Arb
+3.5
Pre-Arb
+3.2
Arb1
+3.2
Arb2
+3.1
Arb3
50 47 Carlos Martinez 24 +3.7
Arb1
+3.9
Arb2
+3.5
Arb3
Pre-Arb
Arb
Team Option



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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