Archive for 2010 Trade Value

One Inning, Two Defensible Bunts

Although the “bunt wars” may not rage on, they are at least still simmering. The older, stale debates about whether sacrifice bunts are good strategy or the wastes of outs often miss the point by leaving aside game situation, game theory, the skill of the bunter, and other considerations. Even when such things are taken into account, discussions can get a bit abstract. Concrete examples of bunts and the situations around them can illustrate what complexities are involved in deciding whether a bunt is the right call. So let’s make it concrete: the sixth inning of the Red Sox-Royals game on Saturday provided two bunts worth closer consideration.

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What I Learned From Last Year’s Trade Value Series

Beginning tomorrow, the 2011 Trade Value series will kick off here on FanGraphs, but before we go forward with this year’s version, I wanted to look back at last year’s list and see if there are lessons to be learned from some of the rankings. Obviously, things can change quite a bit in 12 months’ time, and many of the outcomes could not have been easily predicted last July, so we can’t just say “that guy got hurt, so it was a bad ranking.” However, I’m wondering if there are trends we can spot that might say something about what has transpired over the last year or perhaps some errors in logic I made that might have led to some rankings that don’t look so great in hindsight.

Before we talk about some of the things that we learned, however, it’d be helpful to revisit the list in its entirety. And so, here’s last year’s Top 50 Trade Value assets.

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2010 Trade Value: Recap

Okay, so, the list has been revealed – now, let’s talk about some of the questions that came up during the last week, including about some of the more notable guys that didn’t make it.

Probably the most discussion centered around Roy Halladay. He is unquestionably the best pitcher in baseball today, and the contract he just signed with the Phillies is both below his market value and short enough to not saddle a team with a potential albatross. He’s a highly valuable asset, no doubt. However, as we just saw over the last year, the actual market for Halladay’s services is significantly smaller than the theoretical one, because he holds a full no-trade clause that he puts to maximum use.

The Blue Jays spent months working on potential deals for their ace, but in the end, they were limited to just a few options, as Halladay’s NTC ruled out most of the teams in baseball as potential trade partners. Because of his selectiveness, there’s just no way the Phillies could drum up enough of a competition for his services to get one of the guys from this list in return. We just saw Toronto work for months to deal Halladay, eventually settling for multiple guys nowhere near this list in value, and they had to pick up a significant portion of his 2010 salary in order to pull that off.

He’s a great pitcher, the best in baseball, and he’s underpaid relative to the market. But part of why he’s underpaid is because he’s not willing to open himself up to go to any of the 30 MLB teams, limiting the potential demand for his services. That gets reflected in his actual trade value, and is the main reason why he didn’t make the list.

The other name pitcher who didn’t make the cut was Dan Haren. While his ERA is higher than usual this year, his underlying performance shows that he’s still one of the better pitchers in the game, and he’s proven to be a durable workhorse. However, when I talked with folks in MLB about him, the reaction to what they’d give up for him was surprisingly lukewarm.

The main issue that was brought up is that he’s a guy whose best skill is command and has achieved most of his success in the National League. There’s a good amount of skepticism about NL arms without top-shelf stuff, and Haren was lumped into that category. Combine that with his escalating salaries (he’s due $40 million over the next three seasons), and I just couldn’t get anyone in the game to get very excited about giving up premium talent to acquire him.

I was pretty surprised, honestly. He started out in the 30s on my original list, but by the end of the weekend, he just missed the cut. The sense that I got in Anaheim was that guys like us like him more than major league teams do.

Moving on to the hitters who didn’t make the cut, there’s one group that certainly took a beating from where they ranked last year – young, athletic center fielders. Last year, Grady Sizemore (#12), Matt Kemp (#14), Adam Jones (#19), B.J. Upton (#21), and Curtis Granderson (#22) all scored very highly in this series. This year, none of them made the cut, as almost all of them have taken steps backwards in their development (and Sizemore got hurt).

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that five somewhat similar players have all regressed in the last year. That’s certainly possible. Also possible – I overrated that particular skillset. Besides Sizemore, all of those guys have issues making contact and general problems with the strike zone, which has been exploited by MLB pitchers this year. For all their physical gifts, they had a pretty big flaw, which was perhaps too easily overlooked by focusing on what they did well.

For those arguing for Carlos Gonzalez‘s inclusion on this year’s list, I’d suggest those guys offer a pretty significant warning. Aggressive hitters can be easy outs when pitchers figure out how to get them to chase, and it takes a pretty special talent to succeed long term with that approach.

Thanks for participating, everyone. It was a fun exercise, and we’ll do it again next summer. And yes, by popular demand, coming later this week – the 10 least valuable assets in baseball. Look for that on Thursday.


2010 Trade Value: #5 – #1

Introduction
#50-#46
#45-#41
#40-#36
#35-#31
#30-#26
#25-#21
#20-#16
#15-#11
#10-#6

#5 – Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Boston

Whether it is his size or the fact that he is overshadowed by other players on his team, Pedroia still hardly ever gets the recognition for being one of the best players in baseball. But he is one of the best in baseball at making contact while still hitting for power, and he rounds out his game by drawing walks, stealing bases at a high success rate, and playing excellent defense at second base. Over all, the package adds up to a +5 to +6 win player in his prime. Oh, and he’s under contract for the next five years at a total of $44 million – the last year is voided if he’s traded, but still, 4/33 for what Pedroia brings to the table is a huge bargain.

#4 – Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida

Yet another guy for whom it was pretty tough to find a final spot. Ramirez obviously brings positives to the table, as he is an offensive monster for a shortstop, especially compared with the current group that comprises his peers. He’s a five tool player producing at a premium position, and at just 26 years of age, he could get even better. And yet, he’s had some pretty public issues with management and is still not considered the hardest worker around. Further his contract is no longer dirt cheap, as he’ll be paid $57 million over the next four years. The performance and talent, however, is too impressive to have him any lower on this list, as teams would gladly put up with Ramirez’s warts in order to get a shortstop with a career .394 wOBA.

#3 – Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington

This may be as high as any pitcher will ever rank on this list. Strasburg has been nothing short of sensational so far in the big leagues, posting a ridiculous 2.11 xFIP in his first eight starts. His stuff is better than anyone in baseball, and it’s hard to see hitters figuring him out as long as he keeps throwing this hard. Oh, and the Nationals control his rights through 2016. He won’t make any serious money for another three years, so for now, the Nationals get one of the game’s best pitchers at about 5 percent of his market value. But, as with any pitcher, the risks are significant. The superlatives could all disappear with one pitch, as it has for so many phenoms before him. Pitcher attrition would keep other teams from giving up the kitchen sink to get Strasburg, but as good as he is, the refrigerator is probably on the table.

#2 – Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta

The year’s other phenom, Heyward isn’t as good as Strasburg right now, but he’s a hitter, and that makes all the difference in the world when assigning risk. At just 20 years old, he’s already shown he’s ready for the big leagues, flashing both patience and power at the plate. He’s far from a finished product, but the skills are there for him to become the game’s premier outfielder. It may come sooner than later, in fact. Because the Braves brought him up at the start of the season, they “only” control his rights through 2015, but that’s still five more years of team control for the game’s best young talent who still can’t drink. Almost everyone who is this good at this age becomes a superstar, and few doubt that Heyward is headed that way.

#1 – Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay

In May, when Heyward was going nuts, I asked my fellow FG authors if they thought there was an argument for Longoria to get displaced from the top spot. The answer – no, that contract is still too ridiculous. And,upon a another look, it is. Despite being one of the game’s premier players, Longoria will make $2 million next year. Over the next six years, he’ll be paid $42 million, or about 25 percent of his market value, which is just crazy. No player in the game provides the same performance for anything close to this kind of cost, and I don’t know that there’s an offer out there that would make Tampa Bay trade their third baseman. Unless Heyward turns into the best player in the game next year, I’m not sure Longoria will be ceding this spot to anyone for quite some time. His contract is the most team friendly deal any player has ever signed.

So, that’s the 2010 Trade Value series. I’ll do another post at 5 pm talking about some of the questions that arose from the list, such as why I left off Roy Halladay and Dan Haren, and look at some of the guys who disappeared from last year’s list.


2010 Trade Value: #10 – #6

Introduction
#50-#46
#45-#41
#40-#36
#35-#31
#30-#26
#25-#21
#20-#16
#15-#11

#10 – Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia

Probably the best all-around player in baseball, Utley is a true superstar. He’s a +7 win player who does everything well. There are legitimately no flaws in his game. The only reason he’s even this low is his age, as he’ll be 34 when the remainder of the three years on his contract are up. Second baseman generally don’t last much past their mid-30s, and Utley’s body is showing some signs of wear and tear, even if it hasn’t affected his play on the field yet. Still, over those next three seasons, he’s going to be extremely valuable, signed to a deal that pays him about half of what he’s actually worth. He’s the real franchise player in Philadelphia.

#9 – Josh Johnson, SP, Florida

The Marlins ace has gone from a good arm to a true #1 starter, dominating with classic power stuff. If you haven’t seen him pitch, you’re missing out. The fastball has both velocity and movement, the slider is a knockout, and the change-up plays up because of how hard he throws it. He’s also a massive dude at 6’7 and 250 pounds, which is the kind of frame teams look for in frontline workhorses. The only blemish is his arm problems from 2007, but he has shown zero ill effects since coming back two years ago. He just signed a three year extension over the winter that pays him only $35 million over the next three years, a fraction of what he would command as a free agent. One of the game’s premier pitchers, the Marlins asking price for him would be almost unthinkable.

#8 – Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati

While people talk about what Adrian Gonzalez would command in a trade, imagine if he was just 26 years of age and had three more seasons before he became a free agent. You don’t have to wonder what that would look like – just look at Votto, who is basically the same player, just with a much better contract situation. He’s a beast of a hitter, a true middle-of-the-order slugger who can pound the baseball but doesn’t chase pitches out of the zone. Given the going rate of power hitters, Votto’s should be a huge bargain through 2013. I can’t imagine any scenario where the Reds would trade him at this point.

#7 – Jon Lester, SP, Boston

Lester squeaks in front of Johnson mostly due to his contract, which pays him just $38 million through 2014, but it’s not like he’s chopped liver on the mound either. The Red Sox lefty continues to establish himself as one of the game’s best left-handers, and it’s hard to question the work ethic or desire of a guy who has already beaten cancer. His stuff may not be as initially intimidating as a guy like Johnson’s, but he mixes his pitches well and everything moves. This allows him to pitch like more of a power guy even though he doesn’t light up the radar guns as often as others. The Red Sox ability to control one of the game’s elite pitchers at such a low cost gives them a huge advantage in the ultra-competitive AL East.

#6 – Seattle Mariners, Org, Seattle

Self-explanatory…

Okay, fine, here’s the real #6.

#6 – Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Washington

If there’s one ranking from last year I regret, it’s having him 43rd on the list. That was just not a good call. This is where he belongs as one of the game’s best players, and a guy who every team in baseball would covet. Just 25 years of age, he’s already a +6 win player thanks to his combination of offensive and defensive skills, and he’s signed through 2013 for a grand total of just $35 million. He looks like a bargain at this rate, but he may not be done developing yet – the scary part about Zimmerman is that there’s room for more improvement. At this price, the current performance and ability to provide even more in the future makes Zimmerman one of the game’s best values.


2010 Trade Value: #15 – #11

Introduction
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#45-#41
#40-#36
#35-#31
#30-#26
#25-#21
#20-#16

#15 – David Wright, 3B, New York

It has been an interesting few years for Wright. After being a complete hitter in 2008, he lost his power and started striking out a ton last year. This year, he has regained his power but is still striking out at a high rate. The overall package is remains good, and Wright is in the argument for best third baseman in baseball, but the inconsistency in skills has to make you pause. In terms of his contract, he’s signed through 2013 for a total of $45 million. Given that those three years are his age 28-30 seasons, his salaries are team friendly compared to what Wright would receive on the open market.

#14 – Colby Rasmus, OF, St. Louis

The Cardinals star young outfielder has had a breakthrough sophomore season by sacrificing contact in order to generate a lot more power. While his strikeouts are way up, Rasmus has already matched last season’s home run total and has shown the ability to drive the baseball consistently. At just 23, he already provides a lot of offense for a center fielder, though his current performance is likely above his actual abilities – its almost impossible to hit .280 while striking out so frequently. Still, even if he settles in as more of a .260 hitter, his power and patience will make him a weapon, and the Cardinals will get to enjoy his production for at least four more years.

#13 – Robinson Cano, 2B, New York

At 27 years of age, Cano is well on his way to having the best year of his career. Always a high contact guy, he has continued to develop power while also improving his defense, and has turned himself into one of the best second baseman in the game as a result. The Yankees own his rights through 2013, and they are only on the hook for $39 million over the next three seasons. While that is decent money, it’s far below what he’s actually worth, and as a player headed into his prime years at an up-the-middle position, Cano provides significant value above and beyond what he costs.

#12 – Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee

This one was tough for me. Braun was a monster in his rookie 2007 season, but he has never been able to repeat those kinds of power numbers. In fact, his isolated slugging has declined in each of the four years he has been in the big leagues, moving in tandem with his strikeout rate, which has also fallen each year. Braun has apparently made the opposite choice that Rasmus made, and unfortunately, it hasn’t helped Braun. The skills are still there for him to be a star, but Braun is going the wrong way. That said, his contract is still far below his value, as he is locked up through 2015 for a grand total of $40 million. He might not be as good a player as he was his rookie year, but given how little money he is scheduled to make in his prime, Braun is still a bargain. And, who knows, perhaps he’ll realize sooner than later that he was better off as a monster slugger and live with the strikeouts. The skills are still there.

#11 – Justin Upton, OF, Arizona

Another tough one. Upton is not having a great year, as his power is down and his strikeouts are up over last year’s performance, but we have to keep in mind Upton’s youth. He doesn’t turn 23 for another month and has already accumulated 57 career home runs. Guys who are this good and this young almost always develop into superstars. Unless Upton screws it up, he can look forward to greatness ahead of him, and the Diamondbacks have already locked him up through 2015 for a total of $50 million. He’s not a star yet, but not only could he become one, he could be the best player in baseball. At this price, his upside would make every team in baseball get in on the bidding if he became available.


2010 Trade Value: #20 – #16

Introduction
#50-#46
#45-#41
#40-#36
#35-#31
#30-#26
#25-#21

#20 – Zack Greinke, SP, Kansas City

It would have been unfair to expect Greinke to repeat his remarkable 2009 season, and thus far, he hasn’t been able to do it. However, even after taking a step back, he’s still among the game’s best pitchers, and he is signed to a bargain contract that will pay him just $27 million in 2011 and 2012. Of all the guys in the Top 50, he’s probably the most likely to be moved before his current contract expires, so it will be interesting to see if we actually find out what Greinke’s trade value is in the next year or so.

#19 – Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh

Teams love players who can do everything, and that’s McCutchen in a nutshell. He’s above average in every area, and as a 23-year-old with a broad array of skills, he’s got room for even more development. He’s already one of the game’s best center fielders and would get significantly more notice if he played somewhere besides Pittsburgh. Given that the Pirates have him under team control for five more years, they don’t have to worry about losing their franchise player any time soon.

#18 – Adam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis

Anyone who wasn’t sure how good Wainwright’s curve was learned during Tuesday’s All-Star Game. His curve ball is probably the best in the game, and his fastball, slider, and change-up aren’t bad either. He throws strikes, gets groundballs, and misses bats. There are really no flaws in his game. The Cardinals control him through 2013 at a grand total of $27 million, and the last two years of the deal are team options, limiting the liability if something goes wrong and he ends up hurt. Overall, the combination of excellence, low cost, and minimal risk adds up to a highly valued asset.

#17 – Kevin Youkilis, 1B, Boston

A six-win player signed through 2013 for a grand total of $37 million? Yes, please. Youkilis has surpassed what anyone thought he would become, and has turned himself into one of the best all around players in the game. He hits for contact and power, draws a bunch of walks, and plays quality defense at multiple positions. Even at age 31, he’s showing no signs of slowing down, and while he has a skillset that generally doesn’t age all that gracefully, he should remain highly productive through the rest of his contract.

#16 – Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Colorado

No, he’s not pitching as well as his ERA would suggest. Yes, he’s still a phenomenal pitcher. His combination of stuff and performance is up there with anyone, and when you see him light up radar guns, it isn’t hard to see why hitters are having such a tough time generating runs against him. Beyond just what he brings to the mound, though, his contract is super team friendly – he’s got four years left on his deal (the last two being club options) for a grand total of $21 million. The last option is voidable if he’s traded, however, so an acquiring team would only get three years from him, which keeps him out of the top 15, but still makes him a tremendously valuable asset.


2010 Trade Value: #25 – #21

Introduction
#50-#46
#45-#41
#40-#36
#35-#31
#30-#26

#25 – Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati

The young outfielder for the Reds possesses all the abilities to be a true superstar, and a breakout year is coming, likely sooner than later. One of the best power and speed players in the game, Bruce will be a middle of the order hitter with defensive value, making him a rare specimen. He still has some growing to do before he gets there, but he’s already a quality player and has barely scratched the surface of what he could be. The Reds having him under team control through 2014 only enhances his value.

#24 – Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco

If this was strictly about past performance, he’d rank much higher. The continued loss of velocity, however, raises questions about what kind of pitcher he’ll be going forward, and teams have long been skeptical of his durability due to his size, workloads, and unorthodox delivery. Once you add his escalating paychecks into the calculation, and this is where we end up – with a pitcher who has been as good as anyone, but has enough question marks about his future abilities to keep him out of the top tier in terms of trade value.

#23 – Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle

Perhaps because of the expectations that came with the beginning of his career, Hernandez can often feel like a disappointment because he’s not the best pitcher in the game. He is, however, in the discussion of guys not named Halladay, and his combination of stuff and durability have teams convinced that he could be even better if he ever fully matures. The five year contract he signed last winter is far enough below his market value that most teams could add him to their budget without too many problems.

#22 – Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis

Speaking of best in the game, trying to figure out where Pujols should land was quite the challenge. On one hand, he’s baseball’s premier slugger and drastically underpaid, but his contract only lasts through next season, so his value is short term only. He provides so much production, however, that teams would still be beating down the Cardinals door if he was ever made available, even though he’ll be looking for a huge paycheck a year from now. He’s pretty much the only guy good enough to overcome the lack of long term value.

#21 – Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland
Of all the good young catchers on this list, Santana is the best. A switch-hitter with power and a tremendous approach at the plate, he projects as a better version of Victor Martinez at the plate, only with much better defensive skills than his predecessor. He’s wasted no time in establishing himself as one of the game’s best young players, and because he wasn’t called up until June, the Indians will control his rights for six more years. The Dodgers will regret trading him for a long, long time.


2010 Trade Value: #30 – #26

Introduction
#50-#46
#45-#41
#40-#36
#35-#31

#30 – Ian Kinsler, 2B, Texas

The Rangers second baseman is not just one of the better all around players at his position, but he’s also one of the best bargains. He’s got three years left on his original long-term contract with the Rangers, and will be paid just $23 million over the remainder of that deal. He’s been a +4 to +5 win player in each of the last two years and is well on his way to matching that total again this year, making him an All-Star being paid like an average player. That’s tremendously valuable, and he’s one of the main reasons why Texas is the team to beat in the AL West.

#29 – David Price, SP, Tampa Bay

The starter in yesterday’s All-Star Game, Price’s improvements over last year are more incremental than his ERA may lead you to believe. His walks are down slightly and his strikeout and groundball rates are up slightly, so he is pitching better, but he’s not yet an ace. He may still become one, and given his stuff, every team in baseball would gladly wait for him to develop into one of the game’s best pitchers, but he’s not there yet. He is, however, a quality starter making very little money and under team control for another five years. He doesn’t have to be an ace yet to be highly coveted.

#28 – Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Cleveland

Over the last three years, Choo has posted wOBAs of .402, .389, and .382. He’s been consistently above average at every facet of the game, and yet he flies under the radar because his teammates haven’t performed up to his level. An thumb injury has derailed his 2010 season, but his long-term future is still very bright. He’d rank higher if he wasn’t headed for arbitration with Scott Boras as his agent, making a long term, team friendly deal less likely. Still, the Indians should be able to get three years of reduced rates out of a high-quality player before Boras takes him elsewhere, and every team in baseball would love to have him.

#27 – Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles

Like Price, he’s not yet what he could be, but he’s shown signs of getting there, and the leap may not be that far away. His stuff is legitimately top shelf, and as a 22-year-old lefty, few arms in the game were anywhere near where he is at this age. The command is still a bit of a concern, however, as is his ability to keep right-handers off base, but even with those issues, he’s a terrific arm. If he gets them straightened out, he’ll be among the game’s best. The Dodgers control his rights for four more years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to buy out his arbitration years before he started earning any real money.

#26 – Brian McCann, C, Atlanta

Yet another catcher with some power, McCann is probably the most polished of the young slugging backstops. He doesn’t make quite as much contact as he did a few years ago, but the walks are up and the power hasn’t gone anywhere. He is, clearly, one of the elite catchers in baseball, and at 26, he should remain a quality player through the remainder of his ridiculous contract. There are three years remaining on his deal, and he’ll earn just over $27 million during that time, less than half of what he’s actually worth. He’s the foundation of the Braves roster, and quite a piece to build around.


2010 Trade Value: #35 – #31

Introduction
#50-#46
#45-#41
#40-#36

#35 – Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit

The Tigers ace is one of the most dominant power pitchers in the game, but after what looked like a breakout season in 2010, he’s essentially reverted to being what he was before 2009 – a good pitcher who doesn’t get as much out of his stuff as you would expect. Teams would love to have him, certainly, but with an $80 million extension and a heavy workload, he comes with a fair amount of risk. That said, power arms are always highly sought after, and there’d be a line for his services if the Tigers put him on the market.

#34 – Mike Stanton, OF, Florida

Stanton is arguably the strongest player in baseball, and he doesn’t turn 21 until November. His ability to drive a baseball is almost unheard of for a player his age. The power comes with a cost, as his ferocious swing doesn’t make enough contact right now, but its important to remember just how young he is. He’s improved his approach at the plate, and while he’s still too aggressive, it shouldn’t be a permanent thing that can’t be fixed. Once he harnesses his natural abilities, look out. The Marlins would have to be overwhelmed to part with their monster in the making.

#33 – Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore

A year into his career, Wieters isn’t yet what everyone anticipated. Billed as a switch-hitting Joe Mauer with power, he’s shown the skills that got him so much hype in the first place except for the one that was supposed to set him apart – the ability to drive the baseball. It hasn’t helped that he’s been worse this year than he was last season, making it hard to find progress in his development. But we should also keep in mind that, for all the talk of how disappointing he’s been, he’s essentially been a league average catcher as a rookie, and there’s certainly potential for more. It’s far too early to give up on Wieters, though we have to adjust our expectations and perhaps recalibrate the timeline a bit.

#32 – Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas

In a league with few good shortstops, Andrus stands tall despite being just 21 years of age. A defensive specialist, he’s never going to be the best hitter in the league, but he provides enough value on offense that his total package makes him one of the better players at his position. His lack of power and too frequent baserunning gaffes are problematic, but the good outweighs the bad with Andrus. Good young players who provide value now and potential for more later are building blocks of good franchises, and that’s exactly what Andrus is to the Rangers right now.

#31 – Buster Posey, C, San Francisco

The Giants rookie catcher has shown why many thought he should have been given the starting job out of the gates this year. You can bet that he won’t be surrendering the position any time soon, and by limiting the service time he will gain this year, they ensured that he won’t be a free agent until after the 2016 season. San Francisco fans can look forward to six more years of a catcher who offers value both at the plate and behind it.


2010 Trade Value: #40 – #36

Introduction
#50-#46
#45-#41

#40 – Jered Weaver, SP, Anaheim

Weaver’s breakthrough performance has come at a good time for him, as he heads towards his second year of arbitration eligibility. Already a quality pitcher, he’ll now take a career year built around an improved strikeout rate to the panel when asking for a large raise this winter. And, that is really the drawback that keeps him this low on the list – even as well as he’s pitching, he’s only got two years of club control left, and he’ll make decent money in both 2011 and 2012. However, even factoring in arbitration raises, he’s still going to be a bargain, and he’d be one of the most sought after pitchers in the game if the Angels put him on the market.

#39 – James Shields, SP, Tampa Bay

Like Weaver, Shields has seen a big jump in his strikeout rate this year. However, it hasn’t led to better results, as his home run problems and a high BABIP have undermined what should have been a breakout year. Those should even out sooner than later, and Shields abilities as a solid front of the rotation starter will again shine through. And, of course, since he’s a member of the Rays, he has a team friendly contract that includes three team options after 2011, giving Tampa Bay a cheap, quality pitcher with very little risk attached.

#38 – Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas

Similar to Weaver, Hamilton has had a monstrous breakout season, and he’s going to reap the rewards when he heads back to arbitration this winter. Power hitters command a large premium in the market, and so while Hamilton only has two more years of team control, those are hugely valuable years where he’ll be earning far less than what he would as a free agent. Given that he’s also a quality defensive outfielder with physical tools that have suggested this kind of performance was always possible, and Hamilton would be near the top of every GMs shopping list.

#37 – Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado

There is no player in baseball less likely to be traded than Tulowitzki. Not only is he a great player at a premium position signed to a bargain of a long term contract, but that deal also contains a provision that lets him void the rest of the contract if he’s moved to another team. That makes him far more valuable to the Rockies than to potential suitors, who would only get two years of Tulowitzki’s services at arbitration salaries if they acquired him. However, that he won’t be traded doesn’t mean teams wouldn’t love to have him, and those final two years are extremely valuable, given the dearth of good shortstops in baseball and how much he adds both at the plate and on the field.

#36 – Tommy Hanson, SP, Atlanta

Don’t let the ERA fool you – Hanson has gotten even better after a strong rookie season in 2009. His velocity is up, giving him better stuff across the board, and it’s translated into fewer walks and more strikeouts this season. Still just 23, Hanson has the ability to dominate with regularity, and it won’t take long before he’s recognized as one of the National League’s premier arms. With five more years of team control after 2010, the Braves ace is going to be providing tremendous value for Atlanta well into the coming decade.


2010 Trade Value: #45 – 41

Introduction
#50 – #46

#45 – Miguel Montero, C, Arizona

Somewhat overlooked because he began the season on the DL, Montero has been a monster since returning to the line-up, carrying over last year’s success and then some. At 26, he’s a quality defensive catcher who can hit for power from the left side, and he’s become a more disciplined hitter as well. He now heads into the prime of his career as one of the best all around backstops in the game, and only his two remaining years of club control keep him this low on the list. Given the diminished salaries he’ll command and the value he will produce, however, he’s the kind of player that every team would covet.

#44 – Brian Matusz, SP, Baltimore

The best of Baltimore’s young arms, Matusz is one of the game’s best young left-handed starters. Despite pitching in the American League East, he’s more than holding his own with a four pitch repertoire that keeps hitters off balance. He doesn’t light up the radar gun like some other arms on this list, but he has a better idea of how to pitch than most. Don’t judge him on just his major league numbers to date – at 23, there’s far better days ahead. Given that the Orioles have him for five years beyond this one, it would take an overwhelming offer to pry him out of their hands.

#43 – Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF, Tampa Bay

Considering that he was never going to repeat his 2009 season, this has been about as good a follow-up as you could hope for. The surprising power hasn’t carried over, but everything else is still well above average, and the total package is a high quality player that is as versatile as any in the game. The Rays took a risk in locking him up before he had a chance to repeat his monster 2009 season, but it looks like a sound investment, as they have him signed through 2013 at bargain salaries and then hold team options for both 2014 and 2015.

#42 – Geovany Soto, C, Chicago

Like Montero, Soto is a young, offensive backstop with the ability to stay behind the plate. He’s rebounded from last year’s disappointing sophomore campaign, offering his usual blend of patience and power while inexplicably hitting eighth for the Cubs. Given his ability to drive the ball, he could hit in the middle of the order for most teams, and when you have a 27-year-old cacher who can provide that kind of punch, you have a highly valuable piece. The Cubs will control his rights for three more years, and it shouldn’t take them that long to figure out that he’s better than Koyie Hill.

#41 – Yovani Gallardo, SP, Milwaukee

The Brewers ace is a bit of a challenge to rank. On the one hand, he’s one of the better arms in baseball at age 24 and already signed to a long term, below market contract. On the other hand, knee surgery has limited his career to just over 400 innings pitched, and now he’s back on the DL with an oblique injury. With a longer track record of success, teams would be more willing to project him as a future ace, but he’s yet to crack 200 innings in a season and looks unlikely to do so again this year. Gallardo has the upside to rank much higher, but the injuries and backloaded contract would make teams think twice before giving up the farm to get him from Milwaukee.


2010 Trade Value: #50 -#46

And we’re off. Introduction here if you missed it.

#50 – Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia

The guy that most people consider the best prospect left in the minors, Brown is also the guy that was famously off-limits in the Roy Halladay trade. When your organization won’t trade you, straight up, for the best pitcher in baseball (who is signing a three year, below market deal as part of the trade, no less), you’ve got quite a bit of value. There’s a pretty good chance that Brown could be a solid major league player tomorrow, and his physical size and abilities give him serious upside. Young power hitters who can also handle themselves on defense are pretty rare and highly coveted.

#49 – Phil Hughes, SP, New York

The former top prospect started to live up to his billing last year and has carried it over to 2010, establishing himself as a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm at age 24. He has good command of quality stuff, and while he’s a pretty extreme flyball guy, he makes it work by racking up a lot of strikeouts. That he’s been able to succeed in a park that’s about as poor a fit for his skillset as possible (all 11 of his home runs allowed this year have come at Yankee Stadium) is highly impressive. Considering that he’s under team control through 2013 at arbitration prices, he’s quite the bargain.

#48 – Ricky Romero, SP, Toronto

Romero has stumbled of late, but his emergence as one of the better young left-handed pitchers in the game couldn’t have come at a better time for the Jays. While he’ll never entirely replace Halladay, he’s doing a pretty decent impression for a 25-year-old in his second year in the big leagues. A groundball lefty with a plus change-up, Romero is able to miss enough bats to compensate for the fact that he doesn’t have great command. He’s not an ace, but considering he’ll make something close to the league minimum again next year before becoming arbitration eligible, he’s providing a lot of return on the Blue Jays investment.

#47 – Martin Prado, 2B, Atlanta

The ultimate performance over tools guy in the big leagues right now, Prado’s success is a testament to how pedigree doesn’t mean everything. This is a guy who hit 15 home runs in 2,119 minor league plate appearances, and was simply not considered much of a prospect when he got to the big leagues. However, for the last three years, he’s been one of the best second baseman in baseball, adding some power to his already good contact rates and turning himself into a legitimate All-Star this season. He’s headed for his prime years as an already good player, and the Braves have him under control for three more seasons. He might be the most unexpected guy on this list, but he’s earned his spot here.

#46 – Mat Latos, SP, San Diego

Latos wasn’t great last year as a rookie, but his second stint through the National League has been a lot more successful. The fastball command that was his hallmark in the minors has returned, and the slider is good enough to give him a strikeout pitch on most days. As a result, he’s having a terrific season as a 22-year-old, and while he’s benefiting from Petco and the National League, he fares well even after you adjust for those external effects. With five more years of team control, the Padres have to be thrilled with how quickly Latos has developed and just how much value they’ll be able to get from him before he heads to free agency.


2010 Trade Value: Introduction

This post has been updated to once again acknowledge Bill Simmons as the originator for this series, which I adapted for MLB beginning in 2005. Credit has been given to him in every year since, but was unfortunately left out of this introduction at the time it was published. All credit for the idea goes to Bill.

They say time flies when you’re having fun, so the last year must have been a blast, because I can’t believe it’s been 12 months since I was getting lampooned for leaving Pablo Sandoval off the 2009 Trade Value series. So far, I’m okay with that decision, but it is time for us to re-evaluate and do it all over again. And so, over the next week, we’ll take a look at which 50 players in baseball have the most value to franchises besides their own. The criteria, as I stated last year, is as follows:

Essentially, the idea is to take all the information that goes into encapsulating a player’s value to an organization – his present skills, his future potential, how long he’s under club control, the expected cost of paying him over that time, and the risks involved with projecting his future performances – and figure out which players currently have the most trade value in baseball. The #1 guy wouldn’t get traded, straight up, for any other player in baseball. The #10 guy is someone who his organization would call untouchable, but if one of the nine guys above him was made available, they’d rethink that stance. You get the idea.

You can find the entire list from last summer here, and the trade value category has all of the individual posts, where we summarize the thoughts on five players at a time. We’ll follow the same format this year, running the series all week and wrapping it up next Monday with the top five.

Again, I want to emphasize that this is a post about trade value, not a ranking of player performance. How well they do on the field is obviously a significant factor, but teams don’t simply make deals based on how good a guy is right now. There are numerous factors, of which contract status is perhaps the most important. There’s a reason Cliff Lee has been traded three times in the last year, and it’s not because teams don’t want him. So, just because a player is not on this list does not mean I don’t think highly of his abilities (or that I hate the team he plays for). In fact, there are some tremendous players who didn’t make the cut. Here’s a few of the guys who just didn’t make it and a quick explanation as to why.

Carlos Gonzalez, CF, Colorado – There aren’t many guys who can play a legit center field and hit the baseball a long way, but Gonzalez brings both skills to the table. Unfortunately, the rest of the game isn’t quite as refined, and his approach at the plate is a problem. His aggressiveness can and will be used against him, and when pitchers adjust, he’ll need to as well.

Jaime Garcia, SP, St. Louis – The young LHP is having a tremendous rookie year for the Cardinals, but after posting a 70 percent ground ball rate in April, he’s become far more ordinary since. Since he doesn’t rack up that many strikeouts, he needs to either improve his command or lead the league in GB% in order to sustain his present results, and we haven’t seen that he can do either just yet. If he has another few months like his first one of the year, he’ll be on this list next year, but we need to see more.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, San Diego – There’s nothing wrong with Gonzalez’s skillset, but he’s a case where contracts come into play. He’s a bargain for 2011 at just $4.5 million in salary, but then he’s a free agent and he’s looking for a huge, huge paycheck. The Padres could get a lot for one year of Gonzalez, but I don’t think any of the teams who have guys on this list would swap them for the time that is left on his contract.

Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota – Another great player done in by his contract. I think he’ll end up being worth the big deal he signed with the Twins, but the fact is that there are only a couple of teams in baseball that can absorb the risk that comes along with a contract like that, and those teams wouldn’t create enough demand to drive up the price in talent to give the Twins a premium return for their star. He’s a tremendously valuable player, but he’s an expensive one, and it’s hard to see any team giving up a high quality, cheap young player while also taking on that kind of financial commitment.

Brett Anderson, SP, Oakland – As Bryan Smith will tell you, I am an Anderson fanboy. He is pretty much everything I love in a pitcher, as a lefty with good command of terrific stuff who gets both groundballs and strikeouts. The only he thing he doesn’t have is health. He’s on the DL for the second time this year with arm problems, and that is a huge red flag for any young pitcher. A healthy Anderson ranks very highly on this list, but unfortunately, a healthy Anderson doesn’t exist right now.

Who did make the cut? Come back at 5 pm for the guys who make up the #50 to #46 spots, and then we’ll do two posts a day for the rest of the week to get us up to #6. You can then have all weekend to speculate on the top 5, which will be revealed next Monday.