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Is Anthopolous Right to Take the Picks?

The Toronto Blue Jays have had a fun year for a team many picked to be among the worst in baseball before the season started — a short burst of pseudo-contention to start the season, tons of home runs, and they are still above .500. However, given where the team is at in the “success cycle,” most assumed that before the deadline they’d trade away some of their veteran relievers who will be free agents after the season: Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, and Kevin Gregg (the Jays hold a club option on Gregg). Surprisingly, all three relievers are still with the team. Jayson Stark reports that Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos decided that relative the offers they were getting for these pitchers, Toronto would be better off offering the relievers arbitration (which Anthopolous is confident they’ll turn down) and getting compensation draft picks in return.

In the cited article, Anthopolous sounds confident that the relievers would turn down arbitration if it was offered to them, thus netting the Jays compensation picks if they were signed by another team. Assuming that the Jays would have made a fair trade for both sides, and the players will turn down arbitration, is Anthopolous right that the draft picks are likely to be worth more than the prospects in return? My seven longtime readers will know I’m about to refer to Victor Wang’s research on the trade value of prospects and draft pick compensation as summarize by Sky Kalkman. The average surplus value of Type A compensation picks (meaning this takes into account the average of all the players who “made it” and “busted”) is around six million dollars. The average value for Type B picks is about three million dollars. How does that compare to what the relievers would have brought back in a fair trade?*

* Calculating pitcher WAR is a bit involved, so I won’t be going through each step (see Dave Cameron’s primer here), I’ll simply cite each Pitchers ZiPS RoS FIP and then their projected “true talent” WAR assume that.

Gregg, who is currently projected to be a Type B free agent in the offseason (assuming the Jays decline his option) has a ZiPS RoS FIP of 4.01. Over a full “relief season” of about 65 innings and with decent “setup” leverage, that’s not quite a 0.5 WAR player, or at best about $2.5M worth of value over a full season. Gregg is getting paid $2M this season, and has a $750,000 buyout on his contract (all quoted salaries are according to Cot’s). Assuming the Jays didn’t throw any money in, there really isn’t any surplus value to be had here, so they shouldn’t have received any prospect of note. The draft pick would certainly be better, although I must say that Gregg would be crazy to turn down arbitration of the Jays offered it to him.

Jason Frasor has a ZiPS RoS projected FIP of 3.22, which comes to between 1 and 1.5 WAR over a full season, or between four and six million sollars of value. His 2010 salary is $2.65 million. Over a the half-season after the deadline, a team would project to get (again assuming the Jays don’t send any money along) between about one or two million dollars in surplus value. Frasor also projects as a Type B free agent (with a projected value of three million on the compensation picks), so so even at best the C prospect the Jays would get in a fair trade wouldn’t be as potentially valuable as the compensation pick.

Scott Downs is even more interesting, as he looks as if he will qualify for Type A status. (I highly recommend reading Mike Axisa’s piece on the implications of Type A status for Down’s free agent prospects). Downs actually doesn’t project as that much better than Frasor (both are good relievers): 3.17 FIP, between 1 and 1.5 WAR over a full season. Downs is making four million dollars this season, however, so he actually had less surplus value than Frasor. Over half a season, that’s probably one million dollars of surplus at most, which Wang shows to be about the value of a younger C propsect, and not worth nearly as much as even Type B compensation, and certainly not Type A compensation (as Axisa discusses, the Jays will still get a decent pick the team that signs Downs doesn’t have to give up a first rounder).

On this rough outline, it appears that the Blue Jays are making the right choice. The picks project as more valuable the Jays would have received in fair trade return. That’s a good sign for Jays fans. It might also show that the league is getting smarter about what they are willing to give up for half a season of a reliever.