Trading Young, Cheap, and Elite Talent

It seems odd that a team that wants to contend in the future would entertain offers for its best young player. Yet discussions surrounding a possible Justin Upton trade have dominated baseball news this week. As Dave described, this is a unique situation, since teams don’t often trade players who are not only young and cheap, but also project to provide plenty of surplus value. It made me wonder if any other teams could benefit by trading a young, cost-controlled player who projects to rank among the elite. And then it came to me.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are nowhere near contention. In 2010 they finished 57-105, which was the worst record in the league by four games. They do have some bright spots on the team, as Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez made impressive debuts. But even if all three of those players continue to improve in 2011 and beyond, there are still holes on the team. Pitching, specifically, remains a weak point. While James McDonald might yet pan out, there weren’t really any other exciting pitchers at the major league level last year. That could be a big concern going forward.

Earlier this month Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus rated the top 10 Pirates prospects. The good news for them is that both of their five-star prospects are pitchers. The bad news is that both were born in 1991, meaning they’re probably a few years away from helping the big league club — if they don’t flame out along the way. In summarizing the system Goldstein noted that even with the best case scenario they’re half a decade away from contending. By that point a number of their current young guys will be getting along in the arbitration process. Might they want to cash in one of those chips now?

If we’re looking for a talent comparable in surplus value to Upton, it’s Andrew McCutchen. He is just 10 months older than Upton, but has two fewer years of service time. In fact, while Upton’s salary will increase to $4.25 million in 2011, McCutchen will still play under the reserve clause for not only 2011, but also 2012, when Upton will make $6.75 million. Only then will he become arbitration eligible. He might not hit as well as Upton, but he still has a quality bat — he’s produced a .365 wOBA in his 1146 career PA. Upton has produced .356 in his 1728.

For Pittsburgh, trading McCutchen is no light matter. He was easily the team’s most valuable player in 2010 and figures to retain that title for the next few years. Trading him would certainly induce fan backlash, perhaps dropping Pittsburgh to the cellar in attendance; they finished 27th with 1.614 million attendees in 2010. But if they want to restock the farm system they have no better chip. They also have a possible replacement in the system. Starling Marte, two years younger than McCutchen almost to the day, produced an excellent season in advanced-A ball in 2010. That’s a hard sell to the fans, but it could end up being the move that really moves the Pirates into contention in three to five years.

In the above-linked article, Dave examined Upton’s potential surplus value. He came up with a number between $70 and $100 million. Now re-imagine that projection for McCutchen. WAR is a tricky measure for him, because of his defense. Both UZR and DRS rate him as having negative value in center field, but the FANS scouting report rates him much higher. When rating him the Pirates No. 2 prospect prior to the 2009 season Baseball America said he was a “potential Gold Glover.” This is perhaps because of how the Pirates arrange their outfield defense — see Pittsburgh Lumber Co. for a more detailed look. If he does in fact play good defense in center, it’s conceivable that he is even more valuable than Upton in the future. Since McCutchen is two years behind in service time, that surplus value even further increases.

The idea behind trading McCutchen is to rebuild the farm so that they have more of a chance to contend in those three to five years. Dave mentioned Mike Montgomery and Mike Moustakas as representing the low-end equivalent of Upton’s value. What, then, of McCutchen? Maybe the Pirates couldn’t raid all of a team’s top five prospects, but they could get two or three high quality prospects plus a major league player, and then later flip that major league player for more young talent. It’s a tough process, but it’s something that could help fortify the farm and give the Pirates a chance in the future.

There is little to no chance that the Pirates do this. After all, even if they are a half decade away from contention they still might have McCutchen around to be a part of it. But if they want to make a splash and really strengthen their core of young talent, they could do worse than trading McCutchen. Given his age, talent, and salary, a team could end up paying more for him than for Upton. Would the eye to the future, though, be worth the immediate backlash?




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


60 Responses to “Trading Young, Cheap, and Elite Talent”

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  1. Pat says:

    Please don’t give the Pirates any ideas. I don’t know what I’d do without McCutchen on the team for the next 5 years. That would probably be the last draw.

    It would go against every reason you build a team. You get these prospects with high ceilings, then trade one when they actually meet their potential so early on in their careers for a bunch of guys who are again question marks? Insanity.

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  2. ayjackson says:

    I believe it’s “last straw”.

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    • ayjackson says:

      The last straw is the final problem that makes someone lose their temper or the problem that finally brought about the collapse of something. It comes from an Arabic story, where a camel was loaded with straw until a single straw placed on the rest of the load broke its back.

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  3. ECN says:

    Upton elite? Really? I’m pretty sure we’ve already seen Upton’s best season. The guy is an .850 OPS corner outfielder. Definitely a major-league starter, but that’s all. I think the Diamondbacks are well aware they got a flukey season out of him in ’09, the fluke didn’t repeat itself — it’s time to go.

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    • philosofool says:

      He has the potential to be a plus corner OF with Ryan Howard’s bat. He has the potential for more than that. And he has the potential to remain a 3-4 win player for the next decade. Do you have any evidence that the first two possibilities aren’t real?

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      • ECN says:

        Do you have any evidence that they are?

        I don’t like Upton’s plate approach. It doesn’t seem solid to me — he swings and misses too much. (Admittedly, he is okay at taking walks, though not great.)

        But more importantly, all these assumptions seem to rest on the assumption that Upton will someday be a big power hitter. If I’m looking for a young guy whose power has room to develop, I want to see a bunch of doubles. Upton doesn’t get many doubles. Therefore he’ll never be a 30-HR guy.

        I look at the ideal Upton, and I see a .280 BA/.360 OBP guy with 20-25 HRs. That guy is going to start somewhere, but he’s not making $15 million unless the team that has him is rich, stupid or both.

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      • blackout says:

        “Upton doesn’t get many doubles. Therefore he’ll never be a 30-HR guy.”

        Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard say hi.

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      • ECN says:

        Ryan Howard and Adam Dunn are a combined 540 pounds. And the next time either one of them legs out an extra-base hit, it’ll be the first.

        Ryan Howard came into the league with a .569 slugging percentage. Dunn came in with a .578 (albeit in a half-season.)

        The only even marginally comparable number between Dunn and Upton was Dunn’s 2002-03 slump. But even in that slump, he was posting better power numbers than Upton — the reason he declined was because he was batting below .250, not because he wasn’t hitting for power when he did make contact.

        Ultimately, I can’t believe you find any comparison between Upton and those two guys legitimate. Their approaches couldn’t possibly be more different.

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      • ECN says:

        And by the way, if you want to make a comparison between this guy and actual toolsy outfielders, Jeff Francoeur and Ruben Sierra say hi to Dunn and Howard.

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    • JDub220 says:

      Yup, most athletes peak at age 23. Right.

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      • ECN says:

        No, he hasn’t peaked yet. I’m saying he’s an .800 OPS guy who will probably become an .850 OPS guy.

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      • JDub220 says:

        “I’m pretty sure we’ve already seen Upton’s best season.”

        That doesn’t look like a sentence that says that he’s peaked?

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      • ECN says:

        I’m not saying he’s peaked. I’m saying his 2009 season stats didn’t reflect his talent level at the time of the 2009 season. He was a guy with an .800 talent level who got lucky and had a .900 season. This year, he’s a guy with an .800 talent level who had an .800 season.

        If he improves as expected, he’ll be an .850 talent guy when he does peak. And from there, he might have a lucky season and post a .900-.950 OPS. He might have an unlucky season and post a .750-.800 OPS. But with his level of talent, the season-to-season expectation will hover around .850, just as it hovers around .800 (or maybe a little higher, because he’s young) now.

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      • JDub220 says:

        Come on, Upton does not have an .800 OPS talent level. pretty much anybody familiar with sports could tell you that…

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      • ECN says:

        And yet that’s what he did.

        Why do you think that’s impossible — because of his tools? Plenty of athletes have tools, and it doesn’t matter because they can be pitched to. At this point, the pitchers have figured some things out about Upton, and he hasn’t learned to counter them. I’m not saying he won’t, but I’m also not saying he will.

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      • Pau says:

        I do have to give you credit for responding politely to my post, when my words most likely came across in the same vein as what I accused you of. I want to apologize if I offended you with my accusations of arrogance, argumentativeness, etc. Even if I didn’t offend you, they are inflammatory in hindsight.

        I still believe you’re focusing too much on what Upton hasn’t done, however, rather than what he has. Though I agree that there are many that presume superstardom for Upton when it’s only a possibility, it seems like your assessment of Upton is skewed by your own reaction to those on the superstardom extreme.

        You might personally disagree, but both the fans and metrics agree that Upton has already had two seasons where he’s provided close to, or better than, the $15 million annual salary he’ll receive.

        Sierra was before my time, so I find it difficult to say whether it’s a fair analogy (though I agree it’s a possible outcome).

        In some respects, I believe the Francoeur analogy fits, though I believe Francoeur’s inability to take a pitch or walk is a more glaring weakness than any Upton possesses (even the strikeouts). At his best discipline-wise, Francoeur still takes fewer walks than nearly any other regular.

        I’m still not certain what you’ve seen from Upton that makes you think he has anything but well above-average power. Yes, he’d ideally have more total extra base hits, but doubles are hardly the sole basis for judging power.

        If I think of a player analogy that represents something similar to a likely Upton outcome, I think of a player similar to 2009-2010 Nelson Cruz (probably without the hamstring problems). They have a fairly similar physical tool-set, and I could see Upton becoming Cruz-like as he gets older, both in terms of raw strength and some loss of speed. Cruz doesn’t strike out as much as Upton, but he doesn’t walk as much either. Given his age, it wouldn’t be surprising if Upton improved upon either or both of those numbers. Even at this point, Upton doesn’t seem very far behind Cruz in terms of what he brings to the table.

        As far as Upton being a good right fielder, but not capable of playing center, I’m not entirely sure what your argument is. It’s true that most right fielders have less range than their counterparts in center. And yes, good defense in a corner isn’t as valuable as good defense up the middle. That hardly means, however, that it doesn’t still have a lot of value. I can say that Ryan Zimmerman or Evan Longoria aren’t good enough infielders to play shortstop- but that doesn’t mean their defensive contributions are valueless. I’m not certain why it’s any different for Upton. No, he doesn’t have the ability to play CF, but he’s still quite valuable in right, and like the aforementioned 3rd baseman, his skill set is tailored much better to his position.

        Though I agree that many are unreasonable by assuming that Upton will become a superstar, I feel that you’re also not being levelheaded and objective in your critiques of him.

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    • Pau says:

      Not sure if you are or not, but you’re coming across as a troll, ECN.

      Though I share your concerns about his pitch recognition and overall contact ability, it really strikes me as throwing the baby out with the bathwater to make most of the assumptions you’ve made (he’s not getting $15 million a year, 2009 was a fluke and career year, he won’t ever match or exceed 2009 in the future). You completely ignore defense in your assessment of Upton, and your judgment of his power disputes every single other opinion I’ve heard about him (as well as the one I’ve formed) in addition to historical trends of player development.

      For reference, fangraphs had Upton as worth $12.6 million in 2010 (after a $20 million season in 2009). Given that he’s only 23 and MLB is reaping record profits, it’s hardly a stretch to see him being paid $15 million a year if he were a free agent.

      You can argue the validity of that value but you’d again be the lone dissenter. His defensive metrics have been stable over 2 years, everyone I’ve ever heard considers him an at least above-average fielder, and most of the calculations involved in that value calculation have proven to be valid.

      As far as 2009 being a fluke and career year for Upton, only time will tell. However, the list of players who have had career years at the age of 21/22 is slim to non-existent. Off the top of my head, I can’t name anyone who has put up the offensive numbers Upton has at such a young age that hasn’t gone on to at least put up equivalent numbers later in their career (assuming a clean bill of health). If you have an example to bring up, I’m all ears, though be prepared to explain why your example is the exception compared to the much larger list of guys who have improved.

      I concede that Upton improving is no sure thing- after all, I don’t pretend I’m psychic- but the arrogance with which you dismiss everyone else’s opinions and assure us that your opinion is truth strikes me as a shallow attempt to garner attention for being different.

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      • ECN says:

        I didn’t say he wasn’t an above-average fielder. (Though I’m not sure what that means at a corner outfield position… not nothing, of course. But isn’t “strong defensive RF” just code for “unremarkable CF playing out of position”? And I don’t think .850 is an OPS that merits an 8-digit salary for either of those two defensive profiles.)

        As I said above, Ruben Sierra had his flukey season at the age of 23 in ’89. Francoeur had his at 21 in ’05. (Admittedly for only half a season.) I’m sure there are others.

        (Um, for that matter, how about BJ Upton? Awesome in ’07, pitchers learned how to throw to him, end of story.)

        Upton (Justin) is making $14.25 million in 2014 and $14.5 million in 2015. I rounded up a bit. Sorry about that.

        And honestly, I’m sorry if I come off as argumentative here. Not trying to be argumentative, except insofar as it bothers me to look at a guy who’s the same guy he was at the beginning of 2008 and hear people say he’s [i]clearly[/i] going to improve someday just because of the tools he has.

        I don’t feel Upton’s approach has changed since April ’08, and I don’t feel his skill set has changed. Clearly, the results haven’t changed. If he had a lot more potential left to go, wouldn’t he have fulfilled some of it by now?

        That’s the difference to me. We’ve had three seasons to look at Upton, and he’s not showing us anything new. In this league, when you’re 23, you either keep moving forward or you move back… I feel like I’ve seen a lot of young tools guys who had one or two good seasons and then pitchers solved them. I’m not saying Upton is DEFINITELY one of those guys, but that is the way he looks to me.

        Again, sorry if I’m expressing that in a manner that comes off as vehement or mocking. It’s not my intent at all.

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      • WilsonC says:

        Why do you assume 2009 is the outlier, rather than 2010? Your entire point about his lack of improvement is based on looking at his two most recent seasons and assuming that one is a career year and the other is his true talent, rather than the other way around, or that his true talent is somewhere between the two seasons. He’s a player whose performance took a big step forward from 18 to 19 in the minors, made a good transition to the majors at 20, took a step forward at 21, and a step back at 22. His power levels have been very good for his age and level almost every step along the way, which agrees entirely with the universal scouting reports suggesting massive power potential.

        It’s fair to urge caution before penciling him in as a future superstar, and it’s fair to be concerned about the possibility of his injuries becoming chronic. However, it’s no more fair to definitively state he hasn’t taken a step forward than it is to state he has, nor is it fair to say that because he hasn’t figured it all out by 22, it’s unlikely he will (despite having a very good year for a 22 year old and a fantastic one for a 21 year old). If you have a negative gut feeling on his likely development, that’s fine and I respect that, but people will call you on it when you use definitive language on what really amounts to a gut feeling, especially when that gut feeling goes against the bulk of what the data suggests as a realistic scenario and against the prevailing sentiment.

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      • ECN says:

        Well, I’ll concede ’10 could be the outlier. He could theoretically go either way.

        But the thing with Upton is, he’s already scheduled to be paid as though he HAS fulfilled his potential. If the pitchers HAVE got him pegged, and he becomes Jeff Francoeur, well, some team is stuck paying $14 million a year for Jeff Francoeur in 2014-15. He’s not an ordinary three-and-a-half-year guy, he’s a three-and-a-half-year guy who you have to pay like a star no matter what happens in the next 2-3 years.

        And of course the other thing with Justin Upton is that his progression (…regression?) as a hitter thus far has mirrored BJ Upton’s. Now I’m not saying it’s entirely fair to be dubious of Justin’s long-term prospects because of what happened to his brother… but I’m saying “his brother’s career fell apart once pitchers figured him out” is a good bit stronger circumstantial evidence than “sometimes pitchers figure a tools guy out and he can’t adapt.”

        All of which is not to say that ANYONE is a lock three years into his career. But a guy who just seemingly took a step back, and whose brother had one great season and then declined drastically, seems to be a bit more of a coin-flip than most. And then having to pay him $14 million a year whether or not he comes up heads… eeeeehhhhh. That could cripple a franchise for a few years, couldn’t it? Especially a small-market one?

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  4. Tyler Thigpen says:

    You honestly think he peaked at 21 years old?

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    • Tyler Thigpen says:

      to ECN

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    • ECN says:

      No. I think he exceeded his peak in ’09.

      I think he had a fluke season in which he managed to eke out more home runs than a guy with his power should be capable of, and had a few lucky hits drop.

      I think we’ve seen no evidence of the solid foundation that would enable a guy to progress further than .850 OPS or so… he’s not hitting the doubles that he would theoretically be able to convert into HRs. (Especially damning because he has the speed to stretch average hits into doubles, so even fewer of those doubles are the kind of hits that would be home runs with a little more strength.)

      And his pitch recognition isn’t solid enough to avoid striking out almost a third of the time, which means he’ll never be a great contact hitter.

      Even if he’s due for one more bump in ability across the board, it’s just going to make him a 25-HR and 30-35 double guy who strikes out 25% of the time. It’s hard to overcome numbers like that to reach .900 OPS. His plate approach is flawed, and his power potential is limited, and neither of those things is going to change.

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      • blackout says:

        “a guy with his power”

        I’ve seen Upton line a home run (off a FB at eye level) into the eighth row to dead RF. He’s got plenty of power but is still learning how to use it. Most guys his age are still learning to recognize and lay off Double-A breaking stuff.

        And to further refute the *doubles-homers causality* claim, A-Rod hasn’t hit more than 35 homers in a year since turning 22 (averaging just under 29/year since then) but seems to have done okay for himself in the home run department…

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      • WilsonC says:

        Ryan Howard, age 22:
        570 PA, .280/.367/.460, 20 2B, 19 HR, 66 BB, 145 K

        Justin Upton, age 22:
        571 PA, .273/.356/.442, 27 2B, 17 HR, 64 BB, 152 K

        I would think that the statement that he has the potential for a Ryan Howard OF bat or better seems fair given that he had almost exactly the same hitting season as Howard at his current age – with Howard’s coming in A ball.

        Upton had an even better season the previous year, and had 63 extra base hits as a 21 year old.

        He may not develop, whether due to injury or lack of focus or whatever, but I’ve never seen a scouting report of Justin Upton that didn’t suggest fantastic power potential.

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      • ECN says:

        And Ryan Howard’s development is typical of… who exactly? Ryan Howard’s development was WEIRD. You can’t use him as an example when you’re talking about other players’ talent curve… and that goes double for a guy like Upton.

        What kind of argument is “this athletic, medium-sized 23-year-old outfielder has the potential for a massive power increase, because a huge immobile first baseman once made an unprecedented leap at the age of 26?”

        By the way, the fact that Upton hasn’t appreciably improved in the last three seasons is another huge red flag to me. Not in his stats, not in his underlying numbers. If he had the ability to drastically change his approach, wouldn’t we have been seeing that by now?

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      • ECN says:

        You did make one good point, though. Upton HAS been injury-prone. Which has to worry you, especially for a player whose success so far has mostly been due to physical tools.

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    • cpebbles says:

      I really think we need to stop assuming a normal development curve for players who are stars at very young ages. I don’t know of any particular reason to assume that Upton won’t improve on or even match his ’09, but I suspect either of those possibilities is greater than the likelihood that he steadily develops into Barry Bonds, which is all but taken for granted popularly.

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      • Hank says:

        There was an article/blog about this on ESPN

        http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/6371/why-dbacks-are-shopping-justin-upton

        This was an ultra small sample size (not that many folks put up major #’s at that early an age), but for the most part the players started great and basically maintained that performance. (At least on the hitting side of things)

        I do not have data on this but I think the 0.5War/yr progression that Dave C and others are assuming is more typical of an average or above average player moving up to above average or very good. The 0.5WAR/yr assumption when you start at a high level is a crapshoot and the limited data on this says it’s not necessarily a good assumption (although the data set is too small to say anything definitively).

        As a GM would you bet 4-5 prospects/young players on that assumption? Obviously some will, but I don’t see it as a slam dunk or a given that Upton will average 4.5 WAR for the next 5 years (which is the 5yrs/100mil performance built into the trade value assumption)

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  5. Kyle says:

    Oh i would love pedro alvarez on the orioles.

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  6. epoc says:

    The Pirates have absolutely no incentive to deal McCutchen.

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  7. Marver says:

    This is the type of move you’d make in a Dynasty Fantasy Baseball League where the only repurcussions to this trade would be a few extra boring seasons. Obviously, the goal is to always increase championship odds, but when profit enters the picture it introduces a variable that shifts away the ideal move away from ‘aligning the stars’.

    Trading McCutcheon would be an absolute disaster.

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    • epoc says:

      Even leaving profit out of the equation, trading McCutchen right now is hardly the ideal move. He’ll still have a ton of value in 3 or 4 years. There’s absolutely no reason to move him now.

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      • chulton says:

        He’ll obviously have a lot of value in 3-4 years, that isn’t the question. The question is the cost of that value.

        Is it better to have a player like McCutchen peak in value (and cost) on a small market team a couple of years before the rest of the team peaks, especially when that team likely cannot afford to keep McCutchen around for the couple of years waiting for everyone else to hit their peak? Or would you rather trade McCutchen now for a couple high caliber prospects that will likely peak at the same time as the rest of the Pirates prospects, giving Pittsburgh a slim (but cheap) 2-3 year window where they can compete before it gets too expensive?

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      • ECN says:

        Or do you wait it out, on the theory that even the smallest-market teams can hang onto one or two guys (cf. the Marlins with Hanley Ramirez), and if McCutchen takes another step or two, he’s as good a choice for that role as any.

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      • chulton says:

        That’s why this is actually a very interesting question. If the Pirates can look up McCutchen long term for a bit of a discount and if McCutchen can take those steps forward then I think they have to hang on to him.

        But that raises another question. Can they contend with the pieces they have, assuming they don’t move McCutchen? Is a superstar with their other pieces enough, or do they need to move McCutchen for 2-3 lesser but still very good (potentially) players to have enough depth to compete?

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      • chulton says:

        And by look up I obviously meant lock up

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  8. Ryan S says:

    To be honest if the Pirates WERE to ever trade AMC, now would be the perfect time to do it. As the article said, the Pirates are as bad as they have been since this monster losing streak started. Though it may be resonable to say they will improve to a .500 club over the next few years they are obviously still a long way from contending (even an eternal optimist such as myself can admit it). Since it’s already been 18 years it doesn’t matter what happens between now and their next playoff birth record wise, since the orginization is as low as it’s ever been anyways. To pacify the fans in the event of an AMC trade, the orginization could take an idea from the Penguins and offer several games of free attendance. (I mean honestly, when you only sell 9,000 tickets for a day game, there’s much more to be gained than the money they’d make in ticket sales, plus it’ll leave fans with money to buy consessions which may end up getting the club close enough to break even anyways). I love AMC, but if we could get a combination of 5 star SS/RF/SP’s in the deal, how could you pass that up and still claim to be doing everything you can to build a championship caliber team?? I’ve no doubt they could have a winning season with the players they have now combined with the talent they have on the farm. But I’m not even sure the playoffs are possible without upgrading the staff and getting a few more bats…. Which is exactly what AMC would bring. The media and 90% of the city has given up on the Pirates all ready. Honestly, what’s a few more years of losing if it brings a decade of true contention??

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  9. Kirsh says:

    I’m not 100 percent objected to moving McCutchen, but I’d just say the Pirates need to be careful. I’d rather just have another great draft next year, get Rendon in the system, and work from there. McCutchen could be a six WAR guy in the future, I think. He’s probably going to be the Bucs’ best player since Bonds by the time all’s said and done, and I don’t want to see him helping someone else.

    This idea becomes much more practical if Marte, Lambo, and Gorkys, collectively, hit well in AAA at some point next season, AND the Pirates continue to tread water. If they win 73-77 games next year with Cutch playing a starring role, I don’t want him moving for, really, anything that would be reasonably given.

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  10. pirate says:

    god fangraphs has turned into pure nothingness

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  11. Element says:

    Baseball history has seen just 15 hitters post an OPS above .800 in 400-plus plate appearances at the age of 20. One of those 15 is Upton and the others are Mickey Mantle, Alex Rodriguez, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx, Frank Robinson, Ty Cobb, Ken Griffey Jr., Mel Ott, Al Kaline, Orlando Cepeda, Rogers Hornsby, Vada Pinson, and Tony Conigliaro.

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    • ECN says:

      Vada Pinson, you say?

      Seriously, though — how many of those guys then didn’t show steady improvement in the next two seasons? ’10 could be a fluke, but my gut believes ’10.

      And if you’re (for example) the Marlins, are you going to want to spend a quarter of your payroll in ’14 and ’15 on a guy who could still be Jeff Francoeur or BJ Upton?

      (And just to get a handle on this, do people legitimately believe Upton has a Ken Griffey Jr./Willie Mays type ceiling? Because I know I’m being too hard on him, but throwing around names like that is a pretty big claim… I’m not even saying you’re wrong. Just wondering.)

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      • WilsonC says:

        Mantle – great at 20, step back at 21, rebound at 22 (breakout at 23)
        Rodriguez – great at 20, step back at 21, step forward at 22
        Robinson – great at 20, similar at 21, step back at 22
        Griffey – great age 20 year, step forward at 21, step back at 22 (breakout at 23)
        Ott – fantastic at 20, decline for 21, 22, improvement at 23
        Kaline – career year at 20, decline at 21, decline at 22
        Cepeda – great age 20 year, no progress through age 22 (breakout at 23)
        Hornsby – excellent at 20, better at 21, considerably worse at 22 (monster at 24)
        Pinson – great age 20 year, some decline at at 21,
        Conigliaro – great age 20 year, slight decline at 21, career-altering injury at 22

        Seriously, when someone starts at an already high level in the Majors, it’s not at all unusual for him to stagnate for a few years or even take a step back before breaking out. Some guys improve steadily, but there’s also a lot of players who sustain a similar level for a few years before taking a leap forward.

        Now, Upton’s young seasons aren’t on the level of most of those guys, and he probably lacks the contact skills to move into a category with these guys. Obviously, when you compare any unproven player with a who’s who of inner-circle Hall of Famers, his chance of reaching those heights is slim. As far as his ceiling goes, though, keep in mind that many, if not most Hall of Famers have accomplished less than Upton through age 22, and his raw tools are outstanding. I wouldn’t put his ceiling on the Mays level, but I would put it somewhere in the McCovey/Stargell/Jackson range. I don’t expect him to reach that level, since few do, but talent-wise, there are few players his age who have a better chance.

        He was seen as a special talent at the time of the draft, and it’s important to realize that being an above average player at the MLB level at so early an age is an impressive accomplishment, and given his success so far, his performance to far had done more to validate those scouting reports than to add skepticism. Lot’s of great players who start young stagnate for a a while or have setbacks before breaking out – Robin Yount, Roberto Clemente, Roberto Alomar, Gary Sheffield, Ryne Sandberg, for example.

        There may be other factors to think he may not develop particularly well, but there’s nothing in his performance to date that suggests his ceiling has dropped from potential stardom.

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      • ECN says:

        Well, fair enough. I probably overreacted to the realization that Justin’s last two seasons looked like BJ Upton’s 2007-08.

        And honestly, my main source of worry here was the contention that the Marlins were interested in trading multiple players for him. I don’t feel he’s a good fit for the Marlins, because he’s locked into that big contract… a team with the Marlins’ payroll can definitely carry 1-2 players on the $10-15 million level, but I feel like if they’re going to do that, they’re better off doing it with a Hanley Ramirez, for example. A guy who’s been elite long enough that he’s a safe bet. If Upton does keep declining, the Marlins are totally screwed.

        Upton hasn’t proven enough yet for a team like the Marlins to consider locking him in at that price 4-5 years in the future. (In addition to the fact that they’d need to hamstring their present and mortgage their future over him.)

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  12. ECN is gay says:

    ECN is gay. Fag

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  13. matt w says:

    He might not hit as well as Upton, but he still has a quality bat — he’s produced a .365 wOBA in his 1146 career PA. Upton has produced .356 in his 1728.

    Since .365 > .356, I think he might hit as well as Upton. He’s also a center fielder and, as you point out, has two more years of service time. I’m not sure why the Diamondbacks are thinking about trading Upton, and I’m really not sure why the Pirates are supposed to think about trading McCutchen. I mean, if the offer was Heyward and Freeman, sure, but is anyone actually going to offer the Pirates what McCutchen is worth? Especially because cost control is even more important to the Pirates than to other teams.

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    • matt w says:

      Two fewer years of service time, or two more years left on his rookie contract, or something like that.

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    • mickeyg13 says:

      I seriously doubt any team would offer anything really that close to what McCutchen is worth. Teams have appeared to me to have become more reluctant to trade elite packages of prospects in recent years. Although I feel no player should be truly untradeable, I find it hard to imagine a package of players being offered to make the trade worthwhile to the Bucs. Then there is also the inevitable fan backlash. It’s one thing when you trade players <2 years from leaving for nothing (or draft picks)…it's quite another when you trade them 5 years from free agency. The return would need to be absolutely ridiculous for this to make sense.

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  14. SF 55 for life says:

    Trout, Trumbo, Reckling, Bourjos, and Richards for McCutchen and Meek. Rosterbating is funnnnnnnn.

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  15. pft says:

    IIRC Justin Upton went to see Dr Andrews about his shoulder that sapped his power in the 2nd half and caused him to miss most of September. A month later the D-Backs want to trade him.

    Buyer beware.

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  16. CircleChange11 says:

    I brought this up in an earlier Pirate discussion (not that it’s a hidden gem or anything), but this is why TB Rays are a poor example … and one that always gets brought up.

    The Pirates problem is that their young talent never devleops at the same time … if they have young pitchers (they did at one time), they don;t have hitters, when they get hitters, they don;t have pitchers … and they don;t have money (or at least are not willing to spend it) to buy what they don;t have.

    So, stating the problem over and over is the easy part.

    What to do is the toughie. They’ve had enough losing seasons to get draft picks, it’s just that MLB draft picks aren;t as reliable or projectable as they are in the NFL or NBA. You get the #1 pick in the NBA, and you’ve got a really good player at the highest level the very next season. Finish with a poor record again, and now you have two really good players … and the turnaround begins.

    In MLB, it can take 3-5 years of high quality drafting (and luck) just to get a handful of decent MLB players. If you have them all arrive at the same time, and are solid, you may have something … but then again, other teams have legit stars, so while your solid, young, 50M/y team is the best you’ve had in quite some time, they’re still competing against 90M/y teams that have been adding pieces as they need them.

    Back to AMC … trade him? Trade him for what? Single-A talent? Draft picks? Hoping you’ll draft another AMC that will be MLB ready in 3 years?

    How many times do you “start over”?

    IMO, PIT should play 2011, and see if these young guys are going to be quality enough to build around. If they are, spend some money and add some value-quality, and go for it (relatively speaking).

    Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If PIT trades AMC and/or other young talent, then they’ll just being doing the same old thing they have in the past … just helping all of the other teams in MLB.

    You can;t just keep drafting over and over and hope that THIS time it’ll pan out with the big splash of 5-6 young, MLB quality, stars.

    In the NFL, if you have a bad O-Line, you don;t just keep drafting new QB’s hoping one will be successful, because none will. Same with PIT in MLB, you don;t just keep trading talent for potential, hoping that it will somehow magically come together at the same time, because it won’t. You have to identify your legitimate talent, sign it up long term, hope it doesn;t get injured, and keep adding quality pieces. You trade them when they can bring you multiple pieces that help your team get better … not trade them hoping you’ll get something that will pan out later. Insanity.

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  17. nckdmss says:

    A reds fan here who would love to trade for McCutchen. How about Alonso, Wood, and Heisey?

    Any takers?

    Cincinnati gets its leadoff man and fantastic LF (no more CF, sorry Andrew). Pitt gets its 1b of the future, a great, young lefty in Wood and a solid if unspectacular Chris Heisey.

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    • epoc says:

      This is the reason why the original article bothers me. The Pirates have no incentive to trade McCutchen, so what the article boils down to is an encouragement for fans of the other 29 teams to start drooling over naive fantasy trades where they pluck the superstars off the roster of the lowly Pirates in exchange for whatever expendable trash they’ve got lying around. A more thoughtful analysis of Cutch’s trade value would almost certainly lead one to the conclusion that McCutchen is worth far more to the Pirates as a player than as a trade chip.

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    • BX says:

      Huntington =/= Littlefield.

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  18. Marver says:

    My main complain, the more I think about it, is that the teams that would value McCutcheon so highly due to his salary are the teams that will be the most reluctant to trade away a package of big prospects, since those are potentially other cheap MLB players. In short, the same strategy that dictates having the cheap, young player also dictates you shouldn’t trade a lot of potential cheap young players.

    A team that would potentially trade away a slew of cheap young players for a superstar wouldn’t really care about the superstar’s contract value — at least not THAT much — since they’re making the concsious decision to unload the lucrative-values to begin with. Basically, there is no proper market for McCutcheon at this point in time and the better value move for the Pirates would be to trade him for cheap young talent when he’s set to hit free agency, since the only teams that would be likely to part with the cheap young talent are the same ones that are likely to pay for McCutcheon’s free agent contract.

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    • BX says:

      My question is, if the Bucs are contending as McCutchen approaches free agency, who says they can’t sign him and pay fair market value to do so.

      If most of their core is still at below-market rates, which it will be in 2013-15, why can’t they spend on their superstar centerpiece, assuming he’s still worth it at the time.

      A small market team can still pay one player the big bucks (especially if he’s young) and still contend just fine.

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