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2009 MLB Trade Value: Introduction

With the trade deadline just a few weeks away, it’s time to revisit the annual MLB Trade Value series that I’ve been doing for the last, I don’t know, four or five years. I stole the idea from Bill Simmons, who does an NBA version for ESPN.com, though my version leaves out the references to teenage soap operas and movies from 25 years ago. Sorry.

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.

Over the last year, with the recession and the increasing intelligence of major league organizations, we’ve seen a significant rise in the valuation of young players. Where even a few years ago, people were applauding the Mariners decision to trade a bushel of talent for Erik Bedard, pretty much everyone now realizes that players like Adam Jones and Chris Tillman are more valuable than even established all-star pitchers, because of their ability to produce over multiple years for next to no salary. So, there are going to be some big name, high level talents that don’t appear on this list.

Johan Santana, for instance, isn’t on it, even though he’s a great pitcher. He’s just not great enough to justify giving up an elite talent in order to pay him premium dollars. Same with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Great players, but not among the top 50 assets in major league baseball.

So, over the next week, we’ll count down from #50 to #1, going in bursts of five players. We’ll kick off with #50-46 tonight at 5 pm, and then do 10 players a day for the rest of the week. The top 5 will be posted next Monday.

Making this list is hard. There’s so many good players in the game right now, and trying to decide who fits and who doesn’t feels like an impossible task at times. So, to close out the introduction, here are the five guys who just missed the cut. You could probably make a good case for any of them being included, but for me, they were just edged out by the guys above them.

Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, Boston – 3.1 WAR

He’s turned himself into a terrific player, but he’s 30 years old and has reached the stage where he’s getting paid significant money.

Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF, Tampa Bay – 4.6 WAR

He’s having an amazing season, is a switch-hitter, and amazingly versatile, but is this kind of power sustainable long term, or is he a 28-year-old having a career year?

Javier Vazquez, RHP, Atlanta – 4.0 WAR

Having the best season of his career, but his ERA is still half a run higher than his FIP, continuing his maddening career tendency to perform worse than his peripherals.

Gordon Beckham, 3B/SS, Chicago – 0.2 WAR

A year after getting drafted, he hit his way to the majors. If I was completely sure he’d be a quality defensive shortstop long term, he’d have made the list.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B/1B/C, San Francisco – 3.1 WAR

The guy once described as “Fat Ichiro” now goes by Kung Fu Panda, and while he’s a strange player, he can really hit. But he’s 22 going on 30 with that body.