2019 Trade Value: #21 to #30 - 16 minutes read

2019 Trade Value: #21 to #30

As is the annual tradition at FanGraphs, we’re using a week around the All-Star Game — when the industry pauses to take a metaphorical breather — to take stock of the top-50 trade chips in the sport. For more context on exactly what we’re trying to do here, see the Honorable Mentions post linked at the top of the page.

For this post and the four to follow, I’ll present a graphic (by way of the wizard Sean Dolinar) breaking down each player’s objective skill level (represented, in this case, by a five-year WAR projection from ZiPS), contract/team-control details, rank in last year’s series, and then year-by-year details of age, WAR, and contract through the end of 2023, although a couple players have control beyond those five years, and some, you’ll notice, show projections for fewer years to reflect when those players reach free agency. For those readers who are partial to spreadsheets rather than blocks of text, I’ll also include all of the players we’ve ranked so far in grid format at the bottom of the post.

It should be noted that the ZiPS WAR forecasts influenced the rankings a bit. For players who were bunched together, it acted as an impartial tiebreaker of sorts, but the industry opinions I solicited drove the rankings.

With that said, let’s get to the next 10 spots on this year’s Trade Value list.

Paddack was acquired from the Marlins in 2016 for Fernando Rodney, a move that looks like highway robbery in hindsight. Paddack blew out his elbow three starts after the trade and wasn’t a big prospect at that time; he’d had gaudy numbers in Low-A at that point, but had signed for $400,000 in the eighth round and was a fastball/changeup type with feel and a below average breaking ball. Paddack has come on a lot since then and is basically a No. 3 starter in his age-23 rookie season, and looks like he’s traveling the James Shields path.

In his age-28 and age-30 seasons, Shields had one tick velo jumps that improved the firmness of his breaking ball and helped him stay the frontline pitcher he had become; his career abruptly ended when the velo backed up. Shields’ top velo season averaged 92.4; Paddack’s has been 93.8 this year. I mention this to show a path one similar pitcher took to being a frontline starter, but also to demonstrate how essential velocity can be to this type of pitcher, even more so than to others.

With a Tommy John on his resume, and post-TJ innings limits coming into play this year, handling Paddack correctly in the season before San Diego is likely to be a real playoff threat is important. Calling him up on Opening Day instead of leaving him in Triple-A for two weeks to gain another year of control could look like a bad decision in retrospect, but the complicated calculus of that was covered in the introduction. Paddack gets the edge over No. 31 Aaron Nola for his extra year of control, relative youth, and lower salaries, but you could flip their spots at the end of this potential ace tier depending on how you feel about Paddack’s TJ and Nola’s track record.

DeJong was an honorable mention on last year’s list largely because his plate discipline went from being below average in 2017 to “okay” in 2018; now it’s good. The Cardinals, noted purveyors of Devil Magic, also have a deft hand with developing the offensive game of unheralded infield prospects, so maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. We could also play the Matt Olson Game with Mr. DeJong: DeJong is on pace to post 10 WAR in his first three seasons, and the other six shortstops who have done that (Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, Andrelton Simmons, Manny Machado, Javier Baez, Trevor Story) are all recognized as the top tier at the position, along with some (Carlos Correa, Trea Turner) behind DeJong who are also seen as that type of player. DeJong also signed a reasonably-priced extension and has posted a 7.4 UZR/150 in his career, also sneakily better than you expected. He doesn’t qualify for Team Sexy either, but 18ish WAR through 2025 for $57 million from a player with this track record qualifies as very valuable, with DeJong entering the traditional peak season ages in 2020 and 2021.

Until this year, Joey Gallo was both an awe-inspiring collection of 80 power, a 70 arm, and 55 speed and a punchline about where offense was heading, with 200 strikeouts per year, a batting average just a hair above the Mendoza line, and more home runs than singles. Then this year, Gallo started doing almost everything a little bit better; now he’s projected to finish the season with 5 WAR. I won’t profess to know the aging curve for players with this specific set of qualities, but Gallo is 25, so he’s probably got a couple more years to perform at the peak of his powers. That said, some worry that he’ll revert back to the old version of himself until he’s demonstrated he can do this for two straight years, so there’s some risk here, similar to a young, fireballing pitcher with half a season of ace-level performance.

Turner experienced some natural regression in terms of list position, falling from a top-10 spot into the double digits because a low-cost 4.8 WAR season is now in the past. There’s also been some regression in how his ability is perceived. He’s now missed notable time in two of his three full seasons in the big leagues and while he’s keeping pace offensively, the major defensive metrics all point to real regression at shortstop. Everything went right in terms of durability and defense in 2018, to go along with established levels of offense and baserunning, but now it seems like that could be Turner’s career year. Something like 13 WAR for $40 million is a huge bargain for the Nationals, but it looked a little better at this point last season.

Berrios was a speculative frontline type arm in last year’s rankings, and he’s basically held steady in terms of staying healthy and continuing to perform. As the rotation anchor for an emerging Twins club, Berrios is getting even closer to that rarified air where a player’s trade value jumps because he would be the Game 1 starter for almost any team in the playoffs. He’s also a nice candidate for a four-year extension that covers a free agent year along the lines of Aaron Nola’s or Blake Snell’s deals this past winter, though I get the impression that Berrios would prefer to go year-by-year through arbitration and try for a big payday in free agency. Given how they handled Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco, I’m sure Minnesota will try to change his mind.

Bryant has bounced back across the board from last year’s down season, projecting to end up with 5.6 WAR on the heels of last year’s 2.3 figure. With his Super Two status last year and a historic first three big league seasons (he averaged 6.9 WAR per year), Bryant is on track to set some arbitration records. He’s making $12.9 million this year, and I’d bet the last two years cost the Cubs more than $40 million. This is another case, much like Freddie Freeman’s, where the value isn’t in the dry WAR/salary formula but in the scarcity of elite hitters. I’d guess the odds of an extension into 2022 is under 5%, with some recent reports indicating that agent Scott Boras smells a precedent-setting series of arbitration awards and a free agent deal, which means almost no number would satisfy him.

Like Scherzer, deGrom signed an extension with some deferred money, so before we go any further, let’s do some snazzy NPV calculations to see what he’s really getting paid. On paper, deGrom is making $17 million via arbitration for 2019, before his extension will pay him $120.5 million from 2020-2023 ($23M, $33.5M, $33.5M, and $30.5M, respectively), with a club option for $32.5 million in 2024 with no buyout. There is an opt-out after 2022, so his 2023 salary is basically a player option for $30.5 million, followed by a 2024 club option for $32.5 million. On top of this, there are 15-year deferments without interest of $12MM in 2020 (i.e. $11M in 2020, $12M in 2035 from the total $23M for the 2020 season on paper), $13.5MM in 2021, $15MM in 2022, $12MM in 2023 (player option), and $15MM in 2024 (club option).

All this means that deGrom’s former agent signed him to a contract that includes lots of deferred money, thus inflating the deal’s raw figures and inviting comparisons to the Mets’ deal with Bobby Bonilla, which is some real fun stuff. What this amounts to in terms of 2020 dollars is a three-year, $63.6 million deal, a $21.2 million player option and a $23.0 million club option with no buyout. Let’s assume the worst and say deGrom doesn’t meet expectations and the Mets are on the hook for the 4-year deal: that tab would be $84.8 million.

In the addendum to Scherzer’s blurb I said he could now be ranked as high as the 20’s on this list since more than just a few teams could afford him given that new information. If you’ve read this site for any length of time, you can feel a table coming. Here’s one including ZiPS projections and NPV contract figures. Since the salaries are NPV’d to 2020 dollars, these numbers won’t match other $/WAR figures since the WAR isn’t also scaled for time-value, but a $/WAR for just these two contracts would serve to compare them on equal footing.

You could interpret the Scherzer deal as worse, since you’re paying 12% more for the WAR (as measured by $/WAR) than for deGrom’s WAR and you only get three playoff runs instead of five, along with deGrom’s buyout-free option for another year (not in this table since it isn’t guaranteed) if he’s still worth it in 2024. You could also interpret it as 4.5 years of finger crossing that deGrom doesn’t get hurt, as he already has a Tommy John surgery in his rear view and he throws hard (the two biggest indicators of another elbow surgery), so the bigger guarantee and longer term at a similar $/WAR rate is much more risk. Lastly, since the deGrom salary works out to lower on a yearly basis due to the 15-year deferral, essentially every team in baseball could reasonably afford this deal if they just paid out NPV’s as described here. I think deGrom gets a slight edge due to more control of an ace and at a lower annual rate, but I don’t think every team in baseball would see it that way.

Franco is the top prospect in the game and also the only one who made the top 50 this year. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (18th) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (39th) both made last year’s list with no major league service time; Franco is a superior prospect to those two at the same juncture, but the top of this year’s list is deeper than it was last year. It’s easy to compare Franco and Guerrero since they both spent their age-17 season in the Appalachian League. Vlad’s standout performance there in 2016 (122 wRC+, 8 HR, 12% BB, 13% K in 62 games) was eclipsed in 2018 by Franco’s offense (159 wRC+, 11 HR, 10% BB, 7% K in 61 games), to say nothing of the fact that he did it as a shortstop with plus speed, while Vlad was portly and projected to eventually fit at first base. Franco hasn’t just raised his prospect status this year playing in Low- and High-A as an 18-year-old — he’s actually performed better by those same metrics while making big jumps in competition level. There have been prospects who perform at a very young age relative to their league, but few can do it without needing a break-in period.

While some commenters in the earlier articles are incredulous that a good major league club would trade almost anyone from their roster for a kid in A-Ball, many executives I spoke with told me they would. Respected scouts with no dog in this fight have called Franco a “perfect prospect.” ZiPS, a weighted average of possible outcomes, thinks Franco will be a 4 WAR player by his second full season, at age 21, while making the league minimum. Franco should (on merit) get to Double-A this year and has a case to be in the big leagues two weeks into 2020. I don’t think the Rays will do that because they’re deep in the middle infield, they wouldn’t mind if Franco experienced and overcame some failure before the big leagues, and they are service time sensitive given their market size. If Franco keeps doing this in Double-A at the end of this season, waiting until the Super Two cutoff next summer might the longest they could wait.

Franco and Double-A second baseman Vidal Brujan (the 19th-best prospect in baseball) are the best middle infielders in the organization, meaning that by the end of next season, there will be three spots (third base and two utility slots) on the big league roster for the middle infield candidates in Double-A or higher who have real trade value, which includes (takes deep breath) Willy Adames, Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle, Yandy Diaz, Matt Duffy, Christian Arroyo, Daniel Robertson, Michael Brosseau, Lucius Fox, Taylor Walls, Tyler Frank, Tristan Gray, Kean Wong, Jake Cronenworth, and Jermaine Palacios. This is one reason why the Rays traded Triple-A second basemanNick Solak to Texas last week for some bullpen help.

Marquez was traded from Tampa Bay to Colorado after the 2015 season in the Jake McGee deal. That feels like one the Rays wish they could have back, similar to the Marlins with Paddack. Marquez was always a fastball/breaking ball reliant guy with advanced fastball command, but scouts always worried about the lack of a traditional third pitch, and Coors was another complicating factor. Fast forward to today, and Marquez is projected to finish his pre-arb years with 11.6 WAR over nearly 600 innings and $43 million guaranteed in an extension he signed last winter. Marquez is still 24 and some clubs think he could improve even more away from Coors, particularly given how the thin air affects breaking balls.

The Biebs was a solid pitcher as an amateur, a fourth rounder out of UC Santa Barbara with a bag full of 50 or 55-grade pitches and command. He performed well in the minors, with comically low walks rates, using his feel to beat up on lower level hitters. We adjusted our command grades up, then in 2018 he opened the season with a tick or two more of velocity while still showing borderline 80-grade command. We quickly moved him into the Top 100, though he was in the big leagues and out of prospect eligibility pretty quickly after that. Even after our scramble to upgrade his prospect ranking, Bieber has continued to crush expectations: he’s projected to finish 2019 with over 200 innings pitched and 5.4 WAR at age 24, just three years after he went 122nd overall in the draft. Given the mix of above average stuff and plus-plus command, along with a performance and injury record without blemishes, Bieber has earned his spot near the top of the list of most valuable pitching assets in the game.

Source: Fangraphs.com

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