Essentially, the concept is to put together a ranking of the most valuable individual assets in the game - this is, pretty much across the board, a different discussion than who the best players in the game are. Age, contract status, and salary all come into play, as they do in real life.I thought it would be fun to do the same thing with the Nationals 40 man roster. Keep in mind, I'm not saying we should or shouldn't trade any of these guys, I'm just thinking about their trade value.
In most cases, our evaluations of value are a lot different than what GMs find when they engage in trade negotiations. Johan Santana is obviously one of the best pitchers on the planet, but as the Twins found out when they put him on the market last winter, the list of inferior players that they couldn’t trade Johan for was very, very long. That was because he was a year away from free agency and a large paycheck, which significantly devalued him on the trade market, even though he’s still a terrific talent.So, this list is my attempt to figure out what players have the most value in the league. Essentially, the best way to look at a player’s placement on this list is “would you trade him, straight up, for any of the guys listed ahead of him?” I’ve asked that question about every player on this list, and done so from what I would perceive the perspective of both current organizations would be.
I can't remember if any other Nationals bloggers already do this, in which case sorry! And it is with some trepidation that I do this, since it's really really hard to compare an asset like Justin Maxwell or Ross Detwiler versus someone like Nick Johnson or Shawn Hill.
I'm starting with the top ten. For each player, I include the following: age, injury risk, current 2008 VORP (Baseball Prospectus's value over replacement player composite stat/projection), 5-year sum of projected VORPs for 2009-2013 as of this past off-season (abbreviated as 5-YV), years under current contract or team control after this season (assuming the player stays in the bigs from here on out, which is some cases isn't at all likely), '08 salary, and other relevant salary notes.
1. Ryan Zimmerman
(23YO; moderate injury risk; 2.2 '08 VORP; 198.8 5-YV; 3 yrs. remaining under team control; $465k '08 salary, arb eligible in '09)
Zimmerman came in at #46 on the Cameron blog, and I agree with what he wrote. Zimmerman by far is our most valuable player. He didn't take the step forward we were looking for in '07, and '08 has been too marred by injury to really draw conclusions. Given what he's done at his age (still just 24), I still see a perennial all-star, and at the very high end a potential hall-of-fame player. No other player on the Nationals roster comes close in terms of high-end potential and minimal risk. There's a looming contract concern--he'll jump this off season up to $4 million or so I'd guess in arbitration, and then unless he signs a long-term deal (which he's said he's reluctant to do at this point) he'll be a free agent in 2012 going into his age 27 season, in which case look for him in Boston or LA. But if the Nationals or the other team can negotiate a deal to facilitate the trade, that would do away with that issue.
2. No one. I'm leaving this blank just to note the huge gap between Zimmerman and the next player on the list.
3. Jesus Flores
(23YO; moderate injury risk; 7.5 '08 VORP; 72.9 5-YV; 5 yrs. remaining under team control; $400k '08 salary)
It would have been hard to imagine Flores ranking this high on the list at the start of the season. But he has emerged as a solid bat and very good defensive catcher with upside to be an all-star 25-HR, .290 hitter. I don't know if he's ever been hurt. He sat out one game this year with a tummy ache, but other than that he's been that rarest of National: the iron man. He's cheap, can help you now, under for team control for at least another 5 seasons. Who wouldn't want this guy?
4. Lastings Milledge
(23YO; moderate injury risk; 3.6 '08 VORP; 112.9 5-YV; 5 yrs. remaining under team control; $402k '08 salary)
Let me just say I don't put any stock at all in his reputation as a bad guy. From what I've seen, he's fine, and some vets (coughLoDucacough) in the Mets clubhouse was more the problem than Blastings. On the field, so much rests on whether he can play center field well. He's athletic enough, certainly, but his routes to the ball and reaction times are so bad that right now you wouldn't play him there at all if you were playing for now. He projects as a 15 HR, .280 hitter, and at a premium defensive position, that's quite valuable. But if you can't play him in CF every day, then suddenly he looks a lot more like a borderline fourth outfielder. Bottom line, we wouldn't get any more at this point than Omar did last winter, and I think he got fair value for what Milledge is, even though I know some think Omar didn't get enough.
5. Jon Rauch
(29YO; moderate injury risk; 13.9 '08 VORP; 38.4 5-YV; 2 yrs. remaining under contract; $1.2m '08 salary)
Rauch is quite the valuable asset. Durable, consistent, cheap, a very good setup man and a closer who can get you by if needed. Nationals fans should send Omar a little bouquet of baby carnations (not roses, let's not go overboard) for getting him and my beloved Gary Majewski from the ChiSox for old, bad Carl Everett. Thinking about Rauch now brings to mind last year's missed opportunity with Cordero, who would have made sense to trade for set-up man's value, but Bowden insisted on getting closer value. His usage in past years would have raised concerns, but at this point he looks like just a good ol' rubber-armed wookie that a lot of teams could use.
6. Austin Kearns
(28YO; moderate injury risk; -10.5 '08 VORP; 63.9 5-YV; 2 yrs. remaining under contract; $5m '08 salary)
Kearns isn't nearly bad as he's been this year, but that's only saying he's not one of the least valuable offensive starters in MLB. He's a durable, good guy who gives you 15-18 HR with good OBP and plays a good to very good defensive RF. There's value there, but he's 28 years old, and he's still not in the top half of MLB RFs. Also, he has a team option for 2010 for $10m that probably won't make sense to pick up, so chances are he's a free agent after next season.
7. John Lannan
(23YO; moderate injury risk; 22.2 '08 VORP; -19.5 5-YV; 5 yrs. remaining under team control; $390k '08 salary)
Here's a guy I really had trouble ranking. I could have put him as high as #5, but then I thought, really? Ignore that -19.5 cumulative 5-year VORP. PECOTA was wrong. Then again, I don't believe he's quite a 200-inning, 3.40 ERA guy either. The stuff just isn't that good. But I've admitted I really haven't looked at him closely enough to really know. So for now let's assume Lannan is young, cheap, at least a good #4, and as reliable and steady in his make-up as they come. In a league where no one has enough pitching, that's a guy who a lot of teams could use now and in the future.
8. Cristian Guzman
(30YO; high injury risk; 23.7 '08 VORP; 0.2 5-YV; 0 yrs. remaining under contract; $4.2m '08 salary)
Which is the real Guzzy? The one who almost approaches legitimate all-stardom with the .317 BA represented by the 23.7 '08 VORP, or the guy who can't stay healthy and is one of the league's worst offensive starters when he is healthy, represented by the projected cumulative five-year VORP of 0.2? The answer of course is somewhere in the middle. Neither version plays defense very well. But there are a number of teams in the playoff hunt who could use the current hot, healthy version of Guzzy--the BoSox, Rays, Cards, and O's to name four. But everyone else will most likely have a chance to sign him after the season if they like him that much, so what's the point?
9. Nick Johnson
(29YO; outrageous injury risk; 7.8 '08 VORP; 84.6 5-YV; 1 yr. remaining under contract; $5.5m '08 salary)
Nick was the hardest person on this list for me to rank. If you took injuries and contract out of the equation, Nick might be the most valuable player on this list. He's an OBP machine, takes a ton of pitches, plays a solid 1B, and is just a really good ballplayer. Unfortunately, he's never, ever healthy. Whether it's genetic or what, he can't play 162 games. I could imagine 29 GMs just saying, "no thanks, too much risk." If he was coming off a good, healthy first half, you could see a contending team that needs a 1B or DH giving up a valuable prospect. Maybe by this time next year. One final note--whether you want to hold it against Bowden or not, Nick could have commanded a small king's ransom had we shopped him at his peak value. Just sayin'.
10. Elijah Dukes
(23YO; high injury risk; 10.8 '08 VORP; 146.4 5-YV; 5 yrs. remaining under team control; $392k '08 salary)
Dukes is an enigma for the league, but like Milledge he's pretty easy to rank since he was just traded. Based on what scouts see on the field, he projects as an all-star middle of the order power bat, potentially an MVP candidate. Two problems: he can't stay out of trouble and he can't stay healthy. Having seen the guy for a few months and reading about his background, the latter gives me almost as much pause as the former. I tend to give him a lot of credit for just escaping the hellish situation he grew up in (you can say I'm a big soft liberal, but I'm only listening if your dad is in jail for killing a guy for selling bad crack to your mom). I think his value is maybe a little higher now than it was when the Nationals got him (not for nothing--Glenn Gibson projects as a good lefty back-end starter), but not much. He's stayed mostly out of trouble, hit pretty well, but got hurt again. Probably we could get something like Glenn Gibson.
So that's it for the top ten. Feel free to tell me I'm crazy, deluded or willfully stupid in the comments. And don't be shocked if some of my numbers needs an editor.
Look for the next bunch during the all-star break.