Saturday, July 12, 2008

Nationals Trade Value Rankings #1-10

Dave Cameron of and (two way way way better blogs than mine) did a really interesting series of posts recently ranking the top 50 most valuable players in MLB by trade value. In his intro, he explained the the idea:
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.

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 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.

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?

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.


Sean Hogan said...

My personal sentiment is that the difference between Dukes and Milledge's trade value would really be a tossup. I can see why Dukes is so low, but I have a feeling some teams would be interested in the guy (assuming he continues to stay out of trouble, which could be a risky assumption). Look at Milton Bradley. That's what I think Dukes will become if he's always hurt. If he can stay healthy, who knows what he'll become.

Nationals Fan said...

I disagree with your main point. In terms of trade value, these guys are really easy to compare because they were both just traded. Clearly, Church + Schneider is quite a bit more value than Glenn Gibson.

But I think you are talking more about actual value more than perceived or market value. You may be right that the low end for Elijah is Bradley and the high end is (you didn't say this, but I'll fill in the "who knows") a Hall-worthy multiple-MVP. We don't know.

But MLB GMs who are playing with real money can't rank him that way. Because really the low end isn't Bradley. It's that he gets into trouble while rehabbing in Tampa and never sees a MLB diamond again.

Sean Hogan said...

They were both traded in the offseason. It's July now. In the meantime, Dukes hit .263/.342/.412 this year (not amazing, but quite a step up from last year's .190/.318/.391). Milledge's numbers are down this year to .245/.312/.368 (down a decent bit from last year's .272/.341/.446). I know that the sample size is relatively low, but Dukes (performance-wise and behavior-wise) must have a significant higher value than at the beginning of the year, because he's shown he can hit and field in the major leagues and has been on his best behavior. I won't say Dukes is worth more than Milledge still (because of the question marks), but I think they're awfully close.

And yes, I was hinting towards him being a perennial MVP candidate/HOF candidate if healthy (and well-behaved). Glad we agree there!

Nationals Fan said...

Yeah, I agree his trade value is higher now. I think I said that in the post. And honestly I don't think there's a ton of space separating #4 from #10 on this list, unfortunately. So in the grand scheme of things, they're pretty close.

Sean Hogan said...

That sounds very reasonable. I bet Dukes surpasses Milledge (and maybe even all the way up to Flores) by this time next year. He's a special player.

Steve Shoup said...

I like the list i think this was a good and interesting idea. I have to disagree with you about Flores, I think he needs to be much lower prob around 7 with Milledge, Dukes, Rauch and Lannan all ahead of him. Flores is a nice Catcher while his bat does have nice potential, its not near the potential Milledge and Dukes have. I think Rauch has very high trade value for the reasons you mention plus what the market traditionally gives for late inning relief pitchers. Look what the Padres got for Linebrink or the Rangers for Gagne. Gagne might have had a great past but had arm issues even in 2007, and was an impending free agent as was Linebrink who was not nearly as effective in 07 as he was in 06. Given Rauch's effectiveness and him being under team control i would say that the market for him would be second only to zimmerman (though there would be a gap like you mentioned)

I also think you are undervalueing Lannan, he has gotten better each year and has no history of arm problems, is a lefty and under team control for a few years. I think he would be exactly the centerpiece a team would look for a matt holiday or someone of that ilk.

Steve Shoup said...

I also think you miss the point with trading guzman, obviously him being a FA after this season effects his value, but playoff caliber teams like, the Dodgers, Red Sox and Cards all need upgrades at SS for their playoff runs. Now a team like the O's may go after him in the offseason but guz does have trade value to those playoff teams and we could prob pry two decent prospects for him. Nothing wrong with that if he'll leave after the season and if we do want him back we can sign him.

Nationals Fan said...

Steve--Good thoughts, I appreciate it.

Re: Flores, you're right on the high end Milledge and Dukes project as better hitters, but then you have to factor in the scarcity--so many good OF bats, so few Cs. And to get even a 15 HR, .270 bat with plus defense--that's really valuable. And then there's the reliability. Like I said to Sean, 3 through 10 in this list were all pretty close in my mind.

I agree with what you say about Rauch and Guzzy. Those were basically the points I was trying to make in my post--maybe not as well as I could have.

Lannan is a bit of a mystery to me. From what I've seen and read, he's doing this with smoke and mirrors at least to some extent. But I've said before and I'll repeat that I just haven't done enough watching of him to form a really solid opinion. I need to do that, because my assumption that he would revert to 6.10 and go back to Columbus seems to not be happening!!

I'm against any trade involving young pitching for Matt Holliday however. I'll probably post on that during the break, but you can guess what I'll say if you've been reading!

Steve Shoup said...

i'm just going to copy my post from the Nationals Journal today in response to Holliday, b/c i'm too lazy to rewrite it.

I too saw the reports where the Nats could be the "dark horse" to acquire Matt Holiday. While I think the idea is great, 'acquire an impact bat to protect Zimmerman and a face of the franchise that is young enough to be a centerpiece when the Nats look to contend in two years.' I think the player they are choosing is the wrong one I would look long and hard at Jason Bay. Both would be a welcome upgrade over the LF's on the market in FA (Dunn, Burrell) in being more rounded offensivly (consistent, higher BA a little speed on the bases) as well as much better defenders. Both are currently signed through the 2009 season, Both would provide offense and much needed power to the Nats, both are likely available for a hefty price.

Now most people would say i'm crazy that Holliday is the much better hitter and a year in year out allstar. In reality i think the two are closer than most people would think as well as I believe that Bay is the more practical option considering price, both in money and prospects. Matt Holliday is signed for $9.5 million this year and $13.5 million next year, now the rockies have paid the first part of his contract this year so lets say for the next year and a half the Nats would be paying $17 million (not bad considering Soriano will be making that just next year alone). Bay on the other hand is on the hook for $5.75 million this year and $7.5 million next year, meaning the nats would be paying roughly $10.5 million for a year and a half of production, (pretty good considering Kearns will be making $8 million next year). First I don't think one could argue that there is a $7 million dollar difference in production between the two. Second as for resigning them long term Holliday is represented by Scott Boras, meaning a. he won't likely talk extentsion and B. you'll be looking at $20 million dollars a year by that time. Bay on the other hand would be more likely to work out a long term deal and would prob be in the neighborhood of $15 million a year. That is a pretty big difference and that money could go to other things such as our bullpen.

As for what it would take to get them, in either case it would be 4 or 5 good young players or prospects, but in the Rockies case since the precieved value of Holliday is higher they are going to be looking for the world. I would be shocked if the Nats could even begin discussions without offering Detwiler, Marrero or Lannan plus at least one of Balester or J. Zimmermann. Bay on the other hand i think the Nats could put together an aggressive 4 player package Balester, Maxwell (though he does have an injury concern) Shairon Martis (or Colton Willems, though i'd prefer to give up Martis) and Martin Beno (or someone else of that ilk).