Nats Trade Value Power RankingsPosted on November 04, 2013 by Justin Howard
The Nationals will probably have a quiet off-season. With no obvious vacancies in the lineup and a thin free agent market on the horizon, Mike Rizzo probably already has his 2014 opening day lineup under contract.
Still, Rizzo is known for being active on the trade market. If the Nats make a big move this off-season, it'll likely be through a trade. Last off-season brought in Denard Span and 2012 brought in Gio Gonzalez. Both times, Rizzo leveraged organizational assets to improve the Major League roster.
Below are Red Porch Report's 2013 off-season Washington Nationals Trade Value Rankings. The premise behind the Trade Value Rankings is simple: if the Nationals tried to trade every player in the organization, who would get the biggest value in return? This is not a ranking of the Nationals top 28 players.
When making a trade, MLB GMs factor in a variety of factors beyond skill, including salary, contract status, and age. For example, Jayson Werth had the best season of any National in 2013. But his salary and age make him far from the team's best trade asset. Nor is this a ranking of the players most likely to be traded. This is a purely hypothetical exercise.
I won't pretend I invented this idea. To my knowledge, ESPN's Bill Simmons created this concept with his NBA trade value rankings before spreading it other areas of his website Grantland. Grantland did a MLB trade value ranking last November, and they'll likely do one again soon. But this list is limited to Nationals and Nationals only.
First, some ground rules:
- All players under contract with the Nationals and capable of being traded are eligible. This means all players on the end-of-season 40-man roster and minor leaguers at least one year removed from the MLB draft (drafted players cannot be traded for one year). Free agents like Dan Haren are not eligible, which is good for his self-esteem because he wouldn't be on the list anyway. Werth and Ryan Zimmerman have no trade clauses, but they're on this list because theoretically they could be traded if they waive the clause.
- Salaries and contracts matter. Every MLB team would love to have Werth on their team next season. Fewer would be willing to swallow the four years and $80 left on his contract. MLB doesn't have a salary cap, but every team -- outside of the Dodgers it seems -- factors in salary and contracts when making trades.
- Service time matters. MLB service-time rules require a major league player to play six full seasons in the majors before he is eligible for free agency. The first three of those years, a player is usually compensated near the major league minimum salary; the last three years he receives a salary through arbitration. During their six years of pre-FA service time, MLB players are immensely valuable since teams get their services under the market rate, and at the same time avoid making long-term contract commitments.
- Age matters. Younger players are increasingly valuable to MLB teams. A Major League player's peak is usually age 26-32, and teams try to acquire, develop, and sign players accordingly. Prospects have a disproportionate value relative to their professional accomplishments, largely because of they haven't reached their peak age and potential, and -- as noted above -- they play below market rate.
Before we get to the rankings, here are some recognizable players not on the list: Steve Lombardozzi, Scott Hairston, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Ross Ohlendorf, Ian Krol, Fernando Abad, Jeff Kobernus, Corey Brown, Eury Perez, and Jhonatan Solano (and others I don't care to list).
All of the above players fall into one of the following categories: Journeyman/Bench Player/Middle Reliever/Marginal Prospect. Frankly, there's very little trade market in the off-season for these types of players. It would also be impractical to rank every player in the Nationals organization. Of course, bench players, relievers, and pitching depth are very important for a contender during the season. Indeed, the 2013 Nationals were arguably sunk by their bad bench play, and countless other contenders have been betrayed by terrible bullpens. But in the off-season, players of this caliber are copious, and it's hard to imagine the Nationals getting significant value for any of them. Rather than taking the time to split hairs, I'm lumping them all together into one category. Sorry, guys, you're not on the list.
Without further introduction: here are the rankings:
The Broken Toys
28. Danny Espinosa
27. Tyler Moore
26. Ross Detwiler
For different reasons, all of these players were huge letdowns in 2013. One year ago, all three would have been valuable trade assets. Now they're lucky to be on the list considering, in reality, the Nationals would have trouble trading any of them. Of the three, Detwiler has the biggest trade value given his top-of-the rotation-potential. Still, it's hard to imagine another team making a significant investment in a player coming off a season where he missed so much time. Moore still has value due to his raw power; same with Espinosa and his middle-infield defense. But frankly, both players have failed their full-time auditions and are running out of time. Post-prospect players like this are worth holding onto, but wouldn't net anything noteworthy in a trade.
25. Tanner Roark
It's very tempting to put Roark in the catch-all category above. After all, Roark was never a big prospect and he rarely registered on the radar until last fall when he became the fifth starter by default. But his numbers are just too damn good to ignore. In 53 2/3 innings, he only allowed 9 ER and 49 baserunners. He compiled 7 wins in two months. In three of his five starts, he pitched at least six innings and allowed 0 ER. At 27, with only a small MLB sample size on his resume, I realize Roark is not a huge trade asset for the Nats. In fact, he's probably headed back to the bullpen to start 2014. But I'd like to think his achievements last season would net the Nationals something more than you'd ordinarily expect for a journeyman reliever/starter. After all, he had the fourth highest pitching WAR on the team last year -- in two months. That's impressive.
The Mid-Level Prospects
24. Matt Skole
23. Michael Taylor
22. Nathan Karns
The Nationals do not have a deep farm system. Promotions and trades the last few years have thinned a system previously among the best in MLB. Still, all prospects have value. Skole, Taylor, and Karns may not rank among the top 100 in baseball, but they would still be a valuable addition to a trade. Skole and Taylor are probably a year or two away from seeing time in the majors. Karns got his first exposure last season when he filled in for an injured Dan Haren, but he doesn't project as a top-of-the-rotation starter, so his value is limited.
Recent changes to baseball's collective bargaining agreement have made it harder for teams to build a farm system. There are now spending limits internationally and in the Rule 4 amateur draft, making it harder to attract top-level talent outside the first round. Additionally, baseball has cut down on the number of compensatory picks awarded for lost free agents. All of these changes have increased the value of players already in a team’s minor league system. Prospects are harder to acquire and replace, meaning names like Skole, Taylor, and Karns would definitely attract attention on the trade market.
The Wounded Buffalo
21. Wilson Ramos
Ramos is somewhere between post-prospect and productive everyday player. Ramos needs to put together a full season and solidify his defense. His power alone makes him a potentially valuable asset. The Nationals have Ramos under club control for three more years. A full season in 2014 might make Ramos a very valuable trade asset.
The "Proven Closers"
20. Drew Storen
19. Rafael Soriano
18. Tyler Clippard
Relievers, even great ones, provide marginal value to a team. Relief pitchers are often overhyped and overpaid. Put simply, they just don't pitch enough to make a huge impact on a team. Compared to a good starting pitcher, who will pitch 180-200 innings, relief pitchers usually only pitch 60-70. Soriano, for all his untucking, put up a WAR of 0.5 last season.
Still, MLB teams disproportionally value pitchers with closing experience. The myth persists that only a certain pitcher with a certain mindset can handle the mental stress and strain of the ninth inning. Accordingly, if the Nationals put one of the above guys on the trade market, somebody would bite. Of the three, Clippard has the best value due to his consistency. Clippard has two years before free agency, but unfortunately they will be his most expensive two years of arbitration. And, unfortunately, he'll be paid as a "PROVEN CLOSER" instead of a run-of-the-mill middle reliever.
Whatever Clippard receives in arbitration next year, it won't be higher than $11 million, Soriano's 2014 salary. Few teams can budget $11 million for a closer, but if the Nats tried to move Soriano, somebody would take him. His track record is too good. Besides, he only has one year left on his contract (with a vesting option), so he won't cripple future payrolls.
What Storen lacks in recent production, he makes up for in affordability. Due to his struggles in 2013, Storen's arbitration number will be much lower than Clippard, and he still has three years of control. It's not hard to imagine another team seeing Storen's talent, which is still there, and seeing him as the answer at closer, if only he gets a change of scenery.
GM's like Andrew Friedman in Tampa and Billy Beane in Oakland have made a habit of inflating a reliever's value through the closer role, and then trading him. The lesson is: someone is always willing to trade for a player with closing experience.
The 2016 Rotation Guys
17. Matt Purke
16. Sammy Solis
15. Robbie Ray
14. Taylor Jordan
Taylor Jordan doesn't even qualify as a prospect anymore because he already proved himself during his brief stint as the fifth starter in 2013. Another year removed from Tommy John surgery, Jordan should be ready to lock down a rotation spot for the next five years, if he wants it.
Ray, Solis, and Purke, are all lefty starters working their way up the Nats system. Thanks to Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez, and Michael Wacha, young pitchers are no longer seen as future building blocks. They're seen as the best chance to compete RIGHT NOW. Any young pitcher with two decent pitches and decent makeup will fetch a fair price on the open market. Ray, 22, is the youngest of the group and the furthest along in his development, ending his season in AA. Purke and Solis finished the season at High A. All three, however, are far enough along in their development to be flipped for decent everyday player from a rebuilding team. Think, Alex Meyer for Denard Span. Speaking of which...
The Everyday Players
13. Adam LaRoche
12. Denard Span
The Nats grabbed Span for a mid-level prospect, Meyer, before last season. But now one year closer to free agency, his value has diminished. Span plays above-average defense in centerfield, but he's not the table-setter the Nationals hoped. LaRoche truly struggled in 2013, and it's hard to imagine him netting a significant return in a trade at his salary and age. LaRoche and Span are both likely to hit free agency next off-season (assuming the Nats decline Span's team option). Both of them can put up average seasons at their respective positions, but their value has a definite ceiling.
The Top Prospects
11. Brian Goodwin
10. AJ Cole
Speaking of Span, Brian Goodwin is just waiting for the former to leave via free agency so he can start roaming centerfield at Nationals Park himself. Speedy centerfielders, like Span, have a diminishing skill set. Once they start to slow down, it's time to turn the job over to someone younger and healthier. With most GMs placing value on defense, the market for young athletic centerfielders is always strong. Goodwin spent the full season at AA Harrisburg playing quality defense and compiling a respectable OBP of .355. He's ready to go.
Cole isn't quite ready for the majors, but at his current pace, he'll be there sometime in 2014. After coming to the Nats in the Michael Morse trade, he rebounded from a disastrous year in the A's system to finish 2013 with seven starts in AA, where he averaged more than one strikeout and less than one base runner per inning. At 21, Cole is not only a top prospect in the Nats system, he's a top prospect in baseball. Right now, he could headline a big trade.
The Big Money Guys
09. Jayson Werth
08. Ryan Zimmerman
Werth is almost midway through his $100 contract; Ryan Zimmerman hasn't even started his. Jayson Werth has four years and $80 to go; Zimmerman has a full six and $100.
Measuring both players' value is difficult; both of them could start for nearly every other team in the league. But few would be willing to swallow the money they come with. In fact, there are a handful of teams in the league that wouldn't take Zimmerman or Werth if the Nationals offered them for free.
Still, talent is talent, and many teams around the league are stuffed with cash. Exploding league-wide revenues, a thin free agent market and limits on international and draft spending sometimes leave GMs with lineup holes to fill and literally nobody worth paying to fill them. Werth's contract was panned at the time; Zimmerman's too. But desperate GMs have done far dumber things with their cash. The Angels willingly took on $89 million of Vernon Wells, and that was before they promised Albert Pujols $30 million a year at age 41. The Braves gave a sub-replacement level BJ Upton $75 million for five years. League average players nowadays are guaranteed AT LEAST $10-15 million per year on the open market.
Please. Nobody's overpaid.
Zimmerman can play great defense at a position where that's difficult to find. And Werth just put up a MVP-caliber season. The difference between the two? Zimmerman, while owed more for longer, is still in his prime. Werth, despite his great season, is on the wrong side of aging bell curve. The last year of his contract at age 37 could be ugly, especially if his defense continues to decline. The end of Zimmerman's contract could be ugly too depending on his defense and health, the latter of which I am not optimistic.
The Building Block
07. Anthony Rendon
Rendon's rookie season didn't turn many heads nationwide, but he showed enough to prove that he'll probably be a pillar in the Nats lineup for the next six years until he hits free agency after the 2019 season. Rendon has on-base ability, 20 home run potential, and the ability to play surprisingly competent defense at 2B -- which he demonstrated after mercifully euthanizing the Danny Espinosa experiment (Rendon's future is still at 3B).
The question surrounding Rendon is: will he settle for solid everyday player or will he take the next step to all-star? He's still young enough with enough potential that nearly every team in the league would like to find out. He's the Nationals most valuable young position player not named Bryce Harper.
The Super Prospect
06. Lucas Giolito
Really? Yes. No one in the Nationals organization has seen their value skyrocket quite like Giolito. Taken as a high-risk, high-reward selection midway through the first round of the 2012 draft, Giolito is starting to pay dividends. People speculate that Giolito could headline a big trade (for someone like Gioncarlo Stanton, perhaps), but in reality he’s probably untouchable. At age 19, it appears he's still a couple years away from the majors, but after seeing Jose Fernandez tear through the league last season, I wouldn't be surprised to see him this season. Giolito is the type of pitcher a team pencils in to anchor its rotation for the next decade. Speaking of rotation anchors...
05. Jordan Zimmermann
04. Gio Gonzalez
03. Stephen Strasburg
You can put these guys in any order you want, and I wouldn't argue. I consider Strasburg to be the most valuable of the three, simply because he's 24 and -- if you believe it -- hasn't reached his full potential. With three more years of club control, he's one of the most valuable young pitchers in baseball.
Gonzalez is under club control with the Nationals for at least four more years by virtue of the extension he signed in 2012. He also comes without the injury concerns of Strasburg. But he's not Strasburg. Nobody is.
Zimmermann will be the first to hit free agency in 2015. His peak value is probably right now. If he keeps pitching the way he did in 2013, the next two seasons will be his lowest-paid for a while, a characteristic he shares with...
The Infield Anchor
02. Ian Desmond
Hardly anyone noticed that Ian Desmond has been the most productive shortstop in baseball over the last two seasons. Desmond doesn't have Troy Tulowitski's skill set, but he comes without the health concerns and crippling contract. With two more full years before he hits free agency, Desmond is probably at his career peak trade value right now. Any team trading for Desmond gets two affordable years of all-star level shortstop and -- almost as important -- an exclusive negotiating window for an extension. Elite shortstops don't hit the free agent market often, and when they do, they usually get paid.
But he'll never get paid as much as this guy...
01. Bryce Harper
Probably the most valuable asset in baseball not named Mike Trout. At 20, he put up a solid sophomore season, despite lingering injuries that shouldn't affect his overall trade value. Quite simply, Harper is on a historic pace, likely to contend for MVP awards over the next decade, during which the Nationals have team control until 2018. You don't use words like Harper and trade in the same sentence. You count your blessings, pray for good health, and enjoy the ride.