Why do baseball fans like trades so much?
I believe it goes back to the fact that for thousands of years humans traded goods for other goods. The farmer gave the blacksmith eggs for service, the carpenter framed the miller’s barn for some flour, et cetera, et cetera. Then we just stopped.
In most sports, trades don’t happen very frequently or correctly. In the NBA most trades are salary dumps, in European soccer players are sold to richer teams to make the smaller teams huge profits, and in the NFL most trades are on draft day and involve picks who aren’t players yet. Baseball is the aberration…and it’s a good thing.
Trades are not just exciting but they (in addition to free agent signings) show how much baseball hierarchies value players and prospects.
Over the past five to ten years, it has become a staple in baseball circles to determine the value of a player. The best way to determine the value of a player is to do it in the terms of a trade where you must take all the factors of a player into account: age, years of control, contract, position scarcity and most importantly, ability.
Bill Simmons started the craze at ESPN for NBA players, which led Dave Cameron to adapt it for the Trade Value rankings of MLB players at Fangraphs.
Here at TPOP we will do our own Trade Value Top 25, but it will be just for the Pirates. The theory is that the player ranked 15th could be traded for the player ranked 22nd plus something else. Remember, years of control and contract status are VERY important in trade value. The number in parentheses is the player’s age during the 2016 season and their projected 2016 level assignment is shown, as well.
The Trade Value Score is a secret formula I came up with to stay unbiased in ranking the players which took into account four attributes:
- Position Premium
- Years of Control
- Contract Value
Each day there will be a Venn Diagram giving a visual of how each Pirate fits these four attributes.
On to the rankings:
25. Mark Melancon (31, MLB)
One year of control at $9.65M Trade Value Score – 60.0
Mark Melancon has become one of the Pirates’ core players over the last three years. Not only is he a great player on the field, he’s a great person off of it.
Melancon is really effective as a reliever because he has great control and an amazing cutter. He also is smart enough to know that his catchers are amazing framers so he expands the strike zone more than most relievers.
Melancon is one of the best in the business at closing; the problem is that closing isn’t that valuable. Also he only has one year of control and his cost is good but not great. I personally believe the Pirates wanted Melancon around for 2016 and didn’t really shop him, but even if they did the return wouldn’t have been so great. That all being said, if Cole Tucker wouldn’t have been injured, Melancon wouldn’t have made the top 25.
Melancon also won’t do a interview with a kid with a pinch of snuff in his lip like this Pirates’ closer did here.
24. Chris Stewart (34, MLB)
Two years of control (2 yr/$3M) and one option Trade Value Score – 70.6
While Josh Harrison’s extension might have bumped him down the list, Stewart’s bumped him up. Stewart is by no means a cornerstone, but he plays an important position pretty well. He now has three years of control at a ridiculously cheap cost. His new contract bumps up his value a lot as long as he plays at his steady levels of the last few years.
There are many things about Stewart’s game that prove he’s a very intelligent player. First he always ranks near the top of pitch framing catchers. Secondly, his offensive profile proves he must be scouting the other pitchers. Since he’s been a Pirate he’s had a good strikeout to walk ratio and has had a good batting average (.294 and .289) and OBP (.362 and .320). This led me to think that he’d have a high number of pitches seen per plate appearance, but his levels of 3.59 and 3.74 don’t suggest that is so. Without spending too much time crunching numbers, I’d guess he swings at the first fastball with some pitchers he scouts and tries to draw walks off others; this is working out very well.
Stewart’s dependability, likeability and value make him a nice asset for the Bucs and his presence gives them some flexibility with the catching position going forward.
23. Jeff Locke (28, MLB)
Three years of arbitration (2016 salary in arb-1 of $3.025M) Trade Value Score – 70.6
While yinzer nation hates Jeff Locke, I see what baseball people see: a LH starting pitcher with potential plus stuff, who is cheap and has three years of control. I’ve said it before, but his minor and major career as well as his handedness and build strongly resemble Wandy Rodriguez. It was Rodriguez’s first arbitration season that he started becoming a stud. I hope the same is true with Locke.
The #1 comp for Locke via the newly published Baseball Reference Similarity Scores is Erik Bedard. The same Bedard that was really good for the Orioles that they flipped for Adam Jones and Chris Tillman.
Locke is his best when he’s facing a lineup where the best hitters are left-handed and won’t be platooned. This year’s Braves and Reds are a great example of a team Locke can go 8 innings against and give up one run.
Locke will probably be given the first part of the year as his last guaranteed spot in the rotation, but with how cheap he is and how much upside he has don’t be surprised if he isn’t a Pirate through 2018.
22. Josh Harrison (28, MLB)
Three year contract (3 yr/$23.25M) and two options Trade Value Score – 75.0
One could say that the 2016-2018 Pirates destiny might be linked to Josh Harrison’s real identity. If Harrison is the OK player that took the field in 2015, then the Pirates might be in the Wild Card hunt each year. But if Harrison is the 2014 version the Pirates might be the division favorite.
Harrison’s skill set is such a nice fit for the Pirates. He could be the starter at 2B or 3B and give you league average offense and good-to-plus defense. He also could be the backup at shortstop and play a decent outfield with PNC’s RF suiting his strong arm and quickness very well.
Harrison is at the point now where he could remain a cornerstone or he could be a much more likable Jose Tabata (bad contract with limited upside) as he is guaranteed $23.25M over the next three years. Harrison is helped by his position flexibility and his million dollar smile. He also has a potential five years of control which could be a good thing if we get back to the Harrison of 2014.
21. Tony Watson (31, MLB)
Two years of arbitration ($3.45M in arb-2 for 2016) Trade Value Score – 75.0
Dr. Watson is one of the best relievers in the game…but he is just that: a relief pitcher. He’s the least valuable part of any team, but he’s left-handed, he’s cheap and has one more year of control than Melancon. Watson would bring a nice return in a trade.
I talked about Watson at length in an article back in May which could have been titled “how to read a Baseball Reference page” or “how a college starting pitcher becomes a Major League Reliever.”
Watson’s value is pretty obvious in that he just dominates for 1 inning at a time. He has low walk and hit rates and pitches to his defense very well. If you’d take Watson’s 75 innings in 2015 and extrapolate them to a starting pitcher’s workload he’d be at a level comparable to Sonny Gray or Colin McHugh using WAR per inning.
With the crapshoot the the NL Central might be this year, the Pirates could find themselves with an uphill battle at the trade deadline. Watson’s dominance and cheap contract could bring the Pirates an amazing return that would play more than 75 innings a season.